Have you heard of Manaus before?
My first knowledge of Amazon was through my textbooks in school, it was probably in my elementary years. I was not really a good student, so I never really paid attention to the details or information about it. All I know is that, it’s the largest rainforest in the world.
Frenchie on the other hand, has long been fascinated by the place. He even made a school report about it in his middle school. Researching in the library with the thickest encyclopedia he could find on the subject. That was how he was into it!
When I moved to Brazil, it was inevitable that visiting the Amazon should be our must do! More like #Frenchiesbucketlist 😊
After all the planning and timing, we finally found ourselves in Manaus—the capital of the Amazon on July 15, 2016 for our two weeks adventure in the largest rainforest of the world.
Here’s what happens when you don’t listen to your Geography and History classes, you will end up bewildered! I honestly thought that when you say, “Amazon jungle or rainforest”, I will end up in the middle of it! I honestly thought there would be no buildings, cars, hotels, restaurants, and shopping malls.
But I was darn wrong!
Manaus was actually grander than I expected. Old buildings—European style are visibly beautiful around the city. It’s almost like Paris with Italian piazzas because the rich people at that time constructed grandiose mansions inspired by French architectures.
Historically, the rich city of Manaus was a product of the rubber boom and the vision of Eduardo Ribeiro, who transformed the city from 1892 to what it looks like today.
“Manaus was an opulent metropolis run by elegant people, who, despite the tropical heat, dressed ad housed themselves as fashionably as their counterparts in any large European city.” (The Rough Guide to Brazil)
When I read that, I told Frenchie, “Rich people do crazy sh*t with their money! I can only imagine how uncomfortable the women back then, wearing those thick gowns on such hot weather!”
But just like anything else, the rubber boom came to an end—lasted only for thirty years. Yet, Manaus became the commercial and industrial center for the whole Amazon region, it’s like Hong Kong in Asia.
If you don’t want to be the wild and daring adventurer into the depths of the Amazon jungle, but would still want to experience it somehow, Manaus is the place to be.
You can actually do so much in the city with a little touch of the Amazon adventure!
When in Manaus…
Join the English guided tour of Teatro Amazonas or The Opera House
It took 12 years to build this opera house that costs R$6 million. At that time, that money was A LOT! The 36,000 tiles for the cupola were imported from Alsace, France. The theater’s main curtain was painted by Brazilian artist, Crispim do Amaral in Paris.
Famous opera divas and maestros came to perform here during its heydays. Nowadays, there are regular guided tours in English and sometimes free performances. R$20 for the English guided tour, both mornings and afternoons.
Take a boat ride to the Meeting of the Waters
A day trip you can do when you’re in Manaus is to go to this popular destination. It’s called “Meeting of the Waters” because this is where Rio Negro and Rio Salimoes meet to form the Rio Amazonas. The alkaline Solimoes absorbs the much more acid Rio Negro over 10km downstream.
The two rivers continue to flow separately. How to distinguish which is which?! The Rio Negro is the black or dark one while the Rio Salimoes is the muddy yellow one.
Visit the Mercado Municipal to see the produce of the Amazon region
When you’re visiting Brazil, you should not miss visiting any of their Mercado Municipal. The Mercado Municipal of Manaus has an elegant Art Nouveau roof designed by Eiffel (yes, the designer of Eiffel Tower of Paris) during the rubber boom and is a copy of the former Les Halles market in Paris. It is another example of the European influence in the city.
This is where you can find the freshest produce, tropical fruits, Brazilian dishes, and cheap souvenirs. You can almost find everything here and on cheap prices.
We tried some fish dishes and fresh coconut-- straight from the fruit. Frenchie loved it! We checked out some of the spices that can only be produced from the Amazon. The market was a bit dark inside but it is colorful and smells like a hundred spices all together.
Go to the ports or floating docks
The ports and docks around the city are another way to understand the way of life in the Amazon region. When you visit these areas, you will see constant throng of activities stretching along the riverfront, while the ships moored at the docks.
You can also enjoy watching the boats getting ready to leave or, having just arrived as they also load or unload their goods. You can also eat here and buy from stalls because they would provide such service to the hungry sailors and passengers.
Hang out at the Praca Sao Sebastiao either late afternoon or at night
It’s right in front of the Opera House and the praca’s floor mosaic represent the meeting of the waters. But almost very similar to the mosaic by the Copacabana beach. I love this place so much because of the gatherings of the people just to hang out and lazy around. There are several free shows and food stalls to really enjoy your time there every night.
At daytime, there are several activities too, like a painting class. This place has a trendy vibe, just saying.
Eat the dishes of the region
The most famous one from Manaus is tacaca (a shrimp with gooey and “fishy gel” that tastes sour because of the leaf that’s on it). And since the region is surrounded by rivers, you will find fishes here that you may only be available here. We tried some of them and it’s a very straight forward meal because they just fry the fish.
But me being Asian, I convinced Frenchie to take me to a Japanese restaurant in the city, which was conveniently located near our hotel.
We went there several times that on our last night, I got food poisoning from their “not so fresh” tempura. Weee!
If you want to see the animals of the Amazon without chasing them in the jungle, visit the Manaus zoo.
Here you can find the mighty jaguar, the different species of monkeys, the wild boars, deadly piranhas, land turtles, THE anaconda, and colorful macaws.
Unfortunately, if there’s one animal that I really wanted to see in the Amazon jungle, it would be the sloth. But they were nowhere in sight despite our attempts. Frenchie did see one-- crossing the street no less, but in French Guiana. And he caught it all in video!
The interesting fact of this zoo is that, it’s right inside their military compound. Don’t be surprised if you see army men with rifles.
Take a public bus and savor yourself to the architectural beauty of the city
We were warned many times that Manaus is not safe. That the city is very much surrounded by pick pockets and muggers. Perhaps there is some truth to that. But here’s the thing, every city in the world—either it’s Paris, Manila, or Hong Kong, danger is present. The only difference you do is that, you get to be mindful of your surroundings, your belongings, or if you put yourself in that situation. We have only met the most kind and warm people, who were very helpful and suggestive. Nothing that shouts “danger”.
We took the bus and we savor the city scene as much as we can, and we really enjoyed doing it. But again, to each is his own. If you feel that this activity is too risky, then don’t do it. I don’t call this as an adventure, I simply consider this experience as a way to see the locals in their daily element and routines. I believe that when you immerse yourself like a local, you’ll get an authentic experience that none of the guided tours can offer. Just my opinion.😉
Explore the weekend feira
We were lucky to have spent several days in Manaus, so we ended up being there on a weekend. And weekends around Brazil means there are several feiras happening. This is like a flea market on the weekends were you can find some trinkets and goodies that will be good souvenirs for your trip.
Visit their Tourist Information Office for suggestions of your itinerary
Frenchie and I did all of our explorations on our own. But we did visit their Tourist Information Center to make sure that we were on the right track. Their office is located behind Teatro Amazonas. We were advised that before we go on our boat trip, we should prepare for our food and our supplies. Frenchie being a frenchie, we went to Carrefour.