Despite a history of gold deposits and despite being one of the largest cities located along the Amazon, Santarem and the surrounding area is rich with the flavour of days gone by. If you are seeking a more historical Amazon, slower-paced, and a more pastoral bit of civilization, then Santarem is the place to go.
If you are arriving on one of the smaller cruise boats like the Pacific Princess, you will be treated to Santarem as a port of call. Around the time you reach Santarem, you will also start taking your malaria pills (Malarone), so be prepared for side effects like extreme tiredness; the drugs can get in the way of a day of exploration. But exploration away from the ship is an absolute must!
We opted for one of the shore excursions which had us boarding a charming and rustic river boat, a boat as fanciful as any we had seen in old movies. We were hustled onto our river boat after only a very short walk from where the ship was docked. Passengers took a seat on a covered deck on plastic lawn chairs, or they wandered out to the small bow or to the back of the ship to take in the view.
One of the views included the confluence of Santarem’s two main rivers, flowing side-by-side, each a totally different color: the Tapajos and the mighty Amazon. Soon we left the main waterway, and headed into a deeper, denser area of the river, bounded by thick foliage on either side.
At first it felt somewhat like a Disneyland ride, complete with animals at the water’s edge, and fishermen settled into impossibly tiny canoes, tossing their fishing nets as our boats passed by. Some even pulled up a fish to prove they were really fishing, and not just staging an event for the tourists.
As we moved deeper into the rain forest, the sights became more spontaneous, more authentic, and much more exciting. More Amazon! We saw wild iguana running along the shore, and sunning on branches; we saw a sloth hanging from the top of a tree; black vultures, white herons, and pretty yellow birds were everywhere in abundance. And we saw the real homes of the real Amazonian people like the home and boat showing above. There were no fancy homes along the river. The river boats looked functional, and there were no expensive cars or trucks lounging in paved driveways. Everything was sun-baked and very spartan. And very appealing. At least to the eye of a photographer.
As enjoyable as the ride was, we were treated to another unique activity: piranha fishing. We were each given a small wedge of wood, wound round with nylon line; a hook was attached to each end. We baited the hooks with some other type of fish, hung our lines over the edge, and waited. One woman pulled up a black piranha almost immediately which had the guides quite excited. The fish was cleaned and cooked and served up. It was delicious!
I could have ridden that boat into forever. In spite of the intense heat, it was one of the most pleasant experiences of my life. Sadly, our 4-hour trip had to come to an end and we were returned to our ship.
We desperately wanted to spend the other half of our day exploring Santarem, but the Malarone took over, and we were so groggy from the effects of the malaria drug, that we had to nap. We’ll have to visit the actual town of Santarem another time.
Suffice it to say, that even without a visit to the city, we feel we got more than our money’s worth aboard that charming river boat. We would do that again in a red second.
Wishing you safe and happy travels,