The city of Manaus has a population of approximately two million people and, with Belém, is one of the two largest cities in the Amazon basin. It is a modern city with high rises and traffic jams, reasonably high-speed internet (that usually works), and an international airport. If one were listing the world’s most marvelous cities to live, Manaus would probably not enter in the top ten. But for convenience of living within easy striking distance of huge and unbroken expanses of tropical wilderness and outrageous and tantalizingly understudied biodiversity, Manaus is unrivaled.

Manaus is the capital of Brazil’s largest state, Amazonas, one of nine Amazonian states in the country. Amazonas, at 1.5 million square kilometers, is the size of Alaska (or Peru and Ecuador together) and is the third largest political unit in South America, larger than all other countries except Argentina and Brazil itself. Amazonas boasts over 1000 bird species and the greatest total coverage of primary forest and protected areas in Brazil.

Climate

Simply put, it’s hot and humid all year round. On sunny days temperatures rise to the mid or upper thirties (90s °F) and at night drop to a comfortable lower twenties (70s °F), rarely (during unusual “cold” snaps) getting below 20 °C (mid 60s °F). In the dry season (roughly June – October), it rains less, going sometimes several days in a row (even weeks in the city) without rain. At this time of year (referred to locally as summer), rains are typically classic tropical thunderstorms, rolling in often in mid-afternoon for a roughly 20-minute burst of very heavy rain, preceded by strong winds and leaving the air cooler and fresher after passing.

It’s best to be prepared for rain and sun at all times. Televised and internet weather forecasts are not useful in the area, but your own short-term prediction will be correct close to 100% of the time by looking due east – that’s where the weather comes from here, regardless of the direction of surface winds. Only very rarely (about once every three years), a storm sneaks around from the west, and these events tend to be especially destructive to trees and buildings.

Geography and landscape

At only three degrees south of the equator and sixty degrees west longitude, Manaus is truly equatorial and central within the Amazon Basin. The city is located at the confluence of the Rio Negro and the upper Amazon (called the Rio Solimões in Brazil above this point), on high ground (terra firme) well above the river floodplains. This famous “meeting of the waters”, where the dark tea-colored Rio Negro flows side-by-side with the pale muddy waters of the Amazon for scores of kilometers before mixing far out of sight downstream, is a spectacular natural phenomenon and a “must-see” while here.

These Amazonian rivers, the largest in the world, swell and drop on an annual cycle that reflects the sum of all the rains throughout the entire Amazon basin. There is a roughly 15-meter (50-foot) difference between the lowest water level (in December) and the highest (June). Despite this, and even though we are nearly 1500 km (almost 1000 miles) upstream from the river mouth at the Atlantic Ocean, the high-water level at the peak of the biggest flood years is only 30 meters above sea level!

Although Manaus lies at the center of the world’s largest river basin, which is relatively flat (mostly below 200m above sea level) compared to the far away mountains that ring the basin, and the city’s entire area is below 100m elevation, it is a surprisingly hilly city. These are ancient lands (with a long and venerable history of occupation by indigenous peoples) at the edge of the Guiana Shield formation. Just 100 km to the north at the town of Presidente Figueiredo, elevations rise to 100-200m on a remnant of the Shield. Here are some of the region’s most scenic waterfalls and only caves (or even rocks) within hundreds of kilometers, and home to the Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock (Rupicola rupicola), another must-see!

Most of the central and western Amazon has not been deforested. So, outside of the capital and some other smaller cities, primary old-growth forest extends for hundreds of uninterrupted kilometers in all directions. Access to natural habitats, however, can be difficult due to the tendency of any places with road access or nearby habitations to suffer land invasion and deforestation. Thus, we have organized a full program of outdoor activities exclusively for Meeting participants (link coming soon)

Language and culture

Brazil’s official language is Portuguese, although there are literally hundreds of indigenous languages spoken, especially in the Amazon. Outside of academia, very few people speak English. So, it’s definitely worth brushing up your Portuguese for your visit to Manaus.

Manaus has a dynamic mix of cultures, reflecting a strong indigenous influence, waves of immigration, especially from northeastern Brazil and of Japanese and European-based cultures coming from the most-developed southern and southeastern parts of the country. Recently too, the proximity to the United States via direct flights has given a noticeably “Miami” feel to the upper-class parts of town.

Despite a strong link to the wild through recent ancestors and rural family members, Manauaras (residents of Manaus) are remarkably urban and tend to have very little contact with nature. One objective of this Joint Meeting, and especially of the Avistar we are promoting together with it, is to bring a greater awareness of ornithology and its relevance to the people of urban Amazonia.

Brazilians love to dance, and forró is the most popular dance style in the Amazon. For Americans, imagine a country two-step with a lot of hips and you’ll be on your way. The meeting will offer several opportunities to practice dancing to this and other Latin rhythms.

Insects and health

You won’t believe us, but mosquitoes (carapanã) are usually scarce to absent in most of the Rio Negro basin, especially in primary forest! Even in town, where there are occasional and unpredictable pulses of mosquito activity, this part of the Amazon is remarkably benign compared to a summer in the north temperate zone. However, it is not unusual to find some biting insects around and repellent is recommended. For example, in late afternoon, “no-see-ums” (meruim) can appear and nearly invisibly bite bare legs and cause itching (although they do not transmit diseases). Chiggers (micuim) can be found in grassy places in the city and in forest leaf litter. Ticks are present in low numbers. Black-flies (pium and borrachudo) are practically absent from the Manaus area.

Yellow fever vaccination must be up to date to visit Brazil and other health requirements should be checked through your travel agent. The introduced mosquito, Aedes aegypti, is only found in human centers and can transmit dengue and chikungunya fever (which is not yet established in Manaus). Active insect-control programs throughout Manaus (and especially at the Meeting site, Hotel Tropical) have drastically reduced the chances of contracting any mosquito-borne illness. Malaria is carried by native Anopheles mosquitoes, which are mostly very rare in Manaus. Although we stress that the chances of getting malaria while here are extremely low, all participants are encouraged to consult their doctors with regard to malaria prophylaxis.

In general, you’ll be hard put to find a tropical rainforest region with lower chances of getting any tropical disease than Manaus and the surrounding forests.

International access

Visitors from Canada, the U.S., Mexico, and many other countries are required to have a visa to enter Brazil, although from most South American and many European countries a visa is not required. Check with your travel agent or the Brazilian Consulate to be sure. Visas must be acquired in advance from your home country and may take a while. Allow at least 30 days for this, just to be sure. If you do need a visa, make sure you apply for a tourist visa — this is the simplest and fastest, and is appropriate for attending meetings. Do not request a research or professional visa; these require very specific and elaborate paperwork and will not get processed in time for the meeting!