1. Alter do Chão, our Amazon secret
Alter do Chão is a beautiful and to a large extent unkwon Amazon destination that reached fame not long ago thanks to an article on British newspaper The Guardian británico. It is found near Santarém, in the state of Pará and here at the Brazil Travel Blog we devoted it a destination card back in 2007 (a card we updated recently in Alter do Chão and the river Tapajós and an Amazon adventure: trips around Alter do Chão).
2. Alter do Chão´s recent claim to fame
On 15 April 2009 The Guardian published an article with the title Top 10 beaches in Brazil. It is an article that, by the look of the comments and conclusions extracted from it by the tourist trade, was read by very few. On the second paragraph of the article there is an explanation on how the beach ranking was elaborated. “we asked 10 experts to choose their favourites”. That’s all there is about the ranking. The newspaper asked 10 travel specialists to mention their favourite beach in Brazil. One beach each. The list is published in no hierarchical order. Ricardo Freire -one the specialists consulted- explained at Nasce um mito: Alter-do-Chão, “a melhor praia do Brasil segundo a imprensa inglesa” that the specialists were asked not to mention beaches chosen by any of the other 8 experts. Had it not been for this rule we could have expected a heavy Fernando de Noronha presence on the list (strangely, The Guardian lists the island of Fernando de Noronha as if it only had one beach).
Alter do Chão is on the list. Conspicuous by its absence on the description of Alter published by the newspaper is any mention to the fact that the beaches of Alter are covered by the river between January and July. Should you arrive in Alter in April you will find no beaches at all -you will agree this is no insignificant detail. We know of several frustrated tourists that chose the wrong time of the year to travel to Alter and get to know its beaches.
On the Guardian list, Alter do Chão appears listed first. We know the beaches were listed in geographical order (from north to south). But the local tourist trade chose to ignore this fact and a myth was born: Alter do Chão as the most beautiful beach in Brazil according to the Guardian newspaper. And once a myth is born it is a mean task to make people understand the mistake.
3. What are the beaches of Alter do Chão like?
Alter do Chão and the region of the river Tapajós contain the most extense collection of white sandy beaches in the Amazon region. Alter owes its fame to the Ilha do Amor beach (“Love Island”) which rather than an island it is a sand bar right in front of the village, contemplated at its best between July and December. The sand bar is bathed by the Tapajós river to one side and by the Lagoa Verde to the other. In the middle of the sand bar there is an endless series of beach huts with restaurants serving Amazon fish. But the Ilha do Amor is just one of many beaches in the region. During the dry season you can walk from Alter to Santarém through the beach following the river course.
The Ilha do Amor is a pleasant beach of fine sand and no waves. The river waters are dark, warm and transparent. To reach the beach from the village you need to enlist the services of a boatman that will take you there in no time at all.
During the weekend and the holiday season the beach is filled with tourists from the region and the cities of Belém and Manaus. The atmosphere at the beach is no different from that of any other beach in Brazil. High season means an awful lot of tourists, noise, movement, chaos, plastic chairs and tables and food and drink aplenty. Plenty of rubbish too.
During the low season, if you reach the beach during the week you will have it mostly for yourself.
We have mentioned there are many other beaches. You can hire a boatman to take you there. Most of the beaches are virgin, with no infrastructure whatsoever. Other beaches, such as the Ponta de Pedras, have restaurants.
If you don’t want to take a boat, you can reach the popular praia do Cajueiro on foot. From Alter’s main square, follow the riverfront to the left and you’ll get there in five minutes.
4. So, is it worth a trip to Alter do Chão just to see its beaches?
We feel the beaches of Alter are a plus to anyone visiting the rainforest in the region. Alter is a fantastic base for the perfect Amazon experience. So if you go to Alter after a jungle experience, there is much worse you can do than relaxing one day at its beaches.
If you are only after a beach destination for your holidays, and you like your beaches with plenty of intrastructure, we dare say Alter do Chão might not be your place. For the money you’ll pay to get to roustic Alter you can spend a week at a holiday resort.
However, if roustic is your thing and you are after a different type of beach, you might want to give Alter do Chão a try. And if you have in mind a trip combining a beach holiday with a trip to the jungle, then go ahead, Alter is your place.
destination: Alter do Chão and the river Tapajós
an Amazon adventure: trips around Alter do Chão
destination: Ilha do Marajó
the Meeting of the Waters and the Janauary Ecological Park, near Manaus
Jungle Lodges in the Amazon