Two Weeks Along the Amazon
Spend 14 days exploring the world’s largest, most diverse, and most mysterious rainforest. Screeching birds, snapping piranhas, caimans with glow-in-the-dark eyes, and frolicking river dolphins are banalities in these parts.
For bases use the jungle capital of Manaus, located at the point at which the Rio Solimões and Rio Negro form the Rio Amazonas, and Belém, a striking colonial city at the mouth of the Amazon with rich culinary and cultural traditions. Midway between both cities is Santarém, a lazy river outpost that offers an authentic taste of life along the Amazon as well as the pristine white-sand river beaches of Alter do Chão.
Arrive in Manaus. If you’re flying directly via Miami, you’ll arrive in the morning and check into a hotel. If you’re flying via São Paulo, you’ll arrive late in the afternoon. The two major sights you’ll definitely want to see are the sumptuous Teatro Amazonas and the spectacle of the Rio Negro merging with the Rio Solimões to form the mighty Amazon, known as the Meeting of the Waters.
Extra time can be spent exploring the market and a museum or two near Centro. Sample local river fish and caboclinho sandwiches. In the evening, catch a performance at the Teatro Amazonas (if you didn’t visit during the day) or taxi to a riverside bar in Ponta Negra, overlooking the Rio Negro.
Leave Manaus and head up the Rio Negro or Rio Solimões to a jungle lodge, such as the Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge amid the 400 islands of the Anavilhanas Archipelago, where you can experience the unspoiled Amazon (transportation from Manaus is usually included in the rate).
A minimum of two nights at a jungle lodge in the heart of the forest is an ideal Amazonian baptism. Meals, guided excursions, and most activities, such as piranha fishing and swimming with river dolphins, are included.
Return to Manaus and fly to Santarém on the shores of Rio Tapajós. Check into a pousada and wander around this riverside town, watching boats come and go. Sample local fish at Peixaria Piracatú, and later on, have drinks overlooking the river at O Mascote, a popular gathering place.
Take a day excursion from Santarém to the Floresta Nacional do Tapajós, where you can hike through the rainforest and observe rubber tappers at work.
Spend the morning on the beach before returning to Santarém and flying to Belém. Wander around the colonial district of Cidade Velha, where you can poke into churches and rubber barons’ palaces. Feast on Amazonian cuisine at one of Belém’s fine restaurants, such as the reputed Lá em Casa. Afterwards, head to Estação das Docas for a nightcap and some live music.
Begin the morning by wandering through the exotic wares at the Mercado Ver-o-Peso. Following lunch, head to the Mangal das Garças to check out exotic birds and butterflies, and the Pólo Joalheiro to see (and purchase) precious gemstones.
Take an early boat trip along the Ilha do Papagaio to observe the island’s parrots waking up. Return to Belém and make sure to visit the glorious Basílica de Nossa Senhora de Nazaré and the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, a chunk of Amazonian forest that is reputed for its vast collection of Amazonian flora and fauna.
Take a boat to Ilha de Marajó and check into a fazenda lodge on a working water buffalo farm. For the next two days, canoe through mangroves, sprawl on deserted beaches, and visit the pretty towns of Soure and Salvaterra. Try buffalo steaks as well as cheese and desserts made with buffalo milk.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition