Ilha de Algodoal
The finest beaches within reach of Belém are the primitive windswept dunes that ring the idyllic Ilha de Algodoal (www.algodoal.com). Due to its distance from Belém (a five-hour trip), visiting Algodoal involves staying at least one night. Though once you arrive, you likely won’t be in a hurry to leave.
The island’s name is inspired by the abundance of a native plant known as algodão de seda (silk cotton). Its pods release fluffy white down that often wafts around the island like stray snow flakes.
Fishing communities only settled here in the early 20th century, and to this day, the island’s quartet of tiny fishing towns (the largest of which is Algodoal) are terribly bucolic and laid-back. Water is pumped from natural wells, electricity only arrived in 2005, and transportation is by bike, boat, or horse (there are no motorized vehicles—or banks either for that matter, so stock up on cash before coming).
There are, however, abundant idyllic beaches, freshwater lagoons, lily-pad covered marshes, and unspoiled native vegetation. The islanders are hospitable and the only interruption to the tranquility that reigns is the infectious rhythm of carimbó, a local dance set to pounding log-like drums that originated with the African slaves that came to coastal Pará in the 17th century.
Various rustic pousadas and camping grounds have sprung up to meet the demands of young backpackers and savvy eco-tourists (during holiday periods, you should reserve accommodations in advance). Most pousadas are located in and around the village of Algodoal itself, which is close to the island’s most beautiful beaches—Praia do Farol and Praia da Princesa.
The loveliest place to stay on the island is the aptly named Jardim do Eden (tel. 91/9997-0467, www.chez.com/algodoal, R$90 d), which is immersed in the untamed natural landscape of Praia do Farol. Atmospheric lodgings are in bungalows made from old bricks and volcanic rock. All possess small kitchens and sleeping room for up to five people. The restaurant serves delicious breakfasts as well as very good fish and seafood dishes. The owners, a hospitable and multilingual Brazilian-French couple, can organize all sorts of outings: from fishing and canoeing trips to nature walks where you can spot monkeys, tortoises, and wild orchids in bloom.
Getting to Ilha de Algodoal
Ilha de Algodoal is 163 kilometers (101 miles) northeast of Belém. From the rodoviária, Rápido Excelsior (tel. 91/3249-6365) operates five daily buses to the town of Marudá, where you can catch a boat to the island. Boats depart at 8:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 5 p.m. daily (extra boats at 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Fri.–Sun.). Fare is R$5 and the crossing takes 40 minutes. Driving from Belém, take the well-paved BR-316, PA-136, and PA-318 to Marudá, where you can leave your car in a parking lot for R$5 a day.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition