Synonymous with Belém  itself is the sprawling Mercado Ver-o-Peso (Blvd. Castilhos França, 6 a.m.–2 p.m. daily), which stretches out along the river. Just as Belém is the gateway to the Amazon rainforest , the market serves an essential link between the city and the jungle.
For over 300 years, boats have sailed down the river from the depths of the Amazon to unload their wares at the Mercado, whose name, Ver-o-Peso (See the Weight) is derived from the Portuguese habit of weighing all merchandise in order to calculate tributes to the crown.
The main building, with its twin neo-gothic towers and cast-iron structure imported from Scotland in the late 1800s, was originally known as the Mercado de Ferro (Iron Market). Today, it is only one section of the immense bazaar, which also includes hundreds of barracas as well as a tented area containing bars and restaurants where you can sample Paraense specialties such as fried fish, maniçoba, and açai.
The market is somewhat ramshackle and chaotic (keep an eye on your belongings at all times due to pickpockets). Yet the colorful jumble adds to the adventure of wandering through the labyrinth of stalls where you’ll encounter exotica ranging from cobra teeth and pirarucu tongues (used by Indians as a kitchen grater) to herbal potions guaranteed to make you filthy rich or lucky in love.
The initial assault on your senses is a little overwhelming. The liquid gold of bottled tucupi clashes with the deep green of ground manioc leaves, the soft rose blush of a jambu fruit, and the rich purple of açai. There are also the smells: the sweet perfume of bacuri and graviola mingling with the pungent saltiness of cured beef and fresh fish. And the noises: the snip of scissors separating seeds from the pearly flesh of a cupuaçu, the crack of Brazil nuts being removed from their shells, the singsongy cries of merchants touting their wares.
Aside from the gorgeous jumble of fruits, fish, spices, doces, and ceramics, one of the most interesting sections is the area devoted to indigenous herbal remedies that will cure whatever ails you—physically or spiritually. The women who hawk these potions, known as mandingueiras, swear by the miraculous recipes that have been passed down through generations. They range from powdered vulture’s liver (great for a hangover) to the bottled genitalia of a boto, or pink river dolphin, which is purported to be a foolproof love potion.
Although it has no curative properties, a Ver-o-Peso best-seller is extract of pau-rosa, an Amazonian tree whose bark is one of the main ingredients in Chanel No. 5 perfume.