I totally understood why they called it the Caribbean of the Amazon: Alter do Çhão, a tiny town in the heart of the Amazon. With its sandy beaches, dreamy waves (from the river!), relaxed atmosphere and an ‘island’ with beach bars just right of the mainland, this village is the perfect place for some relaxation. And even better, as Alter do Çhão is in the Amazonian state of Pará, you can easily venture into the forest for a day trip.
Things to do in Alter do Çhão
Alter do Çhão is small, so you can easily explore the town within an hour. Here are some of my favourites:
Enjoy a meal or an original cocktail at Espaço Gastrónomico, a minute walk from the praça (main square).
Buy locally made cosmetic products from Ekilibre Amazônia, either at their store or at the supermarket on the square.
Sip a caipirinha on Ilha do Amor. I kept thinking the tide would come, as it looked so much like a tranquil Caribbean sea – but it was of course a river! Depending on the season, you can either walk there (when it’s very dry and the water levels are down) or take a boat for a few reais.
Bring your wallet and knock yourself out at the amazing Araribá store – they sell beautiful indigenous products made by various indigenous communities from Pará.
Climb the peak on the Ilha do Amor (Morro da Piraoca) for a nice view of the town and forest.
Take a day tour to the surrounding Flonac(national forest park) do Tapajós, or…
Go to the less visited area of Canal do Jari. We went there instead of the FLONA as we had just been in a forest area near Manaus.
Canal do Jari
Canal do Jari was unexpectedly really nice! Because most tourists went to the FLONA, we were the only ones taking a day tour to the canal. The day tour usually also involves a few beach stops on the way (such as for lunch), but the highlights of the canal itself were actually the families that we got to meet. There is a tiny community living in various places on the river banks and we stopped at a few of their houses. Either to try some local food (made from the lily flower!) or to go for a canoe ride to spot monkeys and sloths. As Canal do Jari is not much visited (at least not when I went, in August), meeting the families still really feels like authentic tourism. It was great just to talk to them about their lives, how they live, etc. Especially worth it if you speak Portuguese!
While touring on the boat we spotted river dolphins, monkeys and sloths, and sadly also a dead alligator.
Morro da Piraoca
If you want to move your legs a little bit, hike the Morro da Piraoca to see the sunset. The hike takes about an hour and isn’t difficult at all (just some climbing at the top). It gives you a great 360 degrees view of the river and the forest. You can leave from the end of Ilha do Amor. It seems to be safe, with more people coming for sunset.
Alter do Çhão – practical details
Alter do Çhão is part of the city of Santarém, which has an airport. You can take a bus or a taxi from both Santarém as well as directly from the airport. If you take a taxi, make sure to negotiate a price – running the meter will be significantly more expensive (and ask for a better return fee with the same driver when you leave town again). It takes about 45 minutes.
If you want to take a tour, make sure to book one with a guide from the Atufa association. It’s easy to recognise them, as they wear their special Atufa shirts and are usually located around the boat area. Non-Atufa members also offer tours, but they are not officially recognised as guides (and probably don’t pay any tax..).