Port of Manaus
Find a Cruise to Amazon River
The town has quite a history. It was a small river village during the 1600's, populated mainly by indigenous peoples. Around 1669, because of its strategic presence on two major rivers, Portugal established a small fort in the town. Manaus grew steadily, increasing in importance as a port and, in 1850, it was named the capital of the Amazonas state. But toward the end of the 19th century, fortune smiled. Rubber trees grow throughout the region (and at that time, only in the region), and with the introduction of rubber vulcanization for use in the growing automobile industry, the city prospered along with the rubber barons who settled there. Much of the significant infrastructure in the town (such as the Opera House) was built by wealthy families who tried to convert the town into the Paris of the tropics. Unfortunately, an Englishman smuggled some rubber seeds out of the country, successfully transplanted trees to Malaysia, and the monopoly ended. The invention of synthetic rubber in the 1920's completely finished off the rubber industry and the high times in Manaus were over.
Recently, Manaus has again emerged as an important commercial center. It continues to be the main port serving the Amazon region; it is also a duty-free zone and the center for travel into the Amazon.
Manaus is a mix of crowded residential areas, bustling markets, office buildings, banks and traffic-filled streets. The town begins at the river's edge and extends outward and upward in a melange of curving streets, narrow alleys and mysterious walkways.
Top Manaus Itineraries
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Where You're Docked
Ships dock at the Porto Flutuante (floating docks), an ingenious structure that rises and falls with the greatly fluctuating river level. A stone retaining wall at the end of the bridge from the dock indicates the high water marks from 1902, when it was built. The town begins at the docks. Check out the number and sizes of riverboats that are docked with your ship; Manaus is the market center for the entire Amazon region, and river dwellers travel up to five days to buy supplies there.
The dock is connected to the shore by a covered bridge, and then a new, high-end (and delightfully air-conditioned) shopping center, Hidroviaria International Terminal. H. Stern and other upscale retailers are well represented; there's also a bar and an Internet/phone center. But a quick exit brings passengers immediately onto the streets of the city.
Good to Know
The heat and humidity. The city has no real differentiation between seasons; it is either rainy season or not, but it is always hot and humid. Also, Manaus is on a hill, so walking anywhere means walking uphill. Wear loose clothing (shorts and T-shirts are fine) and a hat, use sunscreen liberally, drink lots of your own bottled water, and take occasional breaks from walking. And a related warning: Cultural buildings are either not air-conditioned or only minimally so.
All of the main sights are within walking distance of the dock.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The real (or reais). ATM's are usually found in bank lobbies, especially along the Rua 24 de Maio; there are none in the market areas. Many ATM's take only cards with credit card logos. Unless you plan on spending a lot of cash in restaurants or shops, you can survive with a small supply of U.S. currency. Most cultural sights take both reals and dollars. And even in the markets, someone is always eager to exchange dollars for the local currency.
The official language is Brazilian Portuguese. Although not many residents speak English, the attendants in most attractions do. There always seems to be someone nearby in the markets to translate as needed.
Food and Drink
The street markets are filled with stands selling local specialties. To accompany your sandwich or fried pastry, try a cooled coconut. The vendor pulls a whole coconut from the ice chest, punches a hole in the top, inserts a straw, and serves it -- refreshing, particularly in the heat and humidity. Local ice cream is delicious too (try the tropical fruit flavors).
For a convenient meal of Brazilian favorites, check out Choppicanha Bar and Grill (092-631-1111), which is located on the pier right beside where the cruise ships dock. It features lots of churrasco (beef offerings), some local fish and a great assortment of cold Brazilian bottled beers. The outdoor tables are nicely shaded and the indoor tables are air-conditioned.
Canto da Peixada (Rua Emilio Moreira 1677, 092-234-1066), about a 15-minute cab ride from the dock, for its authentic and rustic approach to barbecued (a la brassa) local fish. It is a small place, nothing fancy, and the tables are set up outside. When they roll up the metal doors, consider it open. Pope John Paul II ate here during his 1981 visit to Manaus.
For dessert or a midday snack, head to Glacial (Avenida Getulio Vargas 161A or 188, a local ice cream chain. Choose a dish size, fill it up with as many flavors and toppings as you'd like, and pay by weight. If you don't speak Portuguese, you'll have to guess at the flavors, which include local fruits like acai and cupuacu.
It is hard to avoid the interesting and inexpensive variety of handicrafts in markets throughout the city -- everything from exotic carvings to handmade jewelry. The most authentic items are blowguns in a variety of sizes and designs, and medicinal oils from regional plants.