Situated on a major tributary of the Amazon river between Belem and Manaus, Alter do Chão’s isolation is a large part of its appeal and the primary reason it receives relatively few visitors. A lack of roads in the region means the only way to get there is by riverboat or by air.
Boat: All ships stop at the nearby port of Santarém. There isn’t much to do here and the city doesn’t have the best reputation so most travelers make a beeline for the bus station and jump on the next bus to Alter do Chão. These run all day and cost just a few Reias.
From Manaus, riverboats leave every few days and cost 125 BRL (US$40) for a bed in a cabin, 75 BRL (US$23) for a hammock on deck, and 85 BRL (US$26) for an indoor hammock with air conditioning. The journey to Santarém takes about a day and a half.
Coming from Belem, expect to pay 200 BRL (US$63) for a bed in a cabin, 120 BRL (US$37) for an outdoor hammock, and 150 BRL (US$47) for an indoor hammock with air conditioning. A trip between Belem and Santarém takes around three days.
Before heading off on an epic riverboat journey, read our article on how to prepare and what to expect. Amazon Star Tourismo hosts an online departure schedule, though things are obviously subject to change in this part of the world.
Flight: GOL, TAM and AZUL all offer various daily flights between Santarém and Belem or Manaus. Prices tend to be fairly reasonable, but try to book as far in advance as possible to keep costs down.
See and Do
The jewel in Alter do Chão’s crown is the stunning Ilha do Amor, a natural white sandy peninsula that stretches towards the town. As the most picturesque beach in the region, a number of basic restaurants have set up shop to sell fish, beer, and coconut water to beach-goers. Get here by either swimming from town or paying a local to take you in a canoe (5 BRL/US$1.50). Note that the beach gets smaller and smaller before becoming entirely submerged under the river during the wet season (January to June). The dry season (July to December) also sees very few mosquitoes, so it’s clearly the best time to go.
It’s possible to charter a fishing boat to take you around to other islands in the area while you search for wildlife such as playful river dolphins. A half-day trip costs around 150 BRL (US$47) for up to four people.
Budget: Just a few meters from the shore, Iguanas Camping provides budget travelers with space to pitch a tent or a hammock for just BRL 20 (US$6) per night. Onsite facilities include reasonably clean shared bathrooms and a kitchen. A little further down the jungle track is Albergue da Floresta which has camping and cabins to rent.
lbergue da Floresta, Alter do Chão – State of Pará, Brazil +55 93 99211-6566
Midrange: Clean, respectable and right on the lake bed, some of the rooms in Belas Praias Pousada even overlook the picture perfect Ilha do Amor.
Right on the main plaza, Arco Iris Da Amazônia serves up delectable Brazilian style meat, fish, and shrimp dishes with a variety of tasty sides. Check out their onsite eco-handicrafts store for the perfect souvenir.
Vegetarians rejoice, for Alter do Chão has a top class meat-free restaurant. Siriá is only open for lunch and cooks up just one dish per day, putting an end to the age old conundrum of having to decide what to eat. Whatever, the daily special may be, it’s bound to taste delicious.
The most scenic place for lunch is at one of the many thatched roofed restaurants that line Ilha do Amor. Each set up plastic tables and chairs in the river so diners can enjoy a unique aquatic experience as they feast on the day’s freshly caught fish.
For a pleasant albeit somewhat upmarket place for a drink, check out the stylish Kixiki Lounge Bar. Located on a secluded beach to the west of town, funky wooden furniture and creative cocktails attract a well-heeled clientele.
Kixiki Lounge Bar, Santarém – PA, 68109-000, Brazil +55 93 99102-0222
For the most scenic spot for a sunset tipple, the restaurants on Ilha do Amor have an endless supply of ice-cold beer.