Brazil’s World Cup city Manaus will have far more than just football to offer this year. Here are the top ten things to do in Manaus while you’re there.
See Italian architecture at the Manaus Opera House
Completed in 1896 at a total cost of over two million dollars, the Manaus Opera House was built at the height of the Brazilian rubber boom. Wealthy rubber barons constructed opulent palatial homes, hosted elaborate parties and attended opera and ballet shows, living in much the same way as their counterparts in Europe. Italian architects and painters were duly commissioned, and virtually all of the materials used to build the theatre were imported from Europe, including Italian Carrara marble and French tiles.
The streets surrounding the Opera House were constructed with a special blend of rubber, sand and clay in order to dampen the noise of late arriving carriages, so as not to interrupt the voices of Europe’s best sopranos. Today the Manaus Opera House hosts regular music and theatre performances from around the world. The Festival Amazonas de Ópera is held here annually April-June, while the Amazonas Film Festival takes places in November. Visitors can see the theatre interior during the day as part of a guided tour.
Discover opulence and politics at the Palácio Rio Negro
This beautiful colonial-period mansion was built in the early twentieth century by German rubber baron Waldemar Scholz. Scholz’s Amazonian dream came to an end with the collapse of the rubber boom, and his residence was soon acquired by the state. The building thereafter became the seat of the government and served as the governor’s residence for a number of years. Today, the Palácio, with its lovely varnished wooden floors, functions as a cultural centre and museum with displays of beautiful period furniture.
Explore the beginning of the Amazon
About ten kilometres from Manaus is the meeting of the waters, where the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimões meet to form the mighty Amazon River. The alkaline waters of the Solimões and the acid black waters of the Rio Negro (literally “Black River”) flow separately for several kilometres before they meet. Black water rivers are born in the central Amazon and have acid waters due to the decomposing organic matter that they carry with them from the forest soil; brown water rivers like the Solimões owe their hue to the large quantity of sediment they carry from the Andes mountains. The muddy brown of the Rio Solimões contrasts sharply with the Rio Negro’s dark black waters, creating a truly unique sight that is well worth experiencing.
Take a panoramic flight over the Anavilhanas Archipelago
Occupying an area of 350,000 hectares, Anavilhanas is one of the world’s largest river archipelagos. It is formed of over 400 islands and lies along the banks of the Rio Negro, the largest black water river in the world. Designated a National Park in 2008, this large equatorial forest is home to truly remarkable biodiversity. A panoramic flight over the archipelago is an unforgettable experience, with spectacular views of flooded forests, navy blue lakes and meandering rivers.
Stay at a Jungle Lodge
Lying at the heart of the Amazon rainforest means that Manaus is entirely surrounded by jungle. There are dozens of lodges here, mostly reachable by boat, to suit all tastes and budgets with accommodation ranging from rustic fan-cooled huts to luxurious air-conditioned chalets. Activities at jungle lodges include piranha fishing, jungle treks, night walks, canoeing through verdant creeks and bird spotting – to name a few.
Shop for crafts and vegetables at Mercado Municipal Adolpho Lisboa
Inaugurated in 1883, this art nouveau iron-cast market was based on Les Halles in Paris. As with most buildings constructed with rubber fortunes, the building structure was entirely shipped over from Europe. Within the market and further along the waterfront, colourful stalls display all manner of goods, including exotic fruits and vegetables, Amazonian herbs, handmade crafts and tropical freshwater fish. East along the river is the lively Banana Market, with heaps of green and yellow bananas and plantains for sale.
Get tribal at the Museu do Homem do Norte
Brazil is home to 220 indigenous tribes, speaking around 180 languages belonging to thirty different linguistic groups. Over seventy uncontacted tribes also call these lands their home. This fascinating museum provides an excellent introduction to the Amazon and its numerous tribes, with informative displays on pre-colonial societies, tribal rituals and medicinal herbs.
Admire the Victoria Amazónica Water Lily
The lakes and backwaters of the Amazon River are home to the giant Victoria Amazónica water lily, the largest water lily in the world. This aquatic plant has leaves that grow up to 2.5 metres in diameter that can sustain the weight of a small baby. The buoyant lilies have beautifully circular leaves with upturned edges, and pretty white flowers that turn light pink on their second day of life. Formerly Victoria Regia, the plant was named in honour of Queen Victoria by Sir Joseph Paxton, head of the Duke of Devonshire’s gardens, who impressed his fellow horticulturalists by becoming the first person to cultivate this exotic water lily in Britain.
Learn the life of a rubber tapper
The open-air Museu do Seringal Vila Paraíso re-creates the living and working conditions of rubber barons and tappers at the beginning of the twentieth century. The museum’s historic townhouse illustrates the luxuries that were available to wealthy rubber barons who lived much like their European contemporaries in the remote Amazonian rainforest. Displays include ancient pieces of furniture and memorabilia, such as a beautiful 1911 piano and a gramophone. Within the grounds is also the replica of a thatched roof shelter of a rubber tapper, along with a rubber-smoking hut where they would spend hours solidifying latex into rubber bales, ready to be shipped abroad.
Get adventurous beneath waterfalls at Presidente Figueiredo
Nicknamed the “Land of Waterfalls”, Presidente Figueiredo is a nature lover’s paradise, home to dozens of towering waterfalls and hidden caves surrounded by jungle. Lying 190km north of Manaus, it’s a popular weekend destination for those living in the city. Meandering paths snake through wild jungle before opening up onto cascading falls with amber coloured pools. This is a great spot for adventure sports including kayaking, caving, rafting and trekking.
With over 27 years' experience, Select Latin America are specialists in South American travel. The company organises tailor-made and off the beaten track tours of Brazil. Explore more of Brazil with the upcoming Rough Guide to Brazil, out in October 2014. Buy the Rough Guide to South America on a Budget now.
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