Santarem, Brazil

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Perched alongside the Rio Tapajós deep inside the Amazon between Manaus and Belém (but 800 kilometers, or almost 500 miles, from both!), Santarém is a muggy but intriguing jungle town and a jumping-off point for a bevy of surrounding attractions. Established as a Jesuit mission in 1661, Santarém suffered from the same rubber boom-and-bust cycle as Pará's capital, Belém. The town later had a moment in the spotlight as the nearest major significant port to Henry Ford's American utopian jungle experiment, Fordlândia, which tried and failed between 1928 and 1945 (its ruins are located 12 hours downriver by boat).

Today, Santarém does a brisk business in tourism thanks to the crystalline waters of the Tapajós River, which account for over 105 kilometers (65 miles) of postcard-perfect river beaches in its environs. Alter do Chão, a Brazilian dream destination of idyllic sands, has been called the Caribbean of Brazil; and Floresta Nacional (FLONA) do Tapajós, a pristinely preserved 2,100-square-kilometer (811-square-mile) piece of Amazon beauty, boasts massive Samauma trees and a few burgeoning eco-tourism enterprises. Both Alter do Chão and FLONA can be experienced as day trips from Santarém. The city itself boasts a pleasant riverfront promenade, a few worthwhile museums (keep an eye out for evidence of the city's little-known past as a refuge for sympathizers to the Confederate cause who emigrated here after the Civil War; their descendants, Confederados, still live here today) and several great restaurants. 

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