Manaus is best known as a stopover for travelers on the way to and from eco tours in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, but in many ways it is more like a bustling frontier outpost of the modern, industrial world on a distant, jungle planet.
Visitors may find the sci-fi feel of the place enhanced by the fact that the only reliable ways to get there are by plane or river boat. The next closest urban center, Belém, is 777 miles (1,250 km) away, and Manaus is a four-hour flight from Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo. (Map: http://goo.gl/maps/wQcdt)
Manaus is surrounded on three sides by mostly impassible jungle and on the other by rivers: the enormous Rio Negro and the almost unimaginably more powerful Amazon River.
When you step off the plane, even the air can seem other-worldly, a hot, humid blast that feels like steam – so much so that physical effort can be utterly exhausting.
But this city of 2 million is more than just jungle. It is a free-trade zone with an oil refinery and dozens of electronics and appliance factories. Its residents, an ethnic soup of Brazilians of native Indian, African, European and Japanese descent, assemble everything from cellphones to Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
To keep all this going you need life-support. The city protects itself from the hostile environment with ice-cold air conditioning. Passing from refrigerated hotel to scorching sidewalk to refrigerated taxi can be a thermal shock.
Soccer fans should be prepared to sweat when Manaus hosts four World Cup games next month in a new $300 million stadium that looks destined to become a white elephant. Arena Amazônia is the venue for England vs Italy, Cameroon vs Croatia, USA vs Portugal and Honduras vs Switzerland.
Here are some tips for getting to know Manaus from Reuters, whose 2,600 journalists in all parts of the world offer visitors the best local insights.
Opera in the Amazon
Colonial houses, churches and monuments dating back to the 1850s are clustered in Largo Sao Sebastião, where the star attraction is a French Belle Époque opera house built over a century ago by rubber barons – the 700-seat Teatro Amazonas.
This year, the April 19-June 30 opera season includes 33 performances. Visitors looking for high culture in the Amazon can see Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut,” Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” or Bizet’s “Carmen.”
For breakfast with a view of the Rio Negro, visit the newly restored Adolpho Lisboa market on Rua dos Barés. It was inspired by Paris’s Les Halles market and features Portuguese stained glass. The crafts sold there are unique to the Amazon.
Taste of the jungle
While an excursion to a nature lodge or a river cruise up the Amazon to Peru is the best way to experience the rainforest, you can also visit the jungle without foregoing urban comforts.
The National continued…