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 an 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. Stay: Hotel Princesa Louca (Comfortable)
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. Stay: Hotel Princesa Louca (Comfortable) (B)
Rising early this morning we drive out of the city to the ferry port to catch our public ferry across to Marajo Island, a land mass in the Amazon River Delta that is bigger than the Netherlands. The ferry journey takes approximately two-and-a-half to three hours, and you'll be able to walk around freely and take in the views as we approach the lush banks of the island. Snacks and drinks are available on board. 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. Stay: Pousada Ventania (Comfortable) (B)
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 form of transport around the island.
We'll start early with a drive to one of the many farms on the island - Fazenda Sao Jeronimo. The owner will take us on a tour of his land, which includes walks along forest and pastured trails, a canoe journey up the river that runs through his property, and a wooden walkway that will take us through the important mangrove habitat. While buffalos help out with the farming here, Sao Jeronimo isn't a buffalo farm. However, our next stop - the nearby Mironga Farm - is. Over 700,000 buffalos live on Marajo Island, more than humans, which is a testament to their economic importance. Here we'll have lunch and a tasting with items produced on the farm - butter, cheese and buffalo meat. We'll then make our way to the Bom Jesus Farm, first making a stop at the Instituto Caruanas, which offers schooling and after school care and activities for the less privileged children on the island. The dirt road between Fazenda Bom Jesus and the village of Vila do Céu offers plenty of opportunities to spot birds (including the characteristic scarlet ibis) and other wildlife. Stay: Pousada Ventania (Comfortable) (B/L)
We head back to Belem this morning, this time taking the smaller boats direct to the hidrioviario in the centre of Belem. The faster journey gets us into Belem in just under two hours and 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 Santarem. 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 Santarem. Stay: Overnight boat from Belem to Santarém (Comfortable) (B/D)
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 Santarem, 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. Stay: Overnight boat from Belem to Santarém (Comfortable) (B/L/D)
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. Stay: Overnight boat from Belem to Santarém (Comfortable) (B/L/D)
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. Stay: Pousada Belo Alter (Comfortable) (B)
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, to the Jamaraqua Community Centre, where we'll be welcomed with a coffee before setting off on our jungle walk. This 10 kilometre walk will acquaint us with medicinal plants and the flora of the forest. It's an easy trail but may be hot and humid. 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.
We return to Alter do Chao by boat, arriving around 7pm. Stay: Pousada Belo Alter (Comfortable) (B)
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! Stay: Overnight Boat on Rio Negro (Simple) (B/D)
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. Stay: Overnight Boat on Rio Negro (Simple) (B/L/D)
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. Stay: Overnight Boat on Rio Negro (Simple) (B/L/D)
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. Stay: Blue Tree Premium Manaus (Comfortable) (B)
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Manaus.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Manaus 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 Manaus.
If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Manaus's Eduardo Gomes International Airport (airport code: MAO), which is approximately a 30 minute drive from our hotel. (B)