Discover Pará, the Strangest and Most Amazing State in Brazil
Pará is a singular place in the north of Brazil, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Amazonas River and the great Amazonia Jungle. Once home of indigenous tribes and then colonised by the Portuguese it’s a unique territory with a very particular music, cuisine and traditions.
Mercado Ver-o-Peso: The Best Spot to Try the Local Cuisine
On my visit to Pará I’ve stayed only with local people who open the doors of their house and their heart to me. Paraenses are super friendly, welcoming and happy to share their culture with foreigners. I met most of them through the Couchsurfing app which I fully recommend if you’re looking for an authentic experience. I spent my days in Belém, the state capital, and Fortalezinha, an island on the Atlantic coast, but I really recommend you stop at Ilha do Marajó and Alter do Chao. The latter is known to be the Amazonian Caribbean (for this check the low water season!!) and the spiritual and ancestral medicine spot.
Belém is a beautiful and vibrant colonial city, home of the biggest open air market of Latin América, the Mercado Ver-o-Peso, no doubt one of my favourite places to hang out. In here you can find all sorts of stuff from a bunch of veggies, fish and meat, to crazy fruits you’ve never seen in your life, a variety of medicinal plants and ointments and a lot of local cheap and delicious food. It is the perfect place for a taste of Pará.
In this mercado you can eat a plate of fried fish with rice and beans for 30 reais for two people, overlooking the Amazonas River. You should also try the most emblematic product of the state, the açaí, a fruit from a palm tree they blend with water and eat almost everyday. It’s usually enjoyed at lunch beside roasted chicken or fried fish together with “farinha” a particular type of flour they add to all their meals. Look out for the Açaí do Leo, the best quality in town. For 15 reais you get 1L, but go before 12pm because it finishes fast.
Definitely try Maniçoba, a stock made from the leaves of a poisonous plant known as Maniva (spicies of mandioca) with different types of meats served with rice and the “farinha”. OMG, its flavour is just mind-blowing. The look of this dish is not the most inviting but don’t let that hold you back, it’s a must have!
Eat all the Açaí, Be Sure You’ll Miss it
Walking along the river you will find the Estação das Docas, an old port now renovated full of restaurants and cafés. It’s kind of fancy but the view is beautiful and it’s a nice place to walk and chill reading a book overlooking the river. There you can find the famous Amazon Beer, a craft beer bar that produces very particular beers with tastes of local fruits, like Copuaçu, Bacuri, Taperebá and others. The happy hour is from Monday to Wednesday 6:30pm to 9pm – all you can drink and a free buffet all for 52 reais. The sorveteria Cairu has the best and weirdest ice cream flavours ever, it’s a bit expensive compared to what you can get on the streets in Brazil, but it’s worth it at least. So if you have a sweet tooth like me, don’t miss it.
Belém can be very intense, so if you’re like me and love a quiet place in nature, visit the Parque Zoobotánico Mangal das Garças, a paradise in the middle of a bustling city. It’s a quiet, super green place where you can find herons, flamingos on a reach of an arm, guarás an endemic spicies of a bird that turns neon pink from the crabs it eats, iguanas enjoying the daily fruit mix and a beautiful view of the Guarajá Bay.
Visit the Parque Estadual do Utinga on a bike and enjoy the views of the lakes and watch the storms coming. Rent a bike all day for 10 reais with the Bike Belem app (ask a local to do it for you and pay him directly) and stroll around. Go one night to Apuena, a well-known bar with live music, where you can listen to some nice local music with innovative vibes and dance! Usually the entrance costs 15 reais but it’s worth it, I promise.
Visit the Cachaçaria Meu Garôto and try cachaça de jambu, a liqueur made from a local plant that makes your mouth tremble. They also use this plant for cooking, another weird and amazing product of Pará. Belém has a very particular climate, it is quite hot and it rains for about an hour everyday around lunch time so be prepared with an umbrella or just enjoy your daily “banho de chuva” like I did!
Fortalezinha, the Best Beach Escape
In this trip through Pará I ended up going to Fortalezinha. It’s a quiet place in Ilha de Maiandeua, part of a conservation area, and perfect to disconnect. The signal here is almost non-existent but that’s the beauty of it. It makes you be really present in the moment, and how hard is that these days?
You can access it through Algodoal on a 1h30 boat ride, or take a van from Belém to Igarapé Açu, a second van to 30 do Mocooca and then a boat that takes 10 minutes to do the crossing. I would say that each van can cost around 30 to 40 reais and the boat maybe 5 to 10 reais, although I hitchhiked everything so maybe its not accurate, but remember to always bargain!! Bargain in a friendly joking way and you’ll get it for almost 50% lower. There is not that much variety of goods in the island and because it is so isolated things can become overpriced so bring your own stash! If you are into kitesurfing these is the place for you, great winds and huge empty beaches, kite lessons and rentals.
Take a 12km walk to Algodoal from Praia da Princesa, and on your way visit the Lago da Princesa, an unbelievably beautiful black water lake in the middle of the dunes and surrounded by vegetation. You can come back via the trail of Vila da Camboinha crossing through the island or, if you are too tired to walk, talk to some fishermen in this village and they will bring you back for 7 reais. In Fortalezinha there’s a bar Casa do Carimbó where a bunch of people get together every night to play Carimbó, the rhythm of Pará. Only the males can play the drums that are called Curimbó and the woman dance in circles with their floor length skirts.
There are few places to sleep and even if you are on a low budget just arrive and ask the people if you can put your tent/hammock on their garden or camp wild in Praia da Princesa. As I said, it is a remote place so it’s pretty chilled out and the people are super friendly and happy to help out.
Fortalezinha is a place to pause, to contemplate and be present in the moment. Talk to the locals, ask them how is it to live there, get to know the slow life. I spent a week there with a friend of one of my Couchsurfing hosts and it was lovely. We asked the neighbours for their bikes and went on an island adventure and discovered waterfalls, a maniva processing site and learn how they get the mandioca, the Tucupi sauce and other products from that amazing plant. We caught heavy rain showers, walked through manglares, watch the stars and did the whole process of extracting coconut oil (a hard job by the way).
My biggest advice is: talk to people!! Every human is a universe in itself so go on and discover it, if not you are missing out I guarantee you.
Are you travelling to multiple countries over the next few months? Looking to share your story and get a little extra pocket money? Apply to become a Travltalk contributor now!