My 7 Favorite Things to do in Manaus
My 7 Favorite Things to do in Manaus - Understand
Manaus is a big, isolated city with more than 2 million inhabitants. It sits about halfway between the Brazilian Atlantic Coast and Colombia, along the shores of the Rio Negro. Manaus is a manufacturing hub that has attracted a number of mobile phone companies that operate inside the city's tax-free zone. Manaus does not feel like a frontier town, though. The big draw of Manaus is the easy (and cheap) accessibility and the option to cruise the Amazon River. Plus the Old Town (the Centro area) is another good place to explore for a few hours.
Expect hot weather year-round - not as hot as Bali or Kuala Lumpur, but it will make you sweat!
My 7 Favorite Things to do in Manaus - Get Around
Locals are addicted to their cars. A car is a local's mobile AC unit and drivers seem to attempt to break through the sound barrier constantly by speeding. Traffic is rather light and it's not unusual to see people go 100 miles an hour through town - breaking at the last possible moment. While that gives them Top Gear top scores, it's incredibly difficult to cross roads on foot. Taxis are rather rare (and more expensive here) and cars are old.
Taxi drivers aren't as friendly as in other Brazilian cities and airport rides are fixed at an inflated R$75. Be prepared for taxi drivers continually trying to rip you off. A couple of times, the Easy Taxi app saved me, finding taxi drivers willing to take me for a fair price.
My 7 Favorite Things to do in Manaus - Safety
Manaus has a somewhat lower homicide rate than other Brazilian cities - but don't be fooled. There are few areas that you can safely walk around in Manaus, even during the daytime. It is just too eerily quiet in many parts of the city day and night. From my point of view, it felt like the most dangerous city in Brazil (even if the stats are different). I had trouble shaking the feeling of danger, since there are so few walkable areas with enough other walkers around. Almost all the city looks pretty desolate, which does not help either.
The few safe places are inside the malls and some parts of Adrianopolis. I didn't feel safe in Centro either.
My 7 Favorite Things to do in Manaus - Sights
Arena da Amazônia
This brand new soccer stadium was purpose-built for the 2014 Soccer World Cup. It seems very much out of this world. Most of Manaus is a random selection of desolate neighborhoods and crazy roads and this modern sports arena looks like a piece of London's city - completely out of place in this mad, hot town. It will hopefully be used again during the Summer Olympics - if not, it seems like a big waste of money.
Manaus has gone through occasional boom and bust cycles. Commodities from the Amazon Jungle made the city rich at one time. Some of the 'rubber barons' pooled their money and set up the Teatro Amazonas, which is likely Brazil's most famous opera house. It's smaller than you'd expect from the pictures.
Praia da Ponta Negra
This river beach gets beautiful sunset views and is just super-chill. You will need a car to come out here or hire a boat from Manaus Pier, though.
Manauara Shopping is a tastefully designed mega mall complete with a tropical garden inside. It has chains that you'll recognize, as well asa decent food court.
My 7 Favorite Things to do in Manaus - Eat & Drink
WTF Burger Chef
This food truck, run by Mexican chef Daniel, easily has the best food I had in Manaus and some of the best in Brazil - a big, juicy, yummy burger that would compete well anywhere in the US. It's just $5 for this huge burger - don't miss it! The food truck is usually open after 6PM - before that, it's just too hot to eat outside.
Immediately next to WTF is Cent Beer - probably the best place to grab a beer in town. The owners have collected beers from Brazil and around the world. Imported beers are rather expensive, but local beers are fairly priced.
I tried a number of other places in Manaus, but, frankly, I would feel bad sending anyone to them. The coffee shops I tried had bitter, stale espresso at best. The lunch and dinner buffets at the mall (by the Kilo) have lame food with no taste and a lot of salt.
Don't go to Brazil for food, coffee or anything that requires taste. This is not the place for it.
My 7 Favorite Things to do in Manaus - Amazon River Cruise
This IS the biggest draw for coming to Manaus - see the mighty Amazon River up close. I came to town expecting a number of tour agencies competingfor my business, but this was not the case - I had a hard time finding anyone who would take me on a tour. Most travel agencies I found organize travel from Manaus but want nothing to do with river cruises.
My hotel recommended a day tour including transfer from my hotel to the pier (which costs about R$20-30 one-way in a taxi) including lunch for R$220 (though I ended up getting 'a deal' for R$200). To this day, I do not know the name of the company running the tour - just the travel agency.
I was promptly picked up in the morning and about 40 passengers were with me on this cruise. I asked around and most had paid R$100 by calling +5592981252720, but they had to organize their own transfers to the pier. At 4:1 to the dollar, this is a great deal! If it sounds sketchy, then it probably is, but that was all I could gather. You may need to speak Portuguese to book over the phone. You usually have to pay before the cruise, but I was successfully able to pay later at lunch time.
Most cruises will take you first to the Meeting of Waters - the point where the dark and warm Rio Negro meets the Rio Solimões, which is sandy in color and much cooler. It is a stark contrast of colors. Amazingly, the streams do not mix for another 4 miles. I never knew that the Amazon was made up of so many big rivers.
After that exploration, we pushed on to the wetlands to a little pet zoo for tourists to pet alligators and snakes. Not my thing, but my kids might have loved that! Alligators and snakes can get huge here, but you need to travel further upstream to actually spot them.
Lunch is often served on a floating restaurant in the middle of the wetlands. It's scenic and the lunch we had was excellent (yet it's the same buffet food that you get everywhere else; Brazilian food knows little variety).
The tour then continued much further upstream and under the freshly built Rio Negro Bridge - the first bridge over the Amazon!
Next up was an opportunity to 'swim with the dolphins' - really? Yes, there are freshwater dolphins here, which look creepy enough from afar, but if you are eager you can touch them while they feast on fish.
After this, we were taken to a local Indian village to see some traditional dances. I surprisingly liked that last stop - it all looks pretty original and gives you a glimpse into how life further upstream looks. The upstream areas of the Rio Negro are barely explored and are as remote as it gets in this world.