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14 days,  Jun '11



INTRO brasil

Kind of travel:
Me and my girlfriend Elisa in an independent travel

28th May - 11th June 2011

Do I need a visa
no, just the passport to get a medium size dull stamp back

How many km
3100 km

How I moved
1500km on a 3 deck boat from Manaus to Belem sleeping on hammocks, then comfortable night bus till Sao Luis, then so many bumpy jeep rides on sandy roads. The jeep having benches mounted in the back are used as public transport

Freezing or baking
awfully hot and damp; I've never suffered as much as I did in particular in Manaus and Belem. Fortaleza and Jeri gets more bearable since windier rasil chiller and rainy (we snorkelled but with the swimming suite), the only unpleasant temperature was in Kassala since hot and humid.

Where I slept:
on the boat in Rio Amazonas our hammocks were our bedroom, then medium range hotel or guesthouses (called posadas) in Belem, Sao Luis and Jeri. A/C in Manaus and Belem for us was not an option.

What I liked:
the Lencois Maranhenses (km's of white sandy dunes dotted by emerald ponds), snoozing the whole day on the hammock on the boat sailing the Amazon River and paddling over the flooded beach called 'Alter do Chao' on the world widest river

What I disliked:
the damp hotness, the unforecast cost of accommodation/ transport and the last but not the least the feeling of insecurity characterizing the main cities

How much daily:
the daily budget turned out more than 70€/day pp. Transport and accommodation play the major role (12h by bus 50€pp, a double room in Manaus 45€) and the quality/ cost ratio isn't justif

Dangers/ hassles: walking around in cities like Manaus and Belem on Sunday, when towns are ghostly will make you feel uncomfortable. As usual the most dangerous animals of the whole Amazonas are the human beings

What you do need: a lot depend on you mother tongue but studying Portuguese really helps. Having a glance to the boat schedule will avoid you waiting for days.



It was few years were longing for a travel in Brazil, and in fact we even studied Portuguese for some months.
Then finally we decided Brazil would have been our honeymoon destination. and, once having exchanged the rings, we flew there.
We had our piece of adventure in Amazonas without major issues (even if having the luggage lost hasn't been the best it could happen...) covering 3000km, hence I feelwe had quite a meaningful insight of the NordEste.
However something didn't click on! Nothing about the spotless kindness of the people, but I didn’t feel Brazil excting me as other travels did.
For sure it hasn't been due to the fact Brazil being a major touristic destination, on the opposite we found much fewer tourists than supposed (in the whole Amazonas we met 3 foreigners)
First of all the insecurity we breathed in many areas contributed a lot to our uneasiness; it hasn't been just a feeling since we lived some episode due to the social tension (I hate when I cannot walk where I want when I want!).
On top of it I expected a much more lively atmosphere, expectation driven by the stereotype of being a country where people enjoy the life ... but we didn't find anything with such vibe. (Once some guys were dancing capoeira, but to gather tourists)
The last but not the least the damp hotness was unbearable!
I'm not discouraging anybody from going there (wildlife is amazing indeed) but set your right level of expectations.



I As promising starting point when we landed in Manaus from Lisbon (stopping over in Sao Paulo), our luggage got lost (read the TIPS), and we retrieved only days later (one even in Santarem).
We spent two days in Manaus at the Hotel Brasil (45€ bleak double room with A/C) visiting the Bosque de Ciencia (Wood of Science) (don't expect too much), hanging around the town and shuttling back and forth from the airport to claim for our back bags.
Then we did the necessary for the boat travel to Santarem: we bought the ticket (Manaus- Santarem, 30hours, 50€ per hammock (100R$),) some food and two hammock ((read the TIPS))
In the afternoon we rented a boat (12 seat boat just for us = 90€ for 4h!) for a tour on Rio Amazonas to see the 'Encontro de Agua' (where two rivers with two different colors meet without blending for several km's),a floating village with exotic animals kept as pets (anaconda, baby crock, cloth,...) and entering the hardly accessable flooded part of the Forest (since the water is at his highest).
What a luck that in the evening by chance we attended the Lyric Festival played outside the Amazonas theatre with an awesome choreography and outstanding performance: it has been our highlight of Manaus even because the town itself isn't that charming.
The boat to Santarem set out on Tuesday at 12.30 pm but we hang our hammocks several hours beforehand: we called in Santarem in the late afternoon the following day. It has been a pleasant trip, mainly because being fresh (due to the open deck letting the air to flow while the boat is moving) and mosquito free (since downstream ward the boats sail in the middle on the Amazon River). Besides there's a 'restaurant', namely a woman cooking some meat with rise (not bad though) \and on the upper deck a bar (lanchonete) where you can enjoy beers and snacks.
Santarem is definitely more pleasant than Manaus (even much smaller). We settled down at the Hotel GranRios (double room 24€) staying in the town one full day. The spare day we had there we bought the ticket to Belem (40h, 120R$ for hammock) and by bus (1h) we reached the popular beach called ' Alter do Chao'.
Unfortunately June is the end of the wet season so the white sand beach is covered by 3m of water. Not too bad since renting two kayaks let us to paddle over the beach anyway.
Anyway our best memory of Santarem is the moment we finally retrieved our backbag lost by the air carrier on the way from Lisbon to Manaus!!
The Santarem- Belem leg on the boat has been more interesting that the previous one; in particular the second day of the trip when the boat leaves the Amazon River to enter a narrow channel leading to Belem. Here it passes near several small villages of few wooden houses and typically an evangelic church just perched on the river bank connected to the rest of the world only by hundreds of km of water. What turned out to be impressive has been the countless number of canoes on which typically the mother with her children were paddling like hell towards our boat to collect the the plastic bags filled with food thrown by the most generous passangers.
Even more striking it has been to see few canoe daring to harpoon the boat (while it's moving) with some steel hooks and then climbing it up to sell their shrimps.
Belem isn't the place where you might want to stay more than you need; we arrived on Sunday in the early morning and the town was ghostly apart of two guys punching each other on the faces right outside the docks. We jumped on a bus to reach the bus station where we bought a ticket for the night bus to Sao Luis (55€!, 12h leaving at 8.00pm). We stored our luggage there and we dedicated the day to town. Nobody stole us anything but few times I felt we weren't that far... half day has been enough to visit the highlights, mall included!
We pulled in Sao Luis at 7.00 am, settled down at Hotel Lord (double room 35€) and had a stroll around.
Sao Luis is very typical with his tiled facades in line to the Portuguese style, even the traffic lights have a tile-like appearance. It's the town where you can take your time enjoying in a typical restaurant the Brazilian cousin or shopping in the endless number of souvenir shops.
At 6.00 am we took the first bus to the town called Barreirinhas, the base to explore the famous Lencois Maranhenses (literally the white sheets of the Maranhao Region). It's a 4.5h bus trip so you will pull in the town at 11.00am; once dropped off the bus it won't be that effort to find a tour, since they find you. We bought a 44 euro tour to the 'Laguna Bonita' (beautifull lagoon) leaving at 2.00pm and returning at 7.00pm in a 12 people group by jeep (with seats mounted on the back) (read the TIPS)). We stayed at the Posada Tia Cota for day, quite expensive (double room 44€), but I enjoyed the tiny swimming pool as I never did in my life.
To reach the lagoon it's one bumpy hour up and down sandy hills and crossing ponds; you will be surprised by how wild is that area. Once reached the limit of the Lencois, you climb a 50m high sand hill and you enjoy the jaw dropping view of km's of white sand and blue ponds. We walked around, took some baths (the water is sweet and swallow) and finally we enjoyed the sunset. I can really recommend the Lencois being the top highlight of the whole travel.
Given the lack of a direct public mean of transport from Barreirinhas to Jericoacoara it will be a looong adventure taking one day and half.
A jeep departs every day at 8.30 am from Barreirinhas to Paulino Neves,where you will wait for another vehicle to Tutoya, then another to Parnaiba an finally another to Camoncin where you'll stay overnight. The following day by a jeep you'll get to Jeri at 1.30 pm ((read the TIPS)).
Jericoacoara is indeed far from the Brazil we have travelled through so far, being a touristy place but pleasant enough to recall the idea of a remote fishing village it was thanks to his sandy streets, separated by the world by a long dirty road, few jeeps going around, no big concrete buildings built. It must be said we were there in the off season, so no clue how it may be once crowded by the masses; anyway it's the right place to relax few days enjoying mohitoes on the beach after a long sweaty travel in Amazonas!
And finally the last part of the trip reaching Fortaleza: 6 hours travel whose the first 2h by a truck bumping on a dirty road, while the remaining ones on a super comfort bus.
We poked around the city center but we didn't fall in love with the city due to the dodgy atmosphere we perceived. The following night we were on the flight on the way to Lisbon



Brasil travel tip

    • How to avoid having the luggage lost
    • How to organise the boat trip
    • Barrerinhas (Lencosi Maranhenses) to Jericocoara by public means of transport
    • Lencois Maranhenses



EU citiziens staying less than 90 days don't require anything more than their passport. It'll be stamped with a medium size square stamp.



The currency is the Brasilian Real; the official change rate. (1€= 2.3 R). The real is very volatile versus the euros, being more aligned to USD



I had the LP and Footprint guide (7th ed 2011): while I'm a great fan of Footprint guides thinking they are far better than LP (that I like though) I found some important missing info in it. In particular poor and vague information about means of transport: nothing about boat schedule on Amazon River, suggestion about such boat trio (and on the other hand 20 colored paged about the Brasilian music!), nothing about the tours to visit the Lencois Maranhenses (it's one of the highlights of Brasil!)....



I had the usual vaccinations: ephatite A, B, typhus and tetanus. I know your main concern is the dilemma 'to do or not to do the antimalaric treatment?'
Against the malaria you have mainly three choises: Clorichina, Malarone and Lariam.
Clorichina is not effective in this part of the world (it's mainly for central America), but at the end I decided to take neither Malarone nor Lariam.
In the region the risk exist especially in Amazonas region; I preferred to cover myself conveniently, using repellent and mosquito net than take antimalaric for my 7th times.
on the Amazon River no mosquito

we took the Ledum Palustre, it's an omeophatic cure that it's supposed to work as repellent (I didn't get Malaria but I cannot guarantee you it was thanks to Ledum)

we had a moskito net but we didn't use



  • How to avoid having the luggage lost
    We reached Amazonas flying from Lisbon (Portugal), stopping over in Sao Paulo for 3hours and then flying to Manaus. When in Manaus our backbags didn't show up on the conveyor belt of the airport.
    We asked at the lost&found office and it turned out that our stuff wasn't simply got lost but by procedure it got stuck in Sao Paulo because we didn't pick them up passing them through the custom.
    Obviously we didn't do since in Lisbon they printed all our boarding card assuring the backbag would have been transfer directly on the flight to Manaus. In fact on the barcode stuck to the bags

  • How to organise the boat trip
    1. Buy the your hammock:
      On the boat there are no hammocks available so everybody has to bring his.
      In Manaus you'll find plenty of shops where to buy ranging from a price of 8€ to 40€.
      How to choose the best one?
      One of the key elements you have to keep in mind is the width, in fact you won't sleep along the hammock (being curved like a a banana) but you'll fell more comfortable sleeping a little more at an angle, since you will be flatter.
      Don't forget two pieces of rope (1.5 m each) to tie it up; they sell it on the harbour as we

    2. Boat schedule and prices:
      Don't expect to have a fix price: prices depends more on the boat you are using than on your negotiation skills (that play their role though). If you buy the ticket by the touts on the streets along the port they turn out cheaper then the ones sent inside the port at the ticket office. I experienced it personally. Manaus- Santarem, hammock : ticket office 125 R$ (55€), first tout, 120R$ (52€), second tout 100R$ (43€)).
      Pay attention that some days of the week there are more boat, others just one, and others no boats. Here is the schedule I found by checking Lonly Planet Thorn Tree http://manausjungletours.com/en/boats.html
      for instance the Santarem- Belem boat is only on 3 days per week (Fr-Sat-Sun)

    3. Food on board:
      On all the boats you'll find a restaurant (a woman who cooks some chicken and rise) and a lanchonete (a kind of bar), so in theory you don't need to bring your food. However for sake of variety I suggest you to buy somethig before geeting on board (fruit, biscuits,...)
      The boat has several stopvers but they are quite quick (30min) and you won't have time to get off looking for food

    4. Safety:
      On the boat there are no lockers to deposit your valuables so you have to store them below the hammock. Especially during the night stopovers your belongings may be an appetible prey.
      Apart for guarding them (but it can be boring especially if you are alone) my suggestion is to tie your backbag to something even using a small chain with a lock. Hardly somebody will spend time opening your bags

    5. How long in advance to get on:
      Go on board at least 3hours before departure unless you want the worst place (near the toilet, on the aisle,...). Don't think then you'll have your confort guaranteed! Even if you find a good place for the hammock in a stopover somebvody may hang his hammock over yours (as happened to us). Hence during stopver defend your place

  • Barrerinhas (Lencosi Maranhenses) to Jericocoara by public means of transport:
    The whole trip comes about 86R$, hence 40 euro and take 1.5 days and expect to change so many differents vehicles:

    - 8.30 am toyota from Barrerinhas to Paulino Neves (10.40): 20 R$ Sand track vey bumpy and scenic. the trip is an highlight itself, I reccomend. In Paulino Neves you can walk on the dunes
    - 12.30 am toyota from Paulino Neves to Tutoya (1.30): 5R$. New paved road. Tutoya it´s not so ugly as said.
    - 3.30 pm big bus from Tutoya to Parnaiba (6.00 pm):paved road about 10R$ (the previous bus is at 9.30am)
    - 6.30 pm big bus from Parnaiba to Camoncin (8.50 pm): paved road 16 r$. You have to sleep in Camoncin (it's plenty of posadas and it's a nice place to stay)

    Following day
    - 11.40 am toyota from Camoncin to Jeri (1.15 am): 35 R$. Very scenic sandy road with water cross overs on barges. and a long part on the beach, I reccomend it!

    Otherwise you can do in 9hours renting a private jeep in Barrerinhas for150€ each person with a minimum of 4 people

  • Lencois Maranhenses

    What is Lencois Maranhense?
    Lencois in Portuguese means white sheets (the ones used for the bed) and the name it's not by chance due to the hundred of km's of white sandy dunes dotted with sweet water emerald laguuns.
    The landscape is far from what you'd expect to find in Brasil (honestly what you'd expect to find on the earth) not only for his tipology but also for his dimension.
    This huge area lies on the cost between Sao Luis and Fortaleza and is the real highlight of NordEste.
    The best way to see it is flying (with a minimum amount of people you can fly over by a small plane), but also climbing the dunes and swimming in the ponds is an experience.

    How to visit the Loencois Maranhense?
    It's much easier than it sounds. Once the bus drop youoff in Barrerinhas (4.5h from Sao Luis, bus from Sao Luis at 6.00; 9.00; 14.15) the touts will find you. There not many travel agences, honestely I saw one and it was right in front of the bus stop).
    Anyway as usual the agencies just collect the people for what is already organised by others so, unless you don't do something customed, expect to have the same choice whatever agency or tout you opt for.
    There two different trips to Lencois: one to Laguna Bonita and the other to Laguna Azul and each destination has two departures per day: at 9.30 am and at 2.00pm. If you come by bus from Sao Luis (6.00 am Sao Luis- 11.30 am Barrerinhas) you'll be able to pick the 2.00 pm one.
    Laguna Bonita costs 100R$ (44€) pp (negotiated), Laguna Azul 90R$ (40€) .
    The mean of transport is a jeep with the seat mounted on the back (16 people)
    Since it's said Laguna Bonita to be the best one since it's the highest place we went head for it
    The trip take 5h and you need a cap, sunglasses (sun cream) and swimming suit (if you want to have a bath, but it'd be a pity to go there and miss it). Once on the limit of the dunes ythe jeep dropp you off and you climb them up, then walking around for few hours, enjoying the sweet shallow (1,5m) waters.
    You can wander where you like untill after the twilight at 6.00pm (amazing!) when the jeep returns.