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Arriving

By Plane -- Gol (tel. 0300/115-2121; www.voegol.com.br) and TAM (tel. 0800/570-5700 or 091/4002-5700; www.tam.com.br) fly to Belém's international airport, the Aeroporto Internacional de Val-de-Cães (tel. 091/3210-6039), 22km (13 miles) from downtown. Coopertaxi (tel. 091/3257-1720) operates all the taxis at the airport. The company can be reached 24/7 and accepts Visa and MasterCard. Fares to downtown (Praça da República area) average R$40.

By Bus -- The bus station, or Terminal Rodoviario, is located at Av. Almirante Barroso s/n on the corner of Avenida Gov. José Malcher (tel. 091/3266-2625). (Bus 900, CIDADE NOVA IV -- VER-O-PESO from in front of the Ver-o-Peso Market or on Av. Nazaré on the bottom tip of Praça da República). Companies that run popular routes include Boa Esperança (tel. 091/3266-0033) to Natal, Recife, São Luis, and Fortaleza; Itapemirim (tel. 091/3226-3458) to Salvador, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro; and Transbrasiliana (tel. 091/3226-1942) to Brasilia and São Luis. Brazilian long-distance buses are safe, air-conditioned, and comfortable, especially the overnight ones, which have fully reclining (leito) or mostly reclining (semi-leito) seats. Tickets can be purchased only at the station.

By Riverboat -- Most people choose to make the 4-day riverboat journey downstream from Manaus to Belém, but you can make the 5-day journey upstream the other way. Tickets and information are available from the riverboat company kiosks located inside the Rodoviaria Fluvial, Av. Marechal Hermes s/n (tel. 091/3224-6885), located on the waterfront a kilometer (1/2 mile) downstream of the Estação das Docas near the corner of Avenida Visconde de Sousa Franco. The terminal looks run-down and seedy, but it's safe enough during the day. Several boats make the journey, departing on different days of the week. Macamazon, Av. Boulevard Castilho França 744 (tel. 091/3222-5604), has departures for Manaus Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6pm. Cost is R$350 for a hammock spot, R$600 for a cabin. You can often negotiate a 30% discount if you buy the day before sailing.

English-speaking agents at Amazon Star (tel. 091/3241-8624; www.amazonstar.com.br) will gladly book you passage on board the NM Santarem, which departs every other Tuesday at 6pm, arriving in Manaus on Sunday. The boat stops for a day in Santarem en route, and passengers have the option of making a day trip to Altar do Chão, the beach resort on the Tapajos river.

City Layout

Belém was founded on a small headland where the Rio Guamá flows into Guajará Bay on the Amazon estuary. It was here in 1616 that the Portuguese erected the Forte do Belém. Defense taken care of, the Portuguese turned to religion, erecting both the Catédral da Sé and the Igreja de Santo Alexandre on the small square opposite the fort, Praça Frei Caetano Brandão. On a much larger adjacent square -- Praça Dom Pedro II -- the early city builders gave unto Caesar, erecting two palaces -- the white Palaçio Lauro Sodré and the blue Palaçio Antônio Lemos -- that would house the civil administration of the state and city, respectively. On the riverbank slightly downstream (north) is where they put the Ver-o-Peso Market, and next to that, the city's docklands, which have recently been renovated into a restaurant and shopping complex called the Estação das Docas. Running parallel to the river is the broad, busy Avenida Castilhos França. Inland from this street is the old commercial section of the city, an area of small shops and old colonial buildings called the Cidade Velha or Old City. It's a fun area to wander during business hours, but it should be avoided in the evening and on Sundays. The northern boundary of the old city is Avenida Presidente Vargas, which runs inland from the waterfront uphill out of the old city to a large green square -- the Praça da República -- upon which sits the Theatro da Paz. At the tip of the praça, Avenida Nazaré veers off at an oblique angle, leading into a more upscale residential district of Nazaré, home to the Basilica of Nazaré, as well as other attractions such as the Museum of Emilio Goeldi. This is also the street that leads to the city's bus station.

Getting Around

Most of Belém's main attractions are within easy walking distance of Praça da República. For destinations farther afield, Belém's buses are fast and efficient and the city's taxis are plentiful and affordable.

By Bus -- Bus fare is R$1.50 with no transfers. The buses' origin and destination are given on the front, while smaller signs on the front and sides give route information. Because of the many one-way streets in Belém, buses normally follow different routes going and coming, so the smaller signs list route information for the trip out -- IDA -- and for the return route -- VOLTA. For visitors the two most useful routes are the ones that take you from either the Ver-o-Peso Market or Praça da República out past the Nazaré Basilica, the bus station (rodoviario), and the Bosque Rodrigues Alves. The following will accomplish that, but as always there are others.

From in front of the Ver-o-Peso, the buses are BENGUI -- VER-O-PESO; CIDADE NOVA IV -- VER-O-PESO AF900; JIBÓIA BRANCA -- VER-O-PESO AF 986.

From Avenida Presidente Vargas (Praça República), the buses are AGUAS BRANCAS -- PRES. VARGAS AU 988; CASTANHEIRA -- PRES. VARGAS AG 440; ICOARACI -- A. BARROSO. (This bus will also take you out to Icoaraci.)

By Taxi -- Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive. They can be hailed on the street or at numerous taxi stands. Rides are always metered. Sample fares: from the airport to Praça da República, R$40; from the main bus station to Praça da República, R$20; from Praça da República to the Ver-o-Peso Market, R$10. Coopertaxi (tel. 091/3257-1720 or 3257-1041) can be reached 24/7 and accepts Visa and MasterCard.

By Car -- Belém drivers buckle up religiously and carefully observe posted speed limits; Belém's police enforce the rules ruthlessly. Roads and destinations are well-marked, making travel straightforward if you decide to rent a car.

Visitor Information

The city and state tourism agencies, Belémtur and Paratur, have side-by-side kiosks at the airport. Both have excellent free maps of Belém. The Belémtur kiosk is open Monday through Friday 8am to 11pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am to 9pm. The Paratur kiosk is open Monday through Friday 9am to 9pm, Saturday 9am to 1pm. Paratur also has a very good English-language website: www.paraturismo.pa.gov.br. In the city, Paratur (tel. 091/3212-0575) has an office near the shipping port at Praça Maestro Waldemar Henrique s/n. If you're fluent in Portuguese it's possible to stop by and have a chat with the pretty girls who staff the office, though they have little information to impart, most of it wrong or out-of-date. Belémtur (tel. 091/3283-4850; www.belem.pa.gov.br, Portuguese only) has an office at Av. Gov. José Malcher 257. The staff is equally friendly, equally unilingual, and equally less than totally useful. Both are open Monday through Friday 8am to noon and 1 to 6pm.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.