São Gabriel da Cachoeira is a city located on the shores of the Negro River, in the Amazonas. Most of its inhabitants are indigenous people.
São Gabriel da Cachoeira is located on the left margin of the Negro River, 850 km from Manaus. It has a strategic position bordering the countries of Colombia and Venezuela. The city is surrounded by the Amazon Forest and 90% of the population is composed of Brazilian Native Indians. The region combines, along the medium and high Negro River, 430 settlements that house 35 thousand Indians of 23 different groups. The city is also a base for mountaineers seeking to climb Pico da Neblina, the highest peak in Brazil.
It's ok to go there by yourself, specially if you can speak some Portuguese. If this is not the case, it's recommended (although not indispensable) that you go through one of the many travel agencies in Manaus.
The most practical access is by air; the trip takes about two hours, leaving from Manaus to São Gabriel da Cachoeira. The town´s airport is tiny and only serves flights between these two cities. Nevertheless, it´s the only quick way to get in.
The most poetic access is via the Negro River, it takes about three to four days travel to reach the city, leaving from Manaus.
The city is small enough to walk everywhere. A limited number of taxis may be found around the city. There are a few boat services to get to nearby King's Island, in the middle of the river.
The larger portion of the town is comprised of indigenous land accessed only with the authorization of FOIRN (see below how to get an authorization). Traditional customs are blended with modern habits; however, the further you go from the center, the more authentic it gets. The town itself has, however, many interesting places to see.
- Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira is full of interesting legends: one of them tells us that a long time ago there was a giant snake that didn't allow anybody to cross the River Negro; everybody that tried ended up inside the snake. Thus two natives constructed a huge trap and succeeded in catching and petrifying the reptile. Nowadays the petrified snake can be seen on D. Pedro Massa Avenue, functioning as a bump. Another legend says that the gorgeous Adana was close to the river when two men, Buburi and Curucui, fell in love at first sight and started fighting for her. Scared, Adana fell in the water and drown. The rivals desperately jumped after her, trying to get her back. They succeeded, and Adana returned as Adana island in the middle of the River Negro, and her lovers are the two streams of water passing by her.
- Pico da Neblina National Park. It is the second largest Brazilian Park, and the third largest in Latin America. It has a diversity of landscapes. Its mountain ranges are located on a culminating point of Brazil, the Neblina Peak, with an altitude of 3,014 m, a permanent target of attention by scientists and researchers. The vegetation of the area includes several formations, and is home to the richest fauna in the country, with many species threatened of extinction. The visits should be booked and only made accompanied by a guide. To obtain further information, call the Park’s main office, phone (097) 3471-1617.
- Morro da Fortaleza. Visit the trenches of this fort built in 1763. One of its main attractions is the Anta stone and its strange high relief drawings; a leg, animal vessels, and a human foot print. Legends say that it is the petrified remains of a tapir which fed a hungry tribe that roamed through the region.
- Praia Grande. On the Negro River , this and other small beaches appear temporarily, and emerge between September and January, during the river’s dry period. Praia Grande (Long Beach) has a 500 m. strip of white sands and icy waters because of the springs that pour down from the Neblina Peak. Do not be deceived by the calm appearance of the river as the current is strong and treacherous.
- Morro da Boa Esperança. On the way uphill, ceramic panels on the rock tell of the via-crucis. At the top, are found the chapels of Nossa Senhora Auxiliadora, and the Crucified Christ. ON the side, two gigantic stones balanced on top of smaller ones.
- Serra da Bela Adormecida. The mountains draw the profile of the princess of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale, with a high bosom and long hair, who falls asleep 30 km from the city, and awaits a handsome prince to kiss her. She can best be appreciated from the Fortaleza hill.
- Indigenous Villages. Tukanos, Ianomâmis and Baniwas live in the Upper Negro River. The villages maintain primitive customs. Access is by boat in trips that last from 6 to 12 hours. Visits are only possible with FOIRN authorization (see below). For further information: Phone (092) 3471-1187.
- Visit the headquarters of the Federation of Indigenous Organizations of Alto do Rio Negro – FOIRN, where it is possible to buy indigenous handicraft, consult publications of indigenous peoples and check some historical pictures. You will also need to get an authorization here if you plan to visit some indigenous land. Avenida Álvaro Maia, Phone (092) 3471-1349.
- If you plan to climb the Pico da Neblina you'd better think twice. It's not for the faint-hearted and demands excellent physical conditions. Therefore no guide will take anyone uphill without prior mountaineering and climbing experience. Certificated guides can be found all over the city and in Manaus.
- Indigenous handicrafts can be bought in many stalls around the city or at the headquarter of the Federation of Indigenous Organizations of Alto do Rio Negro – FOIRN
- La Cave du Conde. R. Brig. Eduardo Gomes, 444. Phone: (092) 471-1435. Regional cuisine. Nice place with balcony and a beautiful garden.
- Palhocinha da Graça Av. 7 de Setembro, no number. Pizzas, sandwiches and some finger food. Two kiosks with a view to the Rio Negro river.
Beer and other alcoholic drinks are readily available in all the restaurants and bars in the city. More than 50% of the inhabitants are under 20 years old, making the night life really lively in bars, but remember that the huge majority of people are Indians, so don't expect fancy clubs and disco music.
A word of caution is important: deep in the night things can get dangerous. Recently a few cases of violence by gangs of youths were reported. Avoid starting any arguments or walking alone after dark.
There are no luxurious hotels in the city, however it offers a limited number of clean and cheap accommodations.
- Hotel Praiano - Av. 7 de setembro, no number. Phone: (092) 471-1103. Offer simple rooms with TV and air-con.
- King's Island - Phone (092) 622.4144. Located on the small island with the same name in the Negro River. Wooden chalets decorated with indigenous theme.
- Pousada Pico da Neblina - Rua Capitão Euclides, 322 – Bairro da Praia (big yellow house on the hill behind Comercial Carneiro in the beach suburb). Phone +55 (97) 9168-0047. Private room with air-con, bathroom and breakfast – 45 R$ for one person, 70 R$ for two. Dorm with fan and breakfast – 25 R$ person. Also offer local tours. http://www.pousadapicodaneblina.com/
Needless to say, indians have traditional customs that are completely different from urban behavior. Ask permission before taking a picture, keep distance in more isolated areas, don't stare at indian women and of course, don't pollute.
The best way to go anywhere from here is heading back to Manaus and then choose another destination.
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