Sometimes called Brazilian Guyana, the isolated border state of Amapá was once exploited for its natural resources and suffered from heavy deforestation. However, efforts are now being made towards sustainable development. Located near the French territory of Guyane, with its cheap air links to Paris, it is another good port of entry into northern Brazil. Tourist infrastructure outside the provincial riverside capital of Macapá is negligible. The state is a quarter of the size of France and has a population of just under half a million.
Pará is just across the river from Amapá – a distance that would span Switzerland. In the 1990s, the state capital, Belém, was dangerous and down at heel, but extensive refurbishment in the last decade has transformed it into an attractive colonial city. The state itself is barely aware of the existence of tourists. Although there are many beautiful natural sights, such as the vast river island of Marajó in the Amazon delta and the Amazônia National Park on the River Tapajós, infrastructure is poor, with no jungle lodges at all in the extensive rainforests. While areas north of the Amazon have been afforded at least nominal protection since 2006, in the south of the state rapid deforestation is making space for vast soya plantations.
Santarém, a quiet little town at the junction of the Tapajós and Amazon rivers, is the world’s largest soya-export port. Thankfully ecotourism is gradually catching on here: a few tour companies offer trips to the river beaches at Alter do Chao and the failed rubber plantation towns of Belterra and Fordlândia – set up by Henry Ford in the early 20th century. Monte Alegre, whose caves have revealed evidence of a significant pre-Columbian Amazon culture, are a day’s boat ride away upstream. Travel in Pará takes time (as it does anywhere in the Amazon) and the more isolated parts of the state are often linked only by boat and air. Even when there are roads, rain and forest encroachment makes even asphalted areas impassable. For listings.
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