Belém has a number of parks that conspire to give you a foretaste of what’s in store if and when you embark upon a trip into the depths of the Amazonian rainforest. The most central of these, Parque Mangal das Garças (Passagem Carneiro da Rocha, Cidade Velha, tel. 91/3242-5052, www.mangal.com.br, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Tues.–Sun., R$6 for a passport to all attractions), is located along the edge of Cidade Velha, on the banks of the Rio Gaumá. Inaugurated in 2005, the park is yet another example of the inspired renewal projects that have taken hold of Belém over the last decade. Strolling around the park is very pleasant. The landscaping mixes plants and trees from different Amazonian ecosystems as well as lagoons dotted with bright white herons and scarlet ibises.
Birders will have a field day at the Aviário das Aningas. At the entrance to the aviary, you’re given an illustrated guide to all the feathered creatures that live here. The fun part is walking around the jungly atmosphere, while keeping score of who can catch sight of a giant stork or bright red guará first.
Once you’ve checked off all 150 birds, go for a rematch at the Borboletário Márcio Ayres. Upon entering this pavilion, you’ll once again be furnished with an illustrated guide—only this time, your eyes will be peeled for the resplendent Amazonian borboletas (butterflies) and jewel-like beija-flores (hummingbirds) that flap and dart amidst the misty environment.
The park’s main complex, an indigenous structure of ipê wood and palm fibers, houses the Mangal das Garças restaurant and the Museu Amazônico de Navegação, a small museum that traces the Amazon’s tradition of boat-building as well as the history of river transportation in Pará. For a terrific view of the river looking towards the Cidade Velha, walk along the wooden walkways that lead out to a viewing platform suspended above the muddy banks. For even better views, take the elevator to the top of the Farol de Belém, the rather odd-looking, modern lighthouse located in the middle of the park.
On your way out, stop by the Armazém do Tempo, a renovated shipbuilding warehouse converted into a gallery where you can purchase books and CDs by local musicians. You’ll also find a good mix of local artesenato ranging from indigenous jewelry, made from the seeds of fruit such as açai and pupunha, to delicate toys made from miriti palm fibers.
More untamed Amazonian foliage can be found at the Bosque Rodrigues Alves (Av. Almirante Barroso 2305, Bairro do Marco, tel. 91/3276-2308, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sun., R$1), an untamed 19th-century botanical garden filled with 2,500 regional species, most of which are typical of virgin rainforest. Meandering trails lead past a lagoon brimming with fish and turtles to an orchidarium and a small aquarium. Among the rare and very weird mammals you can glimpse up-close are the jupará—which resembles a cross between a cat, a bear, and a monkey—and the Amazonian manatee, whose Portuguese name, peixe boi (“fish-cow”), says it all. Although this sausage-like creature could never win any beauty contests, in the water, it moves with all the grace of Esther Williams.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition