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The gateway to the rainforest
The Amazonas state capital of Manaus sits on the banks of the Rio Negro, around 1,000 miles inland from the gaping mouth of the Amazon River. A major port for both tourism and industry, the city takes its name from the indigenous Manaos tribe and was at the centre of the region’s nineteenth century rubber boom. Learn about this once prosperous - but exploitative - trade at the rubber museum, then explore hedonistic remnants in the city centre. Visit grand palatial mansions and admire the golden-domed Teatro Amazonas opera house, an extravagant structure built with imported stone, French tiles and Italian frescoes. Hear about its Indian history and discover the traditions of the native Tupi people; stop off at the Art Nouveau-style Adolpho Lisboa Municipal Market or head to the golden beaches of the Ponta Negra neighbourhood.
Its location in the middle of the Amazon rainforest makes Manaus an ideal starting point for jungle exploration. Venture into this biodiverse eco-wonderland on foot to view an extensive array of flora and fauna, including monkeys, caiman, manatee and Brazil nut trees. Climb aboard a motorised canoe or speedboat to journey along smaller igarapes, to discover the untouched Anavilhanas archipelago and to see the stilted houses of the Ribeirinhos (river people). Search for huge Victoria Regia water lilies at Lago Janauari Ecological Park, meet a rural community at Ilha Terra Nova, or swim with pink dolphins at Lago Acajatuba. Don’t miss the ‘Meeting of the Waters’, the point where the black Rio Negro converges with the sandy Rio Solimões, flowing side-by-side without mixing as they form the Amazon River.
Only accessible by boat or air, the city of Parintins lies on Tupinambarana, an island in the Amazon River that’s surrounded by dense rainforest. Visit here between July and May to discover relatively low-key lifestyles and attractions that include local souvenir shopping, charming restaurants and historic buildings. Visit during June, however, to rub shoulders with the tens of thousands of people enjoying the spectacular Boi Bumbá festival. Join in the carnival atmosphere at the Bumbódromo Stadium, where teams compete to be the most flamboyant and theatrical storytellers of the Boi (ox) legend.
In contrast to the vibrancy of Parintins, the nearby village of Boca da Valeria offers a glimpse at traditional Amazonian life. Appreciate this authentic settlement with its stilted wooden houses, manioc farm and handmade crafts, then meet the charming families that call it home.
One of the oldest cities along the Brazilian Amazon, Santarém can be found at the point where the murky Amazon River and the dark emerald Rio Tapajós converge. As in Manaus, the waters of different densities don’t mix, a phenomenon that makes for an interesting sight as you stroll along the waterfront promenade or cruise the river. Take a boat to head along smaller tributaries and floodplains, such as Maica Lake, to observe the local inhabitants or wildlife, and to experience the thrill of fishing for sharp-toothed piranha.
Back on dry land, hike through the lush landscape of Tapajós National Forest, passing tropical hardwoods, exotic orchids, verdant flora and rubber trees as you learn about the importance of the rubber trade, as well as gold mining and the impact of deforestation. Visit Casa da Farinha to appreciate the Amazonian staple of manioc flour, as well as observing the production of tapioca and the extraction of latex. If you’ve time for sunbathing, head to the secluded, ivory-sand beaches of Alter do Chao.
Deepest, darkest Peru
Cruises along the Peruvian end of the Amazon often begin in Iquitos, a remote city unreachable by road. Its days as a rubber-tapping hub and gold mining town are still apparent, though crumbling mansions are now surrounded by modest shacks. Go on an adventure from Iquitos to explore black water lakes or to search for pink dolphins, iguana and piranha. Trek through the rainforest to spot sloths and spider monkeys, or to marvel at colourful macaw, timid kingfishers, distinctive toucans and unusual hoatzin. See how many of the 1,000 catalogued species of flora and fauna you can find as you tour the flooded forest of the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.