Belem is the capital of the state of Para in northern Brazil, as well as being the largest city in the state. Belem has an estimated 2,249,405 people living within the metropolitan area. It is a port city, and lies on the Para River about 100 kilometres up river from the Atlantic Ocean. The river Para is part of the Amazon River system.
Belem was founded by the kingdom of Peru in the early 1600’s, but it was not until more than one hundred years later that it became part of Brazil. The city has modernized over the past years with its skyscrapers and modern buildings, but there is still a colonial part of the town that brings back Belem’s history - you’ll notice the Portuguese-colonial architecture as you wander around the city. There are so many great things to do in Belem, such as visiting the Casa das Onze Janelas or Forte de Presépio. Belem is considered the gateway to the rest of the Amazon and to many exciting adventures to be had. Appreciate the fresh Amazonian produce, including fish and fruit, and indulge in Belem’s exotic cuisine. Below is our Belem travel guide with information on all the best things to do, places to go and what not to miss.
MUSEU DO ESTADO DO PARA – This museum is housed in the famous Palacio Lauro Sodre. Originally this palace housed the royal representatives of Portugal here in the city, as well as state governors at various times. Governor Ernest Lobo was killed on the stairs in the palace during the attacks of the Cabanagem Rebellion. This museum mostly talks about the founding and growth of the city and state. It is worth a look for the history that it contains.
PALACIO ANTONIOS LEMOS AND MABE – Once a city hall in the 1800’s, now the second floor holds an art museum. The floors are fine wood, so there are cloth slippers provided to protect the beautiful flooring. There is a collection of statues, antiques and paintings from the 20th century. One of these paintings was done by Theodoro Braga and is called Fundacao da Cidade de Belem – a beautiful piece of work. There are two first floor exhibits.
MUSEU DO CIRIO – This museum contains information and background stories on the famous religious festival Cirio de Nazare. It contains the story behind the discovery of the statue of Mary, and explains the story behind the famous 400m 450kg rope that can be seen in the festival.
FORTE DO PRESEPIO – This fort was built at the time of the founding of this city in the early 1600’s. The Portuguese knew the importance of this river way and their investments further up river, so this fort was built do defend against the French and the Dutch. Today the Forte Do Presepio has a small museum about the indigenous people of the area.
CATEDRAL DA SE – This building was once on the decline but now it looks as beautiful as ever with the new renovations that have been done. Inside and out this building shines bright and brilliant. Inside there are paintings of Mary that stand out to the patrons due to their size.
MUSEU EMILIO GEOLDI AND PARQUE ZOOBOTANICO – This museum and zoo contains many species of animals from the Amazon region including, jaguars, otters, anacondas, and manatees. Also, here you can find an aquarium, and the museum contains exhibits from ancient Amazonian people.
CASA DAS ONZE JANELAS – Home to a great art exhibit, containing a mix of classical art as well as modern paintings. There is also some sculpture and photography here. This was a house before becoming an art museum and was once the home of a Sugar Baron as well as serving as a military hospital. It also contains a great restaurant.
*** WHAT NOT TO MISS ***
Belem provides many sights and places to visit, and during your time here it is best to get out and see some of the major sites throughout the city. There is the festival that happens here (on the second Sunday of October) and it is truly a great experience.
Visit Estacao das Docas (Av. Boulevard Castilhos): the harbour is a local hang-out where you can find restaurants, shops, ice-cream parlours, bars, and culture galore. Stroll along the river-side and enjoy the sunset.
Here in Belem you can get a taste of many of the famous regional and local foods. Some of the famous ones are their local ice cream, which is made of fruit from the area, and tacaca, a famous soup dish served with shrimp.
For an authentic experience, go to Tacaca da Dona Maria (Avenida Nazare 902 Altura do 0). What might seem like a simple street-food stall will surprise you, with typical local dishes bursting with flavour – come here if you love trying new things. If you’re after seafood, try Casarao Bocaiuvas (Trav. Quintino Bocaiuvas, 945) – make sure you try the crab! For delicious macaroons, milkshakes, and coffee, check out Tasca Café (Travessa Quintino Bocaiuva 1696).
You can’t go wrong with Roxy Bar (Av. Sen. Lemos, 231). This restaurant plays a great soundtrack, the staff are polite, and you can appreciate the nicely decorated interior, which follows the theme of Hollywood Legends. With a youthful vibe and a creatively named menu, you’re sure to have an enjoyable night!
The best place to go for nightlife and drinks is the docks (Estacao das Docas), where there are refurbished warehouses that have been transformed into bars and pubs. Along this part of the city you can find many different places to drink and enjoy the night, as well as theatrical and musical performances. Cinema Olympia (Av. Pres. Vargas, 918 – Campin) has screenings of classic films, as well as International and Brazilian arthouse movies.
For a British-style pub, check out Studio Pub (Travessa Presidente Pernambuco 277) – here you can grab a pint and a pizza, and listen to live rock bands. If you’re into beers, try Baviera Boutique Bar (Rua Bernal do Couto 580) – here you can sample a variety of different artisanal beers. Another popular place is Amazon Beer (Estação das Docas), where you can try locally-produced beer, made with Amazonian fruits and ingredients. Get here for happy hour, or if you’re hungry, there’s an all-you-can-eat buffet and beer option. Sit outside and enjoy the sunset!
At Casa do Gilson (Tv. Padre Eutíquio, 3172) you can hear live Brazilian samba music at its very best. There is a great atmosphere, and the drinks and snacks are reasonably priced, but be aware that it gets crowded – the locals love it!
There is hardly any change in temperature over the course of the year, the average remains at about 26 degrees Celsius year-round. The only change is from dry to rainy season. Although it does rain consistently all year, most rain comes at the beginning of the year, from January to April. In these months, the rainfall is heavy and falls all the time.
The bus station in the city of Belem offers routes to pretty much every other major city in the country, as well as other small towns and cities in the state of Para. The bus terminal is located east of the city centre. Note that as Belem is a little far-flung from other major places in Brazil, travelling by bus is lengthy – from Sao Paulo, it takes 36 hours. Here there is also an international airport that flies to every major city in Brazil, as well as major cities in South America. From Rio to Belem, a direct flight takes 3.5 hours. There is also the option to travel by boat, with a trip further up the Amazon River in the state of Para.
The city of Belem has two popular areas to stay that both contain a range of different lodging options. One of them is on and around Avenida Presidente Vargas, as well as near and around the bus terminal.
Hotel Manaca (Tv. Quintino Bocaiúva, 1645) is rustic and quaint, located in a nice district with shops and restaurants. There’s an outdoor pool and patio, and breakfast includes bread and fresh fruit. Residence Karimbo Amazonia (Tr. Piedade No 391) is a lovely guesthouse, whose owners are a kind French-Brazilian couple. The place is clean and comfortable, there’s a small outdoor pool, a breakfast buffet, and of course free WiFi. It’s also within walking distance to the main attractions. Another option is Belem Hostel (Rua Ó de Almeida, 624) – there are very friendly and helpful staff, it is centrally located, and a great place for a chilled stay – it’s not a party hostel.
Be careful when night falls that you are not wandering alone.
Watch out with food and drink - do not drink the tap water as you may get sick.