Manaus (Photo:Uwe Bergwitz/Shutterstock)
3.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Maria Smith
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Manaus

Manaus is the largest urban area on the Amazon. It is also the most important Amazonian port and the capital of the state of Amazonas. With 1.5 million people, it cannot be called a city by Brazilian standards (two million people are required for that designation), but it bustles like a major metropolis. The city is one more surprising sight on an Amazon cruise of many surprises, standing as it does in the middle of the Amazon, surrounded by rivers and rain forests. It lies at the critical juncture of the Rio Negro and the Amazon Rivers, and serves as the port for the entire region.

About Manaus


Pro

As far up the Amazon River as an ocean-going cruise ship can get, base for exploration upriver

Con

Hot and humid, the city itself has only a few cultural attractions

Bottom Line

A great place for a river-and-jungle tour, less ideal for independent wandering ashore


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The town has quite a history. It was a small river village during the 1600's, populated mainly by indigenous peoples. Around 1669, because of its strategic presence on two major rivers, Portugal established a small fort in the town. Manaus grew steadily, increasing in importance as a port and, in 1850, it was named the capital of the Amazonas state. But toward the end of the 19th century, fortune smiled. Rubber trees grow throughout the region (and at that time, only in the region), and with the introduction of rubber vulcanization for use in the growing automobile industry, the city prospered along with the rubber barons who settled there. Much of the significant infrastructure in the town (such as the Opera House) was built by wealthy families who tried to convert the town into the Paris of the tropics. Unfortunately, an Englishman smuggled some rubber seeds out of the country, successfully transplanted trees to Malaysia, and the monopoly ended. The invention of synthetic rubber in the 1920's completely finished off the rubber industry and the high times in Manaus were over.

Recently, Manaus has again emerged as an important commercial center. It continues to be the main port serving the Amazon region; it is also a duty-free zone and the center for travel into the Amazon.

Manaus is a mix of crowded residential areas, bustling markets, office buildings, banks and traffic-filled streets. The town begins at the river's edge and extends outward and upward in a melange of curving streets, narrow alleys and mysterious walkways.

Where You're Docked

Ships dock at the Porto Flutuante (floating docks), an ingenious structure that rises and falls with the greatly fluctuating river level. A stone retaining wall at the end of the bridge from the dock indicates the high water marks from 1902, when it was built. The town begins at the docks. Check out the number and sizes of riverboats that are docked with your ship; Manaus is the market center for the entire Amazon region, and river dwellers travel up to five days to buy supplies there.

Good to Know

The heat and humidity. The city has no real differentiation between seasons; it is either rainy season or not, but it is always hot and humid. Also, Manaus is on a hill, so walking anywhere means walking uphill. Wear loose clothing (shorts and T-shirts are fine) and a hat, use sunscreen liberally, drink lots of your own bottled water, and take occasional breaks from walking. And a related warning: Cultural buildings are either not air-conditioned or only minimally so.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The real (or reais). ATM's are usually found in bank lobbies, especially along the Rua 24 de Maio; there are none in the market areas. Many ATM's take only cards with credit card logos. Unless you plan on spending a lot of cash in restaurants or shops, you can survive with a small supply of U.S. currency. Most cultural sights take both reals and dollars. And even in the markets, someone is always eager to exchange dollars for the local currency.

Language

The official language is Brazilian Portuguese. Although not many residents speak English, the attendants in most attractions do. There always seems to be someone nearby in the markets to translate as needed.

Shopping

It is hard to avoid the interesting and inexpensive variety of handicrafts in markets throughout the city -- everything from exotic carvings to handmade jewelry. The most authentic items are blowguns in a variety of sizes and designs, and medicinal oils from regional plants.