One of the largest and wildest of Brazil ’s states, Pará is a vast region of savannahs, wetlands, and lush rainforest through which the Rio Amazonas makes its journey downstream to the Atlantic. At its mouth, the river spans a vast 330 kilometers (207 miles) in width. In fact, the Indians who lived along its estuary referred to it as pa’ra, meaning “great ocean.”
To this day, Pará has somewhat of a feudal reputation. Rich landowners with immense holdings (both legal and illegal) are constantly in conflict with poor workers, who toil as indentured laborers, as well as members of the movimento sem terra (landless movement) who occupy their lands. Conflicts are often resolved with guns.
Both landowners and migrants have wreaked havoc on Pará’s forests (particularly in the east), burning great swaths for the purposes of farming and raising cattle. Further devastation is the result of mineral excavation, hydroelectric projects (Pará’s Tucurui dam is the world’s largest hydroelectric plant), and soybean cultivation, activities that have brought significant prosperity to the region in recent years.
Perched at the mouth of the Amazon, in eastern Pará, the colonial capital of Belém  is a fascinating city with a rich local culture. Apart from its considerable charms, it makes a good base from which to visit Ilha de Marajó , renowned for its beaches and buffalo ranches. Western Pará—reached by sailing upriver from Belém—is considerably less developed.
The most interesting region is the area surrounding the city of Santarém , a languorous port city along the disarmingly blue Rio Tapajós, whose neighboring village of Alter do Chão  boasts unexpectedly idyllic white-sand river beaches. Here you’ll find large patches of unspoiled jungle as well as a typical caboclo villages where Amazonian river culture remains very much alive.