The Brazilian Amazon: Insider’s Guide
Where to Stay and Eat
Best bang-for-your-buck hotel
There are only two jungle lodges that deliver a top-level experience:
The Anavilhanas Lodge is accessible by car from Manaus (itself a nonstop flight from Miami)—though I like to send clients one way via floatplane, which is the best way to see the “Meeting of the Waters,” where the Negro and Amazon rivers flow together but don’t mix for several miles. The lodge’s superior bungalows are the newest (and nicest, in my opinion), and have floor-to-ceiling windows that seem to bring the jungle right into your room.
I send die-hard nature aficionados to the more remote Cristalino Lodge, where the staff are incredibly knowledgeable about the surroundings and my close relationship allows me to secure the perfect private naturalist guides for my guests ahead of time. I also try to always book a superior room or a bungalow; they’re a considerable cut above the standard rooms for not too much more money.
Restaurant the locals love
The most innovative restaurants in the Amazon—indeed, anywhere in Brazil outside São Paulo, by my estimation—are in the city of Bélem. The two very best are owned by Thiago Castanho, one of the most inspiring young chefs in Brazil. While Remanso do Peixe offers more traditional Amazonian cuisine, his newer restaurant, Remanso do Bosque, does a contemporary version, combining the many varieties of freshwater fish available with a variety of spices and exotic fruits. My favorite dish in the Amazon is Remanso do Peixe’s smoked pirarucu with a coconut milk sauce and banana puree.
Dish to try
I’d wager that the fish you eat in the Amazon will be the some of the best of your life. The pirarucu is the largest freshwater fish in the world and has very firm meat. Tambaqui is best grilled—ideally on an Amazonian beach.
What to See and Do
Belém is by far the most interesting large city of the Amazon, yet rarely visited by foreign travelers. It is on the mouth of the Amazon, where the river looks more like an ocean, and it has a fascinating street market selling both edibles and handicrafts and some great restaurants (see above).
Since Manaus is the main gateway to the Amazon, it is often unavoidable. But it’s quite big, with notoriously bad traffic and no good hotels or restaurants—so limit your time there as much as possible.
The most beautiful section of the entire Amazon region surrounds the city of Santarém. Only there can you find all three main ecosystems of the Amazon rivers: the murky waters of the Amazon itself, the black waters of the Arapiuns River, and the rare blue waters of the Tapajós River. There are very few large blue-water rivers in the Amazon, and they are the most scenic of all. The combination of blue water and white sand during the dry season led Jacques Cousteau to nickname this region the “Caribbean of the Amazon.”
A nighttime canoe trip. Being on the river when it’s totally dark is a surreal experience, and night is also the best time to spot alligators, snakes, sloths, and many other animals. The sounds of the forest also come alive at night, making this an experience that I suggest to everyone going to the Amazon.
Charter a private yacht in the Amazon. We have exclusive rights to many yachts, from four cabins to sixteen, all outfitted with fine linens and expert crews. This is the best possible way to experience the region, as you can reach areas that are not normally visited by other travelers. Yacht charters aren’t cheap—but the price varies very little with the number of passengers, so it can be more affordable if you invite along friends or family. For the ultimate splurge, a master chef will cater your voyage. One of our favorites is Laurent Suaudeau, a Frenchman and disciple of Paul Bocuse who has lived in Brazil for more than three decades.
Best for thrill-seekers
A private jungle survival course, lasting from a few hours to many days. Former Brazilian Army officers teach you how to survive in the forest: identifying edible plants, finding water, making fire, and keeping safe.