If ever a city were a model for boom and bust, it would be Manaus, which lies at the confluence of Brazil’s Amazon River and Rio Negro, more than 1,450 kilometers (900 miles) from the Atlantic Ocean. Like in America’s Old West, great fortunes were amassed in no time here and vanished just as quickly during the boom years of rubber production in the late 19th century. The most enduring memorial of that time is the great opera house and theater that are still in use today, and whose existence in the Amazon helped inspire the 1982 movie Fitzcarraldo, about one man’s maniacal obsession with bringing opera to the jungle.
These days, Manaus is downright huge—perhaps surprisingly, it’s Brazil’s seventh-largest city. A swank new soccer stadium was added for the 2014 World Cup, and a three-kilometer-long (two-mile-long), cable-stayed bridge opened in 2011 across the Rio Negro. The Ponta Negra suburb has modern high-rises, buzzing restaurants and beaches that rival those of any town on the sea. But within minutes, visitors can find themselves in the watery jungle, the source of the Amazonian specialties like pirarucu fish and acai berries on the menus of Manaus’s restaurants.