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.
Alter do Chao
Who would have thought that Brazil’s nicest beach is not located on the coast, but rather in Alter do Chao, along the river Tapajos, the Amazon’s largest tributary? To get there we took a plane from Salvador to Santarem. Alter do Chao is some 30 km from the airport so it took us just over half an hour to get there by taxi. 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.
Where to stay
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. The best hotels in town were 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).
Amazon River tours
Though we don’t usually take organized excursions, this time we simply couldn’t wonder about the Amazon on our own. One day we took a boat trip around both the Tapajos and the Amazon Rivers. 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!
Around 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 to Lago Verde and visited a community of people who moved from all over Brazil to be one with nature.
Amazon Rainforest tours
There was no need for organized tours around the Amazon Rainforest. 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!!
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. Large Brazilian cities can be a bit of a hassle, due to security issues. But Santarem is relatively small (population 300000) and just like Alter do Chao it felt cozy and friendly. 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.