If there is something that should be well-known about Brazil, it is that ecotourism is taken just as seriously as soccer. Just ask Fuleco, the 2014 FIFA World Cup mascot whose name originates from “ful” for futbol and “eco” for ecology. This personable armadillo is native to Brazil, and symbolizes the importance of preserving the ecosystem, as well as a passion for soccer that is present in Brazil. The city of Manaus is a perfect marriage of the 2: the practice of street soccer and efforts to preserve the Amazon rainforest.
Manaus, the City of the Amazonas
In the 19th century, Manaus was known as the “Heart of the Amazon and City of the Forest,” when the natural resources of the Amazon rainforest were used in creating rubber as an international export. The city instantly began to flourish, and with wealth exponentially growing, extravagant buildings were being constructed like the Amazon Theater (Teatro Amazonas). For a while, there was a strong European presence in the tropics, but the city’s economic success suffered when the Asian market discovered a way to create artificial rubber. Since then, Manaus has made a comeback. Locals have continued to work hard to offer excellent tourism services and educational programs to travelers interested in exploring the Amazon rainforest.
The Amazon Theater (Teatro Amazonas) was initially constructed and funded by the local European elites who took residency in Manaus, between 1905 and 1912, when the rubber industry attracted many international companies to the region.
The European socialites imported materials from France, England and Italy to make the opera house the most elegant theater in the Amazonas. The opera house is easily recognizable by the impressive dome decorated with 36,000 ceramic tiles painted in yellow, green and blue, which resembles the Brazilian flag. The inside of the dome is also filled with intricate hand-painted frescos.
The city of Manaus took an economic hit when companies were no longer exporting large amounts of rubber. Therefore, the theater did not have the financial means to continue running, and it was forced to close its doors. It wasn’t until 90 years later, in 2001, that the city was finally able to open the opera house to the public again. Today, the opera house hosts talented musicians from around the world, attracting not only locals, but tourists as well.
The Museum of the Five Senses (Centro Cultural Usina Chamine) is another popular landmark in Manaus. It was originally built as an old sewage treatment plant. Many years later, the building was used to display indigenous folk art like the Pinacoteca Art Collection, and eventually the Amazonas State declared it a historic monument.
Ecotourism in the Amazonas
Ecotourism helps preserve the Amazon rainforest and cultural traditions of indigenous tribes. Manaus is home to the world’s largest and best-preserved rainforest. The rainforest covers 1 billion acres in Brazil and occupies 40% of the country’s total geographical area. Guests looking to explore the Amazon rainforest can venture into various museums and ecological reservations in Manaus:
- Meeting of Waters (Encontro das Aguas) is a spectacular natural phenomenon, where the Rio Negro and Solimões flow together to form the Amazon River. Take a boat out to see where the 2 rivers meet, and notice how each river’s density, temperature and speed keep them separated for miles.
- The Indian Museum (Museu do Índio) is the largest indigenous museum in Brazil, with a collection of 3,000 tribal artifacts.
- The Northern Man Museum (Museu do Homem do Norte) has a collection of nearly 2,000 artifacts on exhibit. It’s a great place to explore local customs and culture in the Amazonas.
- Amazonico Museum (Museu Amazônico) has dozens of exhibits and archeological artifacts about the Amazon’s indigenous and pre-indigenous cultures.
One of the benefits of exploring the Amazon is learning about species native to Brazil. Animal sanctuaries in Manaus allow visitors to explore animals indigenous to the country. With over 170 animals and 58 different species, the Zoo Centro De Instrucao de Guerra Na Selva is the largest center for animals in the Amazon. The zoo functions as a center for education on environmental studies and wildlife preservation, providing aid to injured animals.
The Monkey Forest (Floresta dos Macacos) is another sanctuary for animals at risk of extinction. It is the biggest monkey preservation, housing more than 100 primates over the last 20 years. Guests can take a tour on suspended walkways to get a close view of the monkeys in their natural habitat.
Many of Manaus’ accommodations for travelers incorporate the Amazon rainforest into the design of luxurious jungle-themed hotels. These hotels use the Amazon’s natural resources and colors to inspire the décor. Brazilian wine-tasting tours and guided tours through the Amazon rainforest are just a couple excursions available to hotel guests. Professional guides lead guests into the Amazon to learn survival skills; observe native species in their natural habitat; go tree climbing; and to participate in other recreational activities only found in the rainforest.
Nightlife and Native Foods
The Ponte Negra Beach (Praia de Ponta Negra) is located on the coast of the Rio Negro. It is prime opportunity for visitors to test their skills and play soccer with the locals. It’s also a great place to try various bars and restaurants near the beach.. These restaurants serve up authentic Manaus cuisine, using traditional recipes and ingredients.
For travelers with an adventurous palate, try over 2,000 types of fish offered in Manaus’ restaurants. Visitors to this unique city should also try the delicious natural juices made from the fruits like pitomba, tucumã and cupuaçu — all found in the rainforest. In addition to restaurants, tourists can visit Centro de Artesanato Branco E Silva, where they can join locals in buying and tasting regional food, including fruit.
The streets of Manaus are always filled with locals playing soccer. Like eating and sleeping, soccer is part of almost everyone’s daily routine. The devotion and dedication to soccer by every socio-economic class and age is truly inspirational to any athlete. And fans of the US soccer team will be able to experience street soccer first hand if they visit Manaus on June 22, 2014, when the US faces Portugal in a big World Cup soccer match at Vivaldão Stadium.
– By The Brazilian Tourism Board (Embratur)