Founded in 1616 as one of the first settlements along Brazil's Amazon River, Belém, the capital of the Brazilian state of Pará, once prospered as one of South America's spotlight playgrounds for the rich and cultured. This urban oasis in the jungle experienced unprecedented growth and fortune during the rubber boom at the turn of the 19th century thanks to a Brazilian monopoly on latex. It was during this golden era that the City of Mango Trees constructed one of its most important landmarks, the neoclassical-style 1874 Theatro da Paz on the Praça da República—an architectural testament to the opulence of those days when the city was affectionately referred to as "the tropical Paris."
By 1910, rubber had crashed, but Belém soldiered on as a thriving river port and tourism hub. Today, it's a thoroughly pleasant—albeit sweaty—gateway to the Amazon, made prettier by mango tree–shaded green spaces. The streets of the vibrant historical center are crowded with palatial 17th- and 18th-century buildings, many of which have been turned into seriously wonderful museums. Belém's biggest attraction, however, is the endlessly fascinating, action-packed Ver-o-Peso market, the largest open-air market in Latin America and the requisite first stop for any visitor. From here, Belém's culinary magic becomes apparent: The city's long list of excellent restaurants steeped in unique, jungle-fueled culinary traditions has made Belém one of the most exciting gastronomic destinations in Brazil. Bom proveito!