The Amazonas River Part I: visiting Belem & Manaus

When traveling around the Amazonas river with the boat, there are a few stops which are a must, maybe because you are at the beginning of your trip, at the end of it, or you just need a break in mainland for a while, but to spend some days in these cities is a must during your journey! Through the Brazilian part, the boat does a few stops in different towns so I decided to start the journey in Belem and finish it in Manaus. I didn’t have enough time to keep on traveling through the river to other countries like Colombia or Peru … but if you have time, you shouldn’t miss it!

  • Bridge over the Rio Negro river @ Manaus

Belem

Getting there
I arrived to Belem with a bus from Sao Luis, which I don’t recommend at all (but sometimes is the only choice you have). The bus ride is more than 12 hours, so you can do it by night, but the route is so bad (only one lane and full of holes…) that the trip is really awful (you can just buy your ticket online @ the Sao Luis Rodoviaria). The best way to get here is to find a good flight offer.

Where to stay
In Belem there are a few hostels,  but if you are on a budget or prefer staying @ a hostel, instead of a hotel or a pousada, I recommend you the Amazonia Hostel, which is cheap and is the nicest compared with the others (avoid Hostel Amazonia, although is the cheapest, it’s already very old and with a lack of maintenance)

What to do
In Belem you can spend a few days strolling around the old town & the interesting market of “Ver-o-Peso“,  as well as getting to know the night life. I spent there 2 days but didn’t have the opportunity to go out because I was sick.

belem river houses

Belem & the river

The city center is not that big, you can walk around it without any problem.  The main Square, “Praça da Republica” is nice and fresh with big trees that give a great shade to refresh from the heat. There are also food stands that sell finger food, coconut water, etc. Close to the square, is the comercial area, which is interesting to see. There is a street where they only sell hammocks of all price ranges and colours! After the comercial area, next to the river, it’s the famous market “Ver-o-Peso”, this is a very local experience, it’s a must if you are visiting Belem. Not only visiting it is a whole experience, but also eating there! They offer typical food from the area, as well as the typical Brazilian dish “prato feito” which includes rice, pasta, meat or fish & beans. The market is very big and with different sections: tropical fruits, meat, fish, vegetables, as well as cloth, touristic souvenirs, natural medicine, animals… you can miss this maze of people & things. Next to the market you will find the modern “Estaçao das Docas” which used to be old storage buildings of the port, and now here you find nice restaurants, shops, ATMs, bars, WiFi, as well as the perfect spot to enjoy sunset. Inside it’s also the “Amazon beer Belem” restaurant, which brew it’s own beer, worth tasting! On weekends they also offer the typical Brazilian dish “feijoada”. From the Docas, there are also some boat tours leaving.

belem_docas

Estação das Docas

In the old town there are a few nice buildings worth a visit, my favourite one was the “Casa das Onze Janelas” (house of the 11 windows) which is now an art gallery (free entrance) where they have some modern art pieces, etc. The house is next to the river, so you can enjoy the fresh air in the garden under the trees shade.

belem_food

Local food from Brazil

Near the house you may find the “Forte de Presépio” (free entrance). Inside the fort there is a museum and from top of the walls there’s a really nice view of the fishermen port, the river Amazonas and the city.

There is also the cathedral, “Catedral da Sé“, located across the 11 windows house. From outside is very nice, from the inside it’s not that attractive though.

belem_docas_otra

Estação das Docas for sunset

Manaus

How to get there
Manaus is literally located in middle of the jungle, on the shore of the Amazonas river, so to get there, if you are in Brazil, you might need to take a flight. If you are coming from Peru, Colombia or Belem, then you can arrive per boat (you might need a couple of days for this option), and if you are coming from Venezuela, then you can take a bus.

Where to stay
Manaus is a very big city, but the center, where all the accommodation options are, is not that big, you can go everywhere just walking. Nowadays there are many hostels options in the city. Personally I recommend you Ocara Hostel, which is very central located, next to the Amazonas Theatre and the main square. The facilities are very nice, it used to be an old big house, so it has a room with a nice balcony, a big living room with TV, pool table, big and confortable couches, a kitchen, and a backyard where you have breakfast, and there is a space to do the laundry if needed. They offer share rooms with or without air con (from 20 R$ per person per night) with breakfast included. They also always have a volunteer working there (in case you are interested, you can contact them! You work a few hours a day, and in exchange you get accommodation and breakfast). Another nice hostel, but not that central, is Big Hostel Brasil, located around 15 minutes walk from the city center. They have share rooms with air con and share bathroom, as well as double rooms with private bathroom (from 30 R$ per night per person, with breakfast included).

manaus_floors

Indoor floors… Outdoor floors…

What to do
Manaus is a big city that offer a full range of activities, museums about history and nature, concerts @ the Amazonas theatre, markets, natural parks, beaches boat trips through the river… and a lot more!

manaus_museums

Restored houses that became museums

Regarding museums I visited the house of Eduardo Ribeiro (free entrance), who was a very important governor in Amazonas in the 1890’s. The “Museu da casa Eduardo Ribeiro” has been restored in 2010 and contains furniture from the time the governor was living there. There is also the “Palacio de Rio Negro” a very nice building, which you can also visit for free. Here you will see how powerful were the business men related with the rubber industry in Brazil, at the beginning of the 20th century. Also in the city center, very close to the Rio Negro palace, is the “Palacete Provincial” which has a 5 museums inside (free entrance, too): Pinacoteca do Estado do Amazonas, Sala de Arqueologia, Exposição Esculturas do Mundo, Museu Tiradentes, Museu da Imagem e do Som, also worth taking a look at them. Inside it’s also a very nice coffee place to refresh yourself and take a break… after so much culture together! The “Palácio da Justiça” (courthouse) it’s also open to the public, and can be visited for free. Inside the building is very nice and majestic. The Amazonas Theatre (Teatro Amazonas) is a must visit, and the good news here is that they offer almost in a daily basis, free performances & concerts by night.

manaus_teatro amazonas

Amazonia Theatre

If you feel like being in the middle of the jungle, don’t hesitate visiting the “Museu da Amazônia” (MUSA). It’s far away from the city so you might need to take a bus to get there (from the city center: 448 or 676 – one hour ride) and get of @ the last stop, which is next to the entrance. The last visit starts @ 15:30 hs (you can only visit the park with a guided tour) and the entrance is free on Tuesdays, if not  the regular price is 10 R$).

manaus_museo amazonas

The Amazonia Rain forest Museum

Another great park you could visit is the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA, National Institute of Research of Amazonia). You also need to take a bus there, because is far away from the city center. Here you find manatees, that were rescued from the river, and they are taking care of them, as well as other tropical animals. BUT remember, they are closed on Mondays! I couldn’t visit this place, because I went there… exactly on a Monday (entry fee: 5 R$).

Manaus is surrounded by river, so there are beaches all around. When I was there was wet season, so the tide was very high, and there where no beaches to visit, only the beach of Praia da Punta Negra, which is not a very nice one, but good enough to refresh and have some drinks next to the river.

There are also many boat day trips, but if you are already arriving to Manaus by boat, or planning to do a jungle trip experience, there are no needs of booking an extra boat trip. What you need to see is the “Encontro das Águas” where the river “Rio Negro” meets the “Solimões”. Due to the different density of both rivers,they go parallel for a while, and you can see the difference of the colours, one is black and the other is brown.

Manaus Encontro das Águas

Manaus Encontro das Águas

Shopping
There is a market next to the river, the “Adolpho Lisboa” market, that used to sell only food (fresh fish, vegetables, fruit, etc) but nowadays it sells also souvenirs and handmade crafts. This market is open everyday until 5pm. There is also a weekly market that take place on Sundays, from 7 am until 2pm (the best time to visit this weekly market is between 10 and 12 o’clock). If you are on Sunday @ Manaus, I really recommend you to check it out, it’s a very local experience, and you can taste very nice local food @ the stands there.

manaus_sunday market

Sundays weekly market

Tours & lodges in the jungle
If you are only passing by Manaus to head straight into the jungle, you are in the right place! There are a lot of companies that offer the opportunity of experiencing the jungle in a responsible & safety way.

  • Sunset @ the Amazon Jungle

The most known ones, which guarantee a safe and responsible experience are Amazon Gero Tours & Iguana Turismo. Both offer more or less the same activities for the same price (around 50 USD per day): piranhas fishing, alligators search by boat, sunrise bird watching, trekking through the jungle, sleeping out in the open air with a hammock & a bonfire, as well as transfer from hostel to the lodge in the middle of the jungle (literally, in the middle of the jungle), 3 meals (breakfast, lunch & dinner) & accommodation in a share room  (you can also pay more and get the upgrade for the private cabins).

manaus amazonas

Rain Forest Experience

I went 3 days with Iguana Turismo and had a great time with them. The lodge also has a nice dock where you can jump in to the water (during the wet season and only during the day) and sunbathe.

manaus_amazon experience

Rain forest Experience with Iguana Tours

 

Maps of Belem & Manaus

Manaus

Map of Manaus, Brazil

Belem

Map of Belem

#getinspired
#travelwithmery

the pier at belém

Relaxing days on the boat journey through the Amazonas river

This was one of the reasons why I came to Brazil: to travel through the Amazonas River on a boat. I went upstream the river, from Belem to Manaus with a stopover in Santarém to visit Alter do Chão and do a break after so many days on the boat. They say upstream is better because you go closer to the side of the coast, and you can see better the nature & local homes, if you go downstream (from Manaus to Belém) the boats travel through the middle of the river…

  • On the way

I have to admit that I was really nervous when I finally was in Belém going to do this trip, I couldn’t find much information about it, and all I could read on the internet (or my Brazil Lonely Planet guide from 2008…) was “danger, danger” if you are a woman doing it by your own. Nothing of that happened! It was a chilled & peaceful journey through the jungle on a boat (well, 2 boats: one boat from Belém to Santarem, and another boat some days later, from Santarem to Manaus). During the journey I was traveling almost only with locals, who where on their way home, visiting relatives, or just traveling for business…   

Useful Information before traveling

To be prepare for this trip, first of all you need to get your own hammock & ropes, to hang it on the boat! So here is where the experience begins, because they sell thousand of different types of hammocks. In Belém there is a street where you can find all the hammock stores together, and all prices range: Rua Quinze de Novembro, very close to the market “Ver-o-peso”. Mine was 25 R$ (ropes incl.) and works perfectly. You can also get cheaper ones, or more expensive, its up to you and your budget!

between hammocks and selfies

Once you have your hammock, you might need your boat ticket (Belém-Santarem), which it will be another experience. You buy it at the Port of Belém (the same port where you take the boat to Marajó Island) and if possible, some days in advance, because boats don’t leave every day. In the port you will find the booths where they sell tickets, but you DON’T buy it there (it’s more expensive), you get it from the salesmen with dark green shirts (which identify them as “boat-ticket-sales-men”) who are always around the entrance trying to stop you and sell the ticket. These are much cheaper that the ones offered on the booth, and also give you access to the boats. My ticket was 120 R$ (instead of around 300 R$…) from Belém to Santarem (2 and 1/2 days trip) but you might never know the real price. They always show a price list (which obviously it’s not true!), and tell you that you will buy it cheaper, but the exact amount, it’s unknown! Between 100 and 180 R$ is more or less the price range for the open area where all the hammocks are hanged, you can also get a cabin for 4 people… but I thought it might be more authentic to travel outside together with all the locals, and also because I was on my own. When you buy the tickets with the salesmen, it could happen that instead of a ticket for the boats leaving from this comercial port (boat name: CLIVER) you get a ticket for a boat leaving from another pier located in the old town of Belém (boat name: Rodriguez Alves). Try to buy tickets for this last one, because they say is much more comfortable and clean than the CLIVER ones. That’s what they told me, I was lucky, and without knowing, I had tickets for Rodriguez Alves IV.

river amazonas boats

Once you have your hammock & ticket, and the day of your trip had arrived… it’s time to go to the pier! If you got a ticket with CLIVER they open doors of the boat around 2 hs before departure, but if you got the Rodriguez Alves one (I hope so!) they open the boat in the morning to start loading it with all the stuff they will carry. When you get to the pier with people working loading the boat, you go to a booth where they exchange the ticket the salesman gave you, for the ticket that allows you to board the boat. When you travel with your hammock, you need to go early to the pier in order to hang your hammock in a good spot. Some tips for this: do not hang it next to bathrooms or near the engine, and try to go to the floors above if possible, this way it’s not so loud nor smelly and you will be able to sleep better by night. Do hang it next to plugs (to charge phones or cameras) or close to a wall so nobody hangs a hammock next to yours.

belem skyline

Due to the fact that the journey takes a few days, they sell food in the boat: they offer breakfast, lunch and dinner in certain hours (8am, 12pm and 7pm more or less) and snacks & drinks on the top floor all day long. Breakfast was 4 R$, lunch and dinner 10 R$, the water was for FREE on board, which I drank during the trip, without any problem. The food they have is the typical brazilian”prato feito” (rice, spaghettis, fish, meat or chicken, and beans), for around 10 R$ per meal, but as the boat stops on the way in several ports, you can also buy other stuff (fresh cheese, bread, juices, fruits, açai, etc.) on the different places, still you can always bring with you some snack before getting in the boat, like cookies, crackers, etc.

Once you found your spot and hanged your hammock, take out your book to wait until the boat is ready to leave. In the mean time, you will notice how crowdy it becomes (I boarded @11am, and we left @5pm!) Not only crowdy, but also you will see how they put their hammocks veeeeeeery close to yours, on top of yours, underneath yours… it becomes a colourful hammock maze. I was in the middle… and next to a woman with 2 children, who went almost the whole way with me… (no comments).

colorfull hammocks and locals

Once the trip begins it’s time to relax and enjoy the journey… you will first leave behind Belém with it skyscrapers, then it will become dark, and from the next day on, you will enjoy the best sunrises and sunsets of your life, you will see canoes coming close to the boat to ask for food, you will feel the fresh wind on your face, maybe you have some storms in the middle of the river, where it rains a lot in a few minutes, you will see houses of locals in the middle of the water, and schools, as well as stores, churches and a whole way of living.. on the Amazonia river.

Regarding insects, even though I took with me every kind of mosquito killer, I haven’t seen an insect on the whole journey! I did this trip on June (end of wet season) and regarding temperature & insects, it was perfect: nights were mild and I could sleep very well, and during the day due to the fact that we were constantly moving, I always felt a comfortable breeze, and as I said: ZERO mosquitos!!!! 🙂

Oh, and also important to know in these long term trips, there are bathrooms and showers, so no worries.. nobody is gonna smell on board!

boat activitiesIf you think you are going to get bored during the journey, your are wrong! You can read a lot, write your diary, check your guide for things to do on the next stop, chat with your neighbours (very close neighbours..) go to the top floor and have some beers while enjoying the landscape and hearing that great Brazilian music they love on the North of the country… (sorry it’s not Caetano Veloso… or anything similar…hahaha), sleep never ending naps after every meal, and the most beautiful thing: just sit on the side of the boat and enjoy that amazing green landscape…

  • Amazing skies at the amazonas river

Once you arrive to Santarem, you can ask for the timetable of the boats leaving to Manaus, I recommend you to take Golfinho d0 Mar which takes not more than 1 day and 1/2, and it’s super comfortable (meals in this boat are a little bit more expensive: 12R$, but you can still buy food from outside every time the boat stops). From Santarem, you buy your tickets directly on the port, and there is not so much bargaining here: I paid 120 R$ again, but normally they are 150 R$, and is very difficult to get a lower price (this second part I did it with a group of 4 people, so we were able to get a little bit more discount). Before continuing with the boat journey I recommend you to make a break @ Alter do Chão which is a very charming town on the Amazonia river, and then continue with the trip. In this case you can buy your ticket the same day you are traveling, some hours before departure, the bus to/from Alter, stops just 400 meters from the port, you don’t need to go into Santarem city.

golfinho do mar II

Beware: there’s one thing where you have to pay attention: every time the boat stops in a port, people comes into the boat to sell stuff, or to help the passengers to download their bags, so every time the boat stops, stay next to your bags, don’t leave them alone (or have someone watching them).

I hope I was able to answer all your questions regarding this amazing through the jungle, that most of us travellers, are eager to do when arriving to Brazil. If you have any questions or there something which is not clear, don’t hesitate in asking!!!

In the following map, you might see that even though the trip takes around 4 days, the journey its not even half of the whole Amazonas Rainforest

amazon river trip Brazil

#getinspired
#travelwithmery