Belém, Pará, among the best spots in Brazil

2022-07-20 @Travel

You wouldn’t typically hear such an opinion. But six weeks in Belém, not counting the shorter visit a few years back, and easily one of my favourite Brazilian capitals.

Some might find it unduly raw, unbearably hot, humid, poorly maintained, or apply numerous disdainful attributes. I don’t subscribe. You are in the Amazonia after all. If seeking the posh or the pretty, wrong part of the country.

I see a different beauty, that also characteristic of Manaus or São Luis, cities of impressive history, culture and ultimately state of deterioration. The poorer and the ravager, the richer the culture and the more expressive the overall character, I heard someone opine. Fitting.

But beyond the general profile, I find Belém quiet practical for a long-term stay. Though who knows how I’d respond if to remain three months or longer. Perhaps not so cherishingly? Notwithstanding, why so accommodating, and why such a reasonable cost-benefit?

Because you’re within the Amazonia ecosystem, with all relevant lifeforms, wild and plant, fauna and flora. And you’re also at the formidable intersection of the incoming river from deeper within and the Atlantic coast. Boat travel abounds: either up the river, or to the nearby islands. Or continue East along the coast via road.

Or linger in Belém. Though not within the deep jungle, you’ll find more Wildlife-Botanical parks in the immediate vicinity than I find in most places. I speak of Emilio Goeldi, Mangal das Garças and Bosque Rodrigues Alves: all some walking distance from the Nazareth neighborhood where I resided.

The accessibility and the overall construction I actually found one of the most practical yet: despite the colonized antiquity, much of the city follows a convenient grid form. Cidade Velha (the old city), the docks, the market, the parks, the plazas, all conveniently arranged and accessible. I hardly ever needed to hail a bus or shared ride: exceptionally rare across state capitals or major urban hubs.

The old town is one of the more beautiful in memory, at least from among those cities not atop some ‘World Heritage’ list. And those docks, simply revelational: the Ver-o-Peso market or the ‘punk’ corridor close by, Feira de Açaí, though charming at any time of day (and I mean that full heartedly), come the sunset and the environment acquires unimaginable poesy.

The gastronomy of Pará is among my favourites, much of what you find in the state Amazonia and more. And naturally, the capital fosters access to the whole array. Though a huge addict of Açai Paraense, the thick, harsh, least processed, unsweetened, eaten aside fish (and not too unlike authentic Kefir in taste and texture, strange as that sound), much more avails - vatapá, maniçoba, tacacá, salpicão, piracuí and limitless fish.

Too many museums to mention: some free entry, others around R4.00 per writing. Some personal favourites: Museu do Forte do Presepio, Museu da UFPA (a temporary Fayga Ostrower exposition).

Speaking of Plazas, Praça da Republica (housing Teatro da Paz) and Praça Batista Campos, both a visual extravaganza, once lit up at night, make one want to lay on a bench there and sleep, the latter in particular: a comment I wouldn’t normally make concerning Brazilian public spaces. But these two seem quiet palatable to the vagabond.

Alternatively, to imbibe the commercial, working spirit mixed with antiquity, try Praça dos Mercés at the afternoon peak, a couple of blocks away from Ver-O-Peso.

Bookstores (Sebos) I found sparse and limited in selection. But you can’t have everything. There is, however, a quality public library inside the Centur cultural space that I too often frequented.

If seeking a more immersive natural hike within the city limits, not much of that, save for the Parque Estadual de Utinga 5-6km beyond the center. Not every city coexists next to natural preserves. Rio de Janeiro is a notable example, abounding in such opportunities. Rio basks in all types of cultural and natural beauty. Rio, alas, is too bloody costly: the costliest I’ve yet encountered across the country.

Anyway, there you have an abstract sketch. Hope you find it informative.

Questions, comments? Connect.