I hear the word Brazil, and immediately Rio de Janeiro and the Amazon Forest come to mind. Though it was easy to organize our visit to Rio, it wasn’t clear which place provided the best private tours around the Amazon Rainforest (and by private I mean avoiding agencies and massive tourism). The Forest occupies 40% of Brazil. That is over 3.5 million km2 to choose from! We knew we had to stay around the mighty Amazon River, the largest river on earth. At the same time, we needed decent infrastructure. Most people visit Manaus. In fact, the boat from Manaus to Belem is very popular. However, we thought Manaus could be too touristic. And then we discovered magical Alter do Chao, a treasure hidden deep inside Brazil.
How to Choose Destination for Your Amazon Trip?
- 1 How to Choose Destination for Your Amazon Trip?
- 2 The Best Time to Visit the Amazon in Brazil
- 3 The Amazon in Brazil: Animals
- 4 Alter do Chao
- 5 Amazon Tours
- 6 Praia do Pindobal
- 7 Santarem (Brazil)
- 8 Is Our Future Bright?
Choosing the right place for your Amazon trip can be daunting. We spent countless hours researching online before going to Brazil. Likewise, we asked Brazilians as soon as we got there. As you know, insider information tends to be the best one! Of course, everyone mentions Manaus, the biggest city in the Amazon and the epicenter in Brazil of tours around it. Sorry, but too big and convoluted for us! Fortunately, we discovered Alter do Chao and Santarem, considered by Brazilians as the nicest area in the forest. We couldn’t agree more! Alter do Chao is pretty small, authentic, and it boasts Brazil’s nicest beach, two incredible rivers, and endless nature!
The Best Time to Visit the Amazon in Brazil
The best time to visit the Amazon in Brazil depends on the rain. Not that you can’t go during the rainy season. After all, people live in Alter do Chao all year round. That said, the rainy season begins in December and ends in May. The same applies to the number of hours of sunlight a day. While you have less than 150 hours of sun per month during the rainy season, you get over 200 in the dry season. Regarding temperature, it doesn’t vary so much. The maximum average temperature is 30ºC and the minimum 20ºC. Finally, the river overflows during the rainy season covering most of Alter do Chao’s famed beach. During the dry season, it looks like the Caribbean, but there are far more tourists.
The Amazon in Brazil: Animals
As everybody knows, the Amazon is home to most of Brazil’s animals. In fact, 2000 species live in the rainforest. No matter where you look, there is always a lovely creature to admire. Amongst the most celebrated inhabitants of the Amazon we find the jaguar, the sloth, loads of cute birds, snakes, dolphins, and the biggest number of monkeys you will see in Brazil. Start looking for them as soon as you exit the minuscule urban grid of Alter do Chao, especially along the river. We saw several dolphins on our Amazon boat trip. Monkeys we saw plenty in the jungle. Actually, in our posada in Pindobal we had one as a fellow guest!
Alter do Chao
Alter do Chao Beach
Who would have thought that Alter do Chao hosts the nicest beach in Brazil? It is right down in the center, along the Tapajos River, the Amazon’s largest tributary. The town is small and beautiful with a main square, a church, several shops, restaurants and hotels. The gorgeous beach is to the north, across on Ilha do Amor. Since we went in June, the whole area was flooded. As mentioned above, during the rainy season there isn’t much of a beach. Everybody told us that: come in July, the beach is dry and sandy. Not that you won’t get to enjoy the area in the rainy months. The treetops grow out of the water, providing for spectacular sights!
How to Get to Alter do Chao
Alter do Chao is in the State of Para, a place twice the size of France. Thus, going there by road is simply not an option. The closest city to Alter do Chao is Santarem. To get there we took a plane from Salvador. Flights from all over Brazil get to the Santarem Airport. Alter do Chao is some 30 km from the airport so it took us just over half an hour to get there by taxi. Most taxis don’t have taximeter, so be sure to arrange a price before boarding. No worries, Brazilians are quite honest and reliable. Depending on your arrival time, we strongly recommend going directly to Alter do Chao. The trip from the airport there is magical!
Alter do Chao: Hotels
We like to stay in nice places whenever we can. By nice I mean comfortable and with great views. It’s the only thing that matters. When we visited, Alter do Chao only had two nice hotels: the Mirante da Ilha and Pousada do Mingote. We stayed in both! Mirante had views directly over the river and Mingote over the main square. Apparently two new hotels opened since we went: Beloalter Hotel and Hotel Borari. Small guesthouses can be found all around the town and along the smaller beaches adjacent to both the Amazon and the Tapajos Rivers (more about that later).
Where to Eat and Drink
Since Alter do Chao is such a tiny town, most restaurants cater to the locals. Besides, most tourists are Brazilians themselves, so even touristy restaurants are quite authentic and simple. Several restaurants line Rua Lauro Sodre that runs parallel to the coast. We really liked Espaço Alter do Chão, overlooking the river. In addition to a restaurant, they have a cultural center, so be sure to ask what’s going on during your visit. To eat on the beach, go to Restaurante Praiano Dom Germano. They serve fresh fish directly from the river! Delicious vegetarian food you will find in Siriá Bistro on Rua Lovato. Karol Cocktails Café-Bar on Rua Meira has the best coffee in town. Yes, it’s a great place for evening cocktails and drinks.
What to Do in Alter do Chao
All we had to do was to walk about Alter do Chao town and the nearby forests. The atmosphere included locals going about their daily lives and lazy iguanas slowly passing by. Though the beach was flooded, we were able to swim. It wasn’t cold at all! For lunch and dinner we would have local fish at any of the restaurants around the square. Delicious! One day we hired a driver to take us from Alter do Chao to Lago Verde and visited a community of people who moved from all over Brazil to be one with nature.
Amazon River Tour
Though we don’t usually take organized excursions, this time we simply couldn’t wonder about the Amazon on our own. One day we went for an organized Amazon and Tapajos River Boat Tour. First we went to the local market in Santarem City. We saw plenty of cute pink dolphins and storks trying to catch some fish. Then we visited a water village and from there took a small canoe to explore the forest over the water. It was full of animals so we turned the engine off not to disturb them. We saw plenty of monkeys, birds and even a few lazy sloths. Outstanding day!
Amazon Rainforest Tours
There was no need for organized Amazon Rainforest (Jungle) Tours. We arranged for a boat to take us to the best spot and for a local guide to walk us through the forest. When we arrived to the village a small boy was waiting for us. Apparently the Amazon works wonders on the skin. Our friend turned out to be 19 and carried a knife almost as big as him! Anyhow, with him we walked for hours through the dense forest and saw plenty of monkeys and birds happily enjoying their time. There were giant trees and plenty of lianas too. Luckily for us there were no snakes nor other predators and we only saw a couple of tourist. At one point it started raining like crazy, so we had to take shelter under a humongous tree. What an experience!!
Amazon River Cruise
As we mentioned above, traveling by road to Santarem is not an option. However, you can take an Amazon River cruise to get there. Local people take the 36-hour ferry that departs from Manaus Port. You can sleep on a hammock or in a private cabin with a bathroom. Most carriers do the whole Manaus-Santarem-Belem route and back. The trip to Belem takes between 26 hours to 3 days. Check for tickets here. Of course, you can also take a luxury Amazon River cruise. Take note that Manaus’s port is the biggest floating one in the world.
Praia do Pindobal
On both of our excursions we saw several small settlements with beaches along both rivers. We had to stay further up the river Tapajos for sure. Luckily our boat driver knew the whole area and recommended another half flooded beach with a small guesthouse. Imagine our luck: a village of no more than 50 residents, with one restaurant/guesthouse, plenty of white monkeys, colorful birds, cute frogs and us. We spent three days in Praia do Pindobal, just sunbathing, swimming and walking about local roads. Our guesthouse was basic, but pure luxury. All that space, sun, river, nature just for us! Fabulous!
On our last day we wanted to spend some time in Santarem City. Santarem is a relatively small city (population 300000) and just like Alter do Chao it felt cozy and friendly, unlike any large city in Brazil. Other than the Fish market we visited on our first excursion there isn’t much else to see and that’s great. Santarem is all about the atmosphere. There is a nice church Catedral Metropolitana de Santarém and the views of the Amazon River are outstanding. We took our late flight to Brasília and couldn’t believe what we had just witnessed. Such a pity it will all soon be gone!
Is Our Future Bright?
We were flying over the Amazon Forest that stretches halfway to Brasília. Everything was so green, beautiful and relaxing. And suddenly we could see huge patches of dead fields. Our Amazon Forest is being cut? I was in shock! Who would want to do such a thing? An alarm went off in my head: the largest tropical rainforest in the world is in danger! Well, all those roads, trains, planes and cars produced in Europe have to come from somewhere.
After a week in the forest I learned a lesson. I am proud to come from a monkey! Both the Forest and the River left me speechless. And to think that everything is being destroyed in the name of wealth and development!? Do we really need to grow and be rich and lecture the world? I don’t think so! Nobody needs another car, that’s for sure. A clean forest gives me much more pleasure than any industrial nonsense. We need nature, nature doesn’t need us! As clear as that.