Alter do Chão is a small town in the state of Pará, council of Santarém. It is located at the entrance of a lake formed on the right bank of the Tapajós river – one of the biggest tributaries of the Amazon and known for its dark-blue waters. When the level of the Amazon river is low, from July to January, a beach of fine and clear sands appears at the entrance of the lake, the praia do Amor. Alter do Chão is known as the Caribbean Amazon for its combination of clear waters and sand.
But beyond its famous beaches, what makes Alter do Chão a remarkable destination is the fact that it makes an ideal base for a perfect Amazon experience in the nearby Floresta Nacional do Tapajós. Community-based ecotourism at its best.
1. HOW TO GET THERE:
Whether you arrive by bus or by boat, the entry point to Alter do Chão is the city of Santarém.
By plane, the nearest airport is Santarém’s. The main Brazilian airlines fly to Santarém from Manaus and Belém (flight time is approximately 1 hour from both cities). From Santarém airport to Alter do Chão, 25 km away, a taxi will set you back approximately R$90.
You can reach Santarém by boat from Manaus or Belém. Travel time is two days. From Belém to Santarém a cabin will cost you R$170. From Manaus to Santarém, R$125.
2. WHEN TO GO:
Weather-wise, temperatures in Alter do Chão range from the warm to the hot. Rarely does the termometer fall below 20 degrees Celsius and maximum temperatures usually reach the 30’s. It rains heavily from January to July.
The best time to visit Alter do Chão goes from July to September, when the river levels begin to descend and the beaches appear. From January till June there’s heavy rain and the beaches are submerged. From October to December the heat is intense and the river level reaches the year’s low. The magic igapós (flooded forests) dry up.
If you don’t appreciate crowds, we would advice you to avoid Alter do Chão during the Brazilian bank holidays, when the village and the beaches are crowded with tourists coming from Manaus and Belém. The carnival period is particularly critical.
3. CAREFUL WITH:
- trying to visit Alter do Chão during the Sairé festival during the second week of September; finding acommodation is next to impossible and prices shoot up.
- sting rays. They are found in most beaches, particularly when the river level is low. Accidents are numerous. Before entering the river you need to make sure there isn’t a ray hidden under the sand.
- entering the jungle on your own. It’s a definite no-no.
4. WE LIKE THE MOST:
- the majestic Tapajós river
- the imposing jungle full of surprises
- the wide range of trips available from Alter do Chão
- the development of true ecoturism in the region
- to spend the day at the Ilha do Amor (literally, “love island”) eating snacks and drinking beer
- to watch the sunset from the new pier and end the night with a piracaia (barbeque fish) at the beach
- the remote and untouched character of Alter do Chão
5. WE LIKE THE LEAST:
- noise pollution along the river front and the Praça Matriz
- the Ilha do Amor vanishes for several months
- Sunday trippers in Alter do Chão; fortunately, by Monday they are gone
- the unstoppable and destructive advance of men towards the jungle
- the incredible closure and neglect of the Museu do Índio
- the closure of the peixe-boi project, preserving the manatees on the Tapajós river
6. FAVOURITE PLACES:
The Ilha do Amor, the Ponta de Cururu, the Floresta Encantada, the Canal do Jari, the FLONA, the Tapajós river
7. PIECE OF ADVICE:
- there are plenty of things to do in Alter do Chão’s surrounding area: a quiet walk along the flooded rainforest and virgin beaches, river-dolphin watching; trekking at the National Parks; getting to know the natives; and even discover two typically American village built by the Ford company during the rubber fever (Fordlandia and Belterra). At an Amazon adventure: trips around Alter do Chão we gave details of the most exciting trips around the Alter do Chão region.
- during the weekend Alter becomes the beach for the inhabitants of Santarem; the place is chock-a-block. During the week it is much quieter
- you can rent a kayak at the Praia do Amor
- there is a supermarket and several shops where you will be able to obtain supplies; however, there are no ATM’s in Alter do Chão
- Alter is an exceptional place if you want to purchase authentic indigenous crafts; some of the shops are real museums
- there’s a great travel agency at the main square, run by Argentinians: Mãe Natureza. They offer good advice and excellent juices and sandwiches
- stalls at the main square sell local food and sweets. A must!
8. IS IT WORTH VISITING ALTER DO CHÃO JUST FOR ITS BEACHES?
We believe the beaches on the Tapajós river are a fantastic bonus to any visitor to the region. But given how costly it is to reach the region, they could never constitute the only reason for a visit to the area. There are much better beaches all along the Brazilian coastline.
You need to bear in mind the beaches only emerge from July to January. Visit Alter do Chão any other time and you will need a wet suit to see the beaches.
More on the topic at our Alter do Chão, are its beaches worth a trip?
There aren’t many options of accommodation in Alter do Chão. Those with a web site are listed at hotels and pousadas in Alter do Chão. We stayed at the pousada Tupaiulândia. It has no website but offers an excellent value for money.
Some of the indigenous communities in the National Forest offer very basic acommodation to its visitors.
If you are visiting Alter do Chão you are adviced to get your yellow fever shot (more information at 10 facts about yellow fever in Brazil“>10 facts about yellow fever in Brazil). Malaria has not been an issue on the region for some time.
The high acidic level of the Tapajós river guarantees low proliferation of mosquitos. You will find them during your treks in the jungle.
There are no specific pages on Alter do Chão worth mentioning. On Mãe Natureza‘s website, with a version in English, there are detailed descriptions of the activities that can be done in the region. IBAMA’s site devoted to the Floresta Nacional do Tapajós has maps of the region available for download in PDF format.
12. WEATHER FORECAST:
Average temperatures and rainfall in Alter do Chão (Santarém) at msn.weather.
13. GOOGLE MAPS:
Alter do Chão in Google Maps.
Our Alter do Chão photo album in Flickr.
15. OTHER BLOG POSTS ON THE AMAZON REGION:
an Amazon adventure: trips around Alter do Chão
“cheia” and “seca” on the Amazon region
tourism on the Amazon region is a foreign affair
destination: Ilha do Marajó
the Meeting of the Waters and the Janauary Ecological Park, near Manaus