The lovely beach resort of Alter do Chão is a beautiful bay in the Rio Tapajós
overlooked by two easily climbable hills, one the shape of a church altar, giving the place its name. In recent years Alter do Chão has become something of a cult destination on the alternative travel circuit.
From July to November the bay is fringed by white-sand beaches, which combine with the deep blue of the Tapajós to give it a Mediterranean look. During the week you’ll almost have the place to yourself, while weekends see the tranquillity shattered, as santarenhos head out en masse for the beach – be careful if you’re heading back to Santarém on a weekend afternoon as many drivers on the road will be drunk.
The stunning Ilha do Amor is a white-sand beach just across from Alter do Chão. In the dry season the sandbank is accessible either by wading or by rowing boat, and laidback shaded restaurants provide the fried fish and chilled beer essential to the full enjoyment of the scene. It’s well worth taking the time to climb up to the Morro de Cruzeiro viewpoint, from where there are breathtaking views of the Tapajós River, Lago Verde and the Amazon rainforest.
Alter do Chão sits at the shores of the beautiful Lago Verde, surrounded by verdant forest rich in fauna including monkeys, macaws, agoutis and armadillos. The lake has some lovely secluded spots perfect for a swim. The best way to explore the area is through a guided tour with one of the agencies in Alter do Chão; alternatively, you can explore the lake with one of the boatmen along the waterfront.
An essential day-trip is to the Floresta Nacional do Tapajós (FLONA), the most easily
accessible national park from Alter do Chão and Santarém. Some 5450 square kilometres of preserved upland forest riddled with trails, it includes around 50km of Tapajós river frontage, where there are a number of small communities living within the reserve’s boundaries. The forest is magnificent, with primary rainforest towering over the secondary scrubland, which the area around has been reduced to by waves of colonization over the last fifty years (soy growers being merely the latest of a succession of new arrivals).
You can catch an hourly bus to Alter do Chão from Santarém’s Praça Tiradentes, which takes around 45 minutes.
Many tour operators organize reasonably priced forest treks, fishing expeditions, boat trips and other excursions in the area. Prices start from R$60–100 depending on the type of boat (slow or fast) for a 2hr boat trip on the Lago Verde. A fun way to explore town is to rent a tandem bike; Santos Locacões at Copa Cabana 150 has a range of tandem bikes as well as a six-seater cycle.
Tour operators can help you to rent a house in Alter do Chão, which is the most economic form of accommodation if you fancy staying a week or two – which many people do, once they see the place. Prices can jump significantly in December.
A pleasant choice offering ten spacious a/c rooms which open onto a courtyard, some of which are in better nick than others. The bamboo and wooden chalets are the best of the lot, with warm and welcoming interiors featuring natural materials. There’s a kitchen for guests’ use and a little patch of land where the owners grow herbs and vegetables. Prices halve in low season.