A gritty industrial capital that sits directly on the equator in the far north of the Amazon Basin, Macapá is the entry port for cruise ships arriving from the Atlantic, where Brazilian immigration and safety authorities inspect vessels before they can enter the river. Many ships don’t allow passengers to disembark, but since processing can take five or more hours, some lines try to provide a guided excursion. Others allow guests to go ashore and explore the city on their own.
What We Love
Pink Dolphins: In contrast to the gray industrial setting of the Santana docks, you might see a few pink-hued Amazon river dolphins ("boto" in Portuguese) swim up next to the ship — or the dock — and poke their long noses out of the water in welcome.
Fortaleza de São José de Macapá: This fort dates to 1782, during the period of early Portuguese colonization. Settlers built it as their base to defend the Amazon River entry point against the other Western forces that wanted to take it over. The fortress remains structurally sound, although there’s little in the way of formal exhibits or guided tours.
Best Known For
Marco Zero: At this sundial marker delineating the exact line of the equator, you can snap a photo with one foot in the Northern Hemisphere and the other in the Southern. This is the one sightseeing must-do in Macapá — and a pretty compelling reason to disembark.
Pororoca: Known by surfers as “the longest wave,” this 10- to 12-foot-high tidal bore travels down the Amazon River for hundreds of miles during what are known as "spring tides." Near Macapá, there’s a point where experienced surfers try paddling out to catch it. Mere mortals simply gawk as the chocolate-brown wave sweeps by, carrying entire trees and crocodiles with it.
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Who It's Best For
Trailblazers: If you like to get to a place before there’s tourism infrastructure or English speakers, you’ll be happy in Macapá, which has only just started to court tourists despite the number of cruise ships stopping for inspection.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Lack of Infrastructure: This may change in upcoming years, but currently quite a few cruise lines do not have excursion partners in Macapá, and simply state that guided tours are unavailable. There’s also no cruise terminal. Ships dock at Santana, a deep-water cargo port, provided there’s space. If berths are full, cruise ships must remain at anchor.
Lena Katz is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Brides.