Things to Do in Amazon
The largest rain forest on Earth, the Amazon spans more than 2 million square miles (5.5 million square kilometers). Home to around 40,000 species of plants, several thousand species of birds, more than 400 mammals, and millions of different insects, it’s one of the planet’s vital organs—and an adventurer’s playground.
The mighty Amazon River and its enormous, thickly forested basin are the heart of South America and the guardian of 20 percent of the Earth’s fresh water. Visitors from around the globe come to Iquitos to cruise the river’s storied waters and catch a glimpse of diverse fauna both above and below the surface.
The city of Manaus lies at the confluence of two great rivers, the Solimões and the Rio Negro. Due to 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.
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.
Located about 100 kilometers north of Manaus, Presidente Figueiredo's Sanctuary Waterfall (Cachoeira Santuário) is one of the top travel destinations for visitors to the region. Stationed along the Urubui River, where black waters meet the muddy Amazon, Sanctuary Waterfall is surrounded by thick rain forest and massive mossy rocks.
Its picture-perfect location is ideal for travelers who want to explore the natural beauty of Brazil, navigate the rainforest and learn more about the flora and fauna that’s indigenous to the region. Plus, its close proximity to Iracema Waterfall and the town of Presidente Figueiredo make it a perfect day-trip destination for outdoor adventurists.
Much of Manaus’ wealth came from the rubber boom, during which it was the region's most-important port city. Manaus Opera House (Amazon Theatre) is a fine example of the Belle Epoque-style architecture that was popular during this epoque; the interior features some 200 Italian chandeliers and furnishings imported from Europe.
The image of the art-nouveau cast-iron Adolpho Lisboa Municipal Market (Mercado Adolpho Lisboa) 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.
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.
Built in 1903 as the home of wealthy German rubber tycoon Karl Waldemar Scholz and then auctioned off after the decline of the Rubber Boom, the Rio Negro Palace (Palácio Rio Negro) served as the state capital and governor’s residence for many years until it was converted into a cultural center in 1997.
Today, the main house and its outlying buildings contain galleries and performance spaces, including a coin museum and a fine art gallery. Visitors are free to wander the house on their own (most exhibits are marked with English explanations), but the Palace also offers free docent-led tours -- well worth it for those with an interest in Brazilian history.
More Things to Do in Amazon
Ponta Negra Beach (Praia de Ponta Negra) on the Rio Negro is just over 8 miles (13 km) from downtown Manaus in a neighborhood known for its abundance of night clubs, bars, and restaurants. Visitors head to this popular beach destination not just to spend a day enjoying the sun and sand, but also to enjoy the area's famous nightlife.
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.
The Rio Negro is not only the largest tributary of the great Amazon River, it’s also the largest blackwater river in the world. Its color—which looks more like strong tea than a dark oil slick—comes from high concentrations of humic acid. Despite its unique color, the river supports more than 700 species of fish, making it a rich resource for communities located along its banks.
Travelers who navigate the flow of this winding river can see the diversity of the Amazon Rain Forest up close and bear witness to the Meeting of the Waters, where the muddy Amazon River mixes with the dark Rio Negro. Visitors can hire a guide, paddle a canoe or hop aboard one of the local motorized boats to explore this natural wonder, where black waters and tropical vegetation make for a memorable experience.
This museum run by a congregation of Salesian nuns boasts a nice collection of artifacts showcasing the history, heritage, and culture of the region’s indigenous populations. Items on display include pottery, weapons, tools, ritual masks, clothing, and musical instruments from the tribes of the upper Amazon.
A lush enclave amid the vast Adolpho Ducke Forest Reserve, the Manaus Botanical Gardens (MUSA - Museu da Amazonia) offer you the chance to experience the wonders of the Amazon without straying too far from the city.
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 that’s located near Iracema Falls.
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.
The CIGS Zoo is run by the Brazilian Army and serves as a safe haven for animals rescued from traffickers and hunters. The site houses a variety of animals that have been rescued (or displaced from their natural habitats due to development), including jaguars, monkeys, tapirs, sloths, and many species of birds and Amazonian fish.
The Port of Manaus (Porto Flutuante) is an important commercial shipping and cruise port on the Rio Negro that serves as the gateway to the Brazilian Amazon. Situated in bustling downtown Manaus, getting to and from ship is easy; however, most visitors choose to spend a few days exploring the surrounding rain forests and rivers.
A major draw of visiting the Amazonas region is the incredible variety of living creatures that are unique to the river and rainforest. Anyone who might be a bit hesitant to go trekking into the jungle to meet them in their natural habitat can get a peek at the Amazon Natural Science Museum (Museo De Ciencias Naturais Da Amazonia).
Along with the Teatro Amazonas in central Manaus, the rubber boom of the late 1800s also saw the construction of the Church of San Sebastian (Igreja Sao Sebastiao). The church was built in 1888, and although there are other more noteworthy cathedrals in Brazil, this one is certainly worth a visit.
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