Our journey starts in Manaus, capital of the state of Amazonas, Brazil.
I have heard many different opinions of this city, but there’s one thing everyone agrees on: it is unbelievably hot.
We arrive in the evening and, to my surprise, the temperature is a balmy 23 degrees celsius. The taxi driver claims it’s “cold”. We can’t help but laugh.
We are staying in Manaus for two nights. For this trip I chose a quaint boutique hotel that I stumbled upon during my last visit.
Hotel Boutique Casa Teatro is a family-run boutique hotel. Nothing fancy or luxurious, but it’s homey and fun and the decor is filled with quirky details, from local handicrafts to a gramophone. And the staff is super friendly.
The best thing about Casa Teatro, however, is the location, which is perfect for a short visit. The hotel is right off Sao Sabastiao square, by the Amazon Theater (“Teatro Amazonas”), the beautiful opera house and the city’s landmark.
The Amazon Theater was built in the late 1800s during the rubber boom in Brazil.
There are guided tours every hour starting at 9:15 in the morning. Tours are offered in Portuguese and English and last approximately 20 minutes. The girls enjoyed the tour, despite being a little frustrated that they could not get on stage.
The rest of our time in Manaus is essentially spent around the Sao Sebastiao square and the surroundings.
From there I could get some last minute supplies for the expedition while the girls grabbed ice cream at Glacial’s with their dad. Glacial is a well-known local chain that offers an incredible selection of exotic ice cream flavors of local fruits like acai, tapereba, cupuacu and graviola.
Later we sit down at Casa Africa for some fresh fruit juices and try Gisele’s famous tacacá, a local favorite stew-like dish made of tucupi (a broth made out of manioc), shrimp, and manioc starch. Not my favorite, but certainly very interesting.
Still at the square, Galeria Amazonica is a beautiful store and has a great selection of traditional and contemporary art from the region. It feels like visiting a museum or a special exhibit with crafts from the different Amazon tribes. A great place to buy a high-quality and meaningful gift or souvenir.
The girls make a new friend in no time and they run around the square while we enjoy a local beer. Not bad for our first night.
And the adventure hasn’t even begun.
WHAT TO DO
Should you have more time to explore Manaus, the Meeting of the Waters (Encontro das Águas) is a fantastic day trip. The meeting of the waters is the confluence between the Rio Negro, a river with dark water, and the sandy-colored Amazon River (or Solimões, as it is known before in the upper section of the Amazon, before it reaches Manaus. For 6 km (3.7 mi) the river’s waters run side by side without mixing. This phenomenon is due to the differences in temperature, speed and water density of the two rivers. Your hotel can certainly recommend a tour, which usually includes lunch and a visit to a national park where you can see the native Amazon flower, Victoria Regia.
CIGs Zoo could also be very interesting and fun for kids. The zoo is part of the army’s jungle warfare-training center. Perhaps a little run down, but you can see many of the Amazon animals up close. A lot of them captured by IBAMA’s (Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources) soldiers on patrol.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Boutique Casa Teatro was definitely a great choice
Hotel Tropical Manaus can be an option if you’re looking for a resort-like hotel, with a pool and kids club.
Hotel Go Inn – This hotel has gotten consistently good reviews and is located a couple of blocks from the Amazon theater. Perfect to explore downtown Manaus.
WHERE TO EAT
Our first night we had a lovely dinner at Himawari, right off the main square. Himawari offers plenty of choices, from sushi to noodles and teppanyaki. My favorite? Tambaqui handroll. Delicious.
On Friday, we took a cab to Banzeiro, probably the most renowned restaurant in Manaus. Banzeiro specializes in Amazonian dishes and it did not disappoint.