South America Travel News

Manaus: Where city meets jungle

Manaus is one of Brazil's largest cities, and one of the world's most intriguing anomalies. Situated in the heart of the Amazon, Manaus has the rubber industry to thank for transforming this riverside town into a city a lot bigger and more booming than the wilds surrounding it would ever suggest.

Because of its location, getting to know Manaus can be a pleasure as well as a paradox. High-end architecture, chic beachfront property and - come summer, plenty of international soccer - are all found here in the Amazonian city, slated to host games for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Yet, to really understand what makes Manaus great, you must journey beyond it. The town serves as the premier jumping off point for Amazonian adventures, and anyone going there would be remiss if they did not make plans to see some of Brazil's best sightseeing

Exploring the city
Rubber isn't only the product that helped build Manaus. In the latter half of the 20th century, Manaus was declared a Free Economic Zone as a way of encouraging economic growth in the Amazon, according to CNN Travel. That meant tax incentives for businesses that wanted to produce on the cheap, which results in a huge influx of factories and manufacturing to Manaus. Manaus' office buildings and architecture reflect that capitalist boom. 

Highlights of Manaus include the regal Teatro Amazonas and its Centro Cultural Palacio Rio Negro, a stately cultural center built in the era of its rubber boom. As Frommer's noted, the palace is beautifully ornate, featuring Brazilian art and sculptures among its rich hardwood interior design. There is also a number of small museums, including the permanent People of the Forest Exhibit, displaying life of those that live in the Amazon.

For further exploration, travelers should stick to the waterfront, where they can find food, shopping and, if you're willing to travel far outside downtown, the Ponta Negra Beach. 

The big sight
After sampling Manaus, it's time for the main course. Tours of the Amazon generally depart up the river, alternating between canoe rides and eye-opening hikes through jungle paths. Generally, it is not a trip for the faint of heart. Jeremy Hainsworth, a writer for The Associated Press who embarked on such a journey, remarked on the terror that he felt when his boat almost tipped into piranha-infested waters. He also had the opportunity to sleep in a hammock in the middle of the jungle, where animals, including jaguars, can pass by undisturbed. 

"Some people get scared," said Shane Zammette, Hainsworth's guide . "They're scared of almost everything. As we continue everyday doing our tours, it helps them conquer their fears."

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