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Belém Cruises

Bishops’ Residenz

About Belém

The gateway to the Amazon, Belém (Portuguese for Bethlehem) was the first Portuguese colony established along the world’s second longest river. It was founded in 1616 by Francisco Caldeira Castelo Branco, a Portuguese captain who commanded a military expedition in 1615. He was sent to the mouth of the river by the Governor General of Brazil to investigate trade excursions of the French, Dutch and English. The captain and his crew settled at the confluence of the Pará and Guamá Rivers, mistaking the bay for the main channel, and established a small colony that would later become the city of Belém.

Sugar was integral to the city’s economy during the 1600s, but its economic importance rose and fell over the next two centuries; many newly arrived colonists preferred the more arable land of southern Brazil, where crops could be grown more economically. Once communities up the river discovered how to harvest rubber from local trees, Belém became the main exporting center of the Amazon rubber industry, resulting in a population boom and the city’s modernization. Today you’re more likely to see shipments of aluminum, iron, nuts and pineapple move through the ports, but the effects of the golden age of rubber can be seen in the city’s architecture, which was inspired by the elegance of 17th-century Lisbon.

Belém Lifestyle and Culture

Belém is a modern city complete with high-rise buildings and other big-city amenities, but it retains much of its historic, colonial charm. Known as the “City of Mango Trees,” its streets are lined with tropical evergreens, plazas and public gardens. It is also northern Brazil’s leading educational and cultural center, boasting prominent museums, theaters and learning institutions.

Belém’s Amazonian roots are evident in its many green parks and squares, zoos, research institutions and other ecological areas dedicated to the regional flora and fauna. Its cuisine is influenced by the geography as well, with many stylish restaurants offering specialties from the Amazon region.

Belém’s Cidade Velha (Old Town) is its oldest neighborhood, where many of its colonial-era buildings can be found. Wander the narrow streets and gaze at beautifully restored neoclassical architecture and intricately painted azulejo tiles—more vestiges of old Portugal—for a glimpse at the glory days of the rubber trade.

To honor the Virgin Mary (the patron saint of the state of Pará), Belém hosts the annual Círio de Nazaré, a 15-day festival each October where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims participate in a procession through the city.

Belém Sights and Landmarks

With a mix of classical architecture, modern amenities and Amazonian abundance, Belém’s offerings are diverse and endlessly fascinating.

The Estação das Docas (Dock Station), a strip of restored warehouses along the riverfront, is one of the city’s contemporary highlights, appealing to both locals and tourists. This bustling complex of the city’s finest restaurants, bars and shops has reconnected the city and its people to the beauty of Guajará Bay. Enjoy dinner, drinks and an evening stroll for a fun yet relaxed night out.

The Teatro da Paz is one of the largest theaters in the country and a fine example of neoclassical architecture. Constructed during the height of the rubber boom, it is decorated in the Italian theatrical style. In addition to its regular performances and annual Opera Festival, its caretakers offer 30-minute tours.

For another taste of colonial architecture, visit the stunningly restored Catedral da Sé (Metropolitan Cathedral of Belém). The stark white building contrasts sharply against the city’s tropical blue sky; the inside is just as beautiful, with polished marble floors and several remarkable paintings. It’s one of Brazil’s largest cathedrals and a must-see.

If you enjoy nature, the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi is a research center focused on the biological and sociocultural diversity of the Amazon basin. More akin to a garden or zoo than a museum, it’s perfect for a midday walk among local wildlife and stunning flora. Parque Mangal das Garças provides another taste of the rainforest, centrally located on the banks of the Gaumá River.

Belém Entertainment and Activities

After exploring the city, relax with icy drinks, cool breezes and air conditioning. Start by quenching your thirst at Amazon Beer, an award-winning brewery with an impressive drink list and occasional live samba. For more of Belém’s nightlife, head to the riverfront Estação das Docas (Dock Station), the restored docks, for a plethora of options.

To experience Brazil’s cinematic arts, see a local film in the theater. Cine Estação and Cine Olímpia are two art houses showing Brazilian and international films. Alternatively, take in a live performance at Teatro da Paz.

Sports enthusiasts cannot visit Brazil without seeing some soccer. The Estádio Olímpico do Pará (Olympic Stadium) holds 45,000 people, so you’ll be in good company cheering on one of the local clubs.

Belém Restaurants and Shopping

For exotic colors and flavors, Belém is the Amazon’s culinary capital. Paraense cuisine (food from the Brazilian state of Pará) features endless fresh ingredients. Tacacá is the city’s signature dish, a soup made from the herb jambu, tucupi, a yellow sauce made from a yucca-like plant and dried shrimp. Sample a bowl at Lá em Casa, which earned a coveted star from Brazil’s Guia Quatro Rodas, a guide modeled after Michelin.

Unsurprisingly, fish is also a big draw; filhote and pirarucu are popular choices. Some food stalls will fry it up fresh, right on the spot. The region’s exotic fruits can be consumed in myriad ways, from juices and compotes to puddings and jellies. Açai is the most popular. Ice cream flavored with cupuaçu fruit juice is the perfect accompaniment to an exploration of Belém. Belém also claims an assortment of Indian restaurants, if you’d like a taste of curry and naan.

When food and shopping come together, no place is more popular than the Mercado Ver-o-Peso, one of Belém’s top attractions. Literally translating to “check the weight,” this market of 2,000 stalls harkens back to colonial times when the Portuguese would weigh merchandise for taxation. Peruse fruits, nuts, animals, jewelry, fresh fish, soaps … just about anything your heart desires. It’s the largest open market in Latin America.