Lying on the border with Peru, the state of Acre is dotted with nearly 300 geoglyphs, large geometrical motifs that were discovered in the late 1970s. Since then a number of other designs have been unearthed, yet their original purpose still remains unclear. It is largely believed they could have served for religious purposes, and were abandoned in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries following the arrival of the Europeans. Floating over these large formations and soaking in the Amazon rainforest from a hot air balloon is a truly unforgettable experience.
Lying at the border with Guyana and Venezuela is majestic Mount Roraima, an awe-inspiring tabletop mountain sitting amid steamy jungle, and often seen enveloped in mist. It allegedly served as inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World, a novel set on a remote plateau in the Amazon basin. Mount Roraima has long been revered by the indigenous Pemón people, who believe the tepui, or table top, to be the dwelling of their gods.
The picturesque village of Alter do Chão is home to spectacular Caribbean style white-sand beaches lapped by wonderfully clear fresh waters. The town is located on the right bank of the crystalline Tapajós River and sits at the entrance of the pretty Lago Verde, an emerald lake home to abundant flora and fauna, and a great spot to explore by canoe. Just opposite Alter do Chão is the Ilha do Amor, or “Island of Love”, a blindingly white stretch of sand dotted with laidback restaurants exuding a chilled vibe.
Amazonian cuisine is exotic even by Brazilian standards; a cultural hot pot embracing a variety of ingredients that most have never even heard of, including dozens of species of fish such as tucunaré, peacock bass native to the freshwaters of the Amazon River, and pirarucu, a member of the catfish family and one of the largest freshwater fish in the world, measuring up to three metres. One of the specialities of the Amazon is tacacá, a shrimp soup with tucupi (boiled manioc), hot pepper, tapioca starch and jambu (anaesthetising leaves that numb your tongue). Tropical fruits form the basis of most juices and ice creams, such as the hugely popular açaí berry that is highly rich in antioxidants.
The colourful Ver-o-Peso Market in the colonial port city of Belém is Latin America’s largest open-air market. Inaugurated in 1625, it was originally a tax warehouse, where goods were weighed to levy taxes for the Portuguese crown. On display are all manner of products, including handcrafted wicker baskets, exotic freshwater fish, tropical fruits, and Amazonian herbal remedies including love potions.
The Amazon is home to the world’s greatest biodiversity, with more and more species being identified over the course of the years. There are over 55,000 species of flora, with some trees reaching heights of 60 metres, while the canopies of others – including the Brazil nut tree – have a diameter of up to 40 metres. Only 30 per cent of the animal kingdom has so far been identified; among the animals that call this giant forest their home are three-toed sloths, jaguars, harpy eagles, macaws, alligators, manatees and pink river dolphins. At jungle lodges visitors can take part in plenty of activities, including educational jungle treks, bird watching, animal spotting and night walks.
Located at the mouth of the Amazon river, this is the world’s largest maritime-fluvial island – it’s the size of Switzerland. The island is home to spectacular freshwater beaches with golden sand and glistening waters, where the Atlantic flows into the Amazon River. On Marajó, hundreds of buffalo roam freely in the hinterland and along the coastal areas, and this is the only place in the world where police are seen riding these beasts.
Nestled deep within the Amazon rainforest are the Monte Alegre rock paintings, set amid a stunning landscape of floodplains and jagged mesas. These largely unexplored paintings are undoubtedly among South America’s most significant archaeological sites. Dating back 13,150 years, the indigenous paintings vary from abstract patterns to representations of animals and humans, including compelling images of the artists’ palm prints.
The Anavilhanas National Park is located in the north-eastern part of Amazonas State, and occupies an area of 350,000 hectares. This is one of the largest fluvial archipelagos in the world, with 400 verdant islands home to highly diversified flora and fauna, including caimans, giant otters and puma. The dark waters of the Rio Negro snake through the area forming hundreds of lakes, creeks and streams.
Inaugurated in 1896 during the government of Eduardo Ribeiro, the Manaus Opera House is without a doubt one of the Amazon’s most iconic buildings. It was built during the rubber boom era, at a time when Manaus was one of the wealthiest cities in Brazil. The theatre’s sumptuous interior features crystal mirrors, marble columns, Louis XV style furniture and porcelain vases that were all imported from Europe, and transported to this most unusual location by vessel up the Amazon River.