Manaus is the obvious place in the Brazilian Amazon to find a jungle river trip to suit most people’s needs. Although located in the heart of the world’s biggest rainforest, you have to be prepared to travel for at least a few days out of Manaus if you are serious about spotting a wide range of wildlife. The city does, however, offer a range of organized tours bringing visitors into close contact with the world’s largest tropical rainforest. Unfortunately, though, since Manaus has been a big city for a long time, the forest in the immediate vicinity is far from virgin. Over the last millennia it has been explored by Indians, missionaries, rubber gatherers, colonizing extractors, settlers, urban folk from Manaus and, more recently, quite a steady flow of eco-minded tourists.
The amount and kind of wildlife you get to see on a standard jungle tour depends mainly on how far away from Manaus you go and how long you can devote to the trip. Birds including macaws, hummingbirds, jacanas, cormorants, herons, kingfishers, hawks, chacalacas and toucans can generally be spotted – but you need luck to see hoatzins, trogons, cock-of-the-rock or blue macaws. You might see alligators, snakes, sloths, river dolphins and a few species of monkey on a three-day trip (though you can see many of these anyway at INPA or the Parque Ecólogico do Janauary). Sightings for large mammals and cats, however, are very rare, though chances are increased on expedition-type tours of six days or more to deep-forest places like the Rio Juma. On any trip, make sure to get some time in the smaller channels in a canoe, as the sound of a motor is a sure way of scaring every living thing out of sight.
There are a few Brazilian jungle terms every visitor should be familiar with: a regatão is a travelling-boat-cum-general-store, which can provide a fascinating introduction to the interior if you can strike up an agreeable arrangement with one of their captains; an igarapé is a narrow river or creek flowing from the forest into one of the larger rivers (though by “narrow” around Manaus they mean less than 1km wide); an igapó is a patch of forest that is seasonally flooded; a furo is a channel joining two rivers and therefore a short cut for canoes; a paraná, on the other hand, is a branch of the river that leaves the main channel and returns further downstream, creating a river island. The typical deep-red earth of the Western Amazon is known as tabatinga, like the city on the frontier with Peru and Colombia; and regenerated forest, like secondary growth, is called capoeira.
Novo Aírão and swimming with dolphins
Novo Aírão and swimming with dolphins
Novo Aírão, a small jungle town on the west bank of the Rio Negro, is 115km (6hr) by bus from Manaus. By boat it’s around 130km (8hr). Its main attraction is the chance to feed pink dolphins from the floating restaurant next to the tourist information office at the town’s small port. The times for seeing the dolphins are Mon–Sat 9am–noon & 3.30–5pm, and Sun 9am–noon. The owner of the restaurant who has “trained” the dolphins charges R$10 for a plate of fish to feed them. You can get in the water with the dolphins who will splash and bump into you, hoping for food. Otherwise, there’s not much else to see in town.
If you decide to stay there are a couple of pousadas and a few restaurants, and internet access is available at a café at Rua Rui Barbosa 41. The best pousada is undoubtedly Bela Vista, at Av. Presidente Vargas 47 (t 92/3365-1023; R$71-120), which has small but pleasant rooms and serves delicious breakfasts on a patio overlooking the Rio Negro. If the Bela Vista is full, or if you want cheaper accommodation, try the Pousada Rio Negro (R$41-70) on the central praça.
From Manaus’s rodoviária, the bus (daily at 6am & 1pm) takes the Porto São Raimundo ferry and continues to Manacapuru before turning north and following the BR-352 to its end at the port of Novo Aírão, which sits opposite the Arquipelago Anavilhanas. It’s too far a distance to travel in a day, but it makes a good overnight trip from Manaus.