The first settlement in Santarém was a Jesuit mission built in 1661. The next arrivals consisted of a group of Confederate refugees. They came to Santarém after the American Civil War in the hope of creating a new slaving state. Few of them stayed very long, but they left their mark in certain family and trade names. In the 1920s, during the rubber boom, Henry Ford spent $80 million to establish an enormous rubber plantation for the production of automobile tires. The project ended in disaster when many of his workers died from malaria and Ford realized that there were too many obstacles to overcome.
Over the years, Santarém developed into one of the region's most important trading centers. Today, it is the third largest city on the Amazon after Manaus and Belém. One of Santarém's major attractions is the "Meeting of the Waters," where the crystalline blue waters of the Rio Tapajos flow side by side with the muddy-brown Amazon without merging (similar to the Negro and Solimões rivers near Manaus).
Points of interest include the Town Hall Museum with displays of pottery made by the Tupai Indians, the Municipal Market and the Casa da Farinha, an old manioc flour factory, where demonstrations can be seen on how to extract latex from rubber trees. Around Santarem there are lakes and lush forests that are home to numerous species of birds.
Your arrival into port already offers a good introduction to local color. Numerous river boats are tied up along the pier, some of them unloading goods and produce, others providing transportation for the local population to river communities for over 200 miles around, as well as long-distance services to Manaus and Belém.
The ship is scheduled to dock at the port of Santarém. The center of town can be reached by taxi in five minutes, or via a 15-20 minute walk. Taxis are generally available at the pier, but be sure to agree on the fare before leaving.
Local handicrafts such as pottery, woodcarvings and straw articles are your best choice. With a cruise ship in port, vendors often display their wares at the pier. Other shopping opportunities are found at the local market and small shops in the town center. The local currency is the real. Most merchants will accept U.S. dollars in small denominations.
Seafood is your best bet, with river fish considered a delicacy. However, most eateries are fairly basic. More upscale restaurants are scarce and expensive.
While not a tourist hot spot, Santarém's location between Belém and Manaus provides a natural stopover on any Amazon trip. Apart from observing the activities in the port, you can explore the narrow streets of the old town and watch the "Meeting of the Waters" from a viewpoint at the town's outskirts.
Private arrangements are not available in this port.