Belém is on the banks of the Bay of Guajará, which is formed by a set of islands and river mouths on the estuary of the Amazon river. Its river port helps putting into motion the Northern region of Brazil.
The city was established in 1616, after the construction of "Forte do Presépio", today "Forte do Castelo", on the banks the Pará river. Belém is, in a way, a synthesis of the culture and the history of Pará and the Amazon with native Indian influence in the food and culture. It became an extremely wealthy city with the Rubber Boom at the end of the 19th century and many beautiful colonial buildings from this era are still visible.
Every year, in the second Sunday of October, it is celebrated in Belém, one of the largest catholic procession of the world, Círio de Nazaré.
Huge bus terminal a few kilometers east of the center. Many local buses pass here. It is possible to travel by air-conditioned coach to Belém from most major points in Brazil. However, due to its relative isolation, travel times can be quite lengthy (Example 27 hours to Fortaleza) - especially from the south.
There are regular international flights linking Belém to Cayenne, Georgetown, Paramaribo and Miami, and many direct domestic flights linking Belém to Brasilia, Fortaleza, Manaus, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Macapá. Bus Pratinhas to/from Presidente Vargas, and Marex to/from Prça da República. Taxi to center R$20–30 (negotiate!).
Passenger terminal at the north end of the docks. Many daily boats to nearby islands, including twice to Rio Branco. Also to Macapá, Santarém Belem and Manaus, with connections further north and west. Locals sling hammocks to sleep but air conditioned cabins are available on the larger boats. This is a great way to travel see (and hear) the river, and meet people. Beware, as soon as you leave the boat you will be greated by friendly taxi drivers who'll offer you a flat price for the way to your accommodation - their friendly offer is 2 to 3 times the regular fare. Just get out on the street and hail a taxi there.
There is one major long distance coach terminal at São Braz. There are many local busses travelling all over the city at often exhilirating and reckless speeds. The number of buses passing Avenida Presidente Vargas is nothing short of astonishing, and you can get virtually anywhere within Greater Belém from here. The challenge lies in finding the right bus, and also getting on board, as it will stop anywhere on a stretch of some 2–300 metres, or attempt to pass straight. Do as the locals: Wave and run for it!
Another transport "hub" is in front of the bus terminal, next to São Bráz, only slightly less chaotic.
Most buses run until about 11PM, but minibuses go virtually around the clock on major roads.
There are many taxis in the city. Many taxi drivers are willing to negotiate a fair flat-rate price based on where you want to go. The taxi fares are far more expensive than the bus fares but if you need to get somewhere fast without waiting or dealing with packed busses, it's a good option.
If you for some strange reason find yourself in possession of a bike while in town, there are actually a great number of cycle lanes along the main avenues.
Belém is a lively and friendly city but it can look quite unappealing at first sight. There are a lot of modern high rises, but between them particularly in Cidade Velha and Campinas there are a vast number of well preserved colonial buildings, from the rubber boom and earlier. Many of the grander ones now house official bodies and there has been a recent drive to preserve them. Belém has many attraction, here are some of many attractions the city offers.
- Mercado Ver-o-Peso (See-the-Weight Market) - by the waterfront, the first and foremost tourist attraction of the whole Pará state. The old fish market, a large and lively traditional market, pre-built in England in the 19th century. Here you will find fish, fruit, vegetables, regional items and offers a good insight into traditional local culture.
- Estação das Docas (Revitalised docks with bars, shops, music etc. next to Ver O Peso)
- Complexo Feliz Lusitânia (Complex Happy Portugal)
- Casa das Onze Janelas (House of Eleven Windows)
- Mercado Ver-o-Rio (See-the-River), bars and a boating lake.
- Forte do Castelo The old fortress in the oldest part of town.
- Catedral da Se The oldest church in Belem.
- Praça Batista Campos (Batista Campos Square)
- Museu de Artes de Belém (Belém Arts Museum)
- Museu Emilio Goeldi (Emílio Goeldi Museum). The zoo.
- Praça da República (The Square of the republic). The main square with statues and the Teatro da Paz.
- Teatro da Paz (Theater of Peace), Praça da República. Tue - Fri 9AM-5PM, Sat - 2PM. Rivals the Manaus opera house as a symbol of the rubber boom's riches. Guided tours every hour on the hour last 30 minutes. R$4, Tuesdays free.
- Bosque Rodrigues Alves (Botanical Garden Bosque Rodrigues Alves). A large section of the original forest (with some a lake, fish, animals and a cafe) perhaps a square kilometer in area, ten minutes by car from the city centre.
- Mangal das Garças - the region's vegetation, animals and food can be appreciated in this large park for tourists, just off the city centre.
Many of the city's highlights can be taken in with a walk along the rivers edge, starting with the docks and continuing to the old fort. Numerous old churches along the way are worth a look, and the bustling market life is not to be missed.
Belém has a range of regional specialties. See Pará for the full menu.
- Regional Ice Creams: made with fruits like Açaí, Cupuaçú, Taperebá, Bacurí, Graviola, etc. Best ice cream maker is Sorveteria Cairú, several branches around town, including at Docas (Station of the docks).
- Tacacá: a delicious soup made with shrimp, tucupi (a broth made with wild cassava) and jambu (Acmella oleracea). It must be served extremely hot in a cuia and it can be served with pepper or not.
- Caldeirada Paraense: is made with fish, shrimp, eggs, onion, potatoes, tomatoes, red pepper, tucupi and jambu. It must be served hot with rice and pirão.
- Maniçoba: is made with leaves of Manihot, salted pork, dried meat and some smoked ingredients, such as bacon.
- Pato no Tucupi: is made with duck (pato), jambu and tucupi, the same liquid used to prepare Tacacá. People eat this food with rice and pepper.
- Boteco das Onze, Praça Frei Caetano Brandão s/nº, Cidade Velha, tel. 3224-8599 / 3241-8255.
- Lá em Casa, Av. Gov. José Malcher, 247, ☎ +55 91 3242-4222, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Very traditional place serving local specialities.
The refurbished warehouses by the riverside, Estação das Docas (or simply Docas) offer a number of outside tables, and fairly expensive menus. Amazon beer has an in-house brewery and on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights offers an all you can drink and eat special for R$36.
- Botequin (Some 3 km South from Praça da Republica). Live music and DJs, good on Wednesdays Entry R$10.
- Açaí Biruta (By the bay, next to the cathedral). Mostly reggea, some rock. Beached boat built in, hammocks. Good on Sundays. Entry R$7 when live music. Big beer R$3..
- Mormaço (By the Mangal).
You should try the genuine beer from Pará, which is called CERPA and can be easily found.
There are two main areas for accommodation, both featuring the full range:
- On and around Avenida Presidente Vargas on the very edge of the commercial center, and also close to many sights, but rather seedy and not too safe in its smaller alleys at night.
- The area around the bus terminal and São Bráz, somewhat easier going.
- Hotel Amazônia, Rua O de Almeida 548 (Just of Praça da República and Presidente Vargas), ☎ +55 91 3222-8456, e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 11AM, check-out: 11AM. Cleaned, friendly staff and save place. WiFi included in the price Dorms R$15, Singles R$23, Doubles R$35 or 50 (with bathroom).
- Hotel Hilton Belém, Av. Presidente Vargas, 882 (Across from Praça da República), ☎ +55 91 4006-7000, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Hotel Regente, Av. Governador José Malcher, 485 (12Km from the airport), ☎ +55 91 3181-5000, e-mail: email@example.com. from R$175.
- Hotel Sagres, Av.Governador José Malcher, 2927 (near from the Terminal), ☎ +55 91 4005-0005, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Hotel Ver O Peso, opposite of ver o peso market. Terasse with view of Market and Amazon River. Double R$65 with bathroom..
Three places within 50 meters of each other at Travessa Frutuoso Guimarães, some three blocks inland from the Docas.
- Fortaleza, Tv Frutuoso Guimarães n°276, ☎ +55 91 3212-1055. Kitchen and laundry, popular among backpackers, friendly and funny owner/manager speaks French, virtually no sound barriers between rooms. Basic. Dorm R$20, Single R$35, shared bathroom.
- Hotel Palácio. High ceilings, restaurant for cheap lunch. Single R$15, R$25 with bathroom..
- Vitória Régia, Tv. Frutuoso Guimarães, 260 Belém, ☎ 91 98131-1525 (mobile & whatsapp). Basic Single R$25, shared bathroom.
Just down the street is the nicer
- Ver-o-centro. Single R$55.
Belém is now a large city, take care when walking after nightfall along Presidente Vargas and the back streets that lead off from it. Although no worse (and perhaps better) than other Brazilian cities there is still a lot of poverty so try not to have jewellery or cameras on show when walking around. The city is generally safe and friendly during daytime. Estacao das Docas is always a safe if rather touristy option. The Umarizal area has up market local bars and restaurants. Avenida Joao Paulo Segundo (previously called Avenida Premeiro de Dezembro) has some more "down to earth" and very local bars. Generally there is a lot of night life Thursday, Friday and Saturday ask for advice. Although worth a visit try and avoid Estacao da Docas which is really only for tourists.
- Ilha do Mosqueiro is the closest beach area (after Outeiro) to Belém, some 80 km away. The island is surrounded by sandy river beaches (some developed more than others) with fresh water and because of the size of the estuary often large waves. Buses at least every half hour from the bus station. Boats on weekends and high season.
- Icoaraci some 25 km north of the centre offers a pleasant bayside walk with quite a few bars and restaurants. Car ferry for Ilha do Marajó leaves from here. Local buses from downtown.
- Salinópolis or Salinas offers the nearest sea beaches. It is a beautiful place with nice beaches (Atalaia, Maçarico, Farol Velho etc...), a three hours from Belém, and it is a good place to visit/stay (at least one night). The original town is Salinopolis. Atalaia and Farol Velho are beautiful beaches except at weekends and holidays when they can resemble car parks with thousands of visiting cars from Belem. If you drive along the beach far enough you will get away from the crowds, but if you have a car be careful of soft sand and the tide!
- Ilha do Marajó is possible as a day trip, but consider spending at least one night. Many agencies offer packages, but you can mostly get along cheaper on your own.
- Ilha de Algodoal is a beautiful Island, and there is one of the most preserved beaches in the North of Brazil in there (Princess beach).
- Crispim is possible a day trip.
- Santarém two hours from Belém by plane. But do consider a two or three day boat journey up river (rather less when coming back down with the current).