The Amazon region is mainly known for adventurous tours exploring the wildlife, jungle treks and river boat/canoe trips. Literally nobody would come here to enjoy the city life. However, the capital of the Amazonas state in Brazil, although located right in the middle of the world's largest rain forest, is a real metropolis with over 2 million inhabitants. The city is basically isolated from the rest of the country which preserves the original culture of the native tribes and gives it the unique touch. And, of course it is the starting point and gateway to the rest of the truly exciting area of the Amazon in Brazil.
Getting to Manaus
As I mentioned in the first part of the Amazon series - the only way to get to Manaus is either by boat or airplane. The roads basically don't exist - which makes Manaus the most isolated city in Brazil. There are many flights from the major cities all over the country. However, when you land in Manaus - you will surely not feel any difference - it looks like any other big city.
Do not buy any tours at the airport! You will be ripped off. Walk around the city center (near the city's main attraction - The Amazon Theater). You will be able to choose from many tour agencies and trips. You'll find some budget accommodation around also, if you need.
If you came to the Amazon just to stay in luxurious spas or hotels near Manaus (it is possible!) - you shouldn't even bother coming at all. The area is to be explored in its raw state - take a boat ride, sleep in the jungle, meet the local tribes, enjoy the nature. This is what you should enjoy in the Amazon. It's not comfortable or easy. If you don't like to get dirty - you'd be better off choosing one of the hotels in Rio de Janeiro.
What to See in Manaus
Although Manaus is huge, the main - old areas near the city center can be visited just by walking around. You'll see the post-colonial, colorful architecture everywhere. As a tourist, you will, most probably, visit the central square with the Amazon Theater and the areas near the port - while heading on to the Amazon rain forest. Although the tour you have booked will provide the transport straight from your hotel - it's nice to walk from the city center to the port - within an hour you'll get a nice free city tour and an insight into the local way of life.
The Amazon Theater Square
The Amazon Theater is the main landmark of Manaus. This colorful opera house was built at the end of the 19th century. If you're interested, there are tours available with an English speaking guide. You can also enjoy some free concerts - however, you must find out about it in advance.
Within the square, there are some nice restaurants and other great examples of architecture, for example the Palace of Justice. You will also see some typical little houses around, all perfectly well maintained.
The Manaus Port
The port is an interesting, vibrant and lively part of the city. It's much more chaotic and not as touristy as the main square. At the port, you can see the fishmongers selling their catch and also some interesting local markets. If you want to buy a souvenir, it's cheaper at the Mercado Adolpho Lisboa - a beautiful, bright red building near the port than at the stalls the jungle. Another nice example of interesting architecture is the Customs House - also right beside the port.
But what's most interesting around is probably the River Negro itself. You can admire the natural phenomenon here - The Meeting of Waters where two rivers of different colors meet and don't mix together. I've described it in detail in the post: the Amazon - The River.
Apart from that, on the way to the Amazon jungle or while having a tour around Manaus - you'll see the astonishing bridge over Rio Negro. It's nearly 3,600 m (11,800 ft.) long and connects Manaus with the city of Iranduba - the construction was completed in 2011.
The rainy season in Manaus
There are two distinct seasons in the Amazon - dry and hot and wet and rainy. If you want to enjoy the rivers, choose the rainy season - during the dry season many natural canals and creeks dry out. The weather during the rainy season is slightly cooler but on the other hand humidity can be quite annoying. I visited the Amazon in February, when it rains a lot and it had a great adventure - one of the best in my life. However, if you don't like flying, you may get a bit nervous during the take offs and landings in heavy storms.
Flooding is also common and I was "lucky" enough to witness quite a serious one - within 1 hour so much rain fell that the streets turned into wild rivers with water carrying everything it found on its path. It was quite scary as I was out in the city during that time - although I had an umbrella - I got completely soaked in a minute or so. Later on, I heard on the news that many landslides occurred that day and quite a few buildings were destroyed.
There are multiple tours you can choose from in Manaus - you can visit the rivers, you can sleep in the jungle (which I strongly recommend!), you can go hiking for a couple of days into the rain forest and observe wildlife. I have described the rivers in the post about the Amazon which included canoeing through the Amazon river creeks, hunting for alligators (and of course releasing them afterwards), piranha fishing, meeting the local family, experiencing an enormous storm in a tiny canoe.
In the second part, I wrote about what you can expect from the trip into the rain forest - a walk through the jungle with a local guide who explained how the native tribes coexist with the nature and use the plants to obtain food, poison and even soap and brushes! Later, a bonfire and a meal cooked on fire and a night on the hammocks right in the middle of the jungle. That was an experience!
If you don't have time for all this - you can go around the city of Manaus on a day trip and enjoy the monkeys, swimming with pink dolphins and native tribe performances. I've described it in the next, 4th part in the series about the Amazon.
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