Alter do Chão, Brazil
Although the state of Pará likes to claim “Caribbean in Brazil” status for its entire 60-plus miles of Rio Tapajós beachfront, in truth that nickname originated in the simple village of Alter do Chão. Once the worldwide media found out about it, this Amazon gem — not even a town as much as a district of Santarém — went on the international tourism map. What it offers is relaxation, with a dash of exotic Brazilian spice.
What We Love
The Sunsets: Get ready for an absolutely unforgettable light and color show as the sun sinks low in the sky, its rays seeming to turn the river into copper-gold. People often take out little boats or kayaks, to be surrounded by nature’s nightly performance.
The Food: The restaurants here are laid-back, often with simple umbrella-shaded outdoor seating, but they’ve seen tourists before — like, every weekend — so they’re less rustic than you think. There’s also hot competition to bring in Brazilian regulars, so expect the freshest Amazon fish, spicy stews and braised meats from northeast Brazil, and some familiar international treats — especially pizza — along with inexpensive beer.
Best Known For
The Beach: The shimmering blue water is warm and calm — Rio Tapajós being a rare clear-water river in the Amazon Basin — and there's a lagoon at the center of the beach with turtles hatching just outside the populated area. The width of the inviting white-sand beach broadens as river levels lower in the dry season (July to December).
Ilha do Amor: Love only appears in the proper season — or at least the famous Ilha do Amor (Island of Love) does — when the river levels recede enough for it to show. A three-minute speedboat transfer or slightly longer rowboat ride gets you out to the island, where people congregate under palapas and eat freshly grilled fish, sometimes with their feet in 6 inches of water.
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Who It's Best For
Tranquility Seekers: If you believe that the simple life is the best, you’ll love this place. You’ll see rowboats, not Jet Skis, and local fishermen, not celebrities. Nature is the main draw outside of beach-bumming.
Ecotourists: The riverbanks and lagoon are ideal for self-guided explorations of the Amazon Basin ecosystem, via a kayak or stand-up paddleboard. Should you opt for a motorized boat tour, local guide Gil Serique is known internationally as one of the best nature guides operating on the Amazon.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Don't Miss Gil: He may be just one man in the heart of the Amazon, but tour guide and wildlife expert Gil Serique has an international reputation and is often booked solid for tours. If you want to see the area with him, reserve well in advance.
Santarém Confusion: Some cruise ships are still offering Alter do Chão as an excursion from Santarém — without explaining clearly that Alter do Chão is also its own stop. Check with your excursion desk to make sure you’re not accidentally duplicating.
Lena Katz is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Brides.