Arrive in Belem, the Amazon's port city, situated at the Guaraja Bay in the eastern part of the vast Amazon delta. In the late 1800s, the city owed much of its wealth to the burgeoning rubber trade, and we see this history played out in the number of colonial-era buildings found within Belem's downtown district.
Our Tour Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 5pm for your welcome briefing, and for those who wish there will be the option to have dinner together with the group this evening. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Belem at any time, and if you miss the meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Belem's Val de Cans International Airport (airport code: BEL), which is approximately a 20 minute drive from our hotel.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, you could visit the Museu Goeldi, a perfect introduction to the culture, fauna and flora of the Amazon region.
This morning, a local guide will navigate us through some of the city's main sights, introducing us to the portuguese-tiled houses and beautiful baroque churches of the city centre. One of the most noteworthy attractions is certainly the Ver-o-Peso market with its distinctive steeple towers and central position on the docks of the city. This huge public market stocks everything imaginable from meat, fish, and medicinal plants, to arts and crafts and even a specialised market selling only the endemic acai berry, a staple of the Brazilian Amazon populations. We'll also discover the main opera house (entrance not included), which is one of the city's most impressive buildings, built in the late nineteenth-century at a time that was known as the 'Golden Age of Rubber'.
The afternoon is at our leisure to wander around the shady streets of Belem. Belem is the Amazon's culinary capital, using many indigenous plants and fruits, as well as plenty of fresh seafood. During the evening, the Estacao das Docas is well worth exploring - this series of three historic dockside warehouses has been converted into restaurants, bars and even a small theatre, with views out to the river.
Rising early this morning we head to the port to catch our public boat across to Marajo Island, a land mass in the Amazon River Delta that is bigger than the Netherlands. The boat journey takes approximately 3.5 hrs, and is somewhat an experience in itself as we follow the lush banks of the island, hopefully spotting monkeys up in the tree branches. Upon arrival we will drive to our pousada (local inn), situated on a cliff overlooking Joanes Beach, a deserted stretch of Atlantic coastline harbouring fresh water, the influence of the mouth of the Amazon. This afternoon we may take the opportunity to take a canoe trip on the Rio Limao, or walk along the miles of deserted beaches.
The open grasslands of Marajo Island flood during the rainy months, creating a year-round wetland habitat that is excellent for wildlife spotting. It is particularly well known for its water buffalo - the story goes that some 150 years ago, a ship heading for the West Indies, carrying a herd of Indian water buffalo, sank off the Marajo coast. Most of the cattle were adept swimmers, and eventually reached the shore, making their home on the island, where they proliferate today in both a wild and domestic setting. They are used commonly in agriculture as well as being a common form of transport around the island. The diverse landscape of the island, with its rainforests, savannas, wetlands, beaches and mangroves, has developed a thriving eco system. There are all kinds of birds, including the red ibis, macaws, parrots and the 'missing link' hoatzin (the only bird with claws on its wings), as well as capybara, monkeys, and sloths hidden in the trees. We experience this wild setting today. Returning first to the port, we board a motorized canoe to take us upriver to a buffalo farm. The journey lasts 45 minutes but may be longer if we find any animals along the way. At the farm we enjoy a regional lunch with items produced on the farm - buffalo meat and cheese is a definite. We can head through the farm pastures looking for wildlife, and take a river journey to search for caimans, sloths and birds etc, before returning to the port and our lodge.
Heading back to Belem this morning we arrive in time for lunch at one of the restaurants in town. We are able to take a leisurely lunch before returning to the port to board our second boat of the trip for the journey to Monte Alegre. This public boat is equipped with twin cabins with air conditioning, a shower and WC, and buffet-style meals are all served on the boat. You will need to bring a lightweight sleeping bag liner (a sheet or two will also suffice) and a towel, as not all bedding is provided. This first evening we watch the vanishing lights of Belem as we set off on our way to Monte Alegre.
This first day on board takes us through narrow waterways with abundant rainforest, and typical 'caboclo' dwellings on stilts, built to cope with the fluctuating water levels. Caboclo communities are descended from the mixture of the indigenous populations and the white adventurers, such as rubber tappers and prospectors. We have a look into their lives on the riverbank as we travel, seeing them wash clothes, fish and travel to school by canoe or boat. Throughout our journey from Belem to Monte Alegre, we will be stopping in various locations in the Amazon Basin to see the busy ports and the loading and unloading of cargo, taking in the colourful atmosphere. Part of the fun of the journey is watching the frantic port activity as crates of alcohol, food and supplies are quickly unloaded at each town.
This morning we awake on the mighty Amazon proper, 10-15km wide in parts, finding ourselves observing both banks at a distance and taking in the atmosphere of this incredible place. One of the highlights of this trip is the sky at night - away from city lights, we have unparalleled stargazing opportunities. The bar on the upper deck is the best place to watch the sunset, and also gives us the perfect chance to mingle with our fellow travellers, enjoying a game of cards or chatting about our mutual travel experiences. This is slow travel at its best, so bringing a book or activity for the boat is essential.
We leave the boat this morning in the port town of Santarem, and drive immediately 35km south to the laid-back town of Alter do Chao. Best known for its beautiful white-sandy beach and transparent waters (an unusual site for anyone expecting the muddy brown Amazon), it is also idyllically situated on a blue lagoon and flanked by forest reserves. The town has attracted many beachside dwellers, and there is a lively feel to the town with Carimbo (Amazonian folk music) being played by many of the small local bars. This afternoon is free to explore, swim and relax in these surroundings. You may wish to head to one of the open-air restaurants, where chairs and tables are placed in the warm water of the lagoon, with only the table above the water level, and fish swim around you as you eat. For those who wish, there may be time to take a trip to the Lagoa Verde (green lake). During the wet season (Feb-Aug) you can enter the Enchanted Forest by canoe and explore this labyrinth of trees that are home to birds and monkeys. During the dry season (Sep-Jan) the low water levels allow us to walk along the canals, bathe in the cool waters of natural springs and enjoy sunset at Ponta de Cururu beach on the Tapajos River (pink dolphins are often spotted here). This trip is approximately 3 hours in length.
It's worth noting that a six-month period of low tide starts from late June, which is the best time to see Alter do Chao's white-sand beaches at their fullest.
Today we have a full day trip to the FLONA (National Forest) nature reserve. A massive protected area of primary rainforest, FLONA gives us the opportunity to learn about the delicate ecosystems that exist in the Amazon, as the passionate local guides give an in-depth view of the many different plants and bird species living here as well as a history of the rubber trade in the area. We'll take a boat ride along the clear waters of the Tapajos River flanked by forest. We'll also become acquainted with medicinal plants and the flora of the forest on a 10 kilometre walk, on an easy trail. The walk will take us approximately four hours, at a leisurely pace, with plenty of stops for photos and explanations of the nature around us. We'll also have some swimming opportunities while in FLONA and a visit to the rubber processing factory, which was key to the economic growth of this area in the 1800s.
We return to Alter do Chao arriving around 7pm.
This morning is free to enjoy the final hours along the river at Alter do Chao. In the afternoon we transfer to Santarem airport and fly to Manaus (taking into account the time zone change, this journey takes a mere 10 minutes!), before heading to the port to board our private boat. This really is the climax of our Amazon journey as we cruise down the Rio Negro for 3 nights, sleeping in hammocks under the stars. On board our boat is a galley, a small bar and basic washing facilities. We will be sleeping on deck, so be prepared for a certain lack of privacy. Hammocks are of course provided, but they are also found in abundance in Belem and Manaus, and many people like to buy one as a souvenir and use it on the boat. Your Tour Leader can tell you the right way to sleep in a hammock (diagonally) in order to get the best night's sleep!
During the course of the 3 days on board the boat, there are a whole range of excursions that will allow us to thoroughly explore this Amazon region. Throughout the boat trip we will be seeing the huge Victoria Regia water lily, birdwatching and hopefully spotting pink Amazon river dolphins playing alongside us in the water. We have motorised canoes on the boat with us and will be using them to explore the riverbanks as well as landing on the shore to do some jungle walking on foot. We visit a caboclo family as well as an indigenous community in order to learn more about how they live in this rainforest environment. One of the most interesting parts is learning about how they use the plants and trees around them - each one of them has a meaning and a use. We will be exploring jungle trails with our guides and Tour Leader, as well as discovering the huge river archipelago of Anavilhanas, which has more than 1000 islands and abundant aquatic life, including caimans and dolphins. In the evening we do night outings to spot dark caiman, or catch a piranha supper. This trip gives us a real expedition feeling while still travelling in the relative luxury of our boat.
Our final full day on the boat brings our Amazon exploration to an end, and hopefully we will have caught a glimpse of 'the real thing'. Our ideas of the Amazon are so often glamorised - weird and wonderful birds flying overhead, animals popping out of the forest canopy every two minutes and spear-toting indigenous tribes behind each tree. This journey is dedicated to discovering this incredible world region, and should defy some of the myths whilst giving us a sense of understanding and appreciation for this amazing ecosystem. Our guides and crew will make this part of the trip unforgettable. Tonight, we will be taking our hammocks off the boat and having a magical camping experience in the Amazon, with a BBQ meal cooked for us on the spot by our crew. This does of course depend on the weather - in cases of rain, we will sleep on the boat as normal.
This afternoon we disembark in Manaus, where we spend the rest of the day. Although Manaus is generally blown through by travellers who use it as the jumping off point for Amazon trips, it's worth staying for a look at one of the country's most impressive buildings - the Teatro Amazonas. This 19th Century neo-classical style opera house is quite simply a work of art. Built by cash-rich rubber barons who were trying to recreate a sense of European elegance in the wild Amazonas region, the pastel-pink, colonnaded exterior and lavish interior contrast sharply with the industrial grit of the rest of the city. Around the theatre, the central square starts to buzz after about 4pm when the bars and restaurants start filling up. It's a great place to try fresh fish (the region's most well-known fish is the 'tambaqui' - a large freshwater variety, delicious grilled) and enjoy the nightlife.
This morning, time-permitting, we may visit the bustling Adolpho Lisboa municipal market, where a diverse array of Amazon produce is traded. The fish market is worth a stop here, as well as a try of some of the city's best street food.
We'll fly this afternoon from Manaus to Rio (normally on an indirect flight). Flights from Manaus to the rest of the world are erratic, prone to schedule changes and unreliable, so for that reason we've opted to end our trip in Rio, which gives you a much wider choice of international flights. It also gives you the chance (highly recommended!) to add on additional nights in this fantastic city. Most flights arrive in the late evening (9-10pm), although if earlier flight schedules become available then we will aim to arrive earlier into the city.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Rio.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Rio at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel, and this is the perfect opportunity to spend additional time in Rio.
If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Rio de Janeiro International Airport (airport code: GIG), which is approximately a one hour drive from our hotel.