Known as the ‘Caribbean of the Amazon’, Alter do Chão is the perfect destination to relax, in a paradisiacal setting of unequalled beauty
Brazil accounts for 12% of the world’s freshwaters, more than any other country, and boasts crystal blue waters and pristine white sands, such as those found at Alter do Chão. The village dates back 260 years and is replete with cultural attractions and natural beauty. Famous worldwide, Alter do Chão gained international recognition when The Guardian newspaper listed it amongst the ten most beautiful beaches in Brazil, and named it the tourist destination with the most stunning freshwater beaches in the world.
It is located 37km from Santarém in Pará, a city connected by direct flights from the main Brazilian gateways, most with stopovers in Manaus or Brasília. The best way to get to travel to Alter do Chão is via Santarém airport. With a population of only 6,000, it is the perfect place for those looking to experience life through the eyes of the locals, a warm people that welcome tourists with customary Brazilian hospitality. Coupled with this receptive spirit, there is a palpable sense of regional pride amongst the locals when it comes to tourism: they see it as a way to share the region’s natural and cultural legacy through relaxed interaction with their visitors. This is the essence of Alter do Chão: a place that invites the tourist to unwind and gain new perspectives.
With its unique blend of freshwater beaches and awe-inspiring Amazonian flora and fauna, not to mention the village’s mix of historical and cultural attractions, distinguished gastronomy and comfortable lodgings, Alter do Chão is an excellent option for either Brazilians or foreigners looking for tourism with a difference—that is, marked by truly memorable experiences.
The sight on arrival impresses even the most seasoned traveller. The waters of the Tapajós River recede by about 100 metres each year between July and September, a 3-month period often referred as the “Amazonian summer”, to expose perfect sand banks with the profile of any normal beach. The sight is one of abundant sand and small beach huts made of dried grass, all set to the lapping blue waters of the Tapajós River and the lush green of the surrounding forests.
Singled out for its paradisiacal beaches, Ilha do Amor, with its 10 kilometres of white sand and warm waters on all sides is a favourite amongst tourists. Located in front of the village of Alter do Chão, the crossing by canoe is only 5 minutes. At sundown, the Morro da Piraoca is the place to be as it treats visitors to a truly unforgettable sunset, given its height of 110 metres.
The Tapajós National Forest is also a must on the itinerary. The conservation unit is made up of more than 500,000 hectares and stands tall with its famous centenary trees, such as the sumaúma – 62 metres high and 18 metres in diameter. There is simply no shortage of natural and sociocultural riches. Inhabited by 4,000 residents in 21 communities and three indigenous Munduruku villages, the presence of traditional and indigenous people grants visitors the opportunity to interact with local culture in its natural surroundings and genuinely experience life in the forest. There are also 160 kilometres of beach, with Maguari being perhaps the most charming. It is important to note that visits to the Tapajós National Forest require advance authorization, acquired by paying a nominal entrance fee to ICMBio—The Chico Mendes Institute, the body responsible for the management of federal conservation units.
But it is not summertime all year round in Alter do Chão: from January to July, when river levels rise to conceal most of the beaches, there are many other leisure activities to choose from, from canoeing through the igapós forests, now flooded, to hiking the Serra Piraoca trail and contemplating the beautiful landscapes of the submerged village. This is also the best season for bird watching in the area.
Thanks to boundless vegetation, there are several novel gastronomic experiences to be had and local delicacies and fruits to be sampled, such as tucumã. The local crafts developed by the residents of the region, people who gladly invite tourists to partake in these time-honoured techniques, mainly make use of rubber taken from the rubber trees in the Tapajós National Forest as their key natural resource. Sharing their craft is an initiative that serves to champion both sustainability and community involvement. The Sairé Festival is another important religious manifestation of the indigenous culture in the Amazon, with a tradition stretching back at least 300 years. The festival presents the cultural roots of the region to the tourist every September, and brings together about 100,000 people. The celebration is exuberant in detail and showcases religious rituals, including the folkloric contest of “Tucuxi and the Pink Porpoise”.
Spending time in Alter do Chão is to share the real-life experiences of its residents, and to observe the preservation of its natural attractions and its cultural customs, all the while respecting the transience of time, without losing the simplicity and essence of a people’s traditions. It is to relive a 260-year history through its crafts and gastronomy, festivals and music. It is to proudly revel in the natural and cultural patrimony on tap, and to open the doors to a world that manages to preserve peace and harmony in a quiet and friendly village setting, in a place where time seems to simply stand still.
For more information about the entrance fee required to visit the Tapajós National Forest visit www.icmbio.gov.br/flonatapajos/guia-do-visitante.html