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An enigmatic destination with a robust history, this booming jungle metropolis proves it can hold its own as more than just a gateway to the Amazon.
It would be easy to write off Manaus, Brazil, as a mere pit stop on the way to the gaggle of riverside lodges that lure intrigued travelers into the world’s largest rain forest — many people do. But a closer look reveals that the capital of the Amazonas state is a thriving, modern city with a rich heritage and a population of 1.8 million people. Here, the translucent-red Río Negro — some 4 kilometers wide along the city’s riverbanks — meets the murky, tea-colored Río Solimões to form the mighty Río Amazonas, an awesome backdrop to sporadic colonial ?architecture peppered amid jungly flora, modern high-rises and stilted palafita (water house) architecture.
The newish Caesar Business Hotel is the city’s most luxurious, but it doesn’t shirk sleek amenities and service for a sense of place: A towering rain forest wall of bromeliads and ferns forms the centerpiece of the lobby. Park Suites Manaus in Ponta Negra, Manaus’ pricey northwestern suburb, offers guests shock-and-awe views of the Río Negro from its businesslike suites. And, in the center of town, steps from Teatro Amazonas, is Casa Teatro, which brims with local color courtesy of coconut-wood coffee tables, Romero Britto paintings and meticulously curated handicrafts. Rooms are literally as tiny as a train compartment, but there is more character and charm here than anywhere in town.
EAT & DRINK
A boat on a tributary to the Amazon River
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Banzeiro is a local colloquialism meaning “river wave,” but chef Felipe Schaedler is making waves of a different kind as head of one of Manaus’ most creative kitchens. He marries indigenous ingredients and French technique with stunning results: Meat slides off the bone like a culinary genuflection in his award-winning ribs of tambaqui, a tasty river fish. Choupana serves excellent freshwater fish as well as tasty tacacá, a soup made from jambú (an indigenous herb), tucupi (a manioc broth) and dried shrimp. For simpler fare, Waku Sese is a great outdoor café serving up one of Brazil’s tastiest treats: açaí. This cold, soupy bowl of sorbetlike fruit is served in the Amazon alongside tapioca kernels for texture.
Manaus’ landmark attraction is its gorgeous opera house, Teatro Amazonas, an out-of-place neoclassical remnant of rubber-boom opulence that originally opened in 1896. Also, several of the city’s best-preserved palaces have been turned into cultural centers, including the Palácio Rio Negro (1903) and the Palácio da Justiça (1900). Don’t miss getting out on the river, either. The meeting point of the Negro and Solimões rivers makes an easy excursion — and the stubborn refusal of these two rivers to mix is said to be the inspiration for the wavy black-and-white tile work in the plaza in front of Teatro Amazonas, reproduced more famously along Rio de Janeiro’s beach promenade.
If You Go
Caesar Business Hotel
(doubles from $200)
Avenida Darcy Vargas, 654
Park Suites Manaus
(doubles from $183)
Avenida Coronel Teixeira 1320-A
(doubles from $87)
Rua 10 de Julho, 632
EAT & DRINK
(main courses for two range from $30 to $53)
Rua Libertador, 102
(main courses for two range from $33 to $80)
Avenida Mario Ypiranga
A view of Manaus from the water
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(main courses for two range from $18 to $35)
Rua Rio Purus, 260a
Praça São Sebatião
Palácio Rio Negro
Avenida Sete de Setembro, 1546
Palácio da Justiça
Avenida Eduardo Ribeiro, 833
Also visit www.amazonexplorers.com.br
for more info on all things Manaus.