The Amazon is famously the world’s largest rainforest, and its biggest city is Manaus: simultaneously a florid, humid, beaux arts-ish monument to the golden age of the rubber barons and a thriving, modern free-trade zone energizing and rapidly modernizing Brazil’s Amazonas state. Manaus’ symbol is the vast, gold-gilded opera house, its economy is based on electronics and manufacturing, and the reason you’re probably here is to see the Amazon.
There is no shortage of ways into the rainforest from this surprisingly modern city of glass skyscrapers and paved highways. Whether you fly into the international airport—Brazil’s third busiest—or visit by bus or (more romantically) boat, you’ll soon find ample accommodation and tour operators aplenty to take you into the deep Amazon.
The easiest way to explore the Amazon is on a day trip, with popular boat tours leaving for the “Meeting of the Waters” throughout the day, making the 9-km (5-mile) trip to where the black waters of the Negro River, and muddy brown Solimoes River, meet. They flow together side by side for several kilometers, a photogenic affect you’ll enjoy along with quick trips to short hiking trails on the embankments. Other day tours explore different tributaries, lakes and beaches, perhaps by canoe.
There are also excellent day trips or overnights you can do by land. For instance, you could take a two-hour bus ride to Presidente Figueiredo, with several organized options for exploring the rainforest. Guides can take you on walks to any of half a dozen waterfalls, or the Cave of the Maroaga. Boat excursions can also be arranged.
If you really want to get a feel for the Amazon, however, it’s well worth booking a trip to one of the many jungle lodges, or a multi-day tour where you’ll stay in several spots as you explore the river. These trips usually include tours that could include visits to indigenous villages, hiking or horseback treks through the jungle, canoe excursions and more. They are almost always all-inclusive, as there’s not much else around in the middle of the jungle.
Prices, amenities and activities vary widely, so shop around. Because the per person cost of multi-day trips usually depends on the number of guests (with costs dropping as the group size increases), travelers hoping to do a multi-day tour should ask several area operators if they’ve got any groups headed out that you could join.
Manaus is the easiest place to book basic transportation up and down the Amazon. These don’t include any side trips, except for those you make yourself, and be sure to stake out a spot for hammock as early as possible. But for a truly Amazonian experience, it doesn’t get any more authentic.
Keep in mind that some tour operators are out to scam clueless tourist; Manaus has long been a destination for would-be Amazon explorers unfamiliar with the scene. Booking with a reputable provider is essential and can save you from a disappointing (or disastrous) trip.