I spent the past two weeks in the Bahia state of Brazil, an incredible region rich in Brazilian culture lined with endless beautiful beaches. The first week I stayed in Itacaré, a small fishing and surfing village with some of the best Brazilian food I’ve ever tasted. In this post I’ll tell you about my experience there and share some pointers I picked up along the way. The second week I stayed about a 45 minute drive north of Itacaré on the Maraú peninsula, at a beach called Taipú do Fora that’s known for excellent snorkeling (a ten minute drive from a town called Barra Grande). There will be a follow up post about my experience there later this week.
My boyfriend and I flew from Buenos Aires to Salvador de Bahia, the capital of Bahia that has the largest airport. If you read my post reviewing the Amex Bradesco Lounge in São Paulo, you already know the hellish experience we had getting to Salvador. Delays on delays on delays. When we finally arrived it was much later than anticipated so we crashed at a hotel near the airport (Novotel) which turned out to be pretty nice–they had 24 hour room service, fast wifi, and a tasty breakfast. The following day we rented a car at the airport and drove from there south to Itacaré. The rental costed about $15 a day, though I imagine it would be more during the peak of Brazil tourist season (holidays through the end of February). This was the route we took.
The shorter route you can see on the map includes taking a ferry, and it’s only an hour shorter if you arrive at the ferry at the correct time. According to the ferry website the boats leave at the top of each hour. We weren’t sure if we could correctly time an arrival to ensure we wouldn’t wait to wait an hour, so we decided we might as well drive around the long way. We had also read online that the drive around the bay was a pretty one, which it did turn out to be. But don’t be fooled by Google Map’s estimation of the time it takes to drive from Salvador to Itacaré, 6 hours and 5 min is not accurate. It was at least seven and a half and more like eight hours total because the last two hours of roads are unpaved and bad.
In retrospect, we probably should have flown into the airport in Ilheus, Brazil. But checking Delta.com I see no award space whatsoever on GOL, and cash flights to the small airport are pricey.
Is Bahia Dangerous?
I’ve heard others comment and have read online about the precautions one should take when visiting Bahia. It has a reputation for being dangerous, particularly when it comes to theft. As a precursor to what I’m about to tell you: I felt very safe the majority of the time I was in Bahia, and I highly recommend visiting the area.
But we did have an unsettling experience on the drive between Salvador and Itacaré, in the town of Valença.
A kid on a bike pulled up next to our car at an intersection, motioning for us to pull over. We noticed him but kept driving. Then a man on a motorcycle pulled up beside us, motioning frenetically for us to pull over. He proceeded to pull out what appeared to be a fake police badge, and kept waving to the side of the road to get us to pull over. I had heard about this scam before. I assumed if we pulled over the man would try to pry money out of us with a fake ticket or rob us. But all was fine–all we needed to do was lock the doors and keep driving. Which is what we did.
That being said, a few years ago I traveled totally alone through Bahia for a number of weeks and no one attempted to rob me. Be aware of your surroundings, like you always should be when traveling, and you’ll be fine. And don’t pull over for people pretending to be cops.
The Beaches of Resende, Tiririca, Costa, and Ribeira
Itacaré is situated where the Rio de Contas meets the Atlantic ocean, alongside rainforest. It’s beaches are picturesque, lined with towering palm trees, and are known for surfing. If you’re into surfing or have ever wanted to give it a go, Itacaré would be a great place to take a lesson. But for that reason, it’s good to be aware of which beaches have gentler waves and are OK for swimming without a surfboard. Within walking proximity of the town, I’d say the best swimming beach is Ribeira.
Behind me in the other direction of that photo is a river that flows into the ocean.
Resende, Tiririca, Costa, and Ribeira are all cove beaches located within walking distance of one another and from the town of Itacaré.
You can drive and park at each, or an alternative way of seeing them (which I did and enjoyed) is by starting off on foot from Resende and then hiking over the rocks between each beach to arrive to the next until you end at Ribeira.
Hike to Prainha
Prainha beach, a protected area only accessible by foot, is stunning. If you go to Itacaré, do not miss it, I thought it was by far the most beautiful beach in the area. The trailhead starts at Ribeira beach. All in all the hikes takes roughly 45 minutes, is very scenic, passing a waterfall and through a palm forrest. It’s not very difficult. There were people doing it in flip flops but I recommend shoes with better traction.
You’ll see a lot of guides hanging out near the trailhead who will tell you that you need their help in order to arrive. I’m not so sure about that–it’s true the trail has a few divergences but the path is pretty well marked and intuitive. If you want a local to walk with you and tell you about the flora/fauna, then by all means, pay a guide. Otherwise it’s pretty easy to do on your own.
The beach’s isolation ensures that you’ll have the truly incredible beach almost entirely to yourself. There isn’t really infrastructure, only a hut selling coconuts and a few treats.
Hike to Jeribucaçu
Getting to Jeribucaçu is a little more complicated. You need to drive out of the town heading south, wind through some rainforest on the highway and once you hit the riverbed, stop and park along the side of the road. Unfortunately there is no obvious sign that says Jeribucaçu beach this way. Just stop at the river, where you can see the start of a small trailhead.
Hike in for about ten minutes, and you will come to a divergence where you can choose to either take the steep path down to the right towards the river, or walk to the left, which we figured out leads deeper into the rainforest and dumps you into a mangrove swamp. Don’t do what we did. Take a right, which (I’m about 95% sure) will lead you to this gorgeous beach, where the river flows in the ocean. We never got there because we started the hike too late in the day. The sun sets about 6 pm in December.
The Beaches Farther South
We also didn’t make it to the beaches farther south of Itacaré (Egenhoca, Havaizinho, Camboinha, and Itacarezinho) but I recommend making time for at least Itacarezinho, which is supposed to be the most beautiful out of those and have a good restaurant on it.
Below are the best restaurants we tried in Itacaré. Make sure to try the local Bahian specialty and my personal favorite, moqueca. Moqueca is a seafood stew of sorts, slow cooked in a terra cotta pot with coconut milk, tomatoes, onions, garlic, spices, and palm oil (dendê). There are many seafood variations. I also love the fact that everywhere we ate in Bahia, each restaurant had their own home made hot sauce from either blended peppers and spices or whole hot peppers soaking in oil. We brought home about eight different bottles 🙂
This place saved us. Our Airbnb had awful internet, and as both my boyfriend and I had planned on working some, we used Cabana Ariramba as a virtual office. They had pretty steady wifi, great food, and beautiful view right on Concha beach. Concha beach has the most infrastructure out of all the beaches in Itacaré. It’s lined with restaurants and you can rent stand up paddle boards and kayak to play in the calm waves.
Tia Death had the best moqueca I tried the entire trip.
When your gut is on the verge of exploding from moqueca overload, which it will, go to this Lebanese restaruant. They have a good falafel and other vegetarian fare.
Itacaré is not going to be for everybody. There are no large and fancy resorts (although there are many quality smaller hotels and bed ‘n breakfasts, which in Brazil they call Pousadas). A majority of the town, except for the tourist sector, is occupied by a sprawling favela–the Brazilian term for low incoming housing/slum. But I found Itacaré to be quite charming, the food to be incredibly delicious, and the beaches to be breathtaking. Many of the most beautiful places in the world are a little rough around the edges. I suggest giving Itacaré a shot.