Explore the fascinating city of Manaus, more than just the gateway to the Amazon
This thriving port city lies on the banks of the Rio Negro, 1,000 miles from the sea, yet set amidst an ocean of emerald green rainforest. Originally a Portuguese fort and trading settlement, for a brief dazzling period Manaus became the richest city in the world. Fame and wealth were found with the exploitation of natural rubber, which caused the city to boom and led to the construction of many lavish buildings, such as the government palace, customs house and the magnificent Teatro Amazonas. The decline of the rubber boom came quickly, yet Manaus remains a bustling city and commercial centre for much of the Amazon basin. For those interested in the history of rubber production, there are small plantations where you can see the extraction process of rubber trees being bled for the tree gum and visit small local communities who produce small rubber truncates using primitive techniques. There is also a beach for those brave enough to swim amongst supposedly harmless piranhas.
Testament to the opulence of the golden era of rubber plantations in Manaus is the Teatro Amazonas Opera House, whose grandiose colonial architecture and style of were modelled on the Paris Opera House. It was built with the finest European materials; white marble from Italy, iron pillars from England and polished wood from France. The sumptuous interior has four levels of Corinthian-columned balconies with red velvet chairs.
Close to the city of Manaus is the Meeting of the Waters, a must-see natural phenomenon, where the heavily yellow silt-laden Rio Solimoes meets the black waters of the Rio Negro, as they converge to create the Amazon River. It is also one of the best places to see the distinctive and playful pink river dolphins.
River cruises and remote lodges let you explore Amazon tributaries and jungle, discovering by canoe and jungle trails, the local animal and plant life with naturalist guides. A visit to the fish market provides a fascinating insight into the huge variety of fish that can be found in the local waters, such as the huge Piraruca fish.
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