Calm, warm blue-green waters where dolphins swim lap onto the beaches around Morro de São Paulo, a village at the northeast end of Tinharé Island, off the Bahia coast.
Like many other Brazilian beaches, Morro de São Paulo was an isolated corner of the world until it got discovered by travelers from Brazil and abroad, some of whom have become residents.
Morro de São Paulo - or simply Morro, which means "hill" - has retained its old charms while changing. During the summer, the clubs at one of the beaches are busy all night, every night. But there's still plenty of year-round peace.
Don't miss nearby Boipeba Island.
Morro de São Paulo is in the north of Tinharé Island, part of the Dendê Coast. This stretch of the Bahia shores, south of Salvador, is named after the palm tree whose fruit are used to make an oil extensively used in the local cuisine.
Cairu, of which Morro de São Paulo is a district, is the only city in Brazil whose limits comprise an archipelago. Occupation of the area dates back to pre-colonization times. Local tupiniquim people called the island Tinharé for "land that advances into the sea".
According to Setur Bahia, Cairu originated in 1535 and Boipeba, a village on neighboring Boipeba Island, in 1565.
No cars are allowed on Tinharé Island. Farther beaches can be reached by boat, horseback or trekking. The most popular beaches, going south from Farol do Morro - the island's lighthouse, at the nothern tip of the island, are:
- Primeira Praia (First Beach) - The closest to the village; a small beach with calm waters, popular with families.
- Segunda Praia (Second Beach) - Busy; great restaurants, snacks, clubs and bars. The best place to socialize.
- Terceira Praia (Fourth Beach) - A longer beach, good for swimming.
- Quarta Praia (Fourth Beach) - A 1.2-mile long beach. Perfect for running on.
- Praia do Encanto, or Quinta Praia (Enchantment Beach or Fifth Beach) - A three-mile long, almost deserted beach with ocean pools formed by coral reefs.
- Garapuá - Ocean pools, a small fisherman's village and open wide spaces lure visitors to Garapuá, which can be reached by a trail (about 2 1/2 hours), horseback or boat.
- Pratigi - Access by boat or a three-day hike (available to groups only) offered by Rota Tropical, a local tour agency.
Gamboa, separated from Tinharé Island by the high tide, differs from other beaches in that it has slopes from which clay is extracted for clay baths. There's also a fisherman's village.
During the low tide, you can walk between Gamboa and Morro de São Paulo (about 1.2 mile).
When to Go:
The coast of Bahia has balmy weather during most of the year. Summers are hot, but the sea breeze is an almost constant relief and temperatures stay within the 68ºF-86ºF. The rainiest months are April-June.
If you want to catch Morro at its liveliest, pair it up with a Carnival in Salvador: on Ash Wednesday, Morro kicks off its Ressaca ("Hangover"), a revelry with lots of post-Carnival beach and bar parties. Reservations in advance are recommended; usually you can still find hotel rooms about a month before Ressaca.
Where to Stay:
There are plenty of inviting accommodations in Morro de São Paulo. Here's a basic list of Morro de São Paulo hotels and pousadas, ranging from expensive to budget.
There are no banks in Morro de São Paulo - only ATMs, so travelers need to make sure they have cash. Most inns and restaurants accept credit cards, but maybe just one of them.
A maintenance fee (R$6,50) is charged at the pier upon arrival.
Travel light. If your backpack is heavy, be prepared to negotiate with the locals who will be waiting at the pier with wheelbarrows, eager to carry your luggage.
If you're staying at an inn that's distant from the pier, make arrangements for a boat transfer. Transfers are less frequent in the low season.
How to Get to Morro:Directly from Salvador By sea: Take a catamaran at the Maritime Terminal across from Mercado Modelo. But be aware that the open-sea, two-hour trip may not be easy on motion sickness.
Three companies work with catamaran between Salvador and Morro. As of this writing, none of them accept credit cards. In Brazil, they ask travelers who want to buy tickets in advance to make a deposit into their bank account and present the deposit slip at the ticket office in Salvador.
Since wiring money to Brazil is not cheap, e-mail each company and ask if they can reserve tickets for you (something advisable if you're going to Morro for Carnival, for example) up to a certain date, after which they will sell the tickets if you don't show up.
All the companies charge the same price for the tickets: R$70 one-way (check the dollar-real daily exchange rates)
- Catamarã Biotur
Departure times: Salvador-Morro daily 9a, 2p; Morro-Salvador daily 11:30a, 4p
- Catamarã Farol do Morro
Departure times: Salvador-Morro daily 1p; Morro-Salvador daily 9a
- IlhaBela TM
From Valença, the closest city on the continent, you can take ferries and motor boats to Morro. Camurujipe (71-3450-2109) has buses to Valença from the Salvador Bus Terminal (71-3460-8300). The trip takes about 4 hours. The motor boat ride lasts at least 35 minutes and the ferry boat ride, about 2 hours - but not in open sea.