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South America Destination Guide

Alter do Chao

Alter Do Chao

The village of Alter do Chao, 33km west of Santarem, stands beside the Rio Tapajos at the entrance to a picturesque lagoon, Lago Verde. With its white sand beaches, relaxed atmosphere and beautiful location, it's a great place to relax. The beaches are usually submerged in June and July, however.

The excellent Centro de Preservacao das Artes Indigenas, at Rua Dom Macedo Costa 500, possesses arguably Brazil's best collection of indigenous art. Most of the year the bay is fringed by white sand beaches, which combine with the deep blue of the Tapajós to give it a Mediterranean look. In the dry season a sandbank in the middle of the bay is accessible either by wading or by canoe, and simple stalls provide the fried fish and chilled beer essential to the full enjoyment of the scene.

One essential sight is the Centre for the Preservation of Indian Art (daily 9am–noon & 1–5pm; $3.50), a spectacular collection of Indian artefacts from all over the Amazon basin put together by an American and his Indian wife who settled in Alter do Chão. The centre is not difficult to find: it’s by some way the largest building in the village, and its painted adobe walls might look more at home in New Mexico, were it not for the Indian masks nodding in the breeze outside. The collection is good and there is the bonus of a gift shop stuffed with far better Indian goods than those in any FUNAI shop, as well as a good range of books. Although prices are in dollars, and can therefore seem expensive, the reason is an honourable one: this shop is unusual in that a fair price is paid to the makers of the goods on sale. Large crowds descend on Alter do Chao, in the second week of September for the Festa do Caire, a big folkloric festival.

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Alter Do Chao

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