Traveller's Guide: Brazilian Amazon

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

In the first instalment of our four-part series on Brazil, produced in association with Lonely Planet, we kick off a big year for the nation with a trip to the jungle

You'd think people would be happy for an excuse to travel to the heart of the Brazilian Amazon. No tropical rainforest in the world is bigger, no river in the world more impressive. The Amazon accounts for nearly half of Brazil's total area, and all told covers nine countries and is roughly the size of Australia. A bit humid? A touch hot? Certainly, but this is the Amazon, for goodness sake: the lungs of the Earth, an ocean of rainforest, a true wonder of the natural world.

However, suddenly there's one more reason to visit. Manaus, the site of the England football team's Fifa World Cup group-phase opener on 14 June, is the unlikely gateway to the Amazon: a compact city of more than a million souls in the middle of the jungle. It was once one of Latin America's most prosperous cities, thanks to a monopoly on borracha: natural latex harvested from rubber trees and used for everything from condoms to auto tyres and on the road outside Manaus's grand (and still functioning) opera house to dampen the clatter of late-arriving carriages. Manaus's golden era came to an abrupt end when an Englishman named Henry Wickham smuggled rubber-tree seeds out of Brazil to be cultivated in British colonial plantations.

Nevertheless, Manaus today is a gritty but engaging city, with some great museums, decent restaurants and passable hotels. It lacks the charm of other Brazilian hubs but makes up for it with easy access to the jungle, whether for a week or a weekend. Belem, near the Atlantic coast, is the other option; the city is quite lovely, with broad avenues and a lively urban centre, but it has fewer jungle trips on offer.

Outside the city, the Amazon is everywhere and awesome. The river commands more water than the next seven largest rivers combined, and pours into the Atlantic with such force that you can scoop up fresh water more than a hundred miles from shore. The region is home to pink dolphins, giant air-breathing fish and endemic species such as uakaris, better known as "English monkeys" for their shaggy white fur and beetroot-red faces. Despite deforestation, more than 80 per cent of the Amazon's original domain is still intact.

A typical trip to the Amazon includes spending three to seven days at a lodge in the forest (or on a river boat) which serves as a base for daily hiking, canoeing and animal spotting. Anglers have long coveted the Amazon's hard-fighting tucunare (peacock bass) while newer activities include tree-climbing tours. With Tropical Tree Climbing (00 55 92 2123 4791; tropical treeclimbing.com) you can scale a 50-metre samauma or angelim tree – and even spend the night up there. Jungle lodges vary in creature comforts, from private cabins to hammocks slung under a thatch roof. Meals are included, served family-style with other guests. Rates include room, board, transportation and guide service, and range from 180 to 250 Brazilian reals (£48 to £120) per person per day.

A word of warning: despite the abundance of wildlife, animals can be hard to spot in the Amazon. You're sure to see myriad birds, including parrots and toucans, as well as caiman, piranha, and dolphins. Monkeys and sloths are common in protected areas, but the chances of spotting them elsewhere are hit-or-miss. It's unlikely that you'll see animals such as jaguars or anaconda. The same goes for "untouched" indigenous tribes, who live in remote areas whose access is tightly controlled by Brazil's government.

Quick trips

The following operators offer memorable tours at affordable rates, without skimping on safety or professionalism. In Manaus, Amazon Antonio Jungle Tours (pictured above; 00 55 92 3234 1294; antonio-jungletours.com) has an exceptionally well-run lodge along the beautiful, mosquito-free Rio Urubu. Enjoy flooded forest, primary forest and overnights in the jungle. Three-night packages R780pp (£197), all inclusive. Also operating from Manaus, Amazon Eco Lodge (00 55 92 3308 8393; amazonlodgeamazonas.com.br) is the Amazon's longest-running jungle lodge, with comfortable floating rooms, experienced guides, good canoeing and hiking nearby. Three-night packages from US$749pp (£500), with transfers, full-board and excursions.

The friendly and highly competent owner of Amazon Eco Adventures (00 55 92 8831 1011; amazonecoadventures.com) has unique day trips in and around Manaus, from tree-climbing and scenic flights to restaurant hopping. Day tours from R300 (£77).

Riverboat rides

Another way to explore the Amazon is on a live-aboard riverboat. It may be less luxurious than a lodge, but the groups are small and the experience, with hiking and canoeing trips, is one-of-a-kind.

Swallows & Amazons (above; 00 55 92 3622 1246; swallowsandamazonstours.com) has offered river tours for years, mostly from Manaus up the Rio Negro to the Anavilhanas archipelago and Jau National Park – the largest forest reserve on the continent. Boats range from basic to deluxe. Full-day cruises from US$350pp (£233).

Lo Peix (00 55 92 8182 4793; lopeix.typepad.com) is run by an amiable Spanish-Brazilian couple who spent years exploring the Amazon by boat before taking tourists along. Two-night cruises from US$390pp (£260), including full board.

Mae Natureza (00 55 93 3527 1264; maenaturezaecoturismo.com.br) runs boat tours to Tapajos National Forest and beyond, from the village of Alter do Chao. It's a good way to avoid the hustle and bustle of Manaus. Half-day cruises cost from R150pp (£38).

Cultural highs

Although a jungle trip is everyone's priority, there are also excellent cultural and historical outlets in the Amazon. Centro Cultural dos Povos da Amazonia (00 55 92 2123 5301; povosdaamazonia.am.gov.br) is one of several worthwhile museums in Manaus, with a collection of indigenous artifacts. The city is also home to Teatro Amazonas (above), a 19th-century opera house painted pink with a cupola depicting the national flag (00 55 92 3622 1880; operahouse.com.br).

Estacao das Docas (estacaodasdocas.com.br) in Belem has restaurants, shops, an art-house theatre, a brewery and live music, all in the restored shipping docks. Arariba (00 55 93 3527 1324; araribah.com.br), in Alter do Chao, is one of the Amazon's best stores of indigenous art.

Outside Xapuri, in Acre state, the Pousada Ecologica Seringal Cachoeira (00 55 68 9947 8399) is in the forest where labour leader Chico Mendes once worked. "Rubber tours" begin at 4am and provide a glimpse into the conditions of working Amazonian rubber-tappers.

Unforgettable adventures

You'll have to spend both time and money to experience the perfect Amazon trip. The gorgeous Mamiraua Reserve outside Tefe, Pousada Uacari (00 55 97 3343 4160; pousadauacari.com.br) is arguably the best tour operation in the entire Amazon basin. It combines pristine surroundings with a professional service and reasonably easy access. Lodging is in comfortable floating cabins, and the lush reserve teems with life. High-water season (May to June) is especially sublime.

Less polished than Mamiraua, the Xixuau Project (amazoniabr.org) is a truly remote Amazonian adventure. Reached by a 36-hour boat journey from Manaus, the co-operative's simple, comfortable lodge is a base for trips to untouched forest in Roraima state, with opportunities to spot giant river otters and huge macaw colonies. Nightly packages start at €120, with travel from Manaus, full board and excursions.

Way up the Rio Negro tributary is Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira (above), a quiet town surrounded by Yanomami indiginous lands. The new Pousada Pico da Neblina (00 55 92 8111 1456; pousadapicodaneblina.com) is run by an experienced Australian who arranges tours including three-day climbs of the area's rocky buttes. Doubles start at R70 (£18); day-long tours from R175pp (£45).

Where to stay

Jungle trips include lodging, but you may need a hotel at the start or end of your trip. Boutique Hotel Casa Teatro (00 55 92 3633 8381; www.casateatro.com.br) in Manaus, has artsy, modern (but very small) rooms just a block from the opera house. Doubles from R120 (£31), including breakfast.

Go Inn (00 55 92 3306 2600; atlanticahotels.com.br) is another reliable option in Manaus, with modern rooms that appeal to business and pleasure travellers alike. Doubles from R167 (£43), including breakfast.

Manaca Hotel (above; 00 55 91 3222 9224; manacahotel.com.br) is Belem's best boutique hotel, with artful décor throughout. It's also within walking distance of shops and restaurants – and sights such as the basilica. Doubles from R188 (£48), including breakfast.

Pousada Multicultura (00 55 97 3343 6632; pousadamulticultura.com) is a good reason to spend a couple days in Tefe after visiting nearby Mamiraua Reserve. It has comfortable rooms, bracing river views and various day trips. Doubles from R80 (£21), including breakfast.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Manaus is the Amazon's main travel hub, with direct flights from Miami, Panama City and most Brazilian cities, and numerous options for jungle and riverboat trips right from the city. Belem is another option, with numerous international and domestic flights.

Within the Amazon, travel is by plane or boat, with virtually all towns and cities having facilities for both. Long distance riverboat trips, such as Belem to Manaus, or Porto Velho to Manaus, are a popular rite-of-passage for backpackers, but four days on a crowded boat can get quite tiresome. You can get a taste of the experience on a shorter leg (say Belem to Santarem, two days) and maximise your time by flying the rest. Another option is taking a speed boat which are quicker than riverboats but less expensive than flying. They are available on several routes upstream from Manaus, including to Tefe and Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira.

Lonely Planet's guide to Brazil is out now, priced £18.99. To order a copy go to shop.lonelyplanet.com

 

Next week: North-east Brazil

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
news
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
Arts and Entertainment
Tulisa as a judge on the X Factor in 2012
tvLouis Walsh confirms star's return
Life and Style
fashionClothes shop opens on Bill Clinton Boulevard in Pristina
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone