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.
STAY 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.
DO 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.
Caesar Business Hotel (doubles from $200)
Avenida Darcy Vargas, 654
Park Suites Manaus (doubles from $183)
Avenida Coronel Teixeira 1320-A
Casa Teatro (doubles from $87)
Rua 10 de Julho, 632
EAT & DRINK
Banzeiro (main courses for two range from $30 to $53)
Rua Libertador, 102
Choupana (main courses for two range from $33 to $80)
Avenida Mario Ypiranga
Waku Sese (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.