Preparing our trip to the Amazon rainforest and a bit of Manaus

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Last March, Jessica and I, flew to Manaus and made it our base to explore the Amazon rainforest. It wasn’t an easy decision though, as the forest is huge and can be explored for several different starting points.
Just so you know, its territory is part of nine countries. The majority of the forest is contained within Brazil, with 60% of the rainforest, followed by Peru with 13%, Colombia with 10%, and with minor amounts in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. Thus not very easy to decide where to start, however as our base would be definitely in Brazil, our options were basically Manaus, Santarém, Belém or Porto Velho.

A couple of years ago I heard about this amazing boat trip from Porto Velho to Manaus. It’s basically the only options locals have when they need to make this trip, as roads are shitty and flights expensive. It would be amazing, however the trip can take up to 5 days, and you can’t know for sure when the boats are leaving, so you might have to stick around in Porto Velho longer than you expected waiting for a boat to leave. The thing is that Jessica only had 3 weeks in Brazil, and we wanted to see a bit of everywhere. We decided to spend 7 days in Amazon, so the idea to take the boat was left behind, as we wanted to do several activities. I’ll definitely be back to Amazon to make this trip, probably stopping in Manaus, taking another boat heading to Santarém, and then another one to Belém. This must be an amazing trip, being in touch with locals for a long time, getting to know more about them and I look forward to having time to do it.

Having dinner with our "host family"

I also want to go back to Amazon to spend more time with its people. Such amazing and humble people. This picture was taken during dinner with a family who hosted us for one night. We learnt how they cultivate cassava and other things about their life.

But let’s get back to our trip. Knowing that we didn’t have too much time to spend there, the best idea was to find a travel agency that offers tours around the Amazon rainforest. We got excited with the idea of visiting Manaus, a “big” city in the middle of the rainforest, so we decided to take Manaus as our base.
We heard about many things you could do by yourself to explore the area, but again, as we didn’t have too much time, we decided to look for a travel agency that would show us around. If you find yourself looking for a travel agencies offering tours based in Manaus, you’ll find out that most of them offer similar packages. The activities are basically the same, but what can change your experience might be how far and in which direction you’re heading from Manaus.

Spotting caimans at night is one of the highlights of the tour.

Spotting caimans at night is one of the highlights of the tour.

We had been talking with different a travel agencies and in the end we chose Iguana Tour, by that time they had a pretty good deal with GOL Backpackers and we got two nights for free because we booked the “survival packaged“.

They would take us up to their lodge in the Juma reserve, by the Juma river. Here’s what I mentioned that can make your experience different. Firstly, the Juma reserve is located south of Manaus, some 70km away in a straight line. When exploring Amazon south of Manaus, you’ll have a better experience exploring the aquatic life, specially if going during the rainy season. As this regions is mostly flooded by the rivers around, it’s difficult to spot Jaguars for instance. So if that’s the kind of experience you want to have, you should go up north, and you’ll have more chance to spot such type of animal life.

Distance between Manaus and Juma Lake

Distance between Manaus and Juma Lake

Secondly, Juma isn’t that far away from Manaus. Ok, it’s difficult to get there. You’ll have to take two different boats, drive more than 40 minutes in some shitty roads, but once you arrive there, you will be able to see the lights from Manaus at night. It’s still a very peaceful place, no cellphone sign or internet connection, however there are already too much noise, light and people for the animals and isn’t that easy to spot them anymore. We were able to see caimans, grey and pink dolphins, monkeys, several different types of birds and a sloth. Even though for us it was a lot (although only caimans and dolphins were close from us) our guide told us that it wasn’t even close to as much as we could have seen in more isolated places, or even there, but some decades ago.

Selfie with our guide and part of the group with whom we explored Amazon.

The guide and I were the only Brazilians among a group with an Australian, Portuguese, French and Germans.

Finally, you should also bare in mind that these companies that won’t take you too far from Manaus, and are least expensive than others, will have more people going. Even though we were the only ones that had booked the “survival package”, we did most of the activities with other people who had bought different packages that include one or more of the activities that were included in our package. We enjoyed having different people around and had fun with them. But some activities requires you to be quiet, so you have more chances to find animals, and you can imagine that the bigger the group, the louder it is. So we felt that sometimes we could have used more silence to spot more animals.

The only activity we did alone. We took our time paddling through small rivers and lakes and only by being very quiet, we were able to spot monkeys, beautiful birds, grey and pink dauphins.

The only activity we did alone. We took our time paddling through small rivers and lakes and only by being very quiet, we were able to spot monkeys, beautiful birds, grey and pink dolphins.

So if you’re using Manaus as your base and ask as many questions as you can to the company you’re planning on booking your tour, so you don’t get higher expectations and later get frustrated with what they will really show you.

We had an amazing time, were very impressed by everything we say and I wouldn’t change a bit if I had to do it again.

Here you have the list of activities of the “survival package” that I’ll be writing about in the following posts:
Take a boat crossing the meeting of the waters (junction of the Negro river and Solimões river), paddling, watching dolphins/birds/monkeys/tarantulas (very hard to find), fishing piranhas, spotting caimans, jungle trekking, visit a local family to learn about their life and how they cultivate cassava, sleeping (in hammocks) in the local family house, overnight (sleeping in hammocks too) in the forest and trekking in the forest to learn about the rubber process and see how they did to extract rubber years ago. We also had spear fishing in our package, but due to weather conditions we couldn’t do it.

Manaus

We spent two days there and honestly, there isn’t much to do and see. Our hostel was located right beside the main square, where you will find the amazing Amazon Theatre. It’s an impressive building that shows how rich the city was back in the time when people made fortunes with the rubber boom.

Beautiful Amazon Theatre

Beautiful Amazon Theatre

This square is really nice at night, where people gather around to have a drink or eat. There were even a Cinema Festival when we were there, with some movies being shown in big screens outdoors.

Manaus' main square by night.

Manaus’ main square by night.

We also heard about a market near the port, which seemed to be nice, but we couldn’t visited as it was raining a lot during the free time we had.

Palace of Justice in the back of the Amazon Theatre

Palace of Justice behind the Amazon Theatre

Eating

We found two good places to eat around there. First of them is Skina dos sucos, where we had amazing juices from fruits that even I, being a Brazilian, had never heard of. Some of them were really good, and some were a bit strange, but I guess it depends on one’s taste. Jessica liked some that I didn’t and vice-versa. You should definitely stop by and try some. They also have good Açai, some sandwiches and pastries.

The other place I found in a website I love and you should really use them if you’re looking for good places to eat in Brazil. The restaurant is called Peixaria Gabinete Jokka Loureiro. We had an amazing fish there, with a great view of the Negro River. The meal was so good and we were so hungry that we forgot to take pictures. But you can see pictures on the link I shared. We had exactly the same thing that they did.

Well, I hope I could help a bit in case your planning your trip to the Amazon rainforest or Manaus.

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