Updated on March 18, 2013
Guarujá, on Santo Amaro Island, has a decades-long history in intense tourism. The city with a population of about 291,000 receives about 2 million tourists a year.
With 23 kilometers (about 14 miles) of beaches, preserved patches of rainforest, good spots for surfing and paragliding, a great aquarium - the Acqua Mundo - and busy nightlife, the city is a favorite day and weekend getaway for São Paulo residents: less than 60 miles separate the two cities. Many paulistanos own vacation houses in condos in Guarujá and keep them available for rentals during part of the year, which helps make the city a top family travel destination in São Paulo State.
The island occupied by Guarujá resembles the shape of a dragon; the city's administration has departed from that trait to organize the Dragon Routes (Rotas do Dragao), in a partnership with the Guarujá Convention & Visitors Bureau, Guarujá Tourism Council and the Santos and Region Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The routes including attractions "from the dragon's head to tail" can be covered in a time range from three to nine hours. The official Dragon Routes website, though only available in Portuguese as of this writing, has a great downloadable map with easy-to-understand icons.
Where to Stay:
Following the locals' example and going to Guarujá for the weekend has become a more attractive option for international travelers in São Paulo since the opening of the Sofitel Jequitimar Guarujá, a destination in itself on Pernambuco, one of the city's most attractive beaches.
Take a break from the demands of business travel at this seafront getaway with a fantastic spa.
Another top choice is the Casa Grande Hotel Resort & Spa on Enseada (photo), the beach with the highest number of hotels and restaurants. Though Guarujá hasn't kept up with other Brazil beach towns in the growth of charming pousadas and boutique hotels, you can find nice accommodations in a wide range of prices - read more about the top places to stay in Guarujá.
Look up Guarujá in the sources listed in this Brazil Vacation Rental Guide.
Where to Eat:
The finest restaurant is Les Épices at the Sofitel Jequitimar Guarujá. Thai, at the Casa Grande Hotel Resort & Spa; Monte Carlo (varied food, Astúrias) and Rufino's (seafood, Enseada) are other good options.
Look for the local specialty, marisco lambe-lambe, shellfish in a wine and tomato sauce, at Dalmo Bárbaro (Av. Miguel Stefano 4751, Enseada) and Joca (Road to Bertioga, km 12).
The holidays - New Year's Eve and, to a lesser extent, Christmas - are peak moments in the high season. The city has great fireworks shows for Réveillon and extends the celebrations with Verão Show, a summer festival with shows on New Year's Eve and more concerts in January.
In mid-July 2011, the city hosted the 2nd Winter Festival, with free music on Pitangueiras Beach and at the La Plage mall, and the 4th Pizza Festival. Guarujá and Santos had their first Restaurant Week in April/May 2011 and every spring (usually September or October) there is also a local culinary festival.
Santo Amaro Island, then called Guaibê by the indigenous inhabitants, received a colonizing expedition in 1502, two years after Brazil was discovered by the Portuguese. The colonizers founded São Vicente, across the water, but it took a long time till the island became more densely populated.
In 1892, pre-built structures in Georgia pine were purchased from the United States for a starter village: one hotel, one church, one casino and 46 homes. Barges transported passengers between the island and the Santos-Jundiaí Railway in Santos.
The city's first hotel (see a photo) was destroyed by a fire; a new one built in its place lasted until the early 1910s.
The opening of Via Anchieta in the 1940s and of Imigrantes in 1976; and an improperly planned real estate boom in the 1970s and 1980s, which the city has been trying to counteract with sustainable actions, are important moments in the city's history as a major tourist destination.
How to Get to Guarujá:
Plan your trip so that you can avoid monster traffic jams on Anchieta and Imigrantes. If traveling for the holidays, consider extending your stay.
By Bus: From S. Paulo, daily direct buses to Guarujá run all day from the Jabaquara Station, at the southern end of the subway's Blue Line. Ultra and Rápido Brasil are some of the companies operating the route.
By Ferry Boat from Santos: The Santos-Guarujá ferry boat carries about 40 cars and the crossing lasts about 10 minutes. Take it at Praça Almirante Gago Coutinho in Santos and at Av. Ademar de Barros 3300 in Guarujá.
By Ferry Boat from Bertioga: At the opposite end of the island. As on the Santos ferry boat, pedestrians, bikes, motorbikes, cars and pick-up trucks are allowed.
By Car:Though generally well-kept, Imigrantes and Anchieta pose challenges such as reckless drivers and heavy trucks (some of the worst risks of driving in Brazil), and some specific aggravating factors - many curves and frequent fog.
The Anchieta-Imigrantes system is managed by Ecovias. The company has emergency telephones at 1-kilometer intervals along the roads, from which drivers can call for roadside assistance and medical help (ambulances and one mobile IC unit are available).
Best Time to Visit:
Fall, especially April-June, is less rainy, less crowded and yet likely to be warm enough for pleasant, sweatshirt-free beach going.
Tourist Information:Secretaria de Turismo e Central de Informações Turísticas Pitangueiras
Avenida Marechal Deodoro da Fonseca 723 - Centro - Guarujá
Guarujá Convention & Visitors Bureau