The Amazon. A staggering, serpentine waterway that snakes for thousands of miles from the Atlantic, right up into the hinterlands of South America. It’s unlike any conventional cruise you’ll ever make, and that accounts for a huge part of its appeal.
You can sail more than nine hundred miles upstream to Manaus, a jungle shrouded, rustic gem of a city that looks like something straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. En route, you’ll encounter sights, sounds and scents that will sear themselves into your memory forever.
Vast tracts of rich, dense foliage that tumble down to the banks of the muddy river. Canoes attempting to keep pace with your ship as she glides silently upstream. Cows and oxen grazing near the banks of the river, while gimlet eyed Caimans watch from the water for a first, slight slip. Thatched houses on rickety stilts that seem to cling to the riverbank for comfort.
You’ll be surprised by beautiful, pristine beaches far upstream at Alter do Chao, and maybe experience some vibrant, frenetic displays of samba at one of the local displays in Parintins. You’ll certainly be blown away by the unique, unreal ‘wedding of the waters’ at Tapajo, where currents of brown and white water flow literally right alongside each other. You might even catch sight of some of the local pink dolphins that frolic in these same waters.
And there are always lots of options on offer in this spectacular natural wonderland. You could go on a night hunt for Caimans with a torch, or take up piranha fishing from a small tourist boat. And anyone fascinated by insects will find literally thousands of diverse, brightly coloured bugs competing for their attention. The air is alive with the screeching of brilliantly hued and plumed parrots, as well as thousands of other colourful, chattering birds.
There are incredible, lush tracts of fauna and flowers, and enormous floating lily pads that look big enough to crash land a helicopter on.Vast swathes of gnarled, twisted tree stumps and roots form a myriad of dank, impenetrable mangroves that suddenly give way to patches of pristine, cultivated farmland. The heat and the humidity can be overpowering at times.
But nothing prepares you for Manaus.
The capital of Amazonia was established by Jesuit priests, and later greatly expanded thanks to Henry Ford, and his use of the rubber plantations here. Ferries chug up to the beach here and literally run aground on the sand under the promenade wall. A glut of goods- everything from printers to live pigs- is carried ashore here.
There’s an adjacent walk that takes you right past the heart of this teeming, jungle shrouded juggernaut of a city. For an elegant contrast, check out the elegant Teatro Amazonas Opera House, with its stucco facade. It looks as if it has been lifted intact from a Parisian boulevard. Topped by a graceful cupola draped in the Brazilian national colours, it is the focal point of the entire city.
Yes, the Amazon is a different kind of adventure. It’s thrilling, spellbinding, and more than a little bit raw in places. But it is totally distinctive as cruise destinations go, and it is never, ever boring.