The source of the bumba beat – an expert guide to the Amazonian town of Parintins in Brazil

Jackie Holland
parintins, amazon, brazil - getty

Why go? 

The little town of Parintins has a rich Indian heritage. Each June it hosts the Boi Bumba Festival when tens of thousands of people hit town for a week-long party, with floats, costumes, song and dance. This is Brazil’s second-largest festival after the Rio Carnival. 

Location

Parintins sits on Tupinambarana Island in the middle of the Amazon river, 350 miles from Manaus. Cruise ships either dock in the town centre opposite the municipal market or use tenders to bring passengers ashore. Most ships are met on the jetty by bumba dancers. 

Can I walk to any places of interest?

Take a stroll on the riverside promenade to see the docks where Mississippi-style riverboats of all sizes tie up. Then head to the Cathedral of Nossa Senhora do Carmo on the main plaza – you can’t miss its distinctive clock tower soaring 130ft over the town. From the river, the cathedral looks like a traditional building, but the interior is modern, unadorned and air-conditioned, bringing welcome relief in the Amazon heat.

Getting around

A pedicab tour of the town is fun and inexpensive. Asian-style tuk-tuk vehicles, both motorised and pedal operated, are used in Parintins as a means of exploring. 

parintins, boi bamba carnival - getty

What to see and do

You can’t avoid the Boi Bumba effect. The folkloric festival involves a friendly competition between two Parintins families – the Garantido (who wear red) and Caprichoso (blue) – and involves a young woman, her husband, a bull and a happy ending…

What can I do with half a day in Parintins?

When the festival itself is not on, most cruise lines offer a trip to a theatre to see a mini version of it, complete with costumes, music and dancing. You can also tour huge hangar-like workshops where artisans decorate colourful costumes with thousands of feathers and build massive painted floats that depict Amazonian creatures. A tour will also take you to the Bumbodroma arena, shaped like the head of a bull. As you drive through town, you may notice public phone booths shaped like bulls’ heads and an unexpectedly large number of red and blue vehicles. 

What can I do with a bit longer? 

Take a boat tour.  Travellers don't typically think beyond the Amazon itself when visiting Parintins but Brazilians know that the Tupinambarana island group contains beautiful lakes, floodplains and river beaches that only appear during the dry season.

parintins boat tour - getty

Eat and drink

Tapioca crepes are a popular snack at the food stalls in the market. The most popular dish in the town’s cafes is bodó no tucupi (fish cooked in a broth extracted from cassava root). Also try regional dishes such as salted fish cakes and the rich chocolate dessert brigadeiro. The caipriana, is Brazil’s national cocktail, made with cachaça, sugar and lime.

Don’t leave the town without…

Masks, handmade trinkets, beaded jewellery, paintings and woodwork. All these souvenir items are works of local artisans. The best shopping is located right outside the port. Simply walk off the pier and you will see the market selling everything under the sun. 

Need to know

A simple, hospitable town with welcoming and cheerful residents, it is safe to walk around Paritins but, like anywhere else, leave expensive items behind on your ship. 

Paritins has a tropical monsoon climate and, due to its proximity to the equator, a steady temperature between 25C and 28C. Expect rain year-round especially in the wet season (November to July).

If you don’t like crowds, avoid visiting the town at the end of June when the festival is in full swing. Otherwise, enjoy the party atmosphere.