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ZB Travel – Manaus Aug 17

How far up the Amazon River is Manaus?

Home to 2 million residents, this incredible city is centred right in the heart of Amazonia, 1 thousand kilometres up the river from the Caribbean sea. That is the same distance as driving from Auckland to Christchurch, and if you visit Manaus on a cruise ship, you’ll spend three days sailing up the Amazon, to reach Manaus.

teatro amazonas (1)

Why does this heartland Amazonian city have so much ostentatious architecture?

In the 19th century, Manaus was propelled into prosperity, courtesy of Mr Goodyear and Mr Dunlop, who ushered in the rubber boom. Commercial rubber tree plantations carpeted Manaus, and the city enjoyed a golden economic boom. But before the euphoria ended, a dazzling legacy of architectural glories were constructed by colonial traders to remind them of Europe. The best example of this is  Teatro Amazonas, a grand Renaissance-style opera house, built in 1896, as a replica of the Paris Opera House, of Phantom fame.  Surrounded by the Amazon river and rainforest, it is a remarkable location for such a symbol of opulence.

The port is considered an engineering marvel, right?

Porto Flutuante absolutely throbs with activity around the clock. It services the booming cruise industry, in addition to the hundreds of fishing boats and cargo ships. Translated from Portuguese, the port’s name means floating dock, because of course this is a riverside port, not a deepwater facility. It opened in 1902, and the dock was designed to handle the dramatic rise and fall in seasonal water levels, which can vary by as much as 14 metres.

Amazon_boat (1)

Meeting of the Waters  Negro/Amazon

To get to grips with the sheer immensity of the waterway, which contains a fifth of the world’s fresh running water, take a canoe or motorboat excursion on the river.  A popular sight is the meeting of the waters, where the black inky waters of the Rio Negro intermix with the mud brown of the Amazon. And of course, all over the river are floating petrol stations, which is a bizarre sight for the uninitiated. But what intrigued me most about the river is that in most places, it is quite shallow, yet monstrously wide. As if you were floating in the middle of Lake Taupo.

Amazon lily pads

Jungle trekking/ lotus ponds

After my first foray under the forest canopy, I can appreciate  why the likes of David Bellamy get so foam-fleckingly enthralled by all things flora. Take a guided walk into the forest from Manaus. One of the stand-out sights is the grace and beauty of the giant lily-pads which are prolific in the Amazon.  The tropical birdlife is even more sensational. The riot of colour is only matched the riot of squawks.

The river villages by canoe

This would be my top tip. Take an guided canoe ride through the smaller tributaries  running off the Amazon, to see the indigenous villages in the rainforest and riverside.  The village children are particularly enterprising. A young Amazonian kid rode up next to my canoe and plonked his pet alligator in my lap, before exhorting me to buy his handmade wooden alligator souvenir.

amazon rivercruise

Piranha fishing and wildlife spotting

Many of these river-side villages also have fishing rods for hire. Dropping a line in the water and catching a razor-sharp piranha is a very empowering experience. They are nasty looking suckers. The locals will also help you spot manatees, anacondas and pink fresh-water dolphins.  waters are home to a bewildering array of wildlife.  If you’re lucky, when you’re walking in the forest, you may well spot sloths, monkeys and even jaguars.

Easiest way to get there? Most people are now visiting Manaus and the Amazon by cruise ship. The bulk of which leave from Florida, and mix it up with a few Caribbean stops. The other option is to fly into Manaus from Rio, the USA or Mexico.

Best time to go?   June , July and August are best. It’s the dry season, and the temps top out around 30 degrees.

For further travel insights, tips and advice, check out the website of New Zealand’s premier travel magazine, For the Love of Travel.

Mike’s travel notes from Newstalk ZB’s Jack Tame Show.

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