Stadium: Arena da Amazonia (cap. 44,000)
Games: Four including England v Italy and USA v Portugal
Airport to jungle: You can be on the Amazon riverside within 15 minutes, traffic permitting, but in all likelihood, it’ll take between 30 minutes and an hour.
Much-maligned Manaus is my second favourite city in Brazil so far. It has often been pejoratively described as a “jungle city” but surely that’s the best bit? You get the best of both worlds: a vibrant modern city and a whole rainforest to explore.
Is it really that hot?
Yes. Manaus is hot and humid. It has two seasons: wet and hot or dry and hot. The World Cup takes place during the latter.
But here is a picture of me at Ponta Negra, where the fan fest will take place, on the banks of the Amazon. I am wearing jeans. I survived. You will too.
The good news is, like everywhere in Brazil, beer is served “ice-cold” (“estupidamente gelada“) and at Ponta Negra, you’ll also find the best ice cream from Sorveteria Glacial including amazing Amazonian fruit flavours such as cupuaçu, taperebá and, um, caipirinha. Just don’t look at the website; it’ll make you feel ill.
And it’s a great spot for the fan fest; sunset over the Rio Negro is spectacular and the newly-rejuvenated Ponta Negra has a fairground feel to it. There’s plenty of places to find shade and cool down by the river.
It’s also worth taking advantage of the air-conditioned shopping centres, including Manauara Shopping, which has a mini-rainforest in the middle and a great variety restaurants. Most importantly, keep up your (non-alcoholic) fluids.
Yes. As you come in to land, it’ll feel like you’re flying into the middle of the jungle (stay awake on the flight and you’ll get fantastic views). Manaus is on the edge of the Rio Negro, which forms the Amazon river along with the Rio Solimoes. If you stay at the Tropical Hotel in Ponta Negra, you really feel like you’re close to the rainforest. And boat trips from Manaus along the river are easy to arrange. There are guides (often speaking English) offering packages in the historic town centre; you can normally arrange a day trip to visit an indigenous village, swim with pink dolphins and see some of the Amazon.
Is it safe?
Security-wise, I felt perfectly safe in Manaus. I had been advised to be careful in the west zone of the city but otherwise, I just took normal precautions when in a busy city. Health-wise, there’s little to be worried about in Manaus itself although a yellow fever jab and malaria tablets are probably recommended if you’re going down the river. Just mind the crocodiles. Kidding. Though I could tell you a funny story about a green iguana…
:: Manaus might be in the middle of the rainforest but the biggest problem I found was traffic. Roads are regularly congested so be prepared for long taxi rides. There will be an exclusion zone around the stadium but travelling into the town centre can be nightmarish. If you’re staying in the old town or in Ponta Negra, leave plenty of time for getting to the arena.
:: The Arena da Amazonia is a spectacular stadium designed to look like an indigenous basket with fruit-coloured seats. Worth checking out at night when it’s lit up. If you’re staying at the Millennium Hotel, there’s a great view of the stadium and the city from the roof terrace.
:: Amazonian cuisine is a must. Tambaqui is the most popular fish, and it’s normally served barbecued with rice, salsa, flour and beans. Because it’s from the river, the flavour isn’t so strong. I recommend restaurants Poraque or Tambaqui da Banda for the best tambaqui.
:: Tacaca is another local dish: it’s the strangest dish I’ve ever tried. Made from a sour gloop called tucupi, jambu leaves – which send your tongue numb – and prawns (unshelled), it’s served like a soup in little bowls. Available in the square near the opera house, it’s an odd mixture of spicy and sour but an experience not to be missed.
:: At some point in Brazil, you’ll come across Guarana, a drink best described by my esteemed colleague James Young as “ball-rottingly sweet”. It’s a brand name, and also the name of the caffeine-laden fruit. And in Manaus, there’s a version that’s *even* sweeter. Think Irn-Bru crossed with Red Bull.
:: Final food tip: açai. It’s a purple Amazonian berry and considered a superfruit. Available as a juice or sorbet. Good for hangovers.
:: The impressive Opera House or Teatro Amazonas is worth checking out – a relic from the rubber boom when the English influence was at its height. There’s some interesting places to visit nearby, museums, churches and indigenous art centres. The square in front of the Opera House is a good reference point. You’ll find tour guides here and the aforementioned tacaca.
With thanks to Gustavo Oliveira