Manaus is much more than just a jumping off point for eco-tours
and fishing expeditions. The capital of the state of Amazonas is a vibrant,
exciting city filled with warm, happy, friendly, fun-loving people
that make extending your stay before or after your Amazon
trip worthwhile. It even deserves a trip of its own.
By Michael Bryant
Manaus is the little known (even amongst Brazilians) capital city of the Brazilian
state of Amazonas. Sure a lot of people have heard of it, but the bulk of its tourist
trade is stopovers for people going on Amazon jungle eco-tours, headed to some of the many
jungle lodges or going on a fishing trip in the Amazon basin.
While the Amazon Rain Forest offers some fantastic eco-tourism, jungle lodges and
unbeatable sport fishing for species such as tucunaré (peacock bass), I believe
Manaus deserves more attention than an overnight stop on the way to these experiences. For
a fraction of what you spend on the eco-tour or fishing trip, you can extend you time in
Manaus and have an enjoyable experience.
The reason for its relative anonymity is its isolation. Unreachable by road a good part
of the year (rainy season) from the southern part of Brazil, Manaus is relatively
expensive for Brazilians to visit. Airfare from Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo is often as
high or higher than airfare from Miami. The newly completed (more or less) Pan American
Highway that links Manaus with Caracas, Venezuela, passes through long stretches of
wilderness and its main river crossings are via small wooden bridges or ferries. The
Pan-Am is not paved all of the way and thus rainy season may find sections nearly
Manaus, itself, is a city of around 1,500,000 people situated about 300 kilometers
south of the equator and the largest city (in fact the only large city) in the huge state
of Amazonas. It is located on the Rio Negro about 18 kilometers from its junction with the
Rio Solimões (which Peruvians call the Amazon) where together they form the Amazon River.
The "Encontro das Águas" (Meeting of the Waters) is a popular sight because the
two rivers are so different in character and composition, they flow side by side without
mixing for several kilometers.
Manaus was the center of settlement for the "Rubber Barons" near the end of
the 19th century and several examples of beautiful architecture of that period
exist. The most notable of these is the Amazon Theatre, which is a gold-domed opera house
built in 1896 (check out www.internext.com.br/demasi/
for pictures and info in English or Portuguese). Some other examples of
turn-of-the-century architecture include the Palace of Justice (1900) and the Rio Negro
Palace (1900-1910). The local market on the riverfront (built in 1883) is worth seeing, as
are the Bosque das Ciências and several of the local museums.
However, those are just the typical tourist sites that can be visited. More general
pictures and info on the attractions of the city and region can be found at the site
mentioned above or www.zfnet.com/manaus, www.viverde.com.br or www.manaustur.com.br/pagina1.html,
all in Portuguese only. Hotel accommodations, from very reasonable to expensive luxury
hotels, can be found at the sites as well. A word of caution though, motels (throughout
Brazil) should not be confused with hotels. Motels are places, often quite luxurious, that
you can rent by the hour for an amorous tryst.
To really enjoy Manaus, you need to step outside of the typical tourist mode and
experience the spirit of the people and possibly a "festa" (festival or
party) or three. Outside of Carnaval, which is a big festival throughout Brazil (not just
Rio) just before the start of the Catholic Lenten season, Boi Bumbá is the region’s
largest and most famous festival. Boi is a style of music and dance that celebrates the
history of the people of the region. The natives of the region call it a festival of
Boi Bumbá takes place on the 28th, 29th and 30th of
June on the island of Parintins (a 1hr15min flight or 26 hr boat ride from Manaus) and is
a competition by two groups (or Corrals) from Manaus of Boi dancers, singers and bands.
Each night the two groups, Garantido and Caprichoso, present a pageant of sight and sound
that is unlike anything outside of the region. Judges decide a winner after the completion
of the third night of the festival. It is a major influence on and of the region and
everyone in Manaus is either a Garantido or a Caprichoso.
The Boi Bumbá festival of Parintins is about 80 years old, but a newer festival of Boi
has begun where the people of Manaus (and visitors) don’t have to make the exodus to
Parintins. Boi Manaus takes place in October at the sambódromo in Manaus and is a
lesser-known younger sister to the boi of Parintins. But you don’t have to be in
Manaus only during these times to experience the Boi. Garantido (Friday night) and
Caprichoso (Saturday night) both hold weekly practice sessions at the sambódromo for
about three months before the Parintins festival. Admission to the sessions is less than
US$5.00. In addition, the amphitheater at Ponta Negra often has a free presentation of Boi
Bumbá music and dance (or other regional music) on Sunday afternoons throughout the year.
For more information on Boi Bumbá, check out www.raizesdeumpovo.art.br or www.parintins.com, both in English and
Besides Carnaval and Boi Bumbá, there are many lesser festas throughout the
year. Brazilians will celebrate at the drop of a hat. Or you may want to experience the festa
that accompanies a futebol (soccer) match. Manaus has a league of 8 professional futebol
teams and two major stadiums. To understand how much Brazilians celebrate futebol,
a short story is in order. When we were living in Venezuela, my wife got news from Manaus
of a tragedy on the Amazon River. It seems a group of people had chartered a riverboat
(Mississippi River gambler style) for a weekend outing and an impromptu futebol
game broke out on the large flat roof of the boat.
Fans of each side lined the sides of the roof to prevent the ball from going overboard
and to cheer on their team. One side scored a goal and the magnitude of the celebration on
the one side of the boat caused it to capsize drowning more than 30 people. While a sad
tale, it accurately illustrates the festa atmosphere that accompanies the game in
Brazil. Brazil may not always (though often they do) have the best team on the field in
international matches, but their fans always have the most fun. Your hotel staff can
advise you of any smaller festivals that may not be well publicized, or the schedule of
any games of the local futebol teams while you are in Manaus.
There is also a relatively active nightlife in Manaus apart from the organized
festivals. Local bars and nightclubs often have major Brazilian stars as headliners, as
well as Manaus being the home of the group Carrapicho, the group who recorded the
international hit Tic Tic Tac (or to hear it "tchiki tchiki tchac"). The Hawaii
Club on the Estrada Ponta Negra is one of the hottest spots in town on the weekends,
especially Sunday nights. Tukanu’s Bar on Avenida do Turismo is another popular spot. Deus
Me Livre on Estrada Torquato Tapajós is a hot spot for forró music and dancing,
which is similar to Cajun Zydeco music with forró dancing equated to a livelier,
All of the clubs seem to have a "motel" right next door (or at least very
close by) if you are so inclined and get lucky. Based on the amount of flirting that an
old graybeard like me experiences, even with my wife accompanying me, from lovely young
Brazilian girls on an average night out in one of these clubs, the chances of
"getting lucky" are good, if that is your wish. However, no matter what your
inclination, the festa atmosphere and spirit of the region, accompanied by some
good music and dancing is a certain bet on the Manaus nightlife circuit.
A more relaxed, but equally enjoyable, festa is spending a Sunday afternoon at
Ponta Negra. I regularly go to the barracas (small stalls) at Ponta Negra along the
beach (during dry season, during rainy season the beach disappears under water) on a
Sunday afternoon for some regional food and a few cold beers with friends. It is an
excellent spot for meeting people, or just people watching. I regularly make new
After a few hours at the barracas, I amble over to the amphitheater, where at
4:00 PM almost every Sunday there is a free show of music and dance. Quite often this show
is Boi Bumbá music and dance, but interspersed throughout the year with MPB (Música
Popular Brasileira), samba, forró and others. By the time the show winds down
about 6:00 or 7:00 PM, I am ready to go home and call the weekend enjoyably over. That is,
unless a trip to Hawaii Club is in the works.
Although I have only scratched the surface of what can be experienced in and around
Manaus, I hope that I have given you the idea that Manaus is much more than just a jumping
off point for eco-tours and fishing expeditions. Manaus is a vibrant, exciting city filled
with warm, happy, friendly, fun-loving people that make extending your stay before or
after your Amazon trip worthwhile. I think it even deserves a trip of its own, even if you
don’t plan an Amazon tour. I don’t think you will regret the time spent at all. In fact,
you may find, like me, that you don’t want to leave the "heart and soul" of the
The author is American expatriate living in Manaus, Brazil. Twenty plus
years of travel throughout the world in the oil industry has given him an appreciation of
other places, cultures and peoples of which Brazil and Brazilians are at the top of his
list. The author enjoys travel, outdoor activities, photography, music, nature and sports.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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