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Alter do Chao, Portugal, Europe Cruise

    Twenty- five miles from the city of Santarem is the beach community of Alter do Chao. It was named after the flat-topped hill that provides a backdrop for the island. This small island is located on the clear-running Tapajos River, offering quaint cottages along the white-sand beaches lined with leafy palm trees. The municipality of Santarém, which is slightly bigger than Belgium, has just 32km of asphalted road. A good two-thirds of this is accounted for by the road that leads from Santarém to its beach resort of Alter do Chao, and you can’t fault their transport priorities. Alter do Chão is located on a very beautiful bay in the Rio Tapajós overlooked by two easily climbable hills, one the shape of a church altar, giving the place its name.
    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. Weekends see the tranquillity shattered, as Santarenhos head out en masse for the beach – be careful if you’re heading back to Santarém on a weekend afternoon as many drivers on the road will be drunk. If the beach is too crowded, get a canoe to drop you on the other side of the bay at the entrance to the path leading up to the higher conical hill. It’s a half-hour walk through the forest and finally up above it to the top and a breathtaking view of the meeting of the Tapajós and Amazon rivers.

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