Things to Do in Amazon
Trying to fathom the Amazon’s size is a lesson in mental futility. You can read all the Amazon stats that you want—like the fact that the Amazon has more acres of land than China or India have people, or that 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced from the Amazon’s trees—but until you float down the Rio Negro and stare at the sea of green, or look out the window on a flight to Manaus at the endless landscape of trees, stats and figures about the mighty Amazon are only numbers on a page.
That all changes when you first catch sight of the Amazon’s muddy waters and realize how much of this liquid snake there really is to see. There are forests that teem with native wildlife and canopies alive in birdsong, and remote areas where indigenous tribes have yet to even be found. Granted, nearly all recreational visitors to the Amazon will stay pretty close to Manaus, where the chance of seeing jaguars and lost tribes is admittedly pretty slim.
The city of Manaus lies at the confluence of two great rivers, the Solimões and the Black. Although borders on water are typically impossible to see, that is not the case in Manaus. Because of the different colors of the two rivers, it's possible to see precisely where they meet - which is what makes the "Meeting of Waters," or Encontro das Aguas, a checklist must-do for visitors to Manaus.
The Black River, or Rio Negro, gets its name from the color of the water. The Solimões River in Manaus is a sandy brownish color. This means you can see exactly where the two rivers come together. Not only that, each river on its own is a different temperature and run at a different speed, so when they come together the water doesn't just mix to create a muddy soup - instead, the rivers essentially run alongside one another.
The image of the art-nouveau cast-iron Adolpho Lisboa Municipal Market building is like a snapshot of the multiculturalism of Manaus as a whole. The building, inspired by Les Halles in Paris and constructed in 1882 during the Rubber Boom, is distinctly European, but when you step through the doors, there’s no mistaking you’re in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon.
As the city’s main market perched on the banks of the Rio Negro, vendors here sell a bit of everything, and for the visiting tourist, it’s a great place to sample exotic fruits, learn about traditional Amazonian medicines or shop for souvenirs, like leather goods and índio handcrafted items.
Learning about the indigenous population of a country like Brazil should be an interesting and engaging part of one's visit. The museum is run by a congregation of Salesian nuns, and it boasts a nice collection of artifacts.
Anyone curious about the history of the indigenous tribes of the Amazonas region would likely enjoy spending some time checking out the variety of everyday objects in the Museu do Índio's collection - including pottery, tools, ritual masks and musical instruments. Descriptions are in English, Portuguese and German, and the museum is open varying hours from Monday-Saturday. Admission is R$5.
Located on the main square in Manaus, the Palace of Justice (Palácio de Justiça) was built during the term of Governor Eduardo Ribeiro, the state governor of Manaus during the golden years of the Rubber Boom in the final years of the nineteenth century. The palace, with its grand architecture inspired by the French Second Empire and Neo-classicism, is a testament to just how wealthy the region was during its heyday. In 1987, the palace was converted into a cultural center. Today, the public can visit the building’s offices and court rooms and learn about the important decisions made there throughout the region’s history. One notably interesting feature of the palace is the statue of Themis, the Greek goddess of law and justice, on the roof. A departure from the typical likeness of Themis, this massive statue shows the goddess with her eyes uncovered and her scale tipped, suggesting that maybe justice isn’t so blind after all.
Operated by the Salesian Sisters, an order of nuns with missions in the Upper Amazon region, the Indian Museum (Museu do Índio) displays a collection of weapons, musical instruments, ritual masks, ceramics, tools and ceremonial clothing from the indigenous tribes of the Amazon rainforest, mostly from the states of Amazonas and Pará. Apart from touring the collection to learn more about the region’s tribes, the museum also offers visitors the chance to shop for authentic índio handicrafts, like necklaces and baskets made from natural materials, in the small gift shop.
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Giant water lilies, flooded forests, fertile lowlands and rare wildlife are just part of what makes the 9,000-acre January Ecological Park a destination for travelers. Visitors can navigate the relaxing waters known for its massive lily pads—some measuring more than seven feet in diameter—while searching for rare tropical birds among the thick forests that line the river.
Playful monkeys, ferocious crocodiles and brightly colored butterflies are easy to stop on a trip through this extraordinary park. A handful of floating houses make for fantastic photo ops and a market selling traditional and handmade items by local artisans proves the perfect place to pick up handicrafts for friends back at home. And while it looks touristy at first glance, travelers agree January Ecological Park’s floating restaurant serves up local cuisine that’s worth stopping in for.
Travelers to Brazil rank a trip to Iracema Waterfall among the top destination for visitors in search of an ecological adventure. Stationed deep in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest, a trip to see the thundering waters of Iracema is an ideal way to get up close with the indigenous wildlife while exploring the Urubui River. After hiking the surrounding trails that lead to this picturesque peak, head to the foot of the falls where shallow waters provide a welcome escape from the humidity and heat of the Amazon heat and a perfect place for a refreshing dip.
Located on the site of a former rubber estate, the Museu do Seringal Vila Paraíso (Rubber Museum) is the last vestige of the Amazon’s once booming rubber industry, which brought an influx of riches to Manaus during the late 19th century. Marooned on the banks of the Negro River and reachable only by boat, traveling to the museum is an experience in itself and the recreated rubber estate is one of the Amazon region’s most unique sights.
Exploring the reconstructed rubber-tapper shack and smokehouse, visitors can learn all about the rubber making process, unveiling the secrets of tapping the rubber from the trees and viewing the ships in which the rubber was transported from the Amazon to locations all around the globe. As well as comparing the grand rubber baron’s home with the squalid workers’ living quarters (an eye-opening insight into the era’s rich-poor divide), the highlight of a visit is watching a live demonstration of extracting latex from a tree.
Known as the Land of Waterfalls, the town of Presidente Figueiredo is a hub for Brazil’s natural wonders. Close proximity to the picturesque Sanctuary and Iracema falls, as well as its rushing rivers, jungle treks and dark caves make it the perfect destination for travelers seeking ecological escapism.
Visitors can hire a guide and explore the falls with local experts who are well informed about the plants, animals and landscape of the region. Or they can hop a taxi from the bus station and venture into the woods alone—a popular choice among visitors to Presidente Figueiredo. A network of challenging trails winds through the thick forests surrounding the town, which was founded in 1981, and while most of these paths are free to visitors, several that enter private property may require travelers to pay a nominal fee. In addition to hiking, visitors can explore some of the popular caves near Presidente Figueiredo, including Arara, a local favorite near Iracema Falls.
Port of Manaus is right in the downtown area, so once your ship gets in it is as simple as walking into the city center to enjoy the sights. Not all the attractions are downtown, of course, but from central Manaus you can take a bus or taxi to outlying destinations you might want to visit - like some of the river beaches or museums.
Because central Manaus is within walking distance of the port, it is easy to spend a day exploring the city center on your own. You can visit the beautiful Teatro Amazonas opera house, pick up some souvenirs at the Mercado Municipal and learn about the indigenous populations at the city's history museums. Getting to points that are further away, like the Natural Science Museum or the popular river beaches, would be easier with a tour so that you don't need to figure out transportation or worry about getting back to your boat in time if you are visiting from a cruise. If your stop in Manaus is at the end of your cruise.
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