Out and About Belém
All we knew about Belém when we got into town was that the ‘cobbled stoned streets’ were supposedly shaded by mango trees. That was the main attraction for us, especially after skimping out on food for the five days on the boat it took us to arrive from Manaus. Sadly, we only found one ripe mango that didn’t hold up to well, but apparently the streets are just full of them if you show up the right time of year. Despite this unfortunate timing, we still found plenty to do in and around Belém that made it worth the visit including the best ice cream in Brazil and an Açaí beer.
Stroll Around the Old Town
Belém’s old town stretches along the waterfront and into the streets up to the old cathedral. It’s decently sized, but poorly preserved for the most part. We never gave it a full day’s attention, but merely passed through it on and off en route to other things. There’s some good examples of Portuguese architecture and it reminded me somewhat of Pelourinho in Salvador, but for the most part it was just full of vendors and unpleasantly crowded.
We did like the Mercado Ver o Peso where you could buy pretty much everything: fruit, vegetables, nuts, avocado shakes, weird Amazon herb infused perfume, shrimp, and artesian souvenirs. Personally I wanted to buy one of the ceramic vases that was roughly the same size as me, but there was just no way to get that to anyone for Christmas (even inside of Brazil).
Estação das Docas
Anyone visiting Belém should go to Estação das Docas. It’s a type of food court area alongside the waterfront with old dock equipment and some historical displays. We were guided there by our CS host for one reason alone: ice cream. Cairu is apparently the top sorveteria in Brazil and, with something like fifty flavors ranging from Açai to Ferrero Rocher Chocolate, I’m inclined to believe it. The ice cream was delicious (the best I’ve tasted yet in Brazil), but somewhat pricey.
Another surprise there was the restaurant Amazon Beer where I finally found something I’ve been searching up and down for in Brazil — a decent beer. Up until now the only one I’d found is brewed by an American living in the tiny town of Morretes. Amazon Beer had several varieties, including an IPA and the famous Açaí berry, that were up to the microbrew standard I’m (snobbishly) used to in LA. Don’t stop at the drinks at this restaurant though because the food is just as good… imagine a tacacá pastel (it’s bomb, trust me).
The Botanic Gardens
When our CS host’s grandma kept asking if we’d been to ‘El Bosque’ over and over, Phyllis and I decided we should probably go check out the botanic gardens just so we could tell her yes. It’s a great little piece of rainforest to wander through, especially since it’s in the middle of the city. Wandering through the trees and across the waterways is great, but it’s a bit difficult to be happy about the poor birds and monkeys that get put in cages. Some animals are given free range and we definitely scared an armadillo at some point and saw a sneaky little monkey stealing fruit from some birds, but the sloth escaped us.
Visit the Islands
Belém is situated right where the mighty Amazon finally flows into the ocean and there’s a veritable hotbed of islands waiting for anyone who hops on a boat. It’s one of the easier ways to get out of the city, into nature, and most importantly onto the beach. There’s relatively little information on the internet, even when searching in Portuguese, but we managed to make it out to both Ilha do Marajó and Ilha de Cotijuba, though we didn’t have enough time to spend on either to really get the full experience.
Lastly, you do not leave Belém without having a shot of cachaça com jambu. That is all.
P.S. Even after 4 shots I could take down Stephen Colbert in LOTR trivia.