You’re truly in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon in this port, located midway between Belém and Manaus. Although only a fraction of the size of the two cities, Santarém is one of the region's busier export hubs as well as a popular river cruise stop near the confluence of the Amazon and Tapajós rivers. The pristine Tapajós has beautiful blue water and more than 60 miles of sandy beaches. Santarém, founded as a Jesuit colony in the 17th century, is considered one of Brazil’s oldest settlements.
What We Love
Church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição: Any city tour will bring you to this 18th-century church, one of the first buildings erected by Portuguese missionaries. Notable for its collection of art and its Portuguese architecture, it honors Our Lady of Conception, patron saint of Santarém.
Tapajós National Forest: Santarém, known as the "Pearl of the Tapajós,” is the gateway to some of the most precious preserved land in the Brazilian Amazon. Full-day boat excursions to the “floresta” (Portuguese for forest) allow visitors to see indigenous villages, hike through first-growth groves and swim at a beach. Walking tours are much shorter and focus on the woodland itself.
Best Known For
Meeting of the Waters: It's fun to witness the extraordinary confluence of two rivers — the Tapajós and the Amazon — which run side by side before merging. Here, the Amazon is dark, while the Tapajós is a gorgeous green-blue. You can often see this phenomenon from the top deck of your ship; many shore excursions also include a stop at a viewpoint on the riverbank.
“Caribbean”-style Beaches: White-sand beaches and warm aquamarine water have earned this region a Caribbean comparison. The closest beach resort to Santarém is Maracanã, a pretty fishing village about 20 minutes away with great restaurants and bars.
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Who It's Best For
Tropical Types: Get ready to swim, sunbathe, stroll along miles of soft white sand — and sample fantastic freshwater fish, prepared as local specialties: pirarucu in tucupi sauce, tambaqui baked over coals and piracuí bolinhos (fritters).
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Mercado Modelo: This covered market across from the riverfront might offer convenient souvenir shopping, but Brazilians consider it a tourist trap.
Alter do Chão is Not a Given: You definitely want to see the actual town that earned the “Caribbean in Brazil” accolade. Many cruise lines have started making it a separate stop, but you'll need to book an excursion from Santarém if it's not on your itinerary.
Lena Katz is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Brides.