Belém, in Pará state, is one of Brazil's busiest ports - and it's about 60 miles upriver from the Atlantic ocean! The river is the Pará, part of the greater Amazon river system, separated from the larger part of the Amazon delta by Ilha de Marajó. Belém is built on a number of small islands intersected by channels and other rivers.
Founded in 1616, Belém was the first European colony on the Amazon but didn't become part of the Brazilian nation until 1775. As the gateway to the Amazon, the port and city grew tremendously in size and importance during the nineteenth-century rubber boom and is now a large city with millions of inhabitants. The newer part of the city has modern buildings and skyscrapers. The colonial portion retains the charm of tree-filled squares, churches, and traditional blue tiles. On the outskirts of the city, the river supports a group of people called cablocas, who live their lives almost untouched by the busy activities of the city.
Belém is a port of call not only for commercial shipping but also for cruise liners and those who use the port as an entrance to Amazonia. Riverboats provide the bulk of transportation along the rivers.
There are domestic flights from Rio de Janeiro, Manaus, and other Brazilian cities, plus international flights from French Guiana, Suriname, and the US via Miami. All arrive and depart from Aeropuerto Internacional Val de Cans north of the city. Check flights from your area. You can also browse for hotels and car rentals.
There are bus service and taxis into the city.mRegular bus service connects Belém to Fortaleza, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, and São Paulo.
When to Go
Belém is a rainy city and hot. Humidity is very high. The climate is equatorial which means little variance from day to day. The wettest months are from January to May, but whenever you travel, be prepared for daily rain and high temperatures.
To time your visit for a special event, go to Belém for the Círio de Nazaré on the second Sunday in October. Hymns, bells, and fireworks mark the festival to the Virgin of Nazareth, Brazil's largest religious festival.
During the height of the nineteenth-century rubber boom, the Ver O Peso market was designed and built in England and assembled in Belém. In addition to the fresh fruit, plants, and fish brought to market by dugout canoe, you'll find items for macumba ceremonies, medicinal herbs and potions, alligator and crocodile body parts, and anaconda snakes. The market is on the docks and is one of the largest in Brazil.
- Belém's culinary heritage is predominantly Indian, and demonstrate both the richness and the tastiness of local favorites.
- Belém prides itself on being the cultural and economic center of northern Brazil. The Federal University of Pará was founded in 1957.
- Nightlife draws people in for music and dancing. Samba shows, traditional music and dance, carimbó and popular music and dance at boates are popular.
- Goeldi Museum offers a world-famous ethnological and zoological collections on the Amazon. The museum has a zoological-botanical garden, sheltering manatees, alligators, snakes, monkeys, birds, and other Amazonian animals, an aquarium and the ethnology museum itself. Don't miss the collection of Marajoara ceramics, Indian artifacts, stuffed birds, and old photos.
- The old docks As Docas have been renovated and now house restaurants and shops.
- The newly renovated docks of Belém near the Mercado Ver o peso claim the finest restaurants in town, as well as numerous food stands serving local seafood.
- From the waterfront, stroll to the Praça de Republica to see the 1874 Teatro da Paz theater that has seen many famous artists.
- Cidade Velha is an older part of the city with many fine mansions built in the French style popular during the rubber boom.
- In the Praça do Relógio, named for the replica of London's Big Ben, is the Palácio Antõnio Lemos with the Museo da Cidade. Also called the Blue Palace for the blue tiles, it's a Brazilian imperial-style building with huge rooms and imported furnishings. The Palácio Lauro Sodré was built in the 1770s for Portuguese crown officials and contains period paintings, a chapel, stables and a dungeon.
Excursions From Belém
- Icoaracy Village, about 25 km from the city, is well-known as the ceramics center of northern Brazil. Marajoara and Tapajonic ceramics are created here.
- Ilha de Marajo is an ecological preserve with unspoiled beaches, many varieties of flora and fauna, and lots of wildlife, including water buffalo.
- Mosqueiro Island, 80 km from Belém, is connected to the mainland by Sebastião de Oliveira Bridge. The island's architecture reflects the many influences of Belém and the area. The island is popular for beautiful river beaches, restaurants, bars, and hotels.