Alter do Chão is home to Ilha do Amor, the most beautiful freshwater beach in the Amazon which sits on the bank of the Tapajós river. Don’t worry, there are no piranhas here, just clear water and white sandy beaches. This is an amazing place to chill out and experience the Amazon’s chilled out beach vibe. It is accessible from the nearby city of Santarém and is a great way to break up a long 3-5 day Amazon boat trip. Before you go, just make sure to check that it’s not rainy season as the beach might be completely covered by water.
This article is based on my visit to Alter do Chão and Santarém in the month of November with two friends that I met along the way. All of the photography and videography in this article is my own – no stock photos, no posing, no filters!
Ilha do Amor: The Beach in the Amazon
Ilha do Amor, the beach in the Amazon, sits in a lagoon on the bank of the Tapajós river just before it meets the Amazon River and is the main attraction of Alter do Chão. It is one of the most beautiful freshwater beaches in the world and has been called ‘the best beach in Brazil’. After stumbling across it on a trip down the Amazon, I agree that it is absolutely stunning!
The beach is overlooked by the town and can be viewed from the main plaza. Depending on the time of year, you get to the beach by wading through some water (as I did when I visited), swimming or boat. Don’t worry about piranhas, sea creatures or any other wild animals – it’s a small but relatively popular beach spot for locals and tourists visiting the Amazon region and if there were piranhas, no one would be swimming there! Also, because it is so isolated from the rest of the world, and even other parts of Brazil, it’s unlikely to become overcrowded any time soon.
Explore the Lagoon or Climb the Hill
There are a few activities to do here although there aren’t too many options. Some guys on the beach are offering kayaking and paddleboarding equipment for rent if you want to paddle around the beach and explore the surrounding lagoon. For the less athletically minded, you can also pay one of the locals to bring you around the lagoon in a boat.
Also, if you feel like a hike, take a stroll down the beach to Morro da Piroca. It’s the only thing visible on the tree lined horizon so there’s no missing it! At the end of the beach there’s a marked trail to the top where you can get a panoramic view of the area. I’ve read that the hike should take about 45 minutes although when we were there, the hill looked really far and considering the hot sun, we were very happy to just stay put and spend the afternoon chilling out on the beach!
Chill Out in the Water
Chilling out on the beach…but in the water at the same time…this is the main ‘activity’ to enjoy at Ilha do Amor and is what we spent most of our time doing here! Notice that no one is laid out sunbathing on a beach towel…you’ll probably want a table for the umbrella to provide some shade and protect you from the sun. There are beach table and chairs sitting where the sand meets the water.
You’ll probably be thinking…’are the bar guys gonna move these tables and chairs back a bit before they float away?’… but remember, you’re in Brazil where people don’t usually think more than one step ahead, and that’s what makes for such a great laid back beach vibe. From your table, chair or as you float in the warm water of the Amazon, you can order food, snacks, ice-cream, beer or a coconut to drink from. The kebab-style cheese sticks were delicious!
Have Lunch on the Beach
There are several ‘beach huts’ along the beach serving food. I don’t remember the exact price but for the three of us, we got a huge amount of food for a great price. Unless you live in the region, it’s not too often that you have the opportunity to try Amazonian fish so enjoy it while you can!
How to Get to Alter do Chão
Where is Alter do Chão?
Alter do Chão is located in the Amazonian state of Pará, Brazil. It is a small town 37km from the closest city, Santarém. As it is situated in the Amazon region, it is not accessible by road, so the only options are to get there by boat or by air.
Travelling by Boat Between Belém & Manaus
You will most likely be visiting Alter do Chão if you are stopping off at the city of Santarém which is located about half way between the two of the largest cities in the Amazon basin Belém and Manaus. Alter do Chão is 30-45 minutes drive from Santarém. It’s a great way to spend a few days on the beach and break up the long 3-5 day boat journey along the Amazon.
Flying to Santarém International Airport
There is an International Airport in Santarém but because Alter do Chão it is so remote, especially for foreign travellers, it is probably more a place to see if you are passing by rather than going out of your way just to visit it. But don’t get me wrong, it is well worth seeing! For travellers already based in Brazil, flying in to Santarém just to visit Alter do Chão could be a great weekend getaway!
Getting from Santarém to Alter do Chão
It’s really easy to get from Santarém to Alter do Chão. The best way is to take a public bus from Santarém. The hotel reception staff were able to point us in the right direction and the bus stopped just a block from our hotel (Hotel Mato Grosso) on Av. São Sebastião (stop on the south side of the street) & Tv. Silva Jardim. The bus should cost about 3.5 Reais (€0.75 / $0.85) and the journey takes about 30-45 minutes. You can also take a taxi but this will be more expensive.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Alter do Chão
You can stay in either Alter do Chão or Santarem. Both have a variety of accommodation options. We stayed in Santarem but if I was to go back, I would have gone straight to Alter do Chão and stayed there for the whole time. Santarém does have a long riverfront lined with with a good few ‘pier bars’ which are good for a few beers in the evening but other than that there’s not much to do in the city.
Seasons: When to Visit Alter do Chão
The Amazon’s rainy season is from January to June and because of this, water levels can rise up to 9-12 metres! This is why you’ll see a lot of houses built on stilts! With the rise in water levels, the beach of Ilha do Amor may be completely covered by water from January to June. July to September is the best time to visit because the water levels are not too high or too low.
Sunday is the busiest day with day trippers flocking from nearby Santarém and weekend visitors flying in from further afield. Bank holidays and holiday events such as Carnaval are probably very busy and might make it difficult to find accommodation but other than that, normal weekends are not too overcrowded. I visited on a Sunday and while there were a good few people there, it didn’t feel overcrowded.
What to Watch Out for in Alter do Chão
I didn’t have any issues with money because I brought enough cash with me on the day but I have read that there aren’t many ATMs in the town. As it’s a very small and remote town, I wouldn’t depend on ATMs because sometimes they can be out of service in places like this.
I’ve also read that stingrays are common on the beaches in this area and can be found lying in the sand under the water. I didn’t hear anything about this in my short time there nor did I have such an unfortunate experience but it’s best to be careful! I didn’t notice any mosquitoes during my visit.