You could fit a whole country onto Marajó, Brazil's largest fluvial island. Known in Brazil as Ilha de Marajó or Ilha do Marajó, the island at the mouth of the Amazon and Tocantins Rivers is roughly the size of the Netherlands and Switzerland.
Washed by fresh and salt water at one of the world's most majestic deltas, Marajó Island is an alluring destination to travelers who go the extra step to delve deeper into the essence of a place.
When traveling to Belém, the capital of Pará, make time to visit this island rich in geographic features, wildlife and cultural identity. A three-and-a-half hour boat ride or a thirty-minute flight will land you where guarás show off their crimson plumage and water buffalo roam.
Moreover, a trip to Marajó could give you a front seat to one of the world's most fascinating phenomena: the Amazon pororoca.
Marajó's Natural Treasures
Marajó is a birdwatcher's dream. The scarlet ibis (Eudocimus ruber), or guará is one of many species of birds which can be seen on the island - roseate spoonbills, parrots and little blue herons are some of the other birds you're likely to spot during the dry season (roughly May-November).
Marajó's ranches, the center of local ecotourism and adventure, offer trails through the mangroves, canoe tours of river and buffalo rides to the beaches. There is tropical rainforest on the southeast,
Ilha Caviana, off the north coast of Ilha de Marajó, affords the best vantage point for observing the pororoca. The experience involves complex logistics. Hook up with knowledgeable, multilingual professionals from certified tour agencies such as the ones affiliated with ABETA (www.abeta.com.br) to get there.
Praia do Pesqueiro, Barra Velha, Joanes and Araruna are the best Marajó beaches. Pesqueiro is the busiest - especially in July, when Belém residents are vacationing on the island.
No more than a dozen towns are scattered on Marajó, which is the main island in an archipelago by the same name. Most of Marajó's 250,000 inhabitants live on the main island's eastern shores, where the towns of Soure and Salvaterra are located on opposite sides of the Paracauari River.
Soure, one of the main gateways to Marajó, is connected to Belém by daily boats. Boats are also your mean of transportation between Soure and Salvaterra, as well as the way to get to Cachoeira do Iriri, where Museu do Marajó (www.museudomarajo.com.br) displays the archaeological finds which inspire the island's current day marajoara ceramics.
Just like the ancient marajoara mound builders, whose culture thrived between the 5th and 14th centuries and whose survival was closely tied to the Amazon river, today's marajoara life greatly revolves around water.
Created by deposited sediments over the course of millions of years, Marajó is part of a delicate water world. During the rainy season (roughly December-April), only canoes traverse flooded areas which will explode in color during the dry season (May-November), when the island is taken with birds.
Together with cattle raising, fishing is a mainstay of marajoara life and a major tourist attraction - tucunaré (Cichla sp.) and pirarucu (Arapaima gigas) are some of the edible fish still caught in abundance between September and December.
Dance is one of the highlights of marajoara life. Lundu and carimbó are the island's signature dances, whose origin goes back to the slaves brought to the archipelago in the eighteenth century to work in cattle raising. You can watch performances of these sensuous rhythms at Marajó hotels such as Hotel Ilha do Marajó, in Soure, or Pousada dos Guarás, in Salvaterra.
Introduced in Marajó in the late nineteenth century, water buffalo can be seen in great part of the island. Despite their relevance to the island as transportation and food, they're by no means a unanimity. Instituro Horus, an environmental organization, has raised concerns such as trampling of ecosystems by herds of water buffalo.
Still, buffalo is part of the Marajó experience, including the local cuisine.
Ilha Mexiana (pronounced EE-lya me-she-AH-na), north of Marajó, is another attractive island in the archipelago. It has a great preservation area within the limits of the Marajó Park Resort which is home to hundreds of bird species.
What and Where to Eat on Marajó Island
Buffalo meat and cheese, as well as fish, shrimp and turu, a mangrove mollusk often served as a seasoned broth, are some of the ingredients in the rich marajoara culinary.
Delícias da Nalva, or Nalva's Delights, is one of the best known restaurants in Marajó. Owner Nalva Barbosa commands this casual, home-based operation located at 4a Rua 1051 in Soure.
Nalva makes frito do vaqueiro, or the "cowboy's fry", a local dish which consists of a buffalo meat cut cooked in its own fat, served with a kind of pirão made from buffalo milk and white cassava flour.
Filé marajoara, the local buffalo steak, is smothered with melted buffalo cheese. Shrimp fritatta, chichen with fried bananas and Brazil nut farofa are some other delicacies you'll find at Nalva's place.
The restaurant at Fazenda São Jerônimo and Paraíso Verde (a good place to have turu) are other Soure eateries where you can savor the local cuisine.
Where to Stay
In Soure, Casarão da Amazônia (www.hotelcasarao.com) is a good option for travelers who enjoy historic buildings (the house was built in the nineteenth century) and a more urban setting. On the Paracauari riverside, stay at the Paracauary Eco Pousada, which has simple, yet comfortable rooms, and an attractive pool. Or stay at Fazenda São Jerônimo, with its nice restaurant, mangrove trails, canoe rides and canopy walking. Also on the riverside, Hotel Ilha do Marajó is yet another hotel offering the low-key, pleasant comforts of island life.
In Salvaterra, Pousada dos Guarás, one of the best hotels in Marajó, is also one of the largest, with 50 rooms. The beautiful Marajó Park Resort, on Mexiana Island, tops the Marajó hotel experience with comfortable accommodations and the excitement of a jungle hotel.
How to Get to Marajó
Find out how to get to Marajó from Belém by boat, ferryboat or plane.