When Brazilians from the Amazon speak about the real capital of their region, they always speak about Belém, and not Manaus. Even though Manaus beats Belém by size and cultural activities, Belém is naturally more an Amazon city. It has a long history – founded in 1616 as one of the first settlements of the Portuguese – and was known as an economic hub for Amazonian products for centuries.
Belém still has a lot of old, colonial houses and buildings left, which makes it a nice city to explore. The Cidade Velha area is beautiful (especially if you’re into colonial architecture like me!), but don’t walk around there at night.
I remember walking around there on the weekend, and I felt that the area had a weird vibe. There was no one (but literally no one) on some of the streets. We used the Lonely Planet for guidance, but most of the museums and restaurants the book had listed were already permanently closed. It seems like tourism has really dropped in Belém – a shame, because the city has potential!
Definitely worth a visit (and still open!) is the Forte do Presépio. I always like visiting old forts, and this one has a nice view on the city as well as a good museum about the local (and indigenous) history.
One spectacle you shouldn’t miss, is the Mercado Ver-o-peso, which literally translates as ‘See the weight market’. We arrived in Cidade Velha at midnight and were surprised by the completely deserted streets, until we turned somewhere and encountered hundreds and hundreds of men, who were offloading the fish caught that day. It was very surreal, as literally 100m down the roads it felt like you had arrived in a ghost town.
The mercado is definitely worth a daytime visit. The hustle and bustle, the movements, the selling of everything between the most exotic oils for treatments of diseases, to live stock.. the mercado is a treat for all your senses.
We stayed in a fantastic hotel called the Quinta de Pedras. It was spacious, beautifully decorated, had an indoor patio and amazing breakfast. And… it was very cheap. So cheap that I thought they had made a mistake 🙂
All in all, Belém is definitely worth a stop-over if you are travelling around in the Amazon. I do hope that some of the museums listed in the Lonely Planet will be reopened again, as it will add to the experience. Have you been to Belém? And how was it when you were there? I’m very curious to know if there was more tourism a couple of years ago!