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

lencois maranhenses_lagoon

Barreirinhas, the Gateway to the Lençois Maranhenses

When people talked to me about Brazil, the first 2 things that used to come to my mind were paradise beaches with turquoise waters and the Amazonas rain forest…

Since I’m traveling around the country, after visiting the Northeast of Brazil, things change. In the Maranhão State you will be amazed with the Lençois Maranhenses National Park,  hundreds of kilometres of dunes and turquoise lagoons… Just breathtaking.

The main Gateway to visit this indescriptible landscape is the  small town of Barreirinhas, located near the National Park, across the River Preguiça. This town offer a lot of accommodation possibilities and for all kind of budgets. There is also a nice promenade “Beira Rio” next to the river where you can find restaurants, bars and enjoy the sunset while having a drink. All over the town center you might find a lot of travel agencies that offer the trip with the 4×4 to visit the national park. The town is not that big and its safe enough to go out for a walk for dinner or just to go for a stroll. Apart of the promenade next to the river there is not much more to see in Barreirinhas.

barrerinhias town

Visiting the Lençois Maranhenses National Park

There might be a few reasons why people arrive to Barreirinhas but the main one is to visit the Lençois Maranhenses National Park.
There are many agencies that offer the possibility to visit the park (you can’t go by your own), and they all do more or less the same trips.

Option 1: Passeio Lagoa Azul, 1/2 day trip by 4×4 (5/6 he)
You can take the 4×4 Toyota tour in the morning or in the afternoon (afternoon includes sunset!), and you will go in a group of maximum 12 persons. To get there first you cross the river with a balsa (in the trip included), and then you drive through the dunes and small lagoons until you arrive to the beginning of the National Park, where the Lagoa Azul and other lagoons are. Here you leave your flip-flops in the car and start walking barefoot through the dunes into the lagoons. Even though is very hot, the sand doesn’t burn, because is always moving due to the constant wind! You can take a bath in the non-salty water lagoons to refresh yourself and keep on walking through this breathtaking place. Each tour takes around 5/6 hs, including the driving time to reach the dunes. You can book the trip from your hotel or go directly in one of the agencies located in town. The price is around 60/80 R$ depending on the season and they all pick you up from your accommodation and bring you back there. In the morning they start around 8:30 am and in the afternoon around 2 pm.

heading to lencois maranhenses

Option 2: day trip with quads
Another really great way to get to know the Lençois Maranhenses park is with quads. You can also book this hole day trip from your accommodation. It will be a little bit more expensive that the Option 1 though (around 130/160 R$ per person/day), but it’s worth doing it. They will also pick you up and bring you back the place where you are staying.

Lençois Maranhenses with Quads                                      Lençois Maranhenses with quads

Option 3: boat day trip from Barreirihnas to Cabure through the Preguiça River
Another nice day trip is to take the boat to Cabure beach. This day trip also leaves in the morning and you arrive to Cabure for lunch. On the way there you stop @ the Mini Lençois in Vassouras where you can refresh yourself with a nice coconut water. Then you go to the light house in Mandacarú (really worth walking up, the view is very nice) and finally you arrive to Caburé where you can go to the water in the ocean side with the waves, or in the river side. The beach is huge here. They offer you the possibility to rent a quad to go around if you feel like. For lunch here you can have amazing fresh fish for a nice price. Really worth trying it!

river preguica trip

Option 4: Trekking around the Lençois Maranhenses (2 or 3 days option)
If you have time, the best way to visit the Lençois Maranhenses is doing a trekking tour around the National Park. You can book it from Barreirinhas or from Atins. The 2 days trip includes one day on the boat until Atins (stoping @ Vassouras, Mandacarú and Cabure) and another day to walk back over the dunes to Barreirinhas. The 3 days trip starts in Atins and goes to the Oasis where you spend the night there, sleeping in hammocks. The prices are around 120 R$ per day. Before booking ask if they include accommodation, transfers or food (normally they don’t, the 120 R$ are just for the guide that goes with you!).

sand_lencois
Option 5: Overflying the Lençois Maranhenses with a small plane
If your budget allows it, don’t miss the opportunity to fly over the Lençois Maranhenses National Park. There is one company that offer this trip from around 1000 R$: AVA, the office is located in Barreirihnas where you can do your booking. You can also contact them through their webpage to ask for prices and availability. They start with the sunrise and finish with the sunset so you can choose your best choice.

Tips before booking any of the trips:

  • book your trips at least 1 day in advance (they might be fully booked the same day)
  • always ask the price before, and if you can, ask in one or two places more to compare (normally the trips that the pousadas offer are very good)
  • try to negotiate the price if you get it direct from the agency. In low season you can get a lower rate (around 10 R$ discount)
  • if you want to do the trekking tour (which is 100% recommended) try to get a guide which is known in town, or one that the pousada suggests!

Another way to get to the Lençois Maranhenses National Park is directly from Saõ Luís, with a day trip. These are organised through your pousada: normally they pick you up @ 5 am, drive to the National Park, spend a couple of hours there and drive back to arrive around 9 pm to Saõ Luís. This tours cost around 120/150 R$ the hole day, but I only recommend this option, if you are really short in time and can’t spend more time visiting the National Park area.

Accommodation

Due to the fact that many people all over the world arrive to Barreirinhas to visit the Lençois Maranhenses, they offer a full range of accommodation possibilities. (These 3 options offer free WiFi)

Backpackers, Solo travellers:
This was my case, I was traveling alone so I decided to stay in the best hostel in town (and kind of the only one!): Casa do Professor 35 R$ per night with breakfast included. Rodolfo “the professor”, used to be an english professor, and around one year ago he opened this charming hostel located in Barreirinhas. The house is really cozy, with a nice living room where you can find a TV with movies in english and a conformable couch. There is a very complete and clean kitchen where breakfast will be offered, and where you can cook your own meals. There is also a garden with a hammock and the smoking area. They have 2 big rooms with bunk beds, one of them also has a hammock!!! If you are planning to arrive during the weekend you better book in advance. “The Professor” is really helpful, he will be ready to answer any question regarding the National Park tours, getting you a pousada in Atins, or trying to find you a guide to do the trekking through the park! (he also plays the guitar very well! 😉

casa do professor

Quiet low budget option:
If you are traveling alone, with a friend or with your partner, and you are looking for a local quiet experience, you can try the Pousada: Cama, Cafe e Aventura (35 R$ one person, 70 R$ double room). This house converted in to a little bed & breakfast is quite far away from the town center (20 minutes walking), but the house is over the river Preguiça, where you can go for a swim after a very nice breakfast or even use their Stand Up Paddle boards to go into the river (they have a dog, Mel, she loves SUP, too!). They also have bikes to ride into the town (when I was there only one was working… from 5! hope they repaired them). The owner has his own small boat, so they also offer boat trips or alternative options. Staying here is a very local experience, because you will be staying with the family, who lives in the house, too.

SUP with Mel

Comfortable and central located:
If you don’t have any budget problems this is the place to go in Barreirinhas: Pousada do Buriti (from 210 R$ per night). They offer private rooms with your own terrace, a big garden, pool and super buffet breakfast, tropical way!

Restaurants & Bars

Barreirinhas is really a small town, and doesn’t offer many options regarding restaurants. Most of them are located in the promenade “Beira Rio” next to the river Preguiça. For lunch most of the restaurants offer a buffet where you can get a full plate and they weight it (around 30 R$/kg), which is typical in Brazil (but you need to be veeeeery hungry to choose this option!). The other option is the “prato feito” which is one dish for around 12 R$, and they serve it for you with rice, feijão, pasta and a piece of meat, chicken or fish. There also a few pizzerias: Pizzeria Barlavento and Restaurant O bambu.

How to get there

From Saõ Luís there are two ways to get to Barreirinhas. You can get a transfer door to door from you pousada in Saõ Luís to Barreirinhas (4 hs ride, around 60 R$ per person, and they arrange it directly in your pousada, they normally leave every morning). You can also take the bus that leaves from the main bus station: Cisne Branco (it takes around 5hs, they charge 44 R$ and it leaves at 6am, 8:45am, 2pm and 7:30 pm). You can buy your ticket directly at the main bus station the same day, a couple of hours before the bus leaves. If you are coming from Jericoacoara to the Lençois Maranhenses, you will be arriving to Tutoia, and from there you go to Barreirihnas over Paulino Neves with a 4×4 toyota (around 3 hs trip).

Useful Information

Brazilian Real exchange rate today (09/09/2015):

3,79 R$ = 1 U$
4,23 R$ = 1 EUR

Some words in Portuguese that might be useful during your stay in Lençois Maranhenses and the map of the area as well as from Barreirinhas.

cafe d’amanhã: breakfast
passeio: tour
Lençois Maranhenses: the national park with dunes and turquoise lagoons
pousada: hotel
prato feito: a typical Brazilian dish with rice, pasta, feijão and meat or fish
Rio Preguiça: the river next to Barririnha
zuco: juice
sorbete: ice cream
toyota 4×4: the 4×4 cars that take you to the national park and can drive over the dunes
lagoa: lagoon
põr do sol: sunset

barreirinhas map