Salvador’s dazzling skyline slips from view as our heavy ferry splashes its way towards Itaparica Island, where our bus awaits. In less than 2 hours we’re munching popcorn in the sleepy port of Curral, surrounded by holidaymakers eagerly waiting to board their boat ride to paradise.
I’ve always said that if people come to Brazil and they never find their way out of the big cities, they’ve missed out on the true magic of the country. Brazil is full of hidden little gems, places that make your troubles melt away. Morro de São Paulo, a vibrant town on the car-free island of Tinharé, is one such place.
Our little boat, laden with smiling people and suitcases, speeds across the bay and soon docks at the Portaló, an archway made from stone which marks the entrance to the island. Fortunately this is the location of our hotel, aptly named Hotel Portaló, so we don’t have to carry our luggage very far! For everyone else, groups of strong, helpful locals with wheelbarrows are on hand to help.
It’s difficult to get lost here. Not only are the beaches numbered 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th, but there’s also a pathway that snakes past all of them.
This path begins at the charming Nossa Senhora da Luz church, built in 1845. From here, another pathway leads to the lighthouse, which has superb views across the island of Tinharé. Once there, the quickest way down is to take the zip-line, which will sweep you from the cliff tops down to the waters of Primeira Praia (First Beach) below.
By the church is the leafy Plaza de Aureliano Lima, where you’ll find creative locals selling handicrafts of an evening. As you head down towards Primeira Praia, you’ll pass the bustling shops, bars and restaurants of Vila. Beneath entangled power lines, the lights and laughter spill out onto the pavements. It’s a great place to eat, or to just walk about and soak up the vibe.
Primeira Praia’s main thoroughfare is one block back from the beach itself, which helps to make it a fairly relaxing spot to sun yourself or take a dip. If you feel like renting a surfboard or some diving equipment, this is the place to do it. You can take a ride on a banana boat or if you’re feeling lazy, just gaze up towards the lighthouse on the hill and watch the zip-line riders splash in the water.
It’s just be around the corner, but Segunda Praia (Second Beach) feels a world away, particularly at night. When the sun is shining it’s a popular spot for volleyball and soccer, but of an evening, it comes alive with chic bars and candlelit restaurants, offering live music and tables on the sand. The atmosphere is great. It’s an ideal place to slip off your shoes, sip a caipirinha and listen to some samba while the waves crash nearby. If you’re looking for nightlife, this is the place to come.
Around the corner is Terceira Praia (Third Beach), which is a well known spot for diving, thanks to nearby Caitá Island, which is made up of a barrier of coral reefs. You can take a boat ride to the island or make your own way out there in a kayak. From Terceira Praia, boats will take you further south to Boipeba, stopping off along the way at floating shacks serving crabs and oysters.
With so much on offer in the bustling heart of Morro de São Paulo, few visitors make it as far as Quarta Praia (Fourth Beach) and beyond. However there are plenty of reasons to explore this stretch of coastline. You’ll find 8kms of white sands and coconut trees, plus calm waters with natural swimming pools filled with colourful fish. Quinta Praia (Fifth Beach) lies on the other side of a small river and a mangrove swamp. This tranquil 2km stretch of coast is also known as Praia do Encanto and is well worth a look if you feel like getting away from the crowds.
Where to stay?
Set among lush, fragrant gardens which overlook the sea, Hotel Portaló offers chalets, apartments and comfortable suites. Rooms have free WiFi, air-conditioning, fridge and TV. Our chalet was clean, cosy and had sweeping water views. There was also a private balcony with a hammock, making it an ideal spot to relax and watch the boats come and go. The chalets are not too close together, which helps you feel like you’ve got this wonderful place all to yourself.
Hotel Portaló has a large, outdoor swimming pool with excellent views out to sea. There’s also a swim-up bar, if you’re thirsty. After you’ve had a swim, there are plenty of deck chairs and sun-loungers to choose from.
The hotel’s outdoor bar has old stone walls and grass beneath your feet. It’s famous across the island for being the best place to watch the sunset. This vibrant spot gets rather busy of an evening, as the sounds of DJs and cocktail shakers fill the air.
Each morning we awoke to the sounds of birds in the trees and boats honking their horns on the water. There’s a hearty buffet breakfast served each day, consisting of freshly made cakes, pastries and coffee as well as a delicious range of fruits. The perfect way to begin the day.
This hotel is ideal for guests who don’t need a lot of personalised service and don’t intend to spend all day in their room. Come for the incredible views, the beautiful gardens, the cool bar and the lovely pool!
Double rooms start from R$390 / £91 per night, breakfast included. Visit www.hotelportalo.com/en
Article published in Brazil Observer newspaper in London, October 2016. Download a copy of the article here.