Skyscrapers in the lush Amazonian Jungle? Yup most likely you have landed in Belem. This ancient/modern city of 1,5 million inhabitants is located on the large estuary of the Amazon River. Alternating colonial buildings, modern skyscrapers, and luxuriant vegetation, Belem is one of a kind city outside the tourists’ radars. And yet it’s very interesting to explore on a larger Brazil itinerary, or even as the starting point of the three Guianas crossing. Come check the best things to do in Belem.
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The best things to do in Belem
Visit Estacao das Docas
The Estacao das Docas was a former dock station that was recently reopened to the public. Now it hosts shops, bars, and restaurants and it has become one of the best and safest neighborhoods in Belem.
Search for the yellow-painted cranes, formerly black, that witness the past activities in this area.
When visiting the docks, you can also book the short river cruises of Belem. Usually, these cruises are at sunset and last about an hour or two. The ambiance on board the boats is very festive and happy. They also have dancers performing on board.
Wander in Mangal das Garças
Mangal das Garças is an oasis inside the chaotic city life. Situated in the eastern area of the city, this botanical garden hosts many birds and reptilians of the region.
The entry is free, but it doesn’t include the 5 reais ticket to take the lift to the top of the modern lighthouse. Or to visit the aviary and the butterfly house, another 5 reais. Both are worth adding when visiting, especially the view from the lighthouse.
The best thing about the park? You can get very close to the birds as they are accustomed to the visitors.
Rest in the shadow of mango trees in Praca da Republica
Praca da Republica (Republic Square) is a small park in the city center. One of its characteristics is the tall mango trees that shade the square and alleys around.
Although the most impressive thing you will see in the square is the famous Teatro da Paz (Peace Theatre). This building was largely inspired by the Italian theatre Alla Scala, in Milan. Dancer Anna Pavlova performed on stage in 1918. Free tours of the theatre are held on Wednesdays.
The area is full of shops and restaurants.
Explore the Museum Paraense Emilio Goeldi
Unlike the other attractions, this is a bit far from the dock stations. You will need to walk for about 40 minutes to get there from the center.
The Museum Pareanse is a research institution about the Amazonian ecosystem. Situated a few meters from the center in Nazaré neighborhood it’s a great place to learn about the local flora and birds.
Among the botanical gardens in Belem, it is the oldest one, as it was founded in 1866.
Admire the beautiful Basílica de Nossa Senhora de Nazare
Basilica de Nossa Senhora de Nazare is a large basilica mixing elements of Baroque and Neoclassical styles. The interiors are decorated with the use of different marbles that creates a mosaic of colors. There are also some impressive carving works on the wooden pulpits.
A detail from the exteriors: the external fence is covered with thousands Bomfim ribbons. Similarly, to the Igreja do Senhor do Bonfim in Salvador de Bahia.
Standing out from all the other buildings in the city, when visiting Belem, you should absolutely visit it.
Do shopping at Mercado Ver-o-Peso
This market is very typical of this South America area. In fact, you can find local fruits, meat, and fish. Not to mention the pottery souvenirs and spices. It’s also a great place to taste street food. And açai! This palm fruit is well known internationally for its antioxidant properties.
Did you know? Mercado Ver-o-Peso, literally means “Market see the weight”.
It’s a great destination for an hour or two, but don’t forget to be careful with your belongings as there are many pickpockets around. As for general safety, policemen are often guarding the area, as it’s one of the main touristy attractions in Belem. Considering this, you will not be in danger of exploring.
Sail on board a river cruise to discover Ilha de Marajo
This was by far my favorite activity to do during our stay in Belem.
Cruising on the Amazon River is an exciting experience. You get to see how people live in their stilt houses on the riversides. But above all, you will explore the lush forest on Marajo Island. The guides will introduce you to the impressive varieties of medical plants, the forest’s treasure. And also to the trees and animals that live in the forest.
Apart from this, the boats stop also in the small fishermen’s villages where you can eat with the locals or see them in their daily activities. You may also take part in a demonstration of coconut picking from the palms. Among the different cruises, you can choose to stay several days as well.
Book your one-day trip cruise here.
How to arrive in Belem
Belem is the capital of the Brazilian state of Para and has one of the largest airports in Brazil, Val de Cans International Airport. Although, even if it’s very well connected internally to the other Brazilian cities, it only has two international flights. One from Miami and one from Lisbon.
The airport is only 20 minutes from the city center making it very easy to reach by taxi for 35-45 Reais. You can also rent a car, but I recommend using public transport to move around in the city. Or book a taxi if you want to get out and explore.
Is Belem safe to visit?
Belem is one of the most dangerous cities in Brazil.
And in case you are not aware, Brazil is already dangerous by the world’s standards. There are many homeless and beggars on the street. And you could easily become the target of pickpockets. When visiting don’t wear any jewelry or showy clothes.
In addition to the classic do not wander alone at night (or even as a couple), you should also be aware of the areas you are wandering in the daytime. The central area is mainly safe during the day. But if you like walking around the different neighborhoods always mind the people you see around you and if it’s an open area.
Best time to visit, things to consider
Just like the other South American Equatorial regions, Belem has two seasons: the dry season and the rainy season.
The dry season runs from June to November. Temperatures are around 26.5° with November being the warmest month. In addition to this, there are almost no rainy days. On the contrary, during the rainy season from December to May you will catch many rainy days. Temperatures are around 26°.
When choosing the season to visit, you will also have to consider the larger itinerary. If you are planning to see other Brazil cities, especially those in the South (Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Iguazu falls) you must consider their location is in the Southern Hemisphere. As a consequence, Summer is from December to February, the beginning of the rainy season. And that’s also when the festivities of New Year’s Eve and Carnival take place. If that’s your ideal itinerary, running the risk of a rainy day or two in Belem it’s absolutely worth it.
On the other hand, when planning the crossing of the three Guianas (French Guiana, Suriname, and Guiana) you should definitely consider visiting during the dry season and especially from July to September.
Where to stay
I’ve been to Belem two times, and when choosing where to stay I’d go for Nazaré neighborhood or Campina. In Nazaré you will find the most modern and rich area. It is also where the most famous hotel chains like Ibis and Mercure are. Alternatively in Campina there are more budget-friendly hotels and hostels. Both neighborhoods are in the center and close to the most interesting attractions.
Is Belem worth visiting?
I get this question a lot when people are planning their first trip to South America. For me, Belem is a must-see (especially if you have never visited the Guianas and Venezuela). Even though I know that many people may find it “boring” compared to other Brazilian cities.
It really depends on your travel tastes. If you are more into adventures and nature, I suggest visiting. Without a doubt, it’s a city where you can easily get in contact with the Amazonian nature. And in that case, you should absolutely book the cruise on the Amazon River. Otherwise, if you are more into beautiful beaches and touristy attractions you can skip Belem.
If you are intrigued by exploring the Amazonian Forest, you should check out my adventures in French Guiana! Are you planning a trip to Brazil? Make sure to read my travel guides to some of the most famous Brazilian cities.
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