Santarem is a major port on the Amazon River and most people who are doing the 5 day trip between Manaus and Belem will spend at least a few hours here but it’s worth stopping off for a few days. It’s easier to get here than you may think despite the few choices you have.
You can easily get to Manaus with miles. From there, depending on when you travel, you may be able to get all the way to Santarem with miles. TAM is the variable. Until mid 2014, it will be a member of Star Alliance, then it will be joining OneWorld along with it’s new partner as LATAM.
WHERE TO STAY
We arrived in Santarem by boat from Itaituba which is the opposite direction you will be traveling in if you fly in from the USA. The boat arrived around 9pm-ish and I had a list of hotels that had been recommended by Lonely Planet and Rough Guides. We grabbed a taxi at the dock and asked to go to one of them. The driver obliged but it looked deserted. The next one I asked for was also deserted. Not looking good! We drove around the corner and stopped at the Sandis Hotel which had not been in any of my guidebooks. I asked the driver to wait while I ran in and checked the price. It was cheap enough and looked brand new so Sandis it was! Room was clean, the breakfast was included and pretty good and I loved the bird artwork on the walls in the lobby! The location is great, walking distance to al the most interesting places in town, several restaurants are nearby.
Trip Advisor has a few other hotels listed, make sure the reviews are recent or you may find the hotel has closed down! Those staying longer may prefer to take a bus to Alter do Chao. Everyone seems to love this Amazon-style beach resort town and if our itinerary hadn’t been so jam-packed with birding excursions, we probably would have spent a couple days here for R&R. Gil Serique lives in Alter do Chao so it’s a good idea to contact him if you plan to visit.
WHERE TO EAT
Brazil has these really cool restaurants where you load up your plate and pay by the kilogram. Piracaia came highly recommended and we weren’t disappointed with our lunch here.
WHAT TO DO AND SEE
The sights of Santarem can be easily seen in one day which is great if you are just making a connection to or from Amazonia National Park or other ports along the Amazon. It’s a pleasant town to walk around and most of what you want to see is either along the corniche or within a couple of blocks.
No prizes for guessing why I love the phone booths here!
There are a few souvenir shops along the corniche, a pedestrian shopping street and a local market where you can buy hammocks. I really wanted one of those large vases with a macaw n it but didn’t think I could get it home in one piece!
The Museu Dica Frazao has some stunning costumes inside. Entry is by donation and some items are for sale but that pretty fan I wanted was unfortunately not one of them. There are some very sad forlorn looking pet parrots in the garden, how I wish I could have set them free in the national park!
The airport is about an hour by local bus. We had a flight in the wee hours to Belem and ended up hanging around the airport all night because we caught the last bus out there and had nothing better to do anyways. If you’re stuck, there is a space under the staircase that goes up to the cafe. We camped out for a few hours using our backpacks as pillows and sarongs for sheets.