In Ilhéus, state of Bahia, the hills are covered with cacao trees.
If you take a drive you will still see cacao fazendas and rural workers like those
described on Jorge Amado’s books. And Porto Seguro, once a settlement of pioneers, has
become a refuge for Brazilian and international tourists. South of Porto Seguro, on Praia
Pitinga, women are allowed to go topless. Nude sunbathing is also OK for both men and
Ilhéus, the town that Jorge Amado (Brazil’s best-known novelist) lived in and
described with his novel Gabriela, Cravo e Canela (Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon),
retains some of the charm and lunacy that Amado fans know well. There’s a half-hearted
attempt to portray the city as an up-and-coming tourist Mecca, but nobody believes it will
happen, and Ilhéus remains largely unaffected by tourism. The colonial center is small
and distinctive, with its strange layout and odd buildings; the people are affable; the
city beaches are broad and beautiful; and a short walk beyond these, there are even better
The best thing to do in Ilhéus is just wander. The center is lively, with several old,
gargoyled buildings such as the Prefeitura. If you walk up the hill to the Convento Nossa
Senhora da Piedade, there’s a good view of the city and littoral. Wherever you end up, it
won’t be more than a stone’s throw from the beach. The Praia da Avenida, close to the city
center, is always active, but has reportedly been polluted by the port.
Ilhéus was a sleepy town until cacao was introduced into the region from Belém, in
1881. At the time, Brazil’s many uncompetitive sugar estates, which had not followed the
lead of other countries and introduced new production techniques to increase sugar output,
were reeling from a drop in world sugar prices. Simultaneously, the slave system was
finally coming to an end, with many slaves escaping and others being freed. With the sugar
plantations in the doldrums, impoverished agricultural workers from the
Northeastblack and whiteflocked to the hills surrounding Ilhéus to farm the
new boom crop: cacao, the ouro branco (white gold) of Brazil.
Sudden, lawless and violent, the scramble for the white cacao fruit displayed all the
characteristics of a gold rush. When the dust settled, the land and power belonged to a
few ruthless coronéis (rural landowners) and their hired guns. The landless were
left to work, and usually live, on the fazendas where they were subjected to a
harsh and paternalistic labor system. This history is graphically told by Amado, who grew
up on a cacao plantation, in his book Terras do Sem Fim (published in English as The
Cacao still rules in Ilhéus. The lush tropical hills are covered with the skinny cacao
trees with large, pod-shaped fruit dangling. If you take a drive you will still see cacao fazendas
and rural workers like those Amado wrote about. You can also visit the small Museu
Regional do Cacao, the port and, with a bit of effort and luck, a fazenda.
The city is sandwiched between hills, beach and a small harbor at the mouth of the Rio
Cachoeira. The airport and the road to the Olivença beaches are in the southern part of
town, beyond the circular harbor.
Tourist information and basic maps are provided by Ilhéustur (Tel.: 231-2861), on Praça
Castro Alves. There is also an information booth at the rodoviária (Tel.:
231-4412), which has maps and can book hotels.
Banco do Brasil is at Rua Marques de Paranaguá 112.
Casa de Jorge Amado
The house at Rua Jorge Amado 21, where the great writer lived with his parents while
working on his first novel, O País do Carnaval, is in the process of being
restored and turned into a museum. Not many writers can boast this sort of recognition
while still alive!
The Igreja de São Jorge (1534), on Praça Rui Barbosa, is the city’s oldest church and
houses a small sacred-art museum. It’s open Tuesday to Sunday from 8 to 11 am and 2 to
5.30 pm. The Catedral de São Sebastião (Basílica) is on Praça Dom Eduardo.
Museu Regional do Cacau
The recently restored and upgraded Museu Regional do Cacau displays cacao artifacts and
modern painting by local artists. It’s at Rua A L Lemos 126, and is open Tuesday to Friday
from 2 to 6 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 3 to 6 pm. During the holiday season, from
December to March, it’s also open from 9 am to noon.
As any knowledgeable Jorge Amado fan would guess, Ilhéus has highly spirited festivals.
The best are: the Gincana da Pesca in early January; Festa de São Sebastião (much samba
and capoeira) from 11 to 20 January; Festa de São Jorge (featuring Candomblé) on
23 April; Festa das Águas (Candomblé) in December; and, of course, Carnaval with its
full complement of trios elétricos.
Centro de Pesquisa do Cacau (CEPLAC)
You don’t have to be a chocoholic to enjoy CEPLAC’s model cacao plantation and research
station at Itabuna. CEPLAC (Tel.: 214-3014), the government cacao agency, gives tours of
the facility, demonstrating the cultivation and processing of the fruit. Opening hours are
Monday to Friday from 8.30 to 11.30 am and 2.30 to 3.30 pm.
Buses for Itabuna leave around every half-hour from the city bus station in Ilhéus and
also stop outside the rodoviária. Ask the bus driver to let you off at CEPLAC,
eight km before Itabuna.
There are good, clean beaches, many with barracas, all the way to Olivença, a spa
town 16 km south of Ilhéus. You can also continue south of Olivença to yet more remote
beaches. The beaches in Olivença are busy on weekends and there’s some good surfing.
Reserva Biológica Mico Leão de Una
This small (50 sq km) biological reserve was established in 1980 to protect the mico
leão (lion monkey) in its natural habitat of coastal forest and attempt to save the
species from extinctionless than 100 remain in this reserve. It’s not a park and it
does not cater to visitors. Dr Saturnino Neto Souza, the director of the reserve, has been
facing tourist pressure and consequent hostility from farmers and bureaucrats who are
opposed to his conservation aims. At present, visits are discouraged.
If you are keen to visit, we suggest you make contact in advance with Dr Saturnino,
either by phoning him at home in Una (Tel.: 236-2166) from 7 to 8 am or after 5.30 pm or
by writing to him at the following address: Rebio de Una, U5690, Una, Bahia.
The monkeys (Leontopithecus rosalia chrysomelas) have the look and proud gaze of
miniature lions: a blazing yellow, orange and brown striped coat, a Tina Turner mane and a
long, scruffy tail. The mico feces are hard to spot in the wild, but behind the
biologist’s quarters there is one monkey in captivity and one monkey-boarder who comes in
from the forest every evening for milk, cheese, bananas and some shut-eye.
If you’re lucky you’ll also see tatu (armadillo), paca (agouti), capybara
and veado (deer), which are also native to the area.
Canavieiras is a small colonial town at the mouth of the Rio Pardo, in a cacao-producing
region 118 km south of Ilhéus. There is some colonial architecture in the town, including
the Igreja Matriz de São Boaventura (1718), and long stretches of semideserted beaches.
Porto Seguro, once a settlement of pioneers, is now a refuge for swarms of Brazilian and
international tourists who come to party and take in some mesmerizing beaches: tourism is
the number-one industry in Porto Seguro. At last count this small city had nearly 120
hotels and pousadasthe place has exploded over the last five years. Other
regional industries are lumber, fishing, beans, sugar cane, manioc and livestock.
After sighting land off Monte Pascoal in April 1500, Cabral and his men sailed three days
up the coast to find a safe port. The Portuguese landed not at Porto Seguro (literally
Safe Port), but 16 km further north, at Coroa Vermelha. The sailors celebrated their first
mass in the New Land, stocked up on wood and fresh water, and set sail after only 10 days
on shore. Three years later the Gonçalvo Coelho expedition arrived and planted a marker
in what is now Porto Seguro’s Cidade Alta (Upper Town). Jesuits on the same expedition
built a church in Outeiro da Glória, to minister to the early colonists and convert the
Tupiniquim Indians. The church is now in ruins. In 1526, a naval outpost was built in
Cidade Alta, and once again, the men from the Companhia de Jesus built a chapel and
convent, the Igreja da Misericórdia.
In 1534, when the colonies were divided into hereditary captaincies, Porto Seguro was
given to Pero de Campos Tourinhos. In the following year Tourinhos founded a village at
the falls of the Rio Buranhém, Porto Seguro, and seven other villages, each with a
church. Despite the churches, Tourinhos was denounced to the Holy Inquisition as an
atheistapparently the captain didn’t keep the holidays and, worse, he forced the
colonists to work on Sunday, a blasphemy against God (and an abuse of cheap labor).
Tourinhos was imprisoned, and shipped off to Portugal and the Inquisition. His son
Fernando then inherited the captaincy.
Information recently unearthed at the Federal University of Bahia has revised some
ideas about the history of the Indians during the colonial period. The Tupiniquim, not the
Pataxó, were the indigenous tribe when the Portuguese landed. They were rapidly conquered
and enslaved by the colonists, but the Aimoré, Pataxó, Cataxó and other inland tribes
resisted Portuguese colonization and constantly threatened Porto Seguro. Military outposts
along the coast, in Belmonte, Vila Viçosa, Prado and Alcobaça, were built to defend the
Portuguese from European attacks by sea and Indian attacks by land.
The Indians still managed to take Porto Seguro on two occasions, and according to
documents sent by colonial judges to the Portuguese crown, attacks reduced Porto Seguro to
rubble in 1612 (thus undermining Porto Seguro’s claims of having 16th-century buildings).
It is now believed that the Jesuit College in Cidade Alta was rebuilt after 1620. In
1759, the captaincy of Porto Seguro passed on to the crown and was incorporated into the
province of Bahia.
If not the first, then among the first settlements in Brazil, Cidade Alta is marked with a
stone (now fenced off and encased in glass) placed in 1503 by Gonçalvo Coelho. Walk north
along Avenida 22 de Abril about one km. Once you’ve arrived at the roundabout, don’t
follow the sign that points left to the historic city, unless you’re driving, but take the
newly-built stairs up the hill. The attractions of this part of the city include superb
views of the beaches and the opportunity to see very old buildings such as Igreja Nossa
Senhora da Misericórdia (perhaps the oldest church in Brazil), the small Museu Antigo
Paço Municipal (1772), Igreja Nossa Senhora da Pena (1535, rebuilt 1773), Igreja Nossa
Senhora do Rosário dos Jesuítas (1549) and the old fort (1503).
Reserva Biológica do Pau Brasil
This 10-sq-km reserve, 15 km from town, was set aside principally to preserve the pau
brasil (brazil wood tree), which was almost completely wiped out along the littoral
during the early years of colonization.
Porto Seguro’s Carnaval is acquiring a reputation throughout Brazil as a hell of a party,
although it is not at all traditional. Locals fondly remember the Carnaval in 1984 when
the theme was the Adam and Eve story. Costumes were pretty skimpy to start with, then
everyone stripped off as if on cue. The police were called in the following year.
Many of Brazil’s favorite musicians have beach homes nearby, and often perform during
Carnival. On the Sunday before Carnaval a beauty pageant is held at the Praia Hotel.
Municipal holidays celebrated include:
3 January until February
Bumba Meu Boi is celebrated with a musical parade
5 to 6 January
Terno de Reis is celebrated in the streets and at the churches. Women and children
carrying lanterns and pandeiros (tambourines) sing 0 Reis and worship the
Reis Magos (Three Wise Men).
Puxada de Mastro features a group of men who parade a mastro (symbolic
figure) to the door of Igreja Nossa Senhora da Penha. Decorated with flowers, the mastro
is hung in front of the church, with the flag and image of São Sebastião, and women
then sing to the saint.
19 to 22 April
Discovery of Brazil is commemorated with an outdoor mass and Indian celebrations.
This seems a rather baffling celebration, since the Indians were here first, and, later,
fared badly at the hands of their `discoverers’.
Festa de Nossa Senhora d’Ajuda is the culmination of a pilgrimage starting on 9
April. A mass procession, organized in homage to the miraculous saint, is followed by
food, drink and live music.
Festa de Nossa Senhora da Pena is the same as Festa de Nossa Senhora d’Ajuda except
for the additional enlivenment of fireworks.
25 to 27 December
Festa de São Benedito is held on 27 December at the door of the church of Nossa
Senhora do Rosário. Boys and girls from Cidade Alta blacken their faces and perform
African dances, such as congo da alma, ole or lalá, to the music of drums, cuíca,
atabaque and xeque-xeque.
NewYear’s Eve is when everyone rushes around shouting `Feliz ano novo, Baiana!’ (Happy
New Year), strangers kiss and serious partying ensues.
Porto Seguro is a hot spot for lambada enthusiasts. The lambada is an erotic
and entertaining local dance which involves some agitated leg tangling and exaggerated hip
wiggling whilst pressing belly buttons. The origins of the international hit The
Lambada are disputed between Bolivians and Brazilians.
For live music and booze go to Rua Portugal or Passarela do Álcool (the equivalent of a
`booze alley’). The street is lined with bars and restaurants, and there’s usually live
music somewhere. Reggae Night, on Avenida Beira Mar, is a big club on the beach, with
dance music and bands. Nearby, Banana Reggae is another popular spot. If you want to try
something different, Bar Escritório, on Rua José Rodrigues, is a hole-in-the-wall bar
with about 50 varieties of local cachaçathe top shelf features bottles with
snake for extra bite!
Things to Buy
Pataxó Indians relocated from the interior of Brazil are nominally under the care of
FUNAI. A few Pataxó are hanging on south of Caraiva and are trying to maintain some
semblance of their traditional way of life. Those north of Porto Seguro sell trinkets
(overpriced colored feathers, pieces of coral, fiber wristbands with beads) to tourists at
Coroa Vermelha. This make-believe village is simply a sad little collection of
thatched-roof huts and dugout canoes by the beach. Porto Seguro also has souvenir shops
that sell Pataxó jewelry, basketware and earthenware ceramics.
Please don’t buy items made of turtle shell or consume turtles or their eggs!
Most of the species of turtle found in Brazil are threatened with extinction.
NORTH OF PORTO SEGURO
North of Porto Seguro, next to the paved coastal road, are several attractive beaches,
such as Mundaí and Coroa Vermelha, and finally, at Km 25, the town of Santa Cruz
Cabrália. These beaches are easily accessible by bus and, consequently, not as pristine
as those to the south.
About five km north of town is the nicest of the northern beaches, Mundaí, with barracas
at the mouth of the Rio Mundaí. North of Rio dos Mangues, at Ponta Grande, the highway
cuts inland a bit. The beach is uncrowded, with tranquil watersand hard to reach.
Six km before Cabrália is Coroa Vermelha, with Pataxós craft stands, a monument to the
discovery of Brazil and some fair beaches.
Santa Cruz Cabrália
There’s not much to Cabrália, but its terra-cotta roofs and palm trees are pleasant
enough. Climb up to the bluff for the view overlooking the town and to visit Igreja Nossa
Senhora da Imaculada Conceição, the lonely, white church which was built by the Jesuits
in 1630. The elderly caretaker will tell you the history of the region, as well as the
inside story on Cabral’s expedition. Fried shrimp and a batida de coco at the barracas
by the church enhance the view of the offshore reef, the boats and the palm trees in and
about the bay of Cabrália.
SOUTH OF PORTO SEGURO
After taking the ferry across the Rio Buranhém, you rejoin the road, which continues
along a long stretch of dreamlike beaches, with a bluff backdrop. Up on the bluff, a short
walk from the beach, are the rapidly expanding villages of Arraial d’Ajuda (also known as
Nossa Senhora da Ajuda) and Trancoso, which are 4.5 km and 26 km, respectively, from the
ferry crossing. The rush to develop the region south of Porto Seguro is in full swing in
Arraial d’Ajuda and Trancoso, which are being developed to match the facilities in Porto
Seguro: paved roads, electricity, pousadas, chopp and, of course, bottled
beer. South of Trancoso, a poor, unpaved road continues for 42 km to the small village of
Fifteen years ago, before the arrival of electricity or the road from Porto Seguro,
Arraial was a poor fishing village removed from the world. Since then, the international
tourist set has discovered Arraial and its desolate beaches, and a time-honored way of
life has all but vanished. The village has gone too hip too fast: along Arraial’s maze of
dirt streets, barefoot-poverty jet-set trippers eat the dust of trendy package tourists in
dune buggies, and slick shopping galleries sit awkwardly alongside rustic reggae cafés.
The increasingly littered main beach is lined with barracas and the beach-lounge
set, while further south, hippies let it all hang out along the nude beach at Pitinga.
Yet, for some, Arraial d’Ajuda is the place to be. Younger and wilder than Porto Seguro,
Arraial d’Ajuda is a wonderful place to tan and slough off excess brain cells. Newcomers
soon fall into the routine: going crazy every evening, recovering the following morning
and crawling back onto the beach for more surf, sun and samba.
Arraial d’Ajuda is built on a little hilltop by the sea. The main street running from the
church to the cemetery is called Broadway. Many of the restaurants and bars, plus a couple
of cheap pousadas, are here. Most of Arraial d’Ajuda’s pousadas are tucked
away on the ocean side of this hilltop, along the dirt streets. Mucugê is the name of the
beach below the maze.
From the ferry landing, the dusty 4½-km road to Arraial d’Ajuda runs about 100 meters
inland of Praia do Arraial and passes several pousadas. Heading south from Arraial
d’Ajuda towards Trancoso, the road passes a series of beachesPitinga, Taipe and Rio
da Barrabefore reaching Trancoso.
There’s now a police post in Arraial d’Ajuda and their attitude to drug-taking is less
tolerant than in the past.
Praia Mucugê is good until 3 or 4 pm when the sun hides behind the hill. Many of the
beach barracas are home to do-it-yourself samba and guitar music. The barraca facing
the ocean on the far right has great music and a fantastic batida de abacaxi, (vodka
and pineapple). The barraca to the far left, Tia Cleuza, has good fried shrimp for
a couple of dollars.
Praia Pitinga, the river beach closest to Arraial d’Ajuda, has red and green striped
sandstone cliffs, sparkling water and large grained sand. It’s acceptable for women to go
topless anywhere. Nude sunbathing is OK for both men and women on Pitinga beach and points
Places to Stay
Pousadas are popping up every day. Old pousadas change their names, management
comes and goes, and owners trade property deeds like baseball cards. Prices also change
very rapidly here. Out of season you should be able to negotiate heavy discounts. Make
sure your room has either a properly fitting mosquito net over the bed or preferably a
For organized campgrounds, try Camping do Gordo, which has very basic facilities
and is close to the ferry landing point; or Camping Arraial d’Ajuda, which is
closer to town on the beach at Praia de Mucugê and has better facilities.
Places to Eat
If you like to eat by the kilo, you’ll do well in Arraialcomida a kilo is the
latest trapping of the civilized world to hit Arraial. Restaurant Nona Madeira, on
Caminho do Mar, is the best by far. A doorway on Broadway near the church leads to Restaurant
São João, which has good-value seafood prato feito for $4.50, and an
extensive menu of more expensive seafood dishes. It’s a friendly, family-run
placeyou have to walk through the living room of the house to get in.
Behind the church on the edge of the bluff, Josefina Grill Bar is a colorful
restaurant with smooth music and grilled seafood and salad dishes for $10. Further along
the road, Restaurante Tubarão is a breezy place with tasty, wood-fired pizzas. The
barracas down at the beach have excellent fried shrimp and other seafood.
Arraial d’Ajuda is pretty lively in the evenings. Cruise Broadway for drinking and lambada
or forró dancingChega Mais and Bali Bahia are two popular bars. The
small shopping lanes off Caminho do Mar, A Galeria d’Ajuda and Beco dos Cores have some
slick bars for more cashed-up travelers. Cine Bar is an open-air cinema with good movies
every night for $3. Café da Marta, about a 10-minute taxi ride from the village, has been
recommended by readers as a hot spot for dancing. Arraial d’Ajuda’s pousadas host
open festas with musicians every evening. Once a month people gather on Praia de
Mucugê to sing, dance and howl at the moon.
VW Kombis congregate in front of the church on Broadway to ferry passengers to the beaches
around Arraial. Bicycles can be hired at several shops on Broadway.
Trancoso lies on a grassy bluff overlooking the ocean and fantastic beaches. The central
square, known as Quadrado, is lined with small, colorful colonial buildings and casual
bars and restaurants nestling under shady trees. Horse riding is popular around the area,
and there are some lovely walks in the surrounding rainforest.
Pára-Raio is an ambient restaurant and dancing bar with outdoor tables under massive
trees. Black White Danceteria is a large dance club open on weekends. Occasionally, raves
are organized at secluded locations along the beach out of town, complete with bars,
sophisticated sound and lighting systems and all-night dancing. The walking bridge across
the river is missing several planks, so watch your step in the dark!
Without electricity, cars or throngs of tourists, the hamlet of Caraiva is primitive and
beautiful. The village is strung out along the east bank of the mangrove-lined Rio
Caraiva. The bus stops on the far side of the river, where small dugout canoes ferry
passengers across to the village for $0.50. The beaches are long and deserted and dashed
by churning surf. A warning: the black-sand streets of the village get incredibly
hottake footwear with you at all times.
Boat trips up the Rio Caraiva and to the Parque Nacional de Monte Pascoal are easily
organized in the village. The tiny fishing village of Curuípe, nine km north, has no
electricity or regular accommodation, but it’s possible to stay with villagersspeak
to Edivaldo. Corumbau, 12 km south, on the far side of the national park, is not as
primitive, and has electricity and a couple of pousadas.
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,