Manaus, the booming and somewhat chaotic capital of Amazonas state, is on the banks of the Rio Negro, close to where that river gradually dissolves into the Rio Solimoes section of the Amazon River and 2,939 mi/4,734 km northwest of Rio de Janeiro.

The rubber boom between 1888 and 1912 made Manaus a wealthy city. A remnant of those crazy times is the neoclassical, sumptuous Teatro Amazonas, financed by the outrageously rich rubber barons and inaugurated in 1896. Caruso sang and Pavlova danced there. The main stage curtain depicts the meeting of Rio Negro and Rio Solimoes, while the ceiling frescoes feature Indians and jaguars. If you can't attend one of the frequent performances (many of them free), do at least join a guided tour. It's a beautiful and eclectic building.

Another sight is the Mercado Adolfo Lisboa built in 1882; it copied the style of the now-dismantled Parisian Les Halles.

Boat passengers disembark at the bustling Floating Port (Porto Flutuante), which has to cope with the Rio Negro's annual rise and fall of up to 46 ft/14 m. There you can join a river cruise to the Encontro de Aguas, the point where the blue-black waters of the Rio Negro meet coffee-colored Rio Solimoes. For several miles/kilometers the colors don't mingle.

You can also enjoy a few hours at lively Ponta Negra beach, 11 mi/18 km upstream from Manaus and therefore not touched by the city's pollution, although high-rise apartment buildings and hotels spoil the jungle atmosphere. The beach only appears during the dry season (August-January).

We strongly recommended that you not stay in the city itself but in one of the nearby jungle lodges (hoteis de selvas). Those ecoresorts are expensive, but they provide a unique rain-forest experience with modern luxury. An excellent excursion upstream from Manaus is Mamiraua Ecological Reserve, where you can see a plethora of colorful exotic birds, black caimans, Amazon dolphins and numerous rare primates.

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