Manaus is the Amazon’s largest city, an incongruous pocket of urbanity in the middle of the jungle, a major port for ocean vessels that’s 1500km from the ocean. The rainforest has a population density half that of Mongolia’s, but the journey there invariably begins in (or passes through) this bustling city. Don’t be surprised if you feel a little out of whack.
The city itself has some genuinely rewarding sights, including a leafy zoo with as many animals out of the cages as in them, and a beach-and-museum combo that gets you out of the city center. It’s a place to stock up on anything you forgot to pack, or to refill your tank with beer and internet after a week in the forest. Manaus will be a host city for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the city is bustling with construction and improvement projects..
Manaus is where most Amazon tour operators are based; plenty are honest professionals, ranging from budget to upscale, but the city is also full of scammers. Be smart and avoid touts like the plague: the tours they sell are miserable, occasionally dangerous, and cheaper only because they cut corners on basics like food and transport.