Belém is on the banks of the Bay of Guajará, which is formed by a set of islands and river mouths on the estuary of the Amazon river. Its river port is a key part of the supply chain for many industries in Northern Brazil and helps drive much of the area's economic activity.
The city was established in 1616, after the construction of "Forte do Presépio", today called "Forte do Castelo", on the banks the Pará river. In a way, Belém is a synthesis of the culture of the Portuguese with the indigenious cultures native to the Pará region of the Amazon, especially in the cuisine. It became an extremely wealthy city with the Rubber Boom at the end of the 19th century and many beautiful colonial buildings from this era are still visible.
Every year in the second Sunday of October, Círio de nossa Senhora de Nazaré, more commonly called Círio de Nazaré, is celebrated in Belém. It is one of the largest catholic processions in the world.
Belém's huge bus terminal close to the city's center offers bus routes to and from a number of major cities in Brazil as well as other cities and smaller towns in Pará. It is possible to travel by air-conditioned coach to Belém from most major points in Brazil.
There are regular international flights linking Belém to Cayenne, Georgetown, Paramaribo and Miami, and many direct domestic flights linking Belém to Brasilia, Fortaleza, Manaus, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Macapá.
To get in town, take the bus Pratinhas to/from Presidente Vargas, and Marex to/from Praça da República. At the moment bus fare is R$ 2.40.
If you have a lot of luggage, taking a taxi for R$ 20-40 might be a better option. There are a number of taxi's lined up outside the baggage claim. (you can try to negotiate, but you can also help the taxi association to promote the «taximetro», with fair prices for everyone).
Belém recently finisehd its fluvial terminal for boat travel. If you are traveling from Macapá, Manaus or Santarém, a boat trip down the Amazon is an authentic an interesting way to travel. However, be careful of your belongings and travel light on the boat or in groups if possible. It's not uncommon for people to be robbed on the boat. Regardless, it's a great way to meet people and get a taste of Pará's culture and natural beauty.
If you find yourself out late at night, lost, or stuck in the rain, taxi's in Belém are relatively inexpensive for short distances. Make sure you only take taxis from cooperatives. If you ask your hotel, hostel, or someone at the bar or restaurant where you find yourself, they'll be more than happy to direct you to the nearest cooperative or call a cab for you.
There is one major long distance coach terminal at Sao Braz. There are many local busses travelling all over the city at often exhilirating and reckless speeds. The number of buses passing Avenida Presidente Vargas is nothing short of astonishing, and you can get virtualy anywhere within Greater Belém from here. The challenge lies in finding the right bus, and also getting onboard, as it will stop anywhere on a stretch of some 2-300 metres, or atempt to pass straight. Do as the locals: Wave and run for it!
Another transport "hub" is in front of the bus terminal, next to São Bráz, only slightly less chaotic.
Most buses run until about 11PM, but minibuses go virtually around the clock on major roads. You should avoid taking the mini buses, however, becasue they are very dangerous.
If for some strange reason you find yourself in possession of a bike while in town, there are a great number of cycle lanes along the main avenues.
Belém is a lively and friendly city but it can look quite unappealing at first sight. There are a lot of modern high rises, but between them particularly in Cidade Velha and Campinas there are a vast number of well preserved colonial buildings, from the rubber boom and earlier. Many of the grander ones now house official bodies and there has been a recent drive to preserve them. Belém has many attraction, here are some of many attractions the city offers.
Many of the city's highlights can be taken in with a walk along the rivers edge, starting with the docks and continuing to the old fort. Numerous old churches along the way are worth a look, and the bustling market life is not to be missed.
Belém has a range of regional specialties. See Pará for the full menu.
The refurbished warehouses by the riverside, Estação das Docas (or simply Docas) offer a number of outside tables, and fairly expensive menus. Amazon beer has an in-house brewery and on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights offers an all you can drink and eat special for R$36.
You should try the genuine beer from Pará, which is called CERPA and can be easily found.
There are two main areas for accommodation, both featuring the full range:
Three places within 50 meters of each other at Travessa Frutuoso Guimarães, some three blocks inland from the Docas.
Just down the street is the nicer
Belém is now a large city, take care when walking after nightfall along Presidente Vargas and the back streets that lead off from it. Although no worse (and perhaps better) than other Brazilian cities there is still a lot of poverty so try not to have jewellery or cameras on show when walking around. The city is generally safe and friendly during daytime. Estacao das Docas is always a safe if rather touristy option. The Umarizal area has up market local bars and restaurants. Avenida Joao Paulo Segundo (previously called Avenida Premeiro de Dezembro) has some more "down to earth" and very local bars. Generally there is a lot of night life Thursday, Friday and Saturday ask for advice. Although worth a visit try and avoid Estacao da Docas which is really only for tourists.
While in Belém you should not drink tap water, though you can use water from the tap to wash vegetables, brush your teeth, etc. As Belém is located approximately 100 mi south of the equator, the sun is particularly strong year-round, so fair-skinned travelers should apply sunscreen on a daily basis. Additionally, be sure to apply mosquito repellent when going out after sunset. Malaria is not a major concern in Belém, but if you are traveling to remote areas of Pará during the rainy season you should, after consulting with your doctor, consider taking malaria pills. The CDC recommends getting a Yellow Fever vaccine for travel in Pará and many other parts of Brazil. You can learn more about recommended vaccinations for Brazil on the CDC website .
Once you arrive in Camará, the port of Marajó, there will be a number of buses waiting to take travelers to any number of the cities in Marajó. The popular destinations include Soure, Salvaterra and Johanes. If you have already arranged to stay at one of Soure or Salvaterra's many pousadas, they will probably arrange a bus for you.