Manaus, the historic gateway to Brazil’s Amazon, melds a colorful past and a bustling entrepreneurial culture with its status as a symbol of biodiversity. Just beyond the riverport and the spectacular architecture of the city center is the rainforest that has lured adventurers and dreamers for centuries. Now, Manaus, home to nearly 1.8 million people, can add sports to its list of attractions as one of the sites for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
1. Climb above the canopy. A course in tree climbing gives ecotourists an alternative way to experience the world’s largest tropical forest. (210 reais for a one-day excursion.)
2. Swim with dolphins. Pink river dolphins, found primarily in the Amazon River, are known for their playful nature, long beaks and pink hue. After feeding the dolphins, swim with them in their natural habitat. (130 reais)
3. Witness nature’s grudge match. For nearly four miles (6.4 km), the dark Rio Negro and the sandy Rio Solimões flow side by side, creating a starkly beautiful natural divide called Encontro das Águas (Meeting of Waters), before merging to form the Amazon River. Catch a boat from Porto da Ceasa, 6.5 miles (10.5 km) from the city center, to see this natural wonder.
4. Refuel with superfoods. Snack on guaraná and açai, the acclaimed superfruits native to the Amazon rainforest. And don’t forget the fish! With over 2,000 species in the Amazon River, many typical dishes use local fish, like the famous caldeirada de tambaqui.
5. Hobnob with rubber barons. The neo-classical Teatro Amazonas opera house was built by Italian architect Celestial Sacardim during the nineteenth century rubber boom. While the rubber barons are long gone, the music remains. The luxurious 700-seat theater offers guided tours Monday-Saturday and cultural programs nightly. (10 reais for a guided tour; prices vary for general admission.)
6. Befriend a manatee. For just 5 reais, the Bosque da Ciência (Science Forest) run by the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia offers visitors an introduction to the mysteries of the rainforest, and glimpses of manatees, otters and monkeys. Don’t forget to stop by the nature museum.
7. Beat the heat. With average temperatures in the humid 80s and 90s (26-32 C) year-round, the Ponta Negra River beach is a perfect place to cool off. Just eight miles (13 km) from downtown, it’s the perfect spot for a picnic lunch or a view of the spectacular sunset.
8. Find your own tree house. Treetop resorts and jungle lodges can be found throughout the city. The Ariau Amazon Towers, the largest treetop hotel in the world, has suspended walkways, elevating guests off the ground and into the canopy layer. (1,150 reais per night.)
9. Get a whiff of Paris. Constructed during the rubber boom, the Mercado Adolpho Lisboa, about 10 minutes from the city center, is a replica of the Parisian Les Halles market. Find great deals on local goods inside this landmark building.
10. Catch World Cup fever. The Arena Amazônia soccer stadium can seat up to 46,000 people and is powered by rainwater and solar energy. The stadium will host four World Cup matches this June before it becomes home to four local soccer clubs.
View a slideshow from Manaus, Brazil.
All photos courtesy of Christine Horton.