As I mentioned earlier, Carnaval in Alter do Chão draws a more youthful crowd (more young adults and 20-somethings) than Carnaval in Santarém. It’s a 45 minute bus ride from downtown Santarém to the bus station in Alter do Chão - some people commute for work, and it was actually suggested that I live there these nine months, but I’m happy living closer to work and downtown Santarém in my house.
Alter do Chão attracts international visitors and tourists, since it’ s touted as the “Carribean of the Amazon.” The New York Times published an article through one of their blogs, “The Frugal Traveler," during Carnaval when I was there, about Alter do Chão as a unique tourist location. There are two seasons in the northern Amazonian region of Brazil - the wet season and the dry season. When the water is low during the entire dry season and the beginning and end of the rainy season, there are beautiful white sand beaches, surrounded by the clear blue waters of the Tapajós River. Ilha do Amor is the most popular and visited beach in Alter do Chão - sometimes it’s possible to wade over to the island, but when the water is high, canoes go back and forth between the mainland for R$1 a person. We’re in the rainy season now - the beach is still around, but by May, it’ll be under water.
For Carnaval, Santarém ran extra bus lines between the city and Alter do Chão. People arrived throughout the day, and it quickly became very crowded in the streets and along the beaches. Alter do Chão has a population of only about 7,000 but it increases significantly during festivals and parties like Carnaval in Feb/March, and Sairé (or Çairé), a traditional folkloric festival held every year in September. Everyone hung out on the beach and along the orla fluvial, the walkway along the river, during the day. There was music, dancing, walking, talking, and a tradition I hadn’t seen in Carnaval in other places - throwing Maizena, a brand of cornstarch, on passerby. It was impossible to walk anywhere without getting covered in cornstarch, and silly foam (espuma). At night the party migrated to another location closer to the bus station, where several trio-electricos played simultaneously to a gregarious crowd.