If you’ve ever considered visiting the Amazon rainforest, the chances are pretty high that you’ve already heard of Manaus. Manaus is a sprawling city packed with culture and it is home to around two million people. But apart from the magnificent rainforest, is Manaus worth visiting or not? We are going to delve into Manaus in some detail to help you decide for yourself.
Manaus is in Brazil and is the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas. You’ll find it pretty much slap bang in the center of the rainforest. Slightly northeast from the center if you want to be precise. Its position helps to explain why it is home to the INPA – the National Institue of Amazonian Research. The INPA is an institute dedicated to the research of the part of the Amazon rainforest that is located in Brazil. That is approximately 60% of the whole forest.
Along with the Rio Negro and the famous Amazon River, Manaus is clearly a great starting point for all things to do with the Amazon rainforest. You should visit the place where the two rivers converge – known as the “Meeting of Waters”. We’ll discuss this below. You can head off on a hiking adventure or join a guided tour of the rainforest. But what else is Manaus worth visiting for? Let’s see.
Did you know? Manaus is twinned with seventeen places, including Rio de Janeiro.
Meeting of Waters
Is Manaus worth visiting for this alone? Possibly. The Meeting of Waters is where the Rio Negro and the Amazon river join together. Nothing out of the ordinary about that you may think. But here you will see the convergence clearly, because of the different colors of the waters. The water of the Rio Negro is black (the clue’s in the name), and the water of the Amazon is a light sandy color. The two rivers run alongside each other for several kilometers without appearing to join. This has produced an interesting natural spectacle that draws visitors from around the world. It is visible from space too!
You can take a cruise from Manaus to see the Meeting of Waters. Prices start from around US $50 per person. Most cruises fit in other activities too which we will discuss in the rest of the article.
But why the color difference?
The water of the Rio Negro is black due because it contains a high content of decayed plant matter. The sandy color water of this part of the Amazon river comes from the muddy, sandy sediment from the river bed.
There are other “Meeting of Waters” in the world, but the meeting of the Rio Negro and the Amazon River, Manaus, produces the largest by far. The others can be found in Iquitos in Peru, and Santarém, also in Brazil.
Worth noting: this stretch of the Amazon River is also known as Solimoes River.
Rio Negro Palace
Manaus isn’t all rainforest and river. Let’s get our feet back on land for a bit, and discover what the city itself has to offer. The Rio Negro Palace is a beautiful yellow building. Located in downtown Manaus, you’ll come across it on many sightseeing tours, or go and see it on your own. There is no charge to enter.
The Rio Negro Palace, originally called Scholz Palace, was commissioned to be built by Karl Waldemar Scholz in 1903. Scholz was a German businessman who made his fortune in the Amazonian rubber trade. He lived there until it was sold to the governor of Amazonas State, Pedro de Alcântara Bacellar, in 1928. It was at this time that the name was changed to Palácio Rio Negro – Rio Negro Palace.
In 1995, the palace was made into a museum. Admire the architectural beauty on the outside then go inside and learn about the rubber trade and the impact it had on this region. It is also used as a cultural center, with art displays, and occasionally hosting music concerts. You could spend an hour or two here exploring the palace and enjoying the surroundings.
Tip: if you visit here, you must see the wooden staircase inside the palace.
Address: Av. Sete de Setembro, 1546 – Centro
Adolpho Lisboa Market
Not far from the Rio Negro Palace (fifteen minutes walk) is the Adolpho Lisboa market. This is the largest and most famous market in Manaus and is a bustling hotpot of local culture. The building was constructed in 1882 and was inspired by the architecture of the day from Paris and London. Once inside the ornate facade, you will find stalls offering traditional food and craft ware. You can buy anything from fruit (look out for the mini bananas!) to pungent loose spices. From fresh oils to a large selection of nuts. Don’t eat too many Brazil nuts at once though – they are delicious but contain high amounts of Selenium!
The Adolpho Lisboa Market is known for its fresh fish (the smell can get a little pungent though). There are a number of eateries located within the market. Take the weight off your feet, enjoy some food and people watch at the same time. It’s a very popular spot with locals so if you want to blend in, this is the place to be. You might need to brush up on some Portuguese before ordering. Menus in English are rare. A decent lunch here can be had for around US $5. If you aren’t hungry you can relax with a coffee or try a fresh fruit juice.
Located on the waterfront, this is a convenient place to while away a few hours before or after taking a boat tour. It opens at 6 am each morning and closes at 5 pm each day, apart from Sunday when it closes at 1 pm. As with all markets, it can get very busy so be on the lookout for pickpockets. Some people say if you’ve seen one market, you’ve seen them all, but we say they are a great way to experience local culture.
Tip: this market is a great place to pick up souvenirs – from keyrings and postcards to bags, hats, and Amazonian face masks.
Address: R. dos Barés, 46 – Centro
Located near to the market, and surrounded by trees is the main Cathedral of Manaus. Also known as The Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of the Conception. This was a Roman Catholic church up until 1946 when it was given cathedral status. Pope John Paul II visited here in 1980. There are regular masses held throughout the week. If you are interested in joining one, you can check the times on the website.
If you like churches and cathedrals, then this is worth a visit. You don’t need to spend a lot of time here and we wouldn’t recommend making a special trip. It’s in the region of several other attractions though so pop along when you’re in the vicinity. It is a lovely looking building, inspired by Greek architecture. Reach it by the sweeping set of stairs on one side which provides a lovely view of the cathedral. Take a few tranquil moments inside, out of the heat and bustle of the city. There are plenty of photo opportunities outside in the attractive grounds. Don’t miss the clock tower at the bottom of the steps.
Address: Praça XV de Novembro – Centro Histórico
Manaus Opera House
Also known as Teatro Amazonas. This is probably the most famous building in Manaus and was named one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world. You can’t miss it, thanks to the bright colorful dome on the top, made out of 36,000 mosaic tiles in the colors of the Brazilian flag. The dome almost looks out of place on the grand looking pink facade of the building. Actually, it looks completely out of place and not everybody loves it! The juxtaposition of the two elements makes it a sight worth seeing for that alone. It is one of the most popular attractions in Manaus and makes a regular appearance on the guided tours in Manaus.
Teatro Amazonas is home to operatic and musical productions. The first performance ever dates all the way back to 1897. Back in the day, it was the haunt of the rich and decadent. However, it sadly closed for almost a century after the decline of the rubber industry. Thankfully, it was reopened in 2001 after a huge investment program by the government.
Today it is the home of the Amazonas Philharmonic Orchestra and hosts the annual Amazonas Opera Festival too. Check the schedule before you go because there are regular free performances that are open to anyone. While the theater is not taking place, you can tour the beautiful interior and there is a museum on site. Look up – the ceiling is stunning. The normal entry price is less than US $4 per person.
Tip: you can’t buy tickets for performances online. You must buy them in person, so plan ahead or get there early on the day to guarantee one of the 701 seats.
Address: Av. Eduardo Ribeiro, 659 Centro
Palace of Justice
If you’ve come to see the Opera House, you need to see the Palace of Justice too. It’s across the road from the Opera House so do make an effort to go and see it if you are in the area. Constructed in the late 1800s it is a must-see for those interested in history and the old justice system of the Amazonas. You can wander through the courtrooms and marvel at all the decisions that have been made inside their walls. On the top floor is a crime museum. The Palace of Justice became a cultural center in 1987 and events still take place there today.
There is said to be a statue on the roof, of the Greek goddess of law – Themis. Themis was often shown wearing a blindfold. This was meant to signify that justice is blind, and does not discriminate. The statue on the Palace of Justice is not blindfolded. Take from that what you will.
It is free to visit, and you can get free tours in English. Do check schedules before you go as they are inclined to change. At the time of writing the Palace of Justice is open to the public every day except Monday.
Address: Av. Eduardo Ribeiro, 901 – Centro
Museu da Amazonia (MUSA)
Is Manaus worth visiting for its culture and history? Absolutely. But you could be forgiven for starting to think that Manaus is all grand buildings. Fear not! For those yearning for some greenery (as if the Amazon rainforest on your doorstep wasn’t enough), we give you, the Amazonian Museum. Although it is approximately forty minutes drive from the city center, it is worth it for those that appreciate nature. Public buses run here.
One hundred hectares of nature reserve awaits you after your journey. Learn more about the Amazon and the creatures that inhabit it. Stroll around the grounds of these botanical gardens on the many trails available, taking in the sights and sounds of nature. There is a large pond covered with water-lilies – a popular photo spot. Plenty of exhibits are set up for those with a thirst for knowledge. Climb the 42-meter tower for a panoramic view of the treetops to the city beyond. See if you can spot the monkeys frolicking in the trees.
Tours start at 9 am and run every hour until 3 pm. Ticket entrance including a three-hour tour is just under US $10. If you want to walk around by yourself, tickets are only US $5.66.
Tip: get there super early to witness the stunning sunrise from the top of the observation tower.
Address: Av. Margarita, 6305 – Cidade de Deus
Take a tour
As we mentioned earlier, you are perfectly placed in Manaus to explore the Amazon rainforest as well as the Amazon river. You could easily spend a week here. Take in all the sights we have discussed and take a day (or more) to join a tour. Tours, although not everyone’s cup of tea, can be a great way to learn some real local knowledge. Located in Manaus you are spoilt for choice when it comes to the tours you can take. Is Manaus worth visiting for the tours alone? Another big tick here.
You can travel up and down the rivers by boat. Visit waterfalls to rival the ones in Iguazu. Go hiking and camping through the forest. Watch out for wildlife along the way or take the opportunity to swim with pink dolphins. Take the chance to visit local communities and find out how they live amongst the rainforest. Learn to extract sweet juice from sugar cane or fish for piranhas! Depending on how much time you have in Manaus, you can choose to take a tour for half a day, a full day, or even a multi-night trip.
Tip: check the reviews carefully before you decide on a tour. Make sure you pick a tour that respects the local community and the animals that live in it.
Ponta Negra Beach
Is Manaus worth visiting for its beaches? Well, not if that’s all you want from your trip because your choices would be limited. But there is a beach worth visiting! Not what you expected us to say, we bet. Who’d have thought you’d find a sandy beach near the Amazon rainforest? Ponta Negra Beach is just eight miles from downtown Manaus on the banks of the Rio Negro. It was a riverside spot enjoyed by locals for many years before being transformed into the beach of today.
Take your beach towels and swimsuit. Chill out for a few hours, watching the locals kicking a ball around, or take a cooling dip in the river – although the water is said to be warm! When you get peckish there are plenty of cafés and snack kiosks nearby. If you are here later in the day, stay to watch the sunset and get some beautiful photos.
If you are in Manaus for a good amount of time then you could perhaps choose to spend a night near Ponta Negra Beach. When the sun goes down, explore the neighborhood. Enjoy a meal in one of the many restaurants and check out the nightlife. It gets very busy at weekends, being a popular spot with locals. Keep an eye on your belongings, and if possible, avoid taking anything valuable.
Tip: Look out for the famous tree-covered sand dune at one end, a sight often found on postcards.
Address: Praia da Ponta Negra, Manaus – AM
So, is Manaus worth visiting?
So, there you have it. Is Manaus worth visiting? We think so. You can do pretty much anything from this hub near the Amazon rainforest. Nature, history, culture, nightlife, and beach days. What more could you want? It’s not a typical beach destination but it does seem to have something for everyone -from solo travelers to families looking for a vacation location away from the norm. If you’ve visited Manaus and can recommend a good tour/excursion, please let us know in the comments below.