Every man is an island - that's what all that water means
Alter do Chao Travel Blog› entry 2 of 2 › view all entries
One of the main attractions in the North of Brazil is the Amazon river and its basin. It takes five days to go by ship from Belém to Manaus, passing by two important cities of the region: Santarém and Parintins. Stopping to visit one of them can be a good idea. I did it in Santarém, and travelled to Alter do Chão, fifty minutes away by bus.
If you choose to travel sleeping in a hammock - the cheapest option - you should learn some tips. The best ships are, from the best to the least comfortable of the top 5: Amazon Star, Santarém, Nélio Corrêa, Golfinho do Mar and Globo do Mar. As what I was told, making the trip in another ship can be a risky adventure.
In some of those, there is the option of travelling in an air conditioned room. They're a bit more expensive. All of them have separated rooms, that cost a little more but guarantee some privacy and better meals.
Once looking for the place to stand the hammock you bought in Ver-o-Peso market, you should follow some directions. a) Try to get in the ship two or three hours before it leaves, to get a nice spot (I didn't). b) A lot of people buy their tickets getting earlier, and bargaigning a lot. c) Don't stand your "rede" (the hammock) near bathrooms. They are not washed all the time, and sometimes there are lines at their doors that can bother the quietness. d) The same goes with the lunch room. e) The ships are really stable, so don't be affraid of feeling sick or dizzy. Just respect the lines drawn on the floor, where your luggage will stay. It means they won't get wet or bother other people's way. f) Depending on the boat, it is a good idea to stay away from engines, because they can get hot and smoky. The weather around will be even warmer. g) Right under light bulbs, the problem is bugs. One night they are there, the other they are not. It's a mistery with no solution. h) Always keep your bags with a locker. I had no problem, I even lost my keys and somebody found them. The environment is pretty friendly, but you never know.
Some other suggestions I can give you: buy some fruits to eat in between dishes, something to cover the eyes at night (lights are always on) and binoculars for sightseeing.
The trip itself is a unique experience in one's life. The river is gigantic, the sky is clear and shiny and you meet all kind of people with different stories to tell. At the riverside, the vegetation keeps changing: tall trees, grass, swamps, you know, all sorts of green.
It takes two days and a half to get from Belém to Santarém. The ships makes short stops in Monte Alegre and Prainha, two small villages. Santarém itself is not very attractive. the port is pretty big and the city works around the military bases for indian and jungle issues. If you take a moto-taxi at the port (R$ 2,00) and asks for Mercadão 2000, you can take a bus for less than R$ 5 and visit Alter do Chão for two or three days.
Alter is a small town with a lot indian art work. Don't miss a store called Arabá, that looks more like a museum, so full of different stuff from tribes of the Tapajós (a river that meets the Amazon). There are also these gorgeous clear watered river beaches, so quiet and so beautiful.
It stays on the left side of Tapajós, in Cabeceira do Macaco. The best period to visit the village is from July to October, when the water level is low and there are more beaches to visit. In the middle of September, there is the Sairé festival, with typical dances. There is no nightlife, just some bands playing carimbó until ten or eleven, depending on how full of people the streets are.
During the day, most people pay R$ 2,00 to cross the water and enjoying this island-like beach. The water is calm and warm, so good swimmers are welcome to leave the canoes aside and go on their own. It doesn't take more than five minutes. Once at the other side, you can walk for almost an hour to get to the top of a hill in Serra da Piroca. The view is pretty neat.
Another option is to take a canoe for forty five minutes (R$ 15) into the Green Lake, then walking for a little more than an hour to Ponta da Pedra, inside the forest, in between quatis and monkeys. Very very nice. The beach is not great, but the walk is really worth it. And you can have a nice fish for lunch, preparing for going back for almost two hours. At the end of the day, you will be exhausted, but pretty content. I guarantee.
Some people enjoy going to Ponta do Cururu, to try to see botos (a kind of amazon daulphin). Locals have told they are always there, but I didn't have time to check it.
On the way to Manaus, two more days by ship, the main difference on the landscape is that there are more cattle farms on the riverside. When you stop in Parintins, it is worth taking a twenty minute walk around town just to say you've been to where the Boi-bumbá festival is held every June.