Often referred to as the Gateway to the Amazon River, Belem is located in the north east of Brazil and indeed it is the biggest city near the mouth of the Amazon.
Belem is also the capital of the state of Para, and its name simply means `Bethlehem’.
It is also called the `City of Mango Trees’ because that tasty fruit grows prolifically there.
Belem is situated in Guajara Bay, which is actually part of the estuary of the Guama and Para Rivers, which are part of the Amazon.
There are many river islands in and around Belem, and some of them feature very nice beaches, which attract locals and visitors alike.
It is fair to say that Belem is a city of contrasts.
First occupied by the Portuguese in 1616, there are some very old areas within the city where heritage colonial buildings are preserved. The city has a modern cosmopolitan feel also, and there are others areas where high rise is common.
It is a tropical city, and contains many abundant and lush gardens within its precincts.
Citizens certainly know how to enjoy themselves, and the city has a reputation for being quite lively and there are a few markets scattered around the various regions.
One popular place is the Estaceo das Dorcas, which is located right by the river. It is a former dock than has been turned into a food and entertainment area. There are good restaurants and craft places here, and you can get great views of the mighty Amazon, or even board a boat for a short cruise on the river.
The Basilica de Nossa Senhora de Nazare, which is a very ornate church built to a Moorish design, is considered to be one of the holiest places in Brazil. At most times of the year you can visit it quite easily, but on the second Sunday each October over one million people congregate in and around the basilica for religious celebrations.
Another good place to visit, which takes you right out of the city, is Algodal Island, which is accessible by boat. Despite the fact that it has lots of hotels and restaurants, cars are a rarity on Algodal and the taxis are more like carts. Although there are parts of the island than can get quite busy, if you wander off far enough you can find yourself an almost deserted beach.
If you wish to do a tour of the Amazon, Belem is a good place to either begin or end your adventure.