The lovely beach resort of Alter do Chão is a beautiful bay in the Rio Tapajós
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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.
Ilha do Amor
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.
The Floresta Nacional do Tapajós (FLONA)
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).
Getting to Alter do Chão
You can catch an hourly bus to Alter do Chão from Santarém’s Praça Tiradentes, which takes around 45 minutes.
Tours in Alter do Chão
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.
- Gil Serique
This one-man outfit is run by friendly Gil, whose love for the rainforest and all things nature avidly comes across in all of his fun tours. He has plenty of experience, having worked as a naturalist and lecturer, as well as on a number of TV documentaries. He mainly organizes trips to FLONA and to the less explored flood plains east of Santarém by the Rio Maicá.
- Mae Natureza
This well-established Argentine-run agency specializes in eco-tourism trips; they organize tours to FLONA, the Parque Nacional da Amazônia and Canal do Jarí, among others.
- Vento em Popa
This agency organizes airport transfers, hotel bookings, boat rides and full-board trips overnighting in the Amazon jungle.
- Ynca Turismo
Located in the Beloalter hotel, this friendly operator organizes tours to Lago Verde in Alter do Chão, kayaking trips, FLONA trips, Santarém city tours and visits to the meeting of the waters. Also arranges trips to the Monte Alegre rock paintings.
Accommodation in Alter do Chão
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.
- Agualinda Hotel
Accommodation here is within a peach-coloured building with clay-coloured doors a couple of blocks back from the riverfront; the 32 a/c rooms are kept in shipshape condition, and all have private bathroom and TV.
- Albergue da Floresta
This laidback place offers rustic accommodation integrated within the jungle’s natural environment; timber walkways lead to cosy rooms set in colourfully painted wooden houses. There’s a breezy kitchen for guests’ use and overall a very chilled-out vibe.
- Beloalter Hotel
Alter do Chão’s most high-end hotel offers comfortable if a bit tired a/c rooms with hot showers. The draw here is the swimming pool along with the pretty stretch of beach at the back of the property.
- Coracão Verde Pousada
This pousada features three-bed dorms (male and female) and doubles facing one another. The decor is slightly kitsch (in some rooms more than others), with chintzy sheets, plastic flowers and other curious trimmings.
- Pousada Encantos da Amazônia
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.
- Pousada Mingote
In the centre of town just off the main square, this pousada is dotted with a few curios and potted plants. The rooms, mostly decorated with paintings of local wildlife, are neat and tidy – try and secure one of the three rooms with pretty views over the square and riverfront.
- Pousada Sombra do Cajueiro
This small pousada features six a/c rooms set around a leafy courtyard with hammocks shaded by cajueiros (cashew trees), while breakfast is served next to a large mango tree. There are pleasant touches like wicker lamps and hammocks, and all rooms have TVs and fridges.