Idyllic Beaches Of Alter do Chão

A ribbon of white sand reaches out into the bend of a slow-moving river. A small jungle-covered hill rises above giving it a lush background. Set in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, this idyllic river beach in Alter do Chão is very different from the rest of the Amazon and was exactly what we needed.

After taking a ferry for 30 hours down the Amazon from Manaus to Santarém (read our story here), we were ready for fresh air and beautiful landscapes. The Guardian newspaper listed it as having the best beaches in Brazil so our expectations were high. Alter do Chão did not disappoint.

Located 36 km from the port city of Santarém we found the laid-back beach town of Alter do Chão. Seeing its tree covered, quiet streets and beach style restaurants we knew already that this town was the perfect place for rest and relaxation.

Ilha do Amor (love Island)

We stared in awe at the long peninsula of fine, white sand that reached toward us as if beckoning us to visit. With grass roofed beach bars in the centre and a full jungle behind, this scene is almost too perfect to be real. This idyllic beach is called Praia da Ilha do Amor (Love Island Beach).

Getting to Ilha do Amor makes it even more special. Even though it’s not really an island, the only way to reach the peninsula is by crossing the river. There is a line of rowboats on the riverbank waiting to take you across for R$10 ($2USD). You can swim, but if you’re carrying belongings, it’s easier to take a rowboat. Temperatures were hovering 40°C so we did feel bad for the rowers, who did this day in and day out.

Its nickname is ‘The Caribbean of the Amazon’ and we could see why. Once we were on the island it felt like we had arrived in paradise. The sand is so fine it squeaks under your feet as you walk. The calm water barely makes waves as you to stroll along the shore.

Being so close to the equator, the sun is very intense so finding shade is a priority. On the beach there are plenty of choices. Several businesses rent umbrellas, straw-roofed beach bars have tables and chairs and further down the beach there a few trees providing natural shade.

Because of its remote location Alter do Chão is relatively unknown to most Brazilians. However, the beach town is very popular for nearby residents of the city of Santarém. On weekends the quiet beach town becomes considerable more busy and row boats are constantly going back and forth transporting beach goers. As well there are many more umbrellas covering most of the pristine beach. More beach kiosks open on the weekend and rent kayaks and jet skis, making the water a little more busy.

Even though it was very busy everyone seemed to stay together at one end of the beach. We were easily able to find a quiet spot at the far end of the beach. Thankfully though most of our days in Alter do Chão were mid-week when its much quieter .

We were a bit leery of swimming in the river since we had seen caiman further up the Amazon, but we plunged in anyway and enjoyed soaking in the warm, calm water. We were told that there are no caimans in the part of the river.

While we didn’t see caiman, we did see quite a few birds including a lot of oriole blackbirds, fork-tailed flycatchers and canaries.

Ilha do Amor is also a lovely spot to watch as the sun sets behind the Amazon rainforest.

Morro Piraoca (Hill)

For those who don’t like to laze on the beach, a small hiking trail takes you from the beach to the top of Piracoca Hill. Along the trail we passed a few cashew trees that were bearing new fruit. We had seen ripe fruit on trees in the Amazon rainforest, but here we saw that the new growth is much different. We found it interesting to see that the seed grows first and then the fruit comes in later.

We also saw several cashew trees in town. They are so plentiful in this area that in many places ripe fruit had fallen from the trees and were left to rot on the road. If we knew how to process the nut, we would have scooped them all up. We had already been warned that the raw nut, or rather seed, has a caustic resin surrounding it. (Read the story here)

From the top of Piracoca Hill, the panoramic views of the Amazon delta are unmatched. In front of us was the cute beach town nestled along the side of the river. Behind us we could see where the Tapajós River runs into the larger Arapiuns River; both tributaries of Amazon. All along the shore were pockets of sand forming isolated, pristine beaches. Between it all is the lush greenery of the Amazon rainforest.

Piracoca Hill is only 100 m high, but the heat made it feel like we had climbed much higher. Alter do Chão is less than 50 km south of the equator. A sign on the top of the hill lets you know how far away it is from parts around the world.

At the end of the day, there’s nothing better than enjoying a cold beer on the beach. We chuckled when we first saw how Brazilians serve beer. Across the country when we asked for two beers they brought one big bottle of cold beer in a cooler and two small glasses. We thought this very peculiar since we were used to large pint glasses. We quickly learned to love this method because it ensured we had a cold beer right to the end.

Lago Verde (Green Lake)

Nor far from the main beach Rio Tapajós forms a small inlet called Lago Verde (Green Lake). You can reach it by boat, kayak or during certain seasons you can walk to it from Ilha do Amor’s beach. Even though it’s so close, not many people bother to go. The only other people that we saw were two fishermen on the water in their rustic boat.

The lack of people made it a very tranquil place to walk along the sandy shore. Picturesque ridges in the sand made the spot even more special. At the end of the lake we came to a flooded forest. The water wasn’t very deep when we were there so we could only enjoy it from the side. At the end of rainy season though, the water is much higher and you can kayak between the trees.

Other Beaches

There is no shortage of amazing freshwater beaches in this area. In front of Alter do Chão, Praia do Cajueiro (Cajueiro Beach) would be considered a stunning spot if it weren’t for Ilha do Amor across the river.

You can travel in either direction on Rio Tapajós to find plenty of other pristine beaches. Most can only be reached by boat although there are a few that can be reached by car. Several tour operators in town offer daily trips to the various beaches. We couldn’t see any reason to leave the ‘best beach in Brazil’ so were happy to stay put for a change.

Getting to Alter do Chão

Local buses travel every 30 minutes between Praça Tiradentes in Santarém and Terminal de Ônibus in Alter do Chão. These are city buses so there are no luggage compartments and you have to bring your bags on the bus with you. This wasn’t a problem for us, but we don’t know what would happen when the bus is busy. Note, the Portuguese word for bus is ônibus. Taxis will also take you between the two. The cost is reasonable at R$120 ($23 USD).

The city of Santarém has a domestic airport but a common way to arrive is by ferry or fast boat from Manaus or Belém.

When to Visit Alter do Chão

Amazon summer (August to December) is the best time to visit. At this time the sky is usually sunny and there is little chance of rain. During Amazon summer temperatures are in the mid 30s, but humidity is in the mid 80s to 90%. Between January and July it is rainy season and water levels are very high making the rivers overflow. Most of the beaches, including Ilha do Amor, disappear as they’re covered under the engorged river.

Where to Stay and Eat in Alter do Chão

Since it is a hotspot for residents of Santarém, there is no shortage of hotels, hostels, apartments and guesthouses for every budget. If you have a car you could stay at one of the more secluded hotels located outside of town.

There are also many restaurants in town. Most are near the popular Praça Central just off the riverfront. Outdoor patios with live music make this a busy spot even during the weekday.

Coming Next – Belem, The City of Mangos

For pictures from other blogs go to Gallery at monkeystale.ca

To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.

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