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Many Amazon cruises begin and end in Manaus, population 1.7 million. The capital of the Brazilian State of Amazonas, Manaus is located 1,600 km (1,000 miles) up the Amazon River (Rio Amazonas), at its junction with the Rio Negro.

Amazon riverboats dock at Manaus.
Amazon riverboats dock at Manaus.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Manaus cruises arrive and depart from floating docks. Originally built by the Booth family and British engineers in the 1890s, the docks can rise up to 27.5 meters (90 feet) during the January-to-June Amazon high water season.

Amazon river boat

From the Manaus docks, Amazon river boats depart for jungle lodges such as the Amazon Village Jungle Lodge. We half-expected Humphrey Bogart to saunter off one of the African Queen-style river boats.

Sleeping hammocks traditionally festoon river boats during their long voyages up and down the river. These Amazonian taxis also transport families and bananas to markets, children to riverside schools and cruise ship passengers on shore excursions.

Meeting of the Waters

The most popular Amazon River trip is to the Meeting of the Waters, also called the Wedding of the Waters and Encontro das Aguas. Here, the ink-black water of the Rio Negro meets the café au lait-colored water of the Solimoes River.

Differences in temperature, density and velocity enable them to swirl and flow side-by-side, for six kilometers, before finally mixing to form the Amazon. The Rio Negro has fewer fish and mosquitoes than the nutrient-rich Rio Solimões, because decaying vegetation makes it acidic.

Passengers on Amazon river boats occasionally see pink dolphins (Inia geoffrensis), called botos in Brazil. Pink dolphins are larger than grey dolphins and have humps on their backs.

Cruise shore excursions

Manaus Opera House is a highlight of any Amazonas tour. Completed in 1896, at a cost of $10 million, Teatro Amazonas attracted famous singers like Jenny Lind and Enrico Caruso, in spite of its incongruous location.

Stage with curtain and box seats in Manaus Opera House
Stage with curtain and box seats in Manaus Opera House
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Builders imported English cast-iron columns, Italian marble and French ceramic tiles for the Amazon opera house. Still-splendid today, the Amazon Theater has 200 chandeliers, 700 red velvet-covered seats and a dome decorated with 36,000 glazed tiles.

To reach the beautiful curving staircase of the Opera House, you walk past the Monument to Navigation on San Sebastian Square (Praca Sao Sesbastiao), which is decorated with black and white patterned mosaics.

How could a mid-Amazon city afford such an extravagant building? Manaus evolved from the 1890 to 1920 rubber boom. After Charles Goodyear discovered vulcanization (the process which converts latex into rubber) in 1884, and Dunlop invented the pneumatic tire, in 1888, the price of latex soared.

Thousands of people migrated to Manaus to tap rubber trees. During the first decade of the century, nearly 90% of the world's rubber came from Manaus.

The Brazilian city became one of the wealthiest in the world. Manaus was the only city in Brazil with electricity.

Manaus tours

Most cruise excursions to the "Paris of the Tropics" include the art nouveau stained-glass and wrought-iron Manaus Municipal Market, copied from Les Halles in Paris. Instead of cheese and baguettes, you will find herbal medicines, jungle fruits and Amazon fish, including the pirarucu, which grows as long as two meters.

Woman sells bananas in Manaus Municipal Market.
Woman sells bananas in Manaus Municipal Market.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

On tours of Manaus, you will also see multimillion-dollar rubber barons' mansions and the Customs House, prefabricated in Liverpool, England, and shipped to Manaus more than a century ago. Other Manaus attractions include Ponta Negra beach, the Botanical Gardens in the National Research Institute of Amazonia (INPA) and Cigs Zoo, operated by the Brazilian army jungle training center.

Manaus museums include the Indian Museum, the Amazonia Natural Science Museum and the Museum of Northern Man.

The Manaus rubber boom ended around 1910 after Englishman, Henry Wickham, smuggled 70,000 rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) seeds to Kew Gardens. Planted in Malaysia, on British plantations, they forced the price of rubber down from $2.88 to two cents a pound.

In 1966, Manaus became a free-trade zone. Today, the city manufactures electronics, including computer monitors and cell phones.


Embratur - Brazilian Tourism Office: www.braziltour.com

More things to see & do in Brazil:

Tropical Manaus Amazon Hotel

Parintins Brazil Boi Bumba Festival

Amazon Piranha Fishing

Copacabana Palace Hotel Rio de Janeiro

Iguacu Falls Brazil