The only way to properly explore the Amazon is by boat, and almost all vessels leaving Manaus will depart from its hectic central port. This bustling spot sees hundreds of arrivals and departures each day, from large cargo vessels carrying manufactured goods to long distance double-decker passenger ferries and modest fisherman’s dinghies. It’s a dizzying flurry of activity that showcases the reality of modern life on the mighty Amazon river.
As the first stop on almost every Manaus Amazon tour, this natural extravaganza known locally as the Encontro das Aguas is where the brown Rio Solimões and the black Rio Negro run side by side in two distinct shades for 6 km (3.7 miles) before finally merging into one. The result of varying levels of sediment, temperature, and water flow, it’s a unique spectacle not found anywhere else in the world.
For a true taste of the Amazon within easy reach of the city, make a beeline for the stunning January Ecological Park. The flooded forests and fertile wetlands of this lush region are packed full of colorful bird life, monkeys, and caiman, making for an enjoyable and highly rewarding experience. Yet the star of the show are without doubt the mammoth Victoria lilies, some with a diameter as wide as 2m (7ft).
Spotting wildlife is near impossible on the Amazon river itself, so any day tour worth its salt will include a trip down some of her smaller rivers and tributaries to get up close and personal with the local fauna. Activities include swimming with river dolphins, fishing for piranha, or just admiring the numerous species of monkey as they swing back and forth between the trees.
About two hours drive from Manaus is the much smaller settlement of Presidente Figueiredo, an eclectic mix of modern and traditional life. Though it’s the nearby Terra de Cachoeiras that bring tourists to the region, a picturesque “land of waterfalls” in a pristine section of the Amazon with plenty of swimming holes and hiking trails to explore.
Some tours stop at Tupé to give visitors a taste of indigenous Amazon life. Home to the Dessana tribe, these resourceful people moved to the area decades ago and have now turned to tourism to make ends meet. The locals perform a traditional song and dance routine, hold an insightful Q&A session, and offer their charming handmade artisan goods for sale.
All the above attractions can be enjoyed on a one day tour from Manaus. However, to get a real feel for the Amazon, it’s best to spend a few days deep in the jungle, far away from perils of modern civilization. Such adventures are typically done through a stay in a dedicated jungle lodge or by embarking on an epic Amazon cruise. Either way, you’re bound to spot plenty of local wildlife and relish in a true Amazon experience.