Following Avenida Eduardo Ribeiro south towards the waterfront, you’ll soon reach the Centro’s main artery, Avenida Sete de Setembro. To the left, dominating the leafy Praça da Matriz is the Catedral de Nossa Senhora da Conceição (tel. 92/3234-7821, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Sat.). Also known as the Igreja Matriz, this spare but handsome neoclassical cathedral was built in 1878 after the original 17th-century wooden church (Manaus ’s first) burnt down.
Walking in the other direction (east) along Avenida Sete, you’ll pass the pretty triangular Praça da Polícia (also known as Praça Heliodora Balbi) before arriving at the Museu do Homem do Norte (Rua Quintino Bocaiuva 626, Centro, tel. 92/3633-1074, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri., free). This ethnographic museum offers insight into the lives of the men (and women) of Brazil ’s North with displays devoted to prehistoric peoples, Indians, and caboclos.
Particularly interesting is the collection of artifacts related to traditional activities (extraction of rubber, Brazil nuts, guaraná), popular festas, and life on the Mighty Amazon. The museum possesses a small boutique selling regional crafts and a tourist information office.
Further on along Avenida Sete, the ornate Palácio Rio Negro (Av. Sete de Setembro 1546, Centro, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri., free) is a magnificent example of nouveau riche rubber baron ostentation. This saffron-colored mini-palace was built in 1903 by a wealthy German rubber merchant named Waldemar Scholtz, who was notorious for his extravagant garden parties and his pet lion. With the rubber boom went bust, Scholtz had to sell off his prize palace. It subsequently fell into the hands of the state and became the governor’s palace.
Today, the building functions as a cultural center. Amidst the lavish period fixtures and furnishings, there are usually some interesting temporary art exhibits. After taking a guided tour of the palace, you can also check out the trio of small on-site museums.
Worth wandering through are the Museu de Numismática, featuring a collection of coins and bills from around the world, and the Pinacoteca do Estado, which exhibits an intriguing collection of paintings by 19th and 20th-century Manauense artists. Less interesting is the Museu da Imagem e Som, although it sometimes screens engaging films and documentaries. Before leaving the complex, take a peek in the backyard to see life-sized replicas of a typical Indian village, a caboclo house, and a demonstration of rubber processing.
A few blocks further east, the Museu do Índio] (Rua Duque de Caxias 356, Praça 14, tel. 92/3635-1922, 8:30–11:30 a.m. and 2–4:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 8:30–11:30 a.m. Sat., R$5) provides an excellent overview of the history, culture, and day-to-day life of the upper Amazon ’s indigenous peoples. The more than 3,000 objects and artifacts—varying from bows, arrows, and blow darts to pottery, masks, and drums used for long-distance communication—are artfully displayed and accompanied by descriptions in English as well as Portuguese. The museum is run by the Irmãs Salesianas, an order of nuns who have various missions along the Amazon.
Adjacent to the museum is Koonoly (Rua Bernardo Ramos 60, tel. 92/8167-1972, 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Mon.–Fri.), a combination restaurant and crafts shop that is operated by a cooperative of Indian villages. Edible offerings include fish dishes such as quinhapira, a stew of tucunaré cooked in tucupi and spiked with fiery peppers, and popeca, fish rolled up in banana leaves.
If you have some extra time, you might want to venture out to the Museu de Ciências Naturais da Amazônia (tel. 92/3644-2799, 9 a.m.–noon and 2–5 p.m. Mon.–Sat., R$12). Tucked away in a predominantly Japanese-Brazilian suburb, this museum will help you bone up on your Amazonian beasts. On display, you’ll find preserved reptiles and gigantic spiders (creepy) as well as beetles and butterflies (gorgeous). Among the live species gliding around in a smallish aquarium is the pirarucu, the Amazon’s largest (and one of its most delicious) fish. Getting here is a bit tricky. You’ll need to take the 519 bus from Praça da Matriz and then walk for 15 minutes.