The Bahia region of Brazil is a glorious melting pot of Samba music and sunshine. Young men practice Capoeira (or the dance of war) next to the ebbing surf, while the typical red, yellow and green colours everything from musical instruments to the friendship bracelets sold on the beach. 64km away from gritty and vibrant Salvador and with a decidedly more relaxed vibe, Morro de São Paulo, a small town on the Northern tip of Tinahré island, is the ideal get away for a taste of the Bahia life without spending time in the city.
Arriving into dock, the wheelbarrow taxis and traffic free streets are a world away from urban Brazil. Acai bowls, beach side strolls and evening Caipirinhas are the order of the day, with paddle boarding and zip lining on offer for the more adventurous.
Life in Morro de São Paulo is centred around a series of four pristine beaches, all with their own particular charm. Ziplining from the cliffs over First Beach straight into the cool, clear water is a favourite for adrenaline junkies and certainly gives you a beautiful view over the island. For a sight of the colourful fish which throng the bay, grab a snorkel or hire a glass bottomed kayak for a more leisurely way to explore the calm waters. Never tried paddle boarding? Hire one for a couple of hours for a fun, full body work out. First and Second Beach are the best places to organise these kinds of activities, with operators based on the beaches themselves and also on the main street in town.
Getting under the water is always a good idea when marine life is this plentiful. Choose the biggest and most reliable dive shop in town, Companhia Mergulho, for the chance to get further out from the island and spot everything from turtles to peacock fish. Make sure to have a good chat with the dive master before you book though, as the currents can be challenging if you're not used to them. With PADI certifications and discovery scuba sessions on offer, this could be a great opportunity to try something new.
Nothing epitomises the Bahia lifestyle like moving slowly, and Morro de São Paulo is the perfect place to give it a go. Try one of the cafés overlooking second beach, right where the main street gives way to sand, for a huge, purple bowl of Acai and granola. Cold, fruity and delicious, this is the best way to assuage any mid morning hunger pangs and to kick back and watch the hustle and bustle of the beach below.
If you're not hungry, but still want something tasty and refreshing, grab a chilled coconut from one of the many beach side vendors. Not much says Brazil quite like drinking straight from the coconut, sand between your toes and nothing to do all day but soaking up the bright sunshine.
Shopping on your mind? Everything from jewellery to sculptures to dream catchers can be found at the market stalls which line the way from town to the beach. If you're after something a little more upmarket, boutique shops in the town itself sell designer beach wear and Haviannas alongside dedicated technical scuba gear.
If you want to get a little more active, spending an hour walking to the end of Fourth Beach will take you away from the crowds and into your own secluded haven. The swimming isn't as great here, but there's a wild beauty to the empty stretches of sand, dotted with fishing boats, which makes it completely breathtaking. With fresh fruit stalls along the way, you’ll have plenty of chances to stop and rest in the shade. Too tired to walk back? Hop in one of the horse and carts which ply their trade along the shore.
To get great views without zip lining, hike the twenty minutes up to the jump off point. There is a mirador here where you can stop and take stunning photos out over the gleaming blue curves of first and second beach. On the same side of town, exploring the Tapirandu Fortress offers a completely different perspective on this little slice of paradise. Built as a defense against potential Dutch invaders, this site is a reminder of the island's colonial history and is also a lovely spot to watch the sunset.
Morro de São Paulo may have an indisputably relaxed vibe, but that doesn't mean the quality of the nightlife is lacking. Second beach is the liveliest spot after nightfall, with many bars and restaurants offering some form of live music to keep you entertained through dinner and beyond.
More romantic hideaways are also easy to find. Plenty of cosy, candlelit tables within earshot of the waves line the beach, making the ideal spot to enjoy a plate of Moqueca. This traditional fish or shrimp based Bahian dish is thick, hearty and an absolute must try.
Unless you have a stomach of steel, avoid the three hour ferry and accompanying seasickness in favour of a shuttle and speedboat combination. These can be easily organised through tour operators and hotels in and around Salvador. It is also possible to organise a chartered flight from here. When you arrive, dragging your suitcases through the sandy streets will be a huge pain. Instead, utilise the 'taxi' service from the port (wheel barrow porters for your luggage) for a quintessentially Morro de São Paulo experience.
Where to Stay
As a favourite weekend escape for Brazilians escaping Salvador, Morro can get crowded Friday to Monday and exceptionally busy during holiday seasons such as Carnaval. Make sure to book in advance during these periods and to consider avoiding accommodation on second beach if you want a little more peace and quiet.
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