The Amazon is a vast forest – the largest on the planet – and a giant river system. It covers over half of Brazil and a large portion of South America. The forest extends into Brazil’s neighbouring countries (Venezuela, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia), where the river itself begins life among thousands of different headwaters. In Brazil only the stretch between Manaus and Belém is actually known as the Rio Amazonas: above Manaus the river is called the Rio Solimões up to the border with Peru, where it once again becomes the Amazonas. It is by far the biggest river system in the world; eight of the world’s twenty longest rivers are in the Amazon basin, along with a fifth of the planet’s fresh water.
In its upper reaches, the Rio Solimões from Peru to Manaus, it is a muddy light brown, but at Manaus it meets the darker flow of the Rio Negro and the two mingle together at the famous “meeting of the waters” to form the Rio Amazonas. There are something like 80,000 square kilometres of navigable river in the Amazon system, and the Amazon itself can take ocean-going vessels virtually clean across South America, from the Atlantic coast to Iquitos in Peru.
Any journey up the Rio Amazonas is a serious affair. The river is big and powerful and the boats, in general, are relatively small, top-heavy-looking wooden vessels on two or three levels. As far as spotting wildlife goes, there’s very little chance of seeing much more than a small range of tropical forest birds – mostly vultures around the refuse tips of the ports en route – and the occasional river dolphin, although your chances increase the smaller the craft you’re travelling on, as going upriver the smaller boats tend to hug the riverbanks, bringing the spectacle much closer. Going downstream, however, large and small boats alike tend to cruise with the mid-stream currents, taking advantage of the added power they provide. Whichever boat you travel with, the river is nevertheless a beautiful sight and many of the settlements you pass or moor at are fascinating.
It’s important to prepare properly for an Amazon river trip if you want to ensure your comfort and health. The most essential item is a hammock, which can be bought cheaply (from about R$25 in the stores and markets of Manaus, Santarém or Belém, plus two lengths of rope (armador de rede) to hang it from – hooks are not always the right interval apart for your size of hammock. All hammock shops sell them and you need to get them at the same time as you buy your hammock. Loose clothing is OK during daylight hours but at night you’ll need some warmer garments and long sleeves against the chill and the insects. A blanket and some insect repellent are also recommended. Enough drink (large bottles of mineral water are the best option) and extra food – cookies, fruit and the odd tin – to keep you happy for the duration of the voyage may also be a good idea. Virtually all boats now provide mineral water, and the food, included in the price, has improved on most vessels, but a lot of people still get literally sick of the rice, meat and beans served on board, which is, of course, usually cooked in river water. If all else fails, you can always buy extra provisions in the small ports the boats visit. There are toilets on all boats, though even on the best they can get filthy within a few hours of leaving port. Again, there are exceptions, but it’s advisable to take your own roll of toilet paper just in case. Yellow fever inoculation checks are common on boats leaving Belém to travel upriver, and for travellers unfortunate enough not to have a valid certificate of vaccination, you risk having a compulsory injection.
There are a few things to bear in mind when choosing which boat to travel with, the most important being the size and degree of comfort. The size affects the length of the journey: most small wooden boats take up to seven days to cover Belém to Manaus, and the larger vessels generally make the same journey in five to six days (four to five days downriver). See the “Listings” sections for Belém, Santarém and Manaus for more on boat operators.
Better value, and usually more interesting in the degree of contact it affords among tourists, the crew and locals, is the option of taking a wooden riverboat carrying both cargo and passengers. There are plenty of these along the waterfront in all the main ports, and it’s simply a matter of going down there and establishing which ones are getting ready to go to wherever you are heading, or else enquiring at the ticket offices; these vessels are essentially water-borne buses and stop at most towns along the way. You’ll share a deck with scores of other travellers, mostly locals or other Brazilians, which will almost certainly ensure the journey never becomes too monotonous. The most organized of the wooden riverboats are the larger three-deck vessels, on which the Belém–Manaus trip costs US$70 for hammock space (US$50 downriver); this is negotiable if you’re really stuck for cash, and will often come with a small discount if you buy your tickets two or more days before departure. The smaller two-deck boats are cosier, but often only cover shorter legs of the river. This is fine if you don’t mind spending a day or two waiting for your next connection to load up. All of these wooden vessels tend to let passengers stay aboard a night or two before departure and after arrival, which saves on hotel costs.
There’s room for debate about whether hammock space is a better bet than a cabin (camarote; currently around R$250 upriver), of which there are usually only a few. Though the cabins can be unbearably hot and stuffy during the day, they do offer security for your baggage, as well as some privacy (the cabins are shared, however, with either two or four bunks in each) and, in most cases, your own toilet (which can be a blessing, especially if you’re not very well). The hammock areas get extremely crowded, so arrive early and establish your position: the best spots are near the front or the sides for the cooling breezes (it doesn’t really matter which side, as the boat will alternate quite freely from one bank of the river to the other), though the bow of the boat can get rather chilly if the weather conditions turn a bit stormy. If it really gets unbearably crowded, you can always take your chances by slinging your hammock on the lower deck with the crew, though you’ll also have to share your space with cargo and throbbing engine noise.
Ecology and development
The Amazon is far more than just a river system. The rainforest it sustains is a vitally important cog in the planet’s biosphere and covers an area of over six million square kilometres. As rainforests in Asia and West Africa shrink in the face of development, the enormous biodiversity of the Amazon becomes more and more important, as does its future. The rainforest is an enormous carbon sink, and if it burns the implications for global warming – as well as biodiversity – hardly bear thinking about.
The region was only integrated into Brazil after independence in 1822, and even then it remained safer and quicker to sail from Rio de Janeiro to Europe than to Manaus. It was useful as a source of timber and a few exotic forest products, like rubber, but remained an economic backwater until the 1840s, when Charles Goodyear invented a process called vulcanization, giving natural rubber the strength to resist freezing temperatures and opening up a huge range of new industrial applications. The new demand for rubber coincided handily with the introduction of steamship navigation on the Amazon, beginning an unlikely economic boom as spectacular as any the world has seen. By 1900 Manaus and Belém were the two richest cities in Brazil, and out in the forest were some of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world at that time. The rubber boom ended in 1911 as suddenly as it had begun, as rubber plantations established in the Far East (with smuggled Brazilian seeds) blew natural rubber out of world markets. The development of the region came to an almost complete halt, relying once again on the export of forest products to keep the economy going. There was a brief resurgence during World War II, when the Allies turned to natural rubber after the plantations in the Far East fell under Japanese control, but it is only in the last forty years or so that large-scale exploitation – and destruction – of the forest has really taken off (for more on this, see the section “The Amazon: A Guide to the Issues” in Contexts).
Politically divided between the states of Pará and Amapá, the eastern Amazon is essentially a vast area of forest and savanna plains centred on the final seven hundred miles or so of the giant river’s course. Belém, an Atlantic port near the mouth of the estuary which has undergone something of an urban renaissance in recent years, is the elegant capital of Pará and a worthwhile place to spend some time. The city overlooks the river and the vast Ilha do Marajó, a marshy island in the estuary given over mainly to cattle farming, but with a couple of good beaches.
Pará has always been a relatively productive region. Very little of the wealth, however, ever reached beyond a small elite, and falling prices of local commodities on the world markets have periodically produced severe hardship. Today, the state is booming once again, largely thanks to vast mining and hydroelectric projects in the south and west of the state. The landscape of southern Pará, below Marabá and the Tocantins-Araguaia rivers, is savanna rather than forest. Over the last twenty years some of the most controversial developments in the Amazon have been taking place here.
Amapá, a small state on the northern bank of the Amazon opposite Belém, is a fascinating place in its own right. A poor and little-visited area, it nevertheless offers the opportunity of an adventurous overland route to French Guiana and on into Suriname, Guyana and Venezuela – or even back to Europe via a regular Air France flight between Cayenne, capital of French Guiana, and Paris.
Apart from Belém and the area around it, the most interesting section of the eastern Amazon is the western part of Pará state, where the regional centre is Santarém and the neighbouring beach village of Alter do Chão is one of the most beautiful spots in the Amazon. Connections in the region are pretty straightforward, in that you have very few choices. The main throughway between Belém and Manaus is still the Amazon, with stops at Monte Alegre, set amidst a stunning landscape of floodplains and flat-topped mesas housing some of South America’s most important archeological sites; Santarém, at the junction of the Amazon with the most beautiful of its tributaries, the turquoise Tapajós river; and the less enticing Óbidos. There are good highways south from Belém towards Brasília (the BR-010) and east into the state of Maranhão (the BR-316). Across the river on the north bank of the Amazon there is just one road from Macapá, the capital of Amapá state, towards the border with French Guiana. It is only asphalted for the first third of its length and is often impassable in the rainy season. The BR-010 crosses the powerful Rio Tocantins near Estreito (in Maranhão) close to the start of the Transamazônica highway. If you’re coming from the south, connections with westbound buses and other traffic are best made at Araguaina (in Tocantins) where there’s a small rodoviária and several hotels. The first stop on the Transamazônica within Pará is Marabá, some 460km (12hr) by bus from Belém. Continuing from here, the Transamazônica reaches Altamira, on the navigable Rio Xingu, a small, relatively new city over 300km west of Marabá. With a population that’s grown from 15,000 in 1970 to over 130,000 today, Altamira is at the centre of an area of rapidly vanishing jungle. Beyond here the Transamazônica becomes impassable. The Transamazônica highway and southern Pará are, it must be said, among the least attractive and most desperate places to visit in Brazil. The poverty and sheer ugliness of the region after four decades of deforestation are the best counter-arguments to the common Brazilian claim that clearing the forest is necessary for development. Pigs will fly before development comes to southern Pará on this evidence.
The southern half of Pará, whose main towns are Marabá and Altamira, has virtually nothing to recommend it to the traveller; largely denuded of forest, it is now a jumble of unproductive ranches, poor peasants and depressing towns. When it hits the headlines it is always for the wrong reasons, such as the assassination of American nun Dorothy Stang in 2005. You are much better advised to head for western Pará and the area around Santarém, which has far more to offer. Basic details on southern Pará are given here, but our recommendation is that you avoid it unless you have good reason to go. Even then, take care.
Around 700km west of Belém – but closer to 800 as the river flows – SANTARÉM is the first significant stop on the journey up the Amazon, a small city of around 130,000 people, which still makes it the fourth largest in the Brazilian Amazon. Agreeable and rather laid-back, it feels more like a large town than a city – a world away from the bustle of Belém and Manaus. Even though the area around it has lately been transformed by a soy-growing boom, and the docks are now dominated by a Cargill grain terminal, this hasn’t had much impact on the town’s languid feel. But don’t be deceived: there are plenty of things to do here, and Santarém, positioned right in the centre of a region still largely (and inexplicably) unvisited by tourists, is the perfect base for exploring some of the most beautiful river scenery the Amazon basin has to offer.
Santarém is located at the junction of the Tapajós river and the Amazon; the waters mix in front of the city and the contrast between the muddy waters of the Amazon and the deep blue and turquoise of the Tapajós is as spectacular as the much better known merging of the Rio Negro and the Amazon in front of Manaus. During the dry season (June–Nov) the Tapajós drops several metres, fringing the entire river system with stunning white-sand beaches. This is the time to visit Alter do Chão, Santarém’s beach resort and certainly the most beautiful the Amazon has to offer.
Thirty kilometres east of Santarém, more easily accessible by river than by road, is a nineteenth-century sugar plantation called Taperinha. In an excavation there in 1991, American archeologist Anna Roosevelt unearthed decorated pottery almost 10,000 years old – twice as old as the oldest ceramics found anywhere in the Americas. This suggests the Amazon basin was settled before the Andes, and that the Americas had been settled much earlier than previously thought. Later excavations in Monte Alegre confirmed the middle Amazon played an important role in the prehistory of the Americas with cave and rock paintings dotting the surrounding hills also being dated at around 10,000 years old. About two thousand years ago, Indian culture in the region entered a particularly dynamic phase, producing some superbly decorated ceramics comparable in their sophistication with Andean pottery; there are beautiful pieces in the small museum in Santarém, and even more in the Museu Goeldi in Belém.
Boats from Santarém
Head for the docks nearer the large concrete wharves for riverboats to Manaus and Belém, where you can ask the various captains when they’re leaving and how much they’ll charge. Companies running boats to Manaus and Belém include Antônio Rocha, Rua 24 de Outubro 1047 t 93/3522-7947; Marquês Pinto Navegação, Rua do Imperador 746 t 93/3523-2828; and Tarcisio Lopes, Rua Galdino Veloso 290-B t 93/3522-2034. Wandering along the waterfront is the best way to find boats heading to the towns between Belém and Manaus; although the larger boats stop at them as well, it’s better to get one of the medium-sized boats that only ply that route, since everyone on it will be local and it will probably be less crowded. These boats usually have placards hanging from their side or set out on the concrete promenade, advertising their destinations and departure times. They are very cheap, and most serve beer and soft drinks en route, but your best bet is to take your own food.
Piranhas and stingrays
One thing definitely worth bearing in mind if you are swimming anywhere in the Amazon is that piranhas and stingrays (raia) are common. Piranhas are actually much less of a problem than you would expect. Forget any films you have seen; they don’t attack in shoals, prefer still water to currents and no death or serious injury from piranha attack is on record. Nevertheless, they can give you a nasty bite and are indeed attracted to blood. They frequent particular spots, which locals all know about and avoid, so ask for advice.
Stingrays are more of a problem. They love warm, shallow water and are so well camouflaged that they are practically invisible. If you tread on one, it will whip its sting into your ankle causing a deep gash and agonizing pain for at least 24 hours. However, stingrays really hate noise, crowds, waves and strong currents, and so are rarely found on regularly used beaches, such as Alter do Chão, near Santarém. But off the beaten track, they are an ever-present threat. You can minimize the danger by wearing canvas boots or trainers and by splashing and throwing sand and stones into shallow water if you intend to swim there.
The area around Santarém is richly rewarding, with a variety of day-trips possible out to Alter do Chão, Belterra or Fordlândia as well as boat journeys further afield. Due north, on the opposite bank of the Amazon, some six hours away by boat, is the town of Alenquer, the jumping-off point for the stunning waterfall of Véu da Noiva, on the Rio Maicurú. Similar journey times west along the Amazon will land you in Óbidos, east takes you to the beautiful town of Monte Alegre, and a slightly longer trip south up the Rio Tapajós, through gorgeous river scenery, will bring you to Itaituba, a classic gold-rush town 250km from Santarém. To head into less disturbed forest and consequently have better access to wildlife, your best bet is one of the tour operators in Alter do Chão. An excellent option is a visit to the Floresta Nacional do Tapajós, a national park some forty miles out of town down the Santarém–Cuiabá highway.
An arbitrary border, a line on paper through the forest, divides the state of Pará from the western Amazon. Encompassing the states of Amazonas, Rondônia, Acre and Roraima, the western Amazon is dominated by the big river and its tributaries even more than the east. This is a remote and poorly serviced region representing the heart of the world’s largest rainforest. The northern half of the forest is drained by two large rivers, the gigantic Rio Negro and its major affluent, the Rio Branco. Travelling north from Manaus the dense rainforest phases into the wooded savannas before the mysterious mountains of Roraima rise precipitously at the border with Venezuela and Guyana. To the south, the rarely visited Madeira, Purús and Juruá rivers, all huge and important in their own way, meander through the forests from the prime rubber region of Acre and the rampantly colonized state of Rondônia.
The hub of this area is undoubtedly Manaus, more or less at the junction of three great rivers – the Solimões/Amazonas, the Negro and the Madeira – which, between them, support the world’s greatest surviving forest. There are few other settlements of any real size. In the north, Boa Vista, capital of Roraima, lies on an overland route to Venezuela. South of the Rio Amazonas there’s Porto Velho, capital of Rondônia, and, further west, Rio Branco, the main town in the relatively unexplored rubber-growing state of Acre – where the now famous Chico Mendes lived and died, fighting for a sustainable future for the forest.
Travel is never easy or particularly comfortable in the western Amazon. From Manaus it’s possible to go by bus to Venezuela or Boa Vista, which is just twelve hours or so on the tarmacked BR-174 through the stunning tropical forest zone of the Waimiris tribe, with over fifty rickety wooden bridges en route. You can also head east to the Amazon river settlement of Itacoatiara; but the BR-317 road from the south bank close to Manaus down to Porto Velho requires four-wheel-drive vehicles, having been repossessed by the rains and vegetation for most of its length. From Porto Velho the Transamazônica continues into Acre and Rio Branco, from where a new route has been paved all the way to Puerto Maldonado in the Peruvian Amazon, with road links on to Cusco and the Pacific coast beyond. Access is easy from here into Bolivia, too; and, from Porto Velho, the paved BR-364 offers fast roads south to Cuiabá, Mato Grosso, Brasília and the rest of Brazil.
The rivers are the traditional and still very much dominant means of travel. Entering from the east, the first places beyond Óbidos are the small ports of Parintins and Itacoatiara. The former is home to the internationally known Bio Bumbá festival every June and the latter has bus connections with Manaus if you’re really fed up with the boat, though the roads are often very hard-going in the rainy season (Dec–April). From Itacoatiara it’s a matter of hours till Manaus appears near the confluence of the Negro and Solimões rivers. It takes another five to eight days by boat to reach the Peruvian frontier, and even here the river is several kilometres wide and still big enough for ocean-going ships.
Boi Bumbá in Parintins
Parintins, an otherwise unremarkable, small river-town with a population of around 100,000 lying roughly halfway between Santarém and Manaus, has become the unlikely centre of one of the largest mass events in Brazil – the Boi Bumbá celebrations, which take place in the last weekend of June every year.
The official name is the Festival Folclórico de Parintins, but it is often called Boi Bumbá after the name for a funny and dramatized dance concerning the death and rebirth of an ox traditionally performed at the festival. The festival’s roots go back at least a hundred years, when the Cid brothers from Maranhão arrived in the area bringing with them the Bumba-meu-boi musical influence from the culture-rich ex-slave plantations.
Tens of thousands of visitors arrive annually at the Bumbódromo stadium, built to look like a massive stylized bull, which hosts a wild, energetic parade by something resembling an Amazonian version of Rio samba schools – and the resemblance is not coincidental, the organizers having consciously modelled themselves on Rio’s Carnaval.
The event revolves around two schools, Caprichoso and Garantido which compete, parading through the Bumbódromo, where supporters of one school watch the opposing parade in complete silence. You thus have the strange spectacle of 20,000 people going wild while the other half of the stadium is as quiet as a funeral, with roles reversed a few hours later. Boi Bumbá has its high point with the enactment of the death of a bull, part of the legend of the slave Ma Catirina who, during her pregnancy, developed a craving for ox tongue. To satisfy her craving, her husband, Pa Francisco, slaughtered his master’s bull, but the master found out and decided to arrest Pa Francisco with the help of some Indians. Legend, however, says a priest and a witch doctor managed to resuscitate the animal, thus saving Pa Francisco; with the bull alive once more, the party begins again at fever pitch, with a frenetic rhythm that pounds away well into the hot and smoke-filled night.
The parade is undeniably spectacular, and the music infectious. But if you’re going to participate, remember joining in with the Caprichoso group means you mustn’t wear red clothing; if you’re dancing with the Garantido school, you need to avoid blue clothes. During the festival, forget about accommodation in any of the town’s few hotels: they are booked up months in advance. Your best chance is simply to stay on a boat; in all the towns and cities of the region – notably Manaus and Santarém – you will find boats and travel agencies offering all-inclusive packages for the event, with accommodation in hammocks on the boats. Most of the riverboat companies offer three- or four-day packages, costing between R$200 and R$700. The trips (26hr from Manaus, 20hr from Santarém) are often booked well in advance, and are advertised from March onwards on banners tied to the boats. There is a lot of petty thieving and pickpocketing, so take extra care of anything you bring with you.
Buying a hammock
Cloth hammocks are the most comfortable, but they’re also heavier, bulkier and take longer to dry out if they get wet. Less comfortable in the heat, but more convenient, much lighter and more durable are nylon hammocks. Aesthetically, however, nylon hammocks are no match for cloth ones, which come in all colours and patterns. You should be able to get a perfectly adequate cloth hammock, which will stand up to a few weeks’ travelling, from around R$25 for a single and R$50 for a double; for a nylon hammock, add R$10 to the price. If you want a more elaborate one – and some handwoven hammocks are very fine – you will pay more. Easing the path to slinging hammocks once you get home are metal armadores, which many hammock and most hardware shops sell; these are hooks mounted on hinges and a plate with bolts for sinking into walls. When buying a hammock you are going to use, make sure it takes your body lying horizontally across it: sleeping along the curve is bad for your back. A good hammock shop in Manaus is Casa des Redes on Rua dos Andradas.
Jungle trips from Manaus
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.
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.
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.
The Rio Solimões and the journey to Peru
The stretch of river upstream from Manaus, as far as the pivotal frontier with Peru and Colombia at Tabatinga, is known to Brazilians as the Rio Solimões. Once into Peru it again becomes the Rio Amazonas. Although many Brazilian maps show it as the Rio Marañón on the Peru side, Peruvians don’t call it this until the river forks into the Marañón and Ucayali headwaters, quite some distance beyond Iquitos.
Up the Rio Negro
The Rio Negro flows into Manaus from northwestern Amazonas, one of the least explored regions of South America. There’s virtually nothing in the way of tourist facilities in this direction, but it’s possible to make your way up the Rio Negro by boat from Manaus to Barcelos, from Barcelos to São Gabriel, and from there on to the virtually uncharted borders with Colombia and Venezuela. Alternatively, there are reasonably fast boats from Manaus every Friday, run by Asabranca, which call in at Barcelos (two days; R$100–200) on their way to São Gabriel (about five days up, three downriver; R$150–220). There are also daily flights to São Gabriel from Manaus, stopping off en route on alternate days at either Barcelos or Tefé on the Rio Solimões. To leave Brazil via these routes requires expedition-level planning and can take up to several weeks or longer, but it’s an exciting trip nonetheless.
Top image © Christian Vinces/Shutterstock