Manaus – The City at the Heart of the Amazon
Manaus is the city at the heart of the Amazon, and the base for most Amazon Jungle experiences in Brazil. It is one of the biggest ports in the country, despite being some 1,500km upstream from the mouth of the Amazon River! The city was founded as a fort and staging post in 1669, at a convenient landing point close to the junction of two huge rivers, the Negro and the Solimoes. Only after these two giants join at the Meeting of the Waters do the two together from the mighty Amazon River.
The location of such a large city as Manaus is also explained by the Meeting of the Waters. The city sits on the north bank of the Rio Negro, whose dark waters meet but don’t mix with the muddy brown Rio Solimoes just 12km downstream. The two rivers have water of different densities, temperature and flow speed, which explains the phenomenon of the waters meeting but not mixing for miles.
The Rio Negro water from the Northern Amazon towards Venezuela has soil deposits which make it too acidic for mosquitoes to breed. Manaus was thus the first point upriver from the Atlantic that offered respite from hungry Amazon mosquitoes. The good news for visitors is that there are surprisingly few biting insects in the city and the lodges in the area that lie on the Rio Negro or Anavilhanas Archipelago. There are also some lodges on the Rio Solimoes, and the insect life is possibly balanced by them having perhaps more wildlife further up the Amazon food chain as well.
Manaus is generally used as the arrival city for people visiting the Amazon, not many people visit only the city and not the jungle for obvious reasons. The city itself is worth a look too, with the highlight being the Teatro Amazonas, the opera house in the middle of the jungle. This amazing building was built at the height of the 19th Century Rubber Boom, when Manaus was described as ‘one of the gaudiest cities in the world’ as rubber barons competed for extravagance. Some grand houses still exist, but the theatre with its imports of Italian marble, Scottish wrought iron, French furniture and Venetian chandeliers. There are parts from the Amazon too, with hard wood and a rubber entrance road made from local materials. The paving outside in the praça is also a representation of the Meeting of the Waters, and the design was copied for the paving of Copacabana Beach in Rio.
The Adolpho Lisboa Market is always interesting too, with Amazon produce from all over the Manaus region and beyond. Huge fish, fruits and vegetables that you have never come across before, many different uses for sharp piranha teeth and many artesan products from the area.
Other attractions in Manaus include the CIGS Zoo and the Bosque da Ciencia, both places to visit if you prefer your Amazon animals to be contained.
Manaus may make part of your Amazon itinerary but if not, then merely flying to the city can be a wonderful experience. If the rainforest clouds clear enough to allow you to see, the view of nothing but trees as far as the eye can see, only slashed by the occasional silver river, will be one that will make your visit to Manaus stay in the memory forever.
Suitable Destination For: Those visiting the Amazon Jungle in Brazil, or perhaps those with a great love of theatre.
Best Time to Visit: The Amazon wet season of December to April is not the best time to visit, although rain is almost guaranteed every day in the rainforest.
Essential Sights & Activities: The Teatro Amazonas; the Meeting of the Waters; the Adolpho Lisboa Market.