Discover Manaus, Brazil: The Gateway to the Amazon

If you're looking for a taste of local culture before you embark on an adventure in the Amazon, explore this urban haven within the Brazilian jungle.


The city of Manaus, Brazil, as seen from the Rio Negro. Photo © Getty Images/filipefrazao

Deep within the Amazon rainforest lies the capital of the Amazonas state, Manaus. Situated on the Rio Negro close to where it meets the Amazon River, this magnetic city is considered the gateway to the Amazon. It's magnet for adventure seekers who want to learn about the culture before embarking on their adventure in the jungle.

Despite being 930mi (1,500km) inland from the coast, massive shipping boats can be seen on the Rio Negro, as this is a major ocean shipping port. 

While Manaus is growing as a modern city, preserving the culture is important to the locals. Here are a few ways to experience it.

Things to do in Manaus

The Manaus Opera House

Visit the Amazon Theatre, which is a unique architectural landmark built in 1897 during the first rubber boom, when Manus was considered one of the great centers of civilization. Made out of Carrara marble and Murano glass, and featuring Louis XV furnishings, this an enchanting historic landmark.

The Amazon Theatre, a beautiful historic building in Manaus, Brazil.
The Amazon Theatre. Photo credit: Getty Images/benedek

Rio Negro Justice Palace

Built in 1903 by Karl Waldemar Scholz, a rubber businessman, today the palace is a cultural center and an architectural monument that is protected by the Amazonian government. Here, you can learn about politics and local history.

Provincial Palace

Built in 1874, this building originally served as police headquarters. Today, it's occupied by several different organizations, including the Image and Sound Museum and the Pinacoteca, a collection of artworks created by regional artists. 

Boat tours in Manaus

Take a three to five day trip into the Amazon to see how pristine and diverse the ecosystem really is. Leave behind your fears of the wilderness, see how local villagers live in the remote jungle, go canoeing through rainforest creeks, and spot toucans, macaws, jaguars, monkeys and iguanas which call the Amazon home.

You can easily find boat tours in Manaus, but do your research to find an operator that is sustainable and reliable. Do not book a tour off someone in the streets. Tour boats travel different routes throughout the year, and you can choose to travel on the Rio Negro or Rio Solimões (as upper stretches of the Amazon River are called) from Manaus.

Tip: When choosing which river to explore, the Rio Negro has fewer mosquitoes due to the acidity of the water, which makes it very hard for mosquitoes to reproduce. 

Once you’re on the boat, you’ll be fishing for piranhas, watching the sunrise over the jungle, and swimming with pink dolphins in Novo Airao.

Each night groups are taken on nocturnal expeditions with local guides to search for snakes and native caimans (a small crocodile from Central and South America). Riverboat cruises in the Amazon are a truly spectacular experience.

At the end of your journey, your boat will arrive at Careiro Castannha to witness the “meeting of waters”, where the Rio Negro (black river) meets the Solimões River. For almost 4mi (6km), the water from both rivers runs side by side without mixing due to different speeds, water density and temperature. It’s a one-of-a-kind phenomenon that can only be seen in the Amazon.

Discover nearby waterfalls

Take a two hour bus from Manaus to Presidente Figueiredo, also known as Terra de Cachoeiras or 'Land of the Waterfalls'.

Grab a tasty Brazilian lunch from a local eatery in town and take a dip in the refreshing waters of Cachoeira do Santuario (Santuario Falls), Cachoeira da Pedra Furada, Cachoeira de Neblina or Cachoeira do Mutum. If in doubt, ask in town for the best waterfalls to see.

Culture in Manaus

Get started by learning Forro (a Brazilian dance style), take an acai tour or see how traditional handicrafts are made by Brazilian First Peoples at Bosque da Ciencia.

Locals enjoy relaxing at Ponta Negra Beach on weekends, where you'll see locals playing volleyball and swimming in the river.

See San Sebastian Square's monochromatic patterned pavement, or take a walk through the beautiful Manaus Botanical Gardens.

Brazilians run on "Brazilian Time”, which takes a relaxed approach to day-to-day life. Lunchtime siestas are a part of the local culture in Manaus, so embrace it. Many businesses close after lunch and reopen in the late afternoon/evening.

San Sebastian Square in Manaus, Brazil.
San Sebastian Square, Manaus. Photo credit: iStock/filipefrazao

Trip notes

Transport to and around Manaus

The best way to reach Manaus is by plane or boat. Bus services from other major Brazilian cities are few and far between.

Once you reach Manaus, most attractions are within walking distance, however if you need to travel further, Ubers, taxis or moto-taxis are the best alternative mode of transport.

There are cheap local buses, but they are often overcrowded and a haven for pickpockets.

While experiencing Manaus's nightlife, catch moto-taxis if you need to get somewhere that is not within a safe walking distance.

Money tips

Come prepared with a travel money card and cash available before you arrive in Manaus. There aren’t many places to exchange money, and even fewer opportunities to do so once you get into the Amazon. Use large notes for accommodation and tours. Keep smaller notes and coins available to pay for meals, transport and toilets. 

Tipping is not mandatory, however you may want to tip your guide or driver to show appreciation for their services.

Haggling is common throughout the city, but ask the locals or your guide for reasonable prices beforehand and don't haggle too hard.

Before you go

Here are a few additional handy tips:

  • Check your visa requirements a few months before you go – don't leave it to the last minute. Depending on your country of residence, you might be eligible to apply online for a visa. 
  • A Yellow Fever vaccine is highly recommended for travel to the Amazon. Check with your doctor to find out what other vaccines or medications are recommended before you go.
  • Pack comfortable clothing with breathable material. The Amazon is hot year-round, so you won’t need to carry a heavy jacket, but you will need to pack a lightweight long sleeve shirt and pair of long pants for trekking in the jungle.
  • Pack insect repellent.

Manaus is a large city, but two days will give you plenty of time to explore. From there, take a riverboat cruise to explore the Amazon by water. Each day you will wake up to discover a different part of the rainforest. 

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