Long ago, the Amazon Rainforest has put me under a spell from far away; the endless luscious green fields of canopy, the impenetrable brush of the jungle, colorful orchids and tropical birds, the howls of a monkey flock in the distance. In admiration I watched the nature documentaries on TV with my dad. The wild animals of Jumanji made me cringe and dream at the same time. At nights I followed my favorite German radio hero, the little whitch Bibi Blocksberg, to the jungle (episode 28, the best ever…)

And then, finally, the dream should come true. Flights to Manaus, the capital of Brazil’s state Amazonas, were booked and the jungle adventure in the heart of the world’s largest tropical rainforest could begin. Manaus is surrounded by water and forest and therefore can only be reached by boat or plane. Two Million people live in the city. It is the bustling economic centre of the area, but also perfect starting point for trips deeper into the jungle. Whether you plan a boat trip down the Amazon River towards Belem, or an exciting trek into the forest, staying in Manaus to acclimatize and treat yourself a little bit is definitely a good way to start your trip! At least that’s what we did – resulting in a top 10 list for Manaus and around.

top 10 manaus

1. Discover the City

Manaus is a colorful mosaic of colonial houses, market stands and people. It’s most famous for the Teatro Amazonas, which is over 100 years old and was featured in Werner Herzog’s epic film Fitzcarraldo. It serves mainly as an opera house, although sometimes you can go see a movie in its velvet halls. Sticking around the building and the surrounding center is a safe way to find a number of imposing buildings and some great murals and graffiti.

1 discover the city (2) top 10 manaus

Walking down towards the harbor, you walk past several street markets. Foodies will savor this to the fullest – there are booths with chilled coconuts, all sorts of fruit, take-away BBQ, women offering traditional mixed plates (still no idea what I was eating actually…) and here and there a musician performs for your entertainment. My favorite culinary treats: cold coconuts and traditional manioc pancakes for breakfast.

top 10 manaus top 10 manaus

The harbor itself is on every tour guide’s bucket list. Unfortunately you can only stroll on the floating docks if you buy a boat ticket, and therefore there’s not much to see around there. Further down Av. Lourenco da Silva Braga you will find big market halls on your left and passenger ships to surrounding cities on your right. Even though this place asked for a little more caution (gaping holes in the pavement, greedy looks at your camera) I enjoyed walking up and down the docks here a lot more.

top 10 manaus top 10 manaus

2. Take a Sunbath in Ponta Negra

Ponta Negra is the city’s posh beach suburb with everything from fancy condo towers to an endless promenade to stroll along the sandy beach. While a couple of years ago, the river would only present its sandy banks during the low water level of dry season, the shore was turned into an artificial beach which can be enjoyed year-round. It is a popular spot for day trips with locals and tourists alike, home of several luxurious hotels and the place to see and be seen.

top 10 manaus

3. Get aboard a ship

The Amazon Rainforest is more a maze of waterways than an actual forest on solid grounds. Fluvial tourism is the main pillar of local tour agencies. They offer anything from a couple of hours to multiple-day trips up and down Rio Negro and the Amazon River. These trips are popular among tourists and can be quite pricey – especially the longer ones. To avoid high expenses book a ticket with one of the public transport boats at the docks of Av. Lourenco da Silva Braga. That way you save money and travel the area like a local.

top 10 manaus

4. Sail out to the Meeting of the Waters

There is one touristy day trip that you can’t get by though: a boat excursion to visit the Meeting of the Waters. Only a short ride away from the city center the two rivers Rio Negro and Rio Solimões meet and form the Amazon River – at its widest part it will measure 45km. The two rivers flow at different speed, carry various minerals and sediments and have different temperatures. Therefore, the waters don’t blend immediately. For about 6km you can see the green-brownish Rio Solimões and the black Rio Negro flow side by side. The sharp line between them is called the Meeting of the Waters.

top 10 manaus top 10 manaus

5. Stay at a Jungle Hotel

No matter to which country your nose is leading you, if there’s a rainforest around, you wannt to invest in a couple of nights in a jungle hotel, for example the Ecopark Jungle Lodge. Here’s why:

First of all the hotel is secluded, situated in the middle of the jungle. It can only be reached by boat, which keeps the buzzing tourist flows at a distance. Secondly, the rooms are rather wooden huts, a couple of minutes away from the reception and restaurant. The windows lack glass panes and a mosquito net is the only thing separating you from the forest sounds. And last but not least, this is the view out of your window:

top 10 manaus top 10 manaus

6. See how the locals live

A big part of the population of Amazon Rainforest does not live in the urban centers but in small communities along the rivers and channels. Depending on the region there are many different ways of living. There might be open farms inviting you to see the traditional way of living, food processing and rubber production – which was the thriving industry of the region until the 1920s. And then, only a couple of miles away, other people live their lives on unsteady ground. They build their houses either on sticks or construct them on top of floating logs – the latter being the most efficient way of avoiding flood damage. The native people around Manaus are generally used to welcome tourists and travelers to their homes and show them how they live. Donations are one of their main income sources, so have a couple of Real (Brazil’s national currency) at hand.

top 10 manaus top 10 manaus

7. Explore the forest by boat

Whereas I am used to little hiking paths leading through forests and meadows, discovering the depth of the Amazon requires quite a different means of transportation. As the river floods the forest most of the year, the best way to move around is by boat. This could be small and motorized, or a canoe or kayak.

One of my favorite experiences by boat was a night tour. Equipped with a bright light to spot animal eyes and a sound recording device to enhance my hearing I felt more like floating through a wonderful dream.

top 10 manaus top 10 manaus

8. Make new animal friends

The Amazon is the most important eco-system on this planet – ever heard about the lungs of the Earth? – and rich in flora and fauna. Some of the most common animals are monkeys, sloths, tropical birds, over-sized fish, caimans and of course snakes. If you come across a jaguar, consider yourself very lucky – even the older locals I asked said they only had seen one once or twice in their life.

Getting close to the wildlife is not always easy, neither is it always wanted – think about a big anaconda swimming by your kayak… Luckily monkeys are quite happy to pose for photos in trees nearby floating restaurants!

top 10 manaus top 10 manaus

9. Learn from the Natives

Another “native experience” is to have a go at hunting with bow and arrow or the traditional blow pipe. Of course you’ll aim at a tree or a piece of bark instead of an animal – the least thing you want to do is hurt one of the cute friends you’ve just made. A native tour guide can give a deep insight in the traditional jungle life. How do you hunt? Which plants can you eat, which ones can be used as medicine, and which ones will make you happy?

top 10 manaus top 10 manaus

10. Dive into it

What would a summer holiday be without a nice dip into the cool water? The rivers surrounding Manaus are great for a tropical swim, but especially if the water level is high, relying on a local guide is better than swimming into unexpected currents or the gaping mouth of a crocodile. Swimming in a side arm of Rio Negro was definitely the highlight of my trip. Even though, or maybe just because rain started pouring down as soon as I was in the water. What remains is the beautiful memory of being literally surrounded by the waters of Amazon Rainforest.

top 10 manaus

Thank you to the Amazonas state government and Amazonastur for organising this trip, to Ecopark Jungle Lodge for having me over and to my fantastic tour guide Iurys for taking me for a sunset & thunderstorm swim!