I had an early (6am) flight out of Santarém to Fortaleza via Belém, so went there for the day. It isn't the most exciting town in the day though it gets more interesting at night when lots of people descend on the river bank. There's one pizza place on stilts over the river where you can watch the joggers go past, most of who seemed to be walking. For a cheaper option, there were carts selling beer and even mobile pizza ovens and they'd just put cushions on the promenade for you to sit on.
I was slightly worried about getting a cab that early, so got up at 3am. I couldn't sleep anyway, knowing I had to be up soon. The cab took ages to arrive, so I didn't get to the airport (15 mins away) until gone 4am, but checkin wasn't until 4.30 anyway.
The flight were uneventful and with TAM again. They must be one of the few airlines left that still hand out sweets before the flight.
Fortaleza is on the coast but it's a big city. I decided to stay in the centre at Backpackers Ceará which only cost R$20 a night for a dorm room. Unfortunately, there's lots of dodgy places in Fortaleza and they seem to be right next to the safe ones. There are a bunch of bars in an area called Dragão Do Mar, which are quite nice though not cheap. The central market has a few restaurants many self service where you load up your plate, then they weigh it and charge it by the kilo.
I took a day trip to a small beach town called Canoa Quebrada. It was R$40 and took us about 2 hours each way in a mini bus. They then dropped you in a highly expensive beach bar but there were other choices and it's a nice, little place, though very touristy. I wouldn't have minded staying there a couple of nights. It's probably a better bet than Fortaleza. There were lots of bars and restaurants, so I think it would be quite lively. It was windy, with windmills everywhere on the dunes, and there were several people out kite surfing as well as parascending on offer.
Christmas is the only accommodation I booked in advance for the whole of Brazil. I'm going to Jericoacoara, a smallish place on the beach north of here.