Manaus, 1,770 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro, is smack in the middle of the Amazon jungle. The sweltering city won't win awards for architectural beauty or convenience, but the opportunities for exploring its raw natural surroundings and outstanding local cuisine make the trip worthwhile.
Where you'll see soccer: The action takes place at Manaus' new Amazon Arena, where the U.S. faces Portugal on June 22. The 40,000-seat stadium is perhaps the city's most modern and impressive structure (though three workers died in the rush to finish it). For those without tickets, FIFA is mounting a screen at the nearby Ponta Negra Beach boardwalk along the Rio Negro, a massive blackwater tributary of the Amazon River. For a quieter scene, try Bar do Armando (593 Rua 10 de Julho, 011-55-92-3232-1195), a much-beloved local watering hole on the city's main square across from the grand Amazon Theatre, center of Manaus' cultural life since it opened in 1896 at the height of the city's rubber boom.
What to do: Explore nature. Manaus is built on a tiny clearing in the middle of the world's largest rain forest, so go and look around. The best bet is to get on a boat and leave the city. At the Marina do Davi, next door to the Tropical Manaus Ecoresort (1320 Avenida Coronel Teixeira, Ponta Negra; 011-55-92-2123-5000; www.tropicalmanaus.com.br/default-en.html), you can jump on a small outboard-powered commuter skiff to any of the nearby beach or river communities. Twenty-five minutes by skiff is Praia do Tupé, where six local communities are working on a sustainable development program and receive tourists. I went to the closer Praia da Lua, where families swim in the tea-brown waters of the Rio Negro, and you can order fried fish with salad from one of the makeshift restaurants on the sand. For more involved longer tours into the jungle, check tour companies approved by the local tourism board.
The city is putting on a staggering 1,200 cultural events during the World Cup, centered on the Teatro Amazonas (daily visits, $4), including local dance, cinema and opera.
Where to eat: For a take on the powerful flavors of Amazonian cuisine, Brazil's best, at decent prices ($20-$35 for dishes that serve two), head to Banzeiro (102 Rua Libertador; 011-55-92-3234-1621, restaurantebanzeiro.com.br), which will start you with a complimentary stew made with tambaqui, a local freshwater fish, followed by tambaqui ribs in tacacá, a soup made with jambú, a local herb with explosive flavors that numb your mouth.
For a more exotic taste of the jungle, try the lunch buffet at Lenhador (2371 Avenida do Turismo; 011-55-92-9981-7217, olenhador.com.br), where you can feast on alligator (tasty), river stingray (fried and delicious) or turtle (ask for the gizzard, avoid the guts) in an air-conditioned and environmentally approved setting.
Where to stay: Much of the city is run-down, so try to stay near the stadium in the beach and tourist neighborhood of Ponta Negra or in the business district around the Adrianópolis neighborhood. I did the latter, getting a last-minute deal for $90 a night at the Blue Tree Premium (817 Avenida Umberto Calderãro Filho; 011-55-92-3303-2000), a pretty and comfortable hotel with rooftop pool and view.
Important to know: Be prepared for what the jungle can throw at a city. It is extremely hot and humid and rains hard every day, often knocking out electricity and Internet access.