Porto Velho as a city is fairly young. Don't expect to see fine examples of colonial architecture or even notably old buildings. At first sight for the traveler Porto Velho has little to offer but a main street with rather uninteresting shops that can be found anywhere else in Brasil. Look a bit beyond that and you'll find Porto Velho a lively community with plenty to keep you occupied. For exploration it is suggested to rent a car for a few days as there is no tourist infrastructure whatsoever. You will need local help in finding the interesting places as there is no formal tourist office.
From Porto Velho there are several connections to mayor cities with TAM and GOL throughout the country as well as regional flights with smaller carriers such as Ocean Air, Rico and TAVJ. Azul flies direct non-stop from Belo Horizonte, and often has the best routes compared with Gol ad Tam (be aware that they mostly fly Turbo props and are a bit slower that Tam or Gol).
Although Porto Velho has a railway station there are no trains in or out of the city. For tourist purposes the train was expected to work but don't expect this to happen at any time in the near future. For the Maria Fumaça telenovela part of the track has been cleaned.
From the Rodoviária (bus station) there are buses to most big cities in Brazil. Cuiabá is 24 hours away, Brasilia is 36 - 48 hours away, and São Paulo/Rio de Janeiro are about 60 hours. To the west the nearest big city is Rio Branco, about 7 - 10 hours away, all depending on the type of bus service you buy.
Transacreana buses go all the way to Recife, in the Atlantic coast, almost 5 thousand kilometers away. Tel.: (11) 6698-7399 and (61) 8402-8418.
There is a boat to Manaus two-three times per week. Hammock class (bring your own hammock) is about 100 reais, a cabin 300, and a double cabin 350. Prices are somewhat negotiable. Before booking a boat make sure to check the boat, captain and crew out and try to negotiate with them instead of one of the 3 or 4 agents at the entrance of the harbour. Take care walking in the harbour area, it is not one of the nicest places to be in, take as little as possible with you when going there.
When available DO go and eat an açai with guarana and granola. You'll love the taste of this dark brown sweet local fruit. On the weekly market or on the central square get a Vatapa or tacaca.. maybe you won't like the taste but when you eat the included gum ball in the latter you'll be sure to have a numb tongue for an hour or so.
As there is virtually no tourist infrastucture in Porto Velho you'll be better off renting a car to explore the surroundings. Go either west on the BR364 and look for signs Candeias, the place where Porto Velho actually started (to be reached by local bus as well). Move a bit up and visit the cemetery or visit cachoeira Santo Antonio. To the west take the balsa and drive up to Humaita (about 200 Km, no gas intermediate gas stations) on the road to Manaus.
Rent a car from a respected car rental agency; The cost of car rental is about R$ 100,- per day excluding insurance (about R$ 25 per day). Make sure you rent your car at the local Hertz, Localiza or Avis. They are located close to the rodoviaria (bus station). When you exit walk to your right and look for it on the other side of the road. There are plenty of other car rental places around but you will probably end up renting a car from a private person with no guarantees nor insurance. The costs are about the same so don't expose yourself to the risks involved with renting from private persons.
Nothing much typical to buy here except or the wooden replicas of the Caixas d'agua or a hammock when you want to undertake the boat trip to Manaus. There are some souvenir shops on and close to 7 de Setembre if you want to give it a try.
Every Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays there is a Forro (dance) at the Mirante I & II. Walk all the way up from Av. Farquar ( parallel to the Beira Rio (river side) and follow the noise a bit to your left. The street gets blocked, there is security, you probably will be checked entering but don't let that set you off. You'll probably have a good time doing what the locals do.
For a bit more upscale experience take a taxi and go to a pseudo authentic beer brewery. The hot one in Porto Velho is Public Haus.
There are some cheap hotels just across the street from the Rodoviária.
The city has two expensive hotels, both of which have reasonable service but have antiquated amenities. These are the Hotel Vila Rica and Aquarious Hotel. The rooms are a bit dilapidated and dark, reasonably clean with phones and private bathrooms. There is an executive suite at the Vila Rica which is in a class by itself.
The city has one new shopping [center] and several hospitals. The shopping contains the first escalator in the state of Rondonia.
The town essentially has no red light district. Before the Shopping was completed, there was a famous bar called the Tres S's (Sex, Strip, Show) but that has closed down. Indeed, there are a few sex boites and rumor of a brothel near Cimetron (one of the public hospitals), but local lore also states that the younger population has loose sexual mores, and hence a brothel cannot compete.
Every summer, towards the end of July, Porto Velho has its own Carnaval. Its a small event, but one might luck out and get to hear some of the most popular bands in Brazil perform quite close. These typically have included a night with Ivete Sangalo, or Caludia Leite, or Chicle com Banana, etc. Hints for autograph seekers: the bands usually stay at the Aquarius Hotel.
Porto Velho has the dubious honor of being one of the most dangerous cities in Brazil, so take care!