Arraial da Ajuda, Trancoso, Caraíva and Parque Nacional Marinho dos Abrolhos in Brazil
Arraial da Ajuda
A five-minute float across the Rio Buranhém from the docks at Porto Seguro brings you to Arraial da Ajuda, a pretty little colonial village turned beach-party town and a more popular base for travellers than Porto. Arraial is an ideal place to get stuck, with a string of gorgeous beaches that begin at the mouth of the river at
and continue south indefinitely. The little hotels behind the sand
are on a far smaller scale than Porto's package-
tourist towers and cater to shallow as well as deep pockets. The town itself has a string of pleasant little bars and restaurants; all of which are easily manageable on foot. Arraial is also one of the best places in Brazil to learn capoeira. At Brazilian holiday times (especially New Year and Carnaval) it is very crowded, almost to bursting point
The town centre is clustered around the
pretty 16th-century church of
Nossa Senhora da Ajuda
(1549), which sits high on a cliff, affording great views of the palm-covered coast. The principal streets extend off the square in front of the church. The largest, which is lined with shops, bars, restaurants and
, is called
. There's a party here or on one of the beaches almost every night in high season.
Arraial's beaches are splendid: some pounded by surf, others are little bays gently lapped by an Atlantic tamed by offshore reef. Most have
selling good simple seafood and chilled drinks, and playing music. From north to south they are as follows.
is popular with families and day-visitors from Porto, and has several pretty beach hotels and
is in front of the town and has a small protected area.
just to the south of town, has good surf, plenty of beach
and lambada parties in the summer. To reach these, take Rua da Praia out of town.
South beyond Mucugê is
, which is popular for windsurfing and kayaking (rental available); followed by
, with strong waves breaking on the offshore reef creating some decent surf. The penultimate beach is
, backed by cliffs, with gorgeous sand and strong surf. Few make it to the beach farthest south,
, an hour's walk from Arraial. It is backed by sandstone cliffs and has glassy water and a handful of
. At low tide it is possible to walk to from Taipé to Trancoso along the beach via the village of
Rio da Barra
; allow two hours. A dirt road behind the beach follows the same route and is plied by taxis and cars; it is easy to hitch a lift.
In the last five years this once-sleepy little village, 15 km south of Arraial, has become Bahia's chicest beach destination, beloved of the Brazilian and international jet-set for its combination of low-key atmosphere and high-fashion labels. The coolest São Paulo names fill the tiny shopping centre and the town and beaches are dotted with smart designer boutiques and haute-rural restaurants offering the best food outside Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Celebrities come here to be recognized only by those they wish to be recognized by, especially the Mario Testino set. Despite its status, Trancoso remains a simple little town at heart, and herein lies its charm. It is glossy but intimate, with life focussing on the
, a long grassy square where locals play football in the evening. The square is crowned with the little whitewashed 17th-century church of
São João Batista
, and lined with colourful little
, each housing a bikini boutique, crafts shop, fashionable restaurant, bar or guesthouse. The houses are particularly enchanting at night, when they contrast with the dark indigo canvas of the rainforest, under a dome of stars.
Below the Quadrado are a stretch of beaches extending away to the north and south. The most famous and the closest to town are
Praia do Trancoso
Praia dos Nativos
, both washed by gentle waves, with coral far off shore and a cluster of chic-shack
that host parties for the designer-label brigade during the summer months.
across the little river to the north is quieter, with one simple restaurant and a view. To the south beyond Trancoso beach are
, with a little river, and beyond it
a deserted beach with just a few very expensive houses and good clear-water snorkelling.
A 50-minute drive along the dirt road to Caraiva, Espelho is one of the state's most beautiful beaches: a glassy bay fringed with white sand and rocks with a handful of very plush beach hotels and a delightful restaurant. The Caraíva bus will drop you at the turn off to the beach, from where it is a 5-km walk; or visit as part of a tour.Caraíva
This incredibly peaceful, atmospheric fishing town, 65 km south of Porto Seguro, is on the banks of the Rio Caraíva. Electricity (during the daytime only) and hot water were only installed in 2008 and the streets are sand so there are no cars. The marvellous beaches here make a real escape from Trancoso, Arraial and Porto Seguro. Despite difficult access, Caraíva is becoming increasingly popular.
Parque Nacional de Monte Pascoal
There is a good walk north to
Praia do Satu
(where Señor Satu provides an endless supply of coconut milk), or 6 km south to a rather sad Pataxó indigenous village; watch the tides as you may get cut off. Horses can be hired through any of the
and buggy rides to Corumbau (from where buses connect to Cumuruxatiba) can be organized from the town square with the Pataxó. Or you can walk the 12 km along the beach to the river that separates Caraíva's last beach with Corumbau village; there is a boatman here for crossings. Boats can be hired at the river port in Caraíva for excursions to Caruípe beach, Espelho, snorkelling at Pedra de Tatuaçu reef or Corombau (take your own mask and fins), or for trips up the beautiful river Rio Caraíva which gets into wild, pristine rainforest some 10 km inland.
river beach, about 30 minutes away, and mangrove swamps can also be visited by canoe or launch.
The national park was set up in 1961 to preserve the flora, fauna and birdlife of the coast where Europeans first landed in Brazil. There is a bus from Itamaraju; taxis also run from Itamaraju. Or the park can be visited with a tour group such as
This tiny fishing village sits on a little promontory of land that sticks out into the deep blue of the Bahian Atlantic. It's a one-beach buggy town, with a tiny church and a handful of very cheap
and restaurants; but it is fringed with beaches every bit as gorgeous as any of those around Caraíva or Trancoso. There is great snorkelling from the beach to the south of town. Foreigners are few and far between, except for a handful who come to stay at the exclusive and beautifully designed resorts to the south of the town. Set on a a private reserve on Tauá beach,
is the finest and most romantic small beach hotel in Brazil.
The road from Itamaraju leads to Cumuruxatiba (www.cumuru.com.br), which is also connected to Corumbau (and across the river to Caraíva) via a dirt road. In low season, Cumuruxatiba is a
sleepy local beach resort; in high season it is a lively, young party town, popular with families and 20-something groups from the south of Brazil. There are plenty of little
and restaurants. As yet the region is unspoilt and there are some almost completely deserted beaches both to the north and south, great for hours of wandering.
Prado is a scruffy town sandwiched between a long sand spit and the sluggish Rio Tucuruçú, lined with mangroves. There are two species of mangrove: stately, tall red mangroves near the sea, and white mangroves in the fresher water. The river and trees are a haven for birdlife with at least three kingfisher species, ospreys and numerous herons and waders. There are southern otters and, further upstream, spectacled caiman. The beaches around town, especially near the
Barra do Prado
about 3 km downstream, are some of the best in southern Bahia: vast, lonely stretches of powder-soft sand that disappear into the distant horizon. It is possible to walk to the beaches from the town centre (about 45 minutes), or boats run from the quay. Bring plenty of sun shade, water and snacks, as there are no facilities except in the highest season.
Parque Nacional Marinho dos Abrolhos
Continuing south, Caravelas is a charming little town on the banks of the Caravelas estuary, surrounded by mangroves. There are eight fine white-sand beaches nearby. The town is well known for its Catholic festivals, which attract thousands of pilgrims. Caravelas was a major trading port in the 17th and 18th centuries and the town's name was taken from the Portuguese sailing boats whose technology opened up the world to Lisbon. It is now slowly developing as a resort for Brazilian tourism. The best beaches are about 10 km away at the fishing village of
Barra de Caravelas
(hourly buses). There is a helpful tourist information,
Ibama Centro de Visitantes
Abrolhos is an abbreviation of
Abre os olhos
, 'Open your eyes', from Amérigo Vespucci's exclamation when he first sighted the reef in 1503. Established in 1983, the park consists of five small islands:
, which are volcanic in origin. There are also abundant coral reefs and good diving. Darwin visited the archipelago in 1830 and Jacques Cousteau studied the marine environment here.
The archipelago national park protects the most extensive coral reefs in the south
Atlantic with four times as many endemic species than the reefs and atolls in the Caribbean. There are numerous endemic species, including giant brain corals, crustaceans and molluscs, as well as marine turtles and mammals threatened by extinction and huge colonies
of nesting seabirds. In addition, the seas around the islands are one of the most important south Atlantic nurseries for humpback whales - which can always be seen in season.
In 2002, the Abrolhos region was declared an area of Extreme Biological Importance by the Brazilian Ministry of Environment, based on the Brazilian commitment
to the international Convention on Biodiversity. For more information see
, www.conservation.org. The archipelago is administered by
and a navy detachment mans a lighthouse on Santa Bárbara, which is the only island that may be visited. Visitors are not allowed to spend the night on the islands, but may stay overnight on schooners.