Bahia is much more than Salvador. You have Itaparica and several
other smaller islands, the Recôncavo Baiano, Cachoeira and São Félix, dozens of
beaches, churches, and museums. All immersed in Brazilian history.
Many Bahians love Itaparica, the largest island in Baía de Todos os Santos. They
prefer to swim in the calm waters of the bay than in the rough and tumble of the ocean.
It’s quite a pretty island, but not really a must-see destination. Weekends here are
crowded (especially in summer), transportation can be slow without a car, and the beaches
aren’t as pretty as the more accessible beaches north of the city.
The island is built up with many weekend homes, but has few budget hotels. Many of the
beaches are dirty and the best part of the island is owned by Club Med. Yet there still
are a few clean beaches where you can just lie on the sand beneath windswept palms and
gaze across the bay at the city (try Barra Grande for example).
At the northern tip of the island is the city of Itaparica and the São Lourenço Fort.
Built by the Dutch invaders in the 17th century, the fortress figured prominently in
Bahia’s battle for independence in 1823. The Solar Tenente Botas (Mansion of Lieutenant
Botas), on the square of the same name, the Igreja Matriz do Santíssimo Sacramento, on
Rua Luís Gama, and the Fonte da Bica (mineral water fountain) complete the city sights.
Along the Coast
South along the coast, between Itaparica City and Bom Despacho is Ponte da Areia, a
thin strip of sand with barracas. The water is clear and shallow, and the sandy
floor slopes gently into the bay.
South of Mar Grande (perhaps the most likeable town on the island), the beaches of
Barra do Gil, Barra do Pote and Coroa all have excellent views of Salvador, while on the
other side of Club Med is Barra Grande, Itaparica’s finest open-to-the-public beach. The
beaches further to the south up to and including Cacha Pregos are dirtier and generally
less beautiful, although many Bahians consider Cacha Pregos the best beach on the island.
There are two tourist information booths on the island: a tiny booth next to the rodoviária
at Bom Despacho, and another on Praça de São Bento in Mar Grande, both with
irregular opening hours.
OTHER BAÍA DE TODOS OS SANTOS ISLANDS
The easiest way to cruise the lesser islands and the bay itself is to get one of the
tourist boats that leave from the Terminal Turístico Marítimo (Tel.: 242-9411), close to
the Mercado Modelo in Salvador. There are various tours; most take half a day, stopping at
Ilha dos Frades, Ilha da Maré and Itaparica. The cost is about $18.
Alternatively, hire a cheap, small boat from the small port next to the Mercado Modelo.
Bahiatursa’s bulletin board often has advertisements for boat trips.
Popular islands include Ilha Bom Jesus dos Passos, which has traditional fishing boats
and artisans; Ilha dos Frades (named after two monks who were killed and cannibalized
there by local Indians), which has attractive waterfalls and palm trees; and Ilha da
Ilha da Maré has the Igreja de Nossa Senhora das Neves, the quiet beaches of Itamoabo
and Bacia das Neves, and one pousada, which costs around $15 for a double quarto.
There are no restaurants on the island, but you can arrange through the pousada to
have meals prepared by villagers.
The recôncavo is the region of fertile lands spread around the Baía de Todos
os Santos. Some of the earliest Brazilian encounters between Portuguese, Indian and
African peoples occurred here, and the lands proved to be among Brazil’s best for growing
sugar and tobacco.
Along with the excellent growing conditions, the region prospered due to its relative
proximity to Portuguese sugar markets, the favorable winds for sailing to Europe and the
excellent harbors afforded by the Baía de Todos os Santos. By 1570 there were already 18
sugar mills engenhos, and by 1584 there were 40. The sugar-plantation system was
firmly entrenched by the end of the 16th century and continued to grow from the sweat of
African slaves for another 250 years.
Tobacco came a bit later to the recôncavo. Traded to African slave-hunters and
kings, it was the key commodity in the triangle of the slave trade. Tobacco was a more
sensitive crop to grow than sugar and the estates were much smaller. But big fortunes were
made growing sugar, not tobacco. On the other hand, fewer slaves were neededabout
four per tobacco farmso many poorer Portuguese settlers went into tobacco and a less
rigid social hierarchy developed. Many even did some of the work!
A second subsidiary industry in the recôncavo area was cattle ranching, which
provided food for the plantation hands, and transport for the wood that fuelled the sugar engenhos
and for delivery of the processed cane to market. Cattle breeding started in the recôncavo
and spread inland, radiating west into the sertão and Minas Gerais, then northwest
If you have time for only one side trip from Salvador, visit Cachoeira and perhaps
squeeze in Santo Amaro. A suggested itinerary is to take the weekday afternoon boat to
Maragojipe and then the bus along the banks of the Rio Paraguaçu to Cachoeira. You can
then visit Santo Amaro on the way back to Salvador. If you’re in Cachoeira on Friday or
Saturday nights, you may be able to attend a terreiro de Candomblé. From
Cachoeira, there are frequent buses back to Salvador.
Cachoeira, 121 km from Salvador and 40 km from Santo Amaro, is below a series of hills
beside the Rio Paraguaçu. The river is spanned by Ponte Dom Pedro II, built by the
British in 1885 as a link with its twin town, São Félix. Affectionately known as the
jewel of the recôncavo, Cachoeira has a population of 32,000 and is at the center
of Brazil’s best tobacco-growing region. Apart from tobacco, the main crops in the area
are cashews and oranges.
The town is full of beautiful colonial architecture, uncompromised by the presence of
modern buildings. As a result, it was pronounced a national monument in 1971 and the state
of Bahia started paying for the restoration and preservation of historic buildings.
However, these funds appear to have dried up and the municipal authorities in Cachoeira
are continuing the work on their own dwindling budget.
Cachoeira is also a renowned center of Candomblé and the home of many traditional
artists and artisans. If you get an early start, Cachoeira can be visited in a day from
Salvador, but it’s less hectic if you plan to stay overnight.
Cachoeira and São Félix are best seen on foot. There’s nothing you really have to
see, so it’s best to just take it easy and explore.
Diego Álvares, the father of Cachoeira’s founders, was the sole survivor of a ship
bound for the West Indies that was wrecked in 1510 on a reef near Salvador. The Portuguese
Robinson Crusoe was saved by the Tupinambá Indians of Rio Vermelho, who dubbed the
strange white sea creature Caramuru or `FishMan’. Diego Álvares lived 20 years with the
Indians and married Catarina do Paraguaçu, the daughter of the most powerful Tupinambá
chief. Their sons João Gaspar Aderno Álvares and Rodrigues Martins Álvares killed off
the local Indians, set up the first sugar-cane fazendas and founded Cachoeira.
By the 18th century, tobacco from Cachoeira was considered the world’s finest, sought
by rulers in China and Africa, and was more profitable than sugar. Tobacco also became
popular in Brazil. The holy herb, as it was called, was taken as snuff, smoked in a pipe
Early in the 19th century, Cachoeira achieved fame as a center for military operations
in Bahia to oust the Portuguese rulers. On 25 June 1822, the town became the first to
recognize Dom Pedro I as the independent ruler of Brazil.
The municipal tourist office, in a renovated building on Rua 13 de Maio, should be able
to help with accommodation and general details about the town’s sights. Another good place
to get information is the Instituto Histórico e Geográfico Brasileiro (IBGE) office on
Praça da Aclamação. Some of the sights, especially churches, have experienced problems
with theft and you may have to phone to arrange a visit.
Igreja da Ordem Terceira do Carmo
The Church of the Third Order of Carmelites, just south of Praça da Aclamação and
alongside the Pousada do Convento, features a gallery of suffering polychrome Christs
imported from the Portuguese colonies in Macao, and paneled ceilings. Christ’s blood is
made from bovine blood mixed with Chinese herbs and sparkling rubies. The church is now
being promoted by the adjacent pousada as a convention center. It’s certainly a
novel idea to seat delegates where there were once pews. Opening hours are Tuesday to
Saturday from 2 to 5 pm and Sunday from 9 to 11.30 am.
Casa da Câmara e Cadeia
Nearby on the same square is the yellow-with-white-trim Casa da Câmara e Cadeia, the
old prefecture and prison. Organized criminals ran the show upstairs and disorganized
criminals were kept behind bars downstairs. The building dates back to 1698 and served as
the seat of the Bahian government in 1822. The old marble pillory in the square was
destroyed after abolition.
Museu do SPHAN
Across the square, a colonial mansion houses the humble SPHAN museum, with squeaky bats
flapping over colonial furnishings. The museum is open daily, except Monday, from 9 am to
noon and 2 to 5 pm.
Museu Hansen Bahia
The Hansen Bahia museum was set up in the home and birthplace of Brazilian heroine Ana
Neri, who organized the nursing corps during the Paraguay War. Now the work of German
(naturalized Brazilian) artist Hansen Bahia is displayed here. Among his powerful
lithographs of human suffering is a series of illustrations of Castro Alves’ poem
"Navio Negreiro" (Slave Ship). The museum is open daily, except Tuesday
and Sunday afternoons, from 8 am to noon and 2 to 5 pm. Prints are also on sale here.
Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário do Porto do Cachoeira
The blue church with yellow trim, up from the Hansen Bahia museum, at the corner of Rua
Ana Neri and Rua Lions Club, is the Nossa Senhora do Rosário do Porto do Cachoeira. The
church has beautiful Portuguese tiles, and a ceiling painted by Teófilo de Jesus. Opening
hours are erratic (although it’s usually open in the mornings)so it’s best to phone
724-1294 and arrange a time with the custodian, who may also take you round the Museu das
Alfaias, on the 1st floor. This museum contains remnants from the abandoned 17th-century
Convento de São Francisco do Paraguaçu.
Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Ajuda
On Largo da Ajuda is Cachoeira’s oldest church, the tiny Nossa Senhora da Ajuda, built
in 1595 when Cachoeira was known as Arraial d’Ajuda. Phone 724-1396 to arrange a visit to
the church and the Museu da Boa Mortean interesting museum with displays of photos
and ceremonial apparel of the exclusively female Boa Morte (good death) cult.
Santa Casa de Misericórdia
This is the municipality’s oldest hospital. The complex contains a pretty chapel
(founded in 1734) with a painted ceiling, gardens and an ossuary. It’s open on weekdays
from 2 to 5 pm.
The IBGE director has many dreams and plans to resurrect past splendors. Clearly
delighted by our interest, he whisked us off on a tour of the town, which proved a bizarre
experience. Everywhere he indicated renovated colonial edifices as being `quase feito’
or `almost finished’. We followed the enthusiastic sweep of his arm and saw the opposite:
gutted, roofless buildings with teetering facades and impromptu natural adornments from
cacti or papaya trees perched on the remaining walls.
That is the appeal of Cachoeira, a town of surreal faded grandeur, with friendly
inhabitants who maintain enthusiasm and hope in the midst of economic decline.
Cachoeira has dozens of churches of different denominations and competition for the
soul is keen. Many of the churches are just simple halls on the second floor of buildings.
While searching for a particular candomblé terreiro, we stumbled onto a
street where several Friday night services were being held. After asking directions for
the terreiro, we were greeted warmly and ushered upstairs into what we soon
discovered was a Christian service. After managing to extract ourselves, we asked
directions from another group of people, who tried to whisk us into their church. When we
declined the offer and began to walk away, we were followed up the street by several
people warning us not to mix with the `bad people’ at the terreiro!
Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição do Monte
At the far end of town, near the bridge and the train station, is the Igreja de Nossa
Senhora da Conceição do Monte. The climb to this 18th-century church is rewarded by a
good view of Cachoeira and São Félix.
Praça Manoel Vitorino
Across from the ruined grand facade of the train station, the wide, empty and
cobblestoned Praça Manoel Torino feels like an Italian movie set. Try your Italian on the
ice-cream seller or the pigeons, then move on to São Félix.
When crossing the old Ponte Dom Pedro II, a narrow and dilapidated bridge where trains
and cars must wait their turn, be careful where you step: loose planks have claimed the
life of at least one person in recent years. When vehicles pass over the bridge it emits a
wild cacophony of soundsa bit like one of those urban/industrial/primitive
Apart from the view towards Cachoeira, São Félix has two other attractions: the Casa
da Cultura Américo Simas, on Rua Celestino João Severino da Luz Neto (open Tuesday
to Sunday from 8 am to 5 pm), and the Centro Cultural Dannemann, along the
riverfront, at Avenida Salvador Pinto 29 (open Tuesday to Sunday from 8 am to 5 pm).
The Centro Cultural Dannemann has displays of old machinery and the techniques used for
making charutos (cigars). The rich tobacco smells, the beautiful wooden working
tables and the sight of workers handrolling monster cigars will take you back in time. The
art space in the front of the building has exhibitions of sculpture, painting and
photography. The handmade cigars sold here make good souvenirs or presents. Admission is
Try to see Candomblé in Cachoeira. This is one of the strongest and perhaps purest
spiritual and religious centers for Candomblé. Long and mysterious Candomblé ceremonies
are held in small homes and shacks up in the hills, usually on Friday and Saturday nights
at 8 pm.
Visitors are not common here and the tourist office is sometimes reluctant to give out
this sort of information, but if you show an interest in Candomblé, and respect for its
traditions, you may inspire confidence.
If you have a car or like long walks, you can visit the Pimentel Cigar Factory, 10
km out of town. Suerdieck is another cigar factory closer to the town.
There are also two old sugar mills near town: Engenho da Cabonha, eight km along
the road to Santo Amaro, and Engenho da Guaíba, 12 km along the same road.
Festa de Nossa Senhora da Boa Morte falls on the Friday closest to 15 August and lasts
three days. This is one of the most fascinating Candomblé festivals and it’s worth a
special trip to see it. Organized by the Irmandade da Boa Morte (Sisterhood of the Good
Death)a secret, black, religious societythe festival is celebrated by the
descendants of slaves, who praise their liberation with dance and prayer and a mix of
themes from Candomblé and Catholicism.
The Festa de São João, celebrated from 22 to 24 June, is the big popular festival of
Bahia’s interior. It’s a great celebration of folklore, with music, dancing, and plenty of
food and drink. Don’t miss it if you’re in Bahia.
Other festivals include: Nossa Senhora do Rosário (second half of October), which
includes games, music and food; Nossa Senhora da Ajuda (first half of November), which
features ritual cleansing of the church and a street festival; and Santa Bárbara or
Iansã (4 December), a Candomblé ceremony held in São Félix at Fonte de Santa Bárbara
(Fountain of Santa Bárbara).
Cruise the riverfront for beer drinking and forró dancing at the riverside
bars. On Wednesday and Saturday, there’s an open market on Praça Maciela good place
to pick up handicrafts and observe local life.
Things to Buy
Cachoeira has a wealth of wood sculptors, some of whom do very fine work, and you will
see plenty of studios as you walk through town. This is some of the best traditional art
still available in Brazil. Two of the best sculptors are Doidão (Big Crazy) and Loucou
(Got Crazy), who carve beautiful, heavy pieces.
Cachoeira is just the right size to cover on foot. If you want to cross the river to
São Félix by canoe, rather than crossing the bridge on foot, they are available for hire
at the waterfront.
IGREJA E CONVENTO
DE SANTO ANTÔNIO
Construction of this magnificent Franciscan church and convent was started in 1658 and
completed in 1686. The convent functioned as a hospital and training center for novices
until 1855, when an imperial decree forbidding the admission of novices put a stop to its
activities, and the buildings were gradually abandoned. In 1915, the contents of the
convent and its walled grounds were sold. Despite some efforts at restoration, all that
remains is the crumbling ruins, a powerful atmosphere and a sense of remote, faded glory,
in this superb position beside the Rio Paraguaçu.
There are two pensões in São Franciscoask for either Ednaide or José.
José Gringa, who lives next to the telephone office, has the key to the convent, which is
kept locked to prevent theft.
A bus departs daily at noon from the market in Cachoeira for the 44-km trip to the tiny
village of São Francisco do Paraguaçu. The same bus returns to Cachoeira at 5.30 am the
The Museu do Recôncavo (Vanderlei do Pinho) can be visited at the Engenho de Freguesia
(sugar mill and plantation). In the restored colonial mansion and senzala (slave
quarters), there are displays which graphically depict life on the plantations during the
past centuries. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9 am to 3 pm. Candeias is about
45 km from Salvador, and the museum is a further seven km outside the townaccess is
easiest if you have your own transport or take a taxi from Candeias.
Santo Amaro is an old, run-down sugar town that sees very few tourists and has an
unpretentious charm. If you’re passing through on your way from Cachoeira, think about
stopping for a few hours, especially if it’s a market Saturday, when the town comes to
In colonial days, Santo Amaro made its fortune from sugar. Today, the major industry is
paper production; the paper mill is on the road to Cachoeira. The mill has spoiled the Rio
Subaé and bamboo has replaced sugar cane on the hillsides.
Reminders of Santo Amaro’s sugar legacy are the decrepit pastel mansions of the sugar
barons, and the many churches. The plantation owners lived on Rua General Câmara, the old
commercial street, and there is an effort being made to restore some of these buildings.
Many of the churches have been closed since a gang of thieves stole most of the holy
images and exported them to France. The largest church, Santo Amaro da Purificação, is
The Festa de Santo Amaro (24 January to 2 February) is celebrated by the ritual lavagem
(washing) of the church steps. Santo Amaro is the birthplace of two of Brazil’s most
popular singers: Caetano Veloso and his sister Maria Bethânia. During Carnaval, they’ve
been known to put in an appearance between trios elétricos (wired-for-sound
Step out to the square across from the church for an evening’s promenade. Despite
active flirting, the sexes circle separately.
Circled by Baía de Todos os Santos and rich green fields patched with crops,
Maragojipe is a pleasantly decaying tobacco-exporting port, 32 km from Nazaré and 24 km
from Cachoeira. The port is surrounded by mangrove swamps, and locals push off from the
pier in saveiros (homemade fishing boats) and dugout canoes.
For information, speak to Ronald at the Fundação Suerdieck Casa da Cultura, on Praça
da Matriz. He will be delighted to tell you about local sights.
Things to See
The Suerdieck & Company Cigar Factory (established in 1920) is open for
tours Monday to Friday from 8 am to 5 pm, and on Saturday morning.
On weekend nights head down to the dockside bars for local music. Swimming off the
cement pier is popular.
Strolling through town, look out for the wrought-iron grill and sculpted facade of the
pale-blue building on Rua Dom Macedo Costa.
Nazaré is an 18th-century city with some colonial buildings and churches, and a good
market known for its caxixis (small ceramic figures).
The big festivals here are the folkloric Nossa Senhora de Nazaré (24 January to 2
February), and Feira dos Caxixis (Holy Week), which features a large market on Holy
Thursday and Good Friday, followed by the holiday of Micareta.
North of Salvador
The coastal road north from Salvador is called the Rodovia do Coco (Coconut Highway).
The excellent, paved road runs a few km from the ocean, as far as the entrance to Praia do
Forte, 80 km north of Salvador. From Praia do Forte, the new Linha Verde (Green Line) road
spans 142 km to Itanhi, on the border with Sergipe. The Linha Verde, constructed in 1993
and hailed as Brazil’s first `ecologically planned’ road, runs between three and 12 km
from the coast. The `ecological planning’ runs to a restriction on the construction of
petrol stations and roadside restaurants and to the fact that the road doesn’t hug the
coast, as was originally planned.
Arembepe was one of Brazil’s first hip beaches in the 1960s. Mick Jagger and Janis
Joplin got the joint rolling and many local and foreign hippies followed. It is no longer
a particularly attractive or popular retreat. Exclusive private homes and pollution from
the giant Tibras chemical plant have tainted the rocky coast.
If you want to head to the sea for a day from Salvador, there are prettier beaches than
Arembepe, and if you’re getting out of Salvador, there are less spoiled fishing villages
along the Bahian littoral.
NORTH TO PRAIA DO FORTE
A few km south of Praia do Forte, Guarajuba is a lovely beach accompanied by some tract
housing which is clearly the beginning of major development.
Barra do Jacuípe
A more remote spot, Barra do Jacuípe sits at the mouth of a river only one km from the
ocean. The beach is quite beautiful and, apart from a campground, there are no tourist
PRAIA DO FORTE
Praia do Forte, three km from the meeting point of the Rodovia do Coco and the Linha
Verde, has fine beaches, a beautiful castle fortress, a sea-turtle reserve and,
unfortunately, mostly expensive hotels. Until recently a fishing village, Praia do Forte
is being developed as an ecologically-minded, up-market beach resort. The development has
so far been held in check, but the beaches get very crowded on weekends and in summer.
Praia do Forte is the seat of one of the original 12 captaincies established by the
Portuguese. The huge estate extended inland all the way to the present-day state of
Piauí. Desperate to colonize as a means to contain his new territory, the King of
Portugal set about granting lands to merchants, soldier and aristocrats. For no apparent
reason Garcia d’Ávila, a poor, 12-cow farmer, was endowed with this huge tract of land.
Garcia chose a prime piece of real estatesan aquamarine ocean-view plot studded
with palm trees on Morro Tatuapaçuand built his home, Castelo do Garcia d’Ávila,
there. Today, the castle is in ruins and completely overgrown, but it still made a fine
tropical setting for director Márcio Meyrelle’s production of Macbeth.
The Banco do Brasil changes US dollars cash, but only Visa travelers’ cheques.
TAMAR Turtle Reserve
The TAMAR (Tartaruga Marinha) turtle reserve is on the beach right next to the
lighthouse and the overpriced Pousada Praia Forte. TAMAR is a jointly funded IBAMA and
navy project started in 1982 to protect several species of marine turtles that are, or
were, threatened. What you see is actually quite modest: several small feeding pools with
anywhere from two to several dozen turtles, depending on the season. The TAMAR project
gathers 50,000 turtle eggs a year along the coast, from which around 35,000 hatchlings are
released. The eggsmoist, leathery, ping-pong-size ballsare buried in a
fenced-off area in the sand to incubate. When the turtles hatch, they’re immediately
released to tackle the Atlantic.
There is a souvenir shop at the station, with nice turtle T-shirts (no ninjas here,
although there’s a teenage mutant turtle in one pool that was brought to the station after
its growth had been stunted from being held in a pool too small for its size). Night tours
to see the newly-hatched turtles being released into the ocean can be arranged through
Odara Turismo (Tel.: 876-1080).
TAMAR also has stations at Comboios, Espírito Santo (north of Vitória, near
Lineares), to protect the leatherback and loggerhead turtles, and on Fernando de Noronha
to preserve the green turtle.
Nowadays, commerce in endangered turtle species is illegal, but shells are still sold
in Salvador’s Mercado Modelo, and in Sergipe, turtle eggs are still popular hors
d’oeuvres. Of the 60 km of beach under the jurisdiction of the TAMAR project in Bahia, 13
km of coastline are patrolled by the scientists alone; the remainder is protected by a
cooperative effort in which fisherfolkthe very same who used to collect the eggs for
foodare contracted to collect eggs for the scientists.
NORTH OF PRAIA DO FORTE
With the opening of the Linha Verde, access to the small towns and fishing communities
along the Bahian north littoral is easier, at least as far as the Conde area. All through
this region there are fenced-off tracts of land and small real-estate offices selling
North of Conde, there are only direct buses along the Linha Verde to Aracaju, with some
making a stop in Estância (for access to Mangue Seco). You should be able to get off the
bus at other points along the road, but local transport is scarce and you’ll need to hitch
or walk for access to beaches.
Imbassai is a quiet, pretty village 65 km from Salvador, a few km off the Linha Verde
along a dirt road. The local authorities seem committed to riding the fine line between
development and preserving the environmentthe banning of buggies along the beach is
a big plus. The surf can often be choppy and rough, but the small Rio Barroso runs
parallel to the beach and is good for swimming.
Porto Suipé, Subaúma & Baixio
The beach towns of Porto Suipé, Subaúma and Baixio are five km, nine km and eight km
respectively off the Linha Verde, with paved-road access to all of them. Porto Suipé is
marked as the site for several large tourist projects, including a `watery wonderland’
theme park. The town itself is not very appealing, but there are some nice beaches to the
south with calm water for swimming. Subaúma is already quite developed, with lots of
weekend beach homes, and land being bought up to construct more. There’s a decent beach
with strong surf, and a couple of hotels. Baixio is a pretty, clean town, but the beach is
rocky and not great for swimming. There’s one pousada in the town.
On the Rio Itapicuru, Conde is about three km off the Linha Verde and six km from the
sea. It’s the little big town of the area, and the jumping-off point for several beaches,
the closest being Sítio. On Saturday, Conde hosts a large market where fisherfolk and
artisans come to peddle their goods. In October, a series of rodeos take place, when
cowboys from the inland regions hit town to strut their stuff.
From Conde it’s a six-km drive to Sítio (also known as Sítio do Conde), which has a
decent beach, although it’s often windy with choppy surf. From Sítio you can walk north
or south along the coast to some beautiful, isolated beaches. Seribinha is a quiet fishing
community about 14 km north of Sítio along a dirt road which passes through picturesque
coconut-palm forest. The village is set on a thin strip of land between the Rio Itapicuru
and the coast, close to where the river meets the ocean. Jangadas will take you
across the river; from here it’s about a half-hour walk to Carvalho Russo, a red-water
lake. There’s one pousada in Seribinha.
Barra de Itariri
Barra is a 14-km drive along a dirt road south from Sítio. The road is never more than
a few hundred meters from the sea, which is hidden behind a running dune spotted with
coconut palms. Barra has become more popular since the construction of the Linha Verde,
but it is still a charming spot, set along the banks of the Rio Itariri. The river can be
waded or swum across, and the southern bank leads to an endless stretch of deserted beach.
To the north are more deserted beaches; this stretch is known as `Corre Nu’ (run naked).
Barra has a couple of restaurants along the beachfront, and one pousada, with
more in construction.
Mangue Seco is a remote and tiny town on the northern border of Bahia, at the tip of a
peninsula formed by the Rio Real. The town was the setting for the Jorge Amado novel Tieta
do Agreste, and a recent TV drama based on the novel, filmed in the village, captured
the imagination of millions of Brazilians. Access to the town is still limited, but it is
receiving more tourists since the opening of the Linha Verde. The lovely setting by the
river is topped off by fine, white-sand ocean beaches 1.5 km away.
Saco, actually across the border in the state of Sergipe, gets weekender visitors from
Estância, but is quiet during the week. It’s a fine beach with good swimming. There is no
accommodation, but bars and restaurants open on weekends.
This is another weekend spot, but with a pousada. The beach, however, is not as
good as the others in the area.
SOUTH OF SALVADOR
For most travelers, Valença is simply a stepping stone to the beaches of Morro de São
Paulo, but it’s also a small, friendly city worth a visit en route.
After routing the local Tupiniquim Indians, the Portuguese settled here along the Rio
Una in the 1560s, but were in turn expelled by the Aimorés tribes. In 1799 the Portuguese
resumed to resettle and found Vila de Nova Valença do Santíssimo Coração de Jesus.
Today everything centers around the busy port and large market beside the Rio Una,
where there are boats, historic buildings, and food and lodging facilities. The town is
populated by a varied and interesting assortment of shipbuilders, vaqueiros (cowboys),
textile manufacturing workers, artisans, fisherfolk end peasants.
To obtain maps and information, visit the tourist office (Tel.: 741-3311, ext. 1350),
at Rua Comandante Madureira, close to the port. It’s open from 8 am to 5 pm, Monday to
Friday, and from 8 am to noon on Saturday. If you want to change money, there is a Banco
do Brasil branch on Rua Governador Gonçalves.
Things to See & Do
In the center of town, wander around the port, the central plaza and the market. At the
far end of the port, the timbered ribbing of boat hulls resembles dinosaur skeletons. The saveiros
(wooden sailboats) are used by the local fisherfolk, who pull out of port early in the
morning and return by mid-afternoon with the catch of the day. The smell of sap and
sawdust, old fish and sea salt mingles with the wonderful smell of nutmeg. Picked from
nearby groves, the nutmeg are set on a cloth and left to dry in the sun.
For a good trek, follow the left bank of the Rio Una upstream towards the Igreja
Nossa Senhora do Amparo, on the hill. At the base of the hill there’s a trail straight
up to the church which commands a beautiful view.
The large, white, fortress-like building houses a textile factory. Personal tours of
the factory show the entire hot, noisy, smelly transformation of raw cotton into finished
fabrics. This factory is typical of the old Brazilian economy, still prevalent in the
Northeast. It’s a good tour for those interested in economic development.
The factory is open to tourists on Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm, although you may be able
to arrange a tour on other days. Authorization is provided at the colonial building which
stands to the left of the factory front.
In addition to the traditional festivals of Bahia, Valença also celebrates Sagrado
Coração de Jesus. A mass is held for the patron of the city, in June, and a festival in
honor of the patron saint of workers, Nossa Senhora do Amparo, on 8 November.
Boi Estrela is a folklore festival where men and women dressed as cowhands accompany
Catarina the Baiana while they play tambourines and chant. Zabiapunga, another folklore
festival, features musical groups playing weird instruments and running through the city
streets on New Year’s Eve.
There’s a good Carnaval, with trios elétricos and the Carnaval-like Micareta
festival held 15 days after the end of Lent. Other festivals include Festa de Reis (6
São João (23 June), Nossa Senhora do Rosário (24 September to 3 October), São
Benedito, on Cairu Island (26 December to 6 January) and Iemanjá (February 2).
The best mainland beach in the vicinity is 16 km north of town, at Guaibim, which is
rapidly developing into a popular resort. There are local buses, and the beach gets packed
The islands of Boipeba and Cairu have colonial buildings and churchestheir
beaches aren’t quite as good as Morro de São Paulo, but Boipeba in particular has started
to attract travelers looking to escape the crowds of Morro. There are irregular boats to
Boipeba from Valença depending on passengersask around at the port.
VALENÇA TO ILHÉUS
Morro de São Paulo
Morro de São Paulo is an isolated fishing village that has recently been `discovered’
by Brazilian and international tourists. Morro is on everyone’s lips and has even made it
on to the best-beach lists of several Brazilian magazines. The beaches are wonderful and
the village is loaded with pousadas, restaurants and bars. Outside summer, it’s
still quite a relaxing place.
At the northern tip of Ilha de Tinharé, Morro de São Paulo has sandy streets where
only beach bums, mules and horses treadthere are no roads and no cars. The clear
waters around the island are ideal for scuba diving and for lobster, squid and fish. The
settlement is comprised of three hills Morro da Mangaba, Morro do Galeão and Morro do
Farol. Climb up from the harbor through the 17th-century fortress gate and up to the
lighthouse (1835). From the top you can survey the island and its beaches. The west side
of the islandthe river or Gamboa sideis mostly bordered by mangroves, while
the east side is sandy.
There are four beaches in Morro de São Paulo: the rather dirty village beach, the barraca
and camping beach (also less than clean in summer), the fazenda beach and the
fourth beach. The fourth beach is by far the besta long, lovely stretch of sand
graced by tall, swaying palms which borders the eastern half of the island, and only one barraca
Garapua is a small settlement in the southwestern corner of the island with a couple of
pousadas. The walk there along the beach takes about four hours, and is best done
at low tide.
There’s a small information booth as you come off the pieropening hours are very
erratic. The shop next door sells a map of the island, Morro de São Paulo em
Perspectiva, for $3, which is cute but not very detailed. The character who runs the
bookshop Livraria de São Paulo may be the best source of informationand he has a
great range of books as well.
The Banco do Brasil on Caminho da Praia changes cash and travelers’ cheques.
There are daily sailboat trips to Boipeba, depending on the number of passengers,
leaving at around 8 am and returning by 6 pm. The trip takes around two hours each way and
costs $12 per person. The boat operator sets up on Caminho da Praia most nights to recruit
passengers; otherwise, ask at Forno à Lenha Pizzaria There are a few pousadas on
Boipeba, and it’s a lot quieter and more primitive than Morro.
On the mainland, further down the coast towards Ilhéus, Camamu is a quiet, picturesque
town which sits on a hill above a maze of mangrove-filled islets and narrow channels (no
beaches). The town is the port of call for the many tiny fishing villages in the region,
and has access by boat to stunning beaches along the Peninsula de Maraú. There’s a lively
dock-side morning market with fish, fruit and drying nutmeg.
Saveiro fishing boats are built and repaired right outside the port. The Açaraí
waterfalls are five km away by bus or taxi and are worth a visit.
Peninsula de Maraú
If you want to get off the beaten path, this is the place. The peninsula that goes out
to Ponta do Mutá and the village of Barra Grande has one long, dirt road (often
impassable after rain), infrequent buses and a handful of very small fishing villages (you
won’t find any of them on a map). It’s an unspoilt area with some breathtaking beaches,
but they are hard to get to without a car. In most of the villages, you’ll find beer but
little else, so you might have to work at finding food and lodging.
Barra Grande is a tranquil, slow-paced fishing village at the tip of the
peninsulaa great place to stop for a while. The village is bordered by the calm
beaches of Camamu Bay on one side and the surf beaches of the Atlantic Ocean on the other.
It’s the most easily accessible village on the peninsula, and has a handful of pousadas
and a couple of restaurants.
Itacaré is a quiet colonial town at the mouth of the Rio de Contas. If movie moguls
could find the town, they’d probably snap it up as a set to film A Hundred Years of
Solitude. Distance and bad roads have so far shielded Itacaré from rapid growth of
tourism, but don’t expect this to last too longthere are already around 20 pousadas
in the village and plans for a new coastal road. Ribeira, Concha, Tiririca and Resende
beaches are recommended for a swim, and sometimes have good surf. There is no road along
the coast, so you must return the way you came, unless you hike or hitch a ride on a
The one blemish on this tropical hideaway comes courtesy of Petrobrás (the government
oil company), which deposits little coin-sized spots of oil on many parts of the beach.
To get to the beaches north of Itacaré, cross the river by long dugout canoe. This
contradictory scenemangrove trees lining the riverbanks and Petrobrás choppers
thrashing overheadlooks like the opening of Apocalypse Now, just before the
jungle goes up in napalm flames.
In Itacaré you can rent a canoe to visit O Pontal, a beautiful promontory just south
of the bay. It’s best to leave your camera behind, as the canoes are unstable.
Itacaré to Ilhéus
It’s a four-hour trip by bus from Itacaré to Ilhéus. The journey is slow but
stunning, one of the best in Brazil. The bus passes the occasional cacao plantation,
stopping every few km to pick up another couple of locals whose features are an intriguing
blend of black, Indian and white.
For the first two hours, the bus travels at a snail’s pace from Itacaré to Uruçuca
along a bad dirt road. Uruçuca is a tiny secluded village surrounded by lush valleys of
cacao trees, and worth exploring if you have the time.
From here the road heads down through groves of cacao, coconut and enormous bamboo, to
reach the coast shortly before Ilhéus.
Excerpts from Brazil – A Travel Survival Kit, 3rd edition, by
Andrew Draffen, Chris McAsey, Leonardo Pinheiro, and Robyn Jones. For more
information call Lonely Planet: (800) 275-8555. Copyright 1996 Lonely Planet Publications.
Used by permission.
Buy it at
Brazil – A Travel Survival Kit
by Andrew Draffen, Chris McAsey,
Leonardo Pinheiro, Robyn Jones,