Brazil - BRAZZIL - The Northeast - Bahia, Where Brazil Was Discovered - Information on Brazil, Travel, and Tourism - September 1998

September 1998

Brazil Was

In Ilhéus, state of Bahia, the hills are covered with cacao trees. If you take a drive you will still see cacao fazendas and rural workers like those described on Jorge Amado's books. And Porto Seguro, once a settlement of pioneers, has become a refuge for Brazilian and international tourists. South of Porto Seguro, on Praia Pitinga, women are allowed to go topless. Nude sunbathing is also OK for both men and women.


Ilhéus, the town that Jorge Amado (Brazil's best-known novelist) lived in and described with his novel Gabriela, Cravo e Canela (Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon), retains some of the charm and lunacy that Amado fans know well. There's a half-hearted attempt to portray the city as an up-and-coming tourist Mecca, but nobody believes it will happen, and Ilhéus remains largely unaffected by tourism. The colonial center is small and distinctive, with its strange layout and odd buildings; the people are affable; the city beaches are broad and beautiful; and a short walk beyond these, there are even better beaches.

The best thing to do in Ilhéus is just wander. The center is lively, with several old, gargoyled buildings such as the Prefeitura. If you walk up the hill to the Convento Nossa Senhora da Piedade, there's a good view of the city and littoral. Wherever you end up, it won't be more than a stone's throw from the beach. The Praia da Avenida, close to the city center, is always active, but has reportedly been polluted by the port.


Ilhéus was a sleepy town until cacao was introduced into the region from Belém, in 1881. At the time, Brazil's many uncompetitive sugar estates, which had not followed the lead of other countries and introduced new production techniques to increase sugar output, were reeling from a drop in world sugar prices. Simultaneously, the slave system was finally coming to an end, with many slaves escaping and others being freed. With the sugar plantations in the doldrums, impoverished agricultural workers from the Northeast—black and white—flocked to the hills surrounding Ilhéus to farm the new boom crop: cacao, the ouro branco (white gold) of Brazil.

Sudden, lawless and violent, the scramble for the white cacao fruit displayed all the characteristics of a gold rush. When the dust settled, the land and power belonged to a few ruthless coronéis (rural landowners) and their hired guns. The landless were left to work, and usually live, on the fazendas where they were subjected to a harsh and paternalistic labor system. This history is graphically told by Amado, who grew up on a cacao plantation, in his book Terras do Sem Fim (published in English as The Violent Land.

Cacao still rules in Ilhéus. The lush tropical hills are covered with the skinny cacao trees with large, pod-shaped fruit dangling. If you take a drive you will still see cacao fazendas and rural workers like those Amado wrote about. You can also visit the small Museu Regional do Cacao, the port and, with a bit of effort and luck, a fazenda.

The city is sandwiched between hills, beach and a small harbor at the mouth of the Rio Cachoeira. The airport and the road to the Olivença beaches are in the southern part of town, beyond the circular harbor.

Tourist Office

Tourist information and basic maps are provided by Ilhéustur (Tel.: 231-2861), on Praça Castro Alves. There is also an information booth at the rodoviária (Tel.: 231-4412), which has maps and can book hotels.

Banco do Brasil is at Rua Marques de Paranaguá 112.

Casa de Jorge Amado
The house at Rua Jorge Amado 21, where the great writer lived with his parents while working on his first novel, O País do Carnaval, is in the process of being restored and turned into a museum. Not many writers can boast this sort of recognition while still alive!

The Igreja de São Jorge (1534), on Praça Rui Barbosa, is the city's oldest church and houses a small sacred-art museum. It's open Tuesday to Sunday from 8 to 11 am and 2 to 5.30 pm. The Catedral de São Sebastião (Basílica) is on Praça Dom Eduardo.

Museu Regional do Cacau
The recently restored and upgraded Museu Regional do Cacau displays cacao artifacts and modern painting by local artists. It's at Rua A L Lemos 126, and is open Tuesday to Friday from 2 to 6 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 3 to 6 pm. During the holiday season, from December to March, it's also open from 9 am to noon.

As any knowledgeable Jorge Amado fan would guess, Ilhéus has highly spirited festivals. The best are: the Gincana da Pesca in early January; Festa de São Sebastião (much samba and capoeira) from 11 to 20 January; Festa de São Jorge (featuring Candomblé) on 23 April; Festa das Águas (Candomblé) in December; and, of course, Carnaval with its full complement of trios elétricos.

Centro de Pesquisa do Cacau (CEPLAC)

You don't have to be a chocoholic to enjoy CEPLAC's model cacao plantation and research station at Itabuna. CEPLAC (Tel.: 214-3014), the government cacao agency, gives tours of the facility, demonstrating the cultivation and processing of the fruit. Opening hours are Monday to Friday from 8.30 to 11.30 am and 2.30 to 3.30 pm.
Buses for Itabuna leave around every half-hour from the city bus station in Ilhéus and also stop outside the rodoviária. Ask the bus driver to let you off at CEPLAC, eight km before Itabuna.

There are good, clean beaches, many with barracas, all the way to Olivença, a spa town 16 km south of Ilhéus. You can also continue south of Olivença to yet more remote beaches. The beaches in Olivença are busy on weekends and there's some good surfing.

Reserva Biológica Mico Leão de Una
This small (50 sq km) biological reserve was established in 1980 to protect the mico leão (lion monkey) in its natural habitat of coastal forest and attempt to save the species from extinction—less than 100 remain in this reserve. It's not a park and it does not cater to visitors. Dr Saturnino Neto Souza, the director of the reserve, has been facing tourist pressure and consequent hostility from farmers and bureaucrats who are opposed to his conservation aims. At present, visits are discouraged.

If you are keen to visit, we suggest you make contact in advance with Dr Saturnino, either by phoning him at home in Una (Tel.: 236-2166) from 7 to 8 am or after 5.30 pm or by writing to him at the following address: Rebio de Una, U5690, Una, Bahia.

The monkeys (Leontopithecus rosalia chrysomelas) have the look and proud gaze of miniature lions: a blazing yellow, orange and brown striped coat, a Tina Turner mane and a long, scruffy tail. The mico feces are hard to spot in the wild, but behind the biologist's quarters there is one monkey in captivity and one monkey-boarder who comes in from the forest every evening for milk, cheese, bananas and some shut-eye.

If you're lucky you'll also see tatu (armadillo), paca (agouti), capybara and veado (deer), which are also native to the area.

Canavieiras is a small colonial town at the mouth of the Rio Pardo, in a cacao-producing region 118 km south of Ilhéus. There is some colonial architecture in the town, including the Igreja Matriz de São Boaventura (1718), and long stretches of semideserted beaches.


Porto Seguro, once a settlement of pioneers, is now a refuge for swarms of Brazilian and international tourists who come to party and take in some mesmerizing beaches: tourism is the number-one industry in Porto Seguro. At last count this small city had nearly 120 hotels and pousadas—the place has exploded over the last five years. Other regional industries are lumber, fishing, beans, sugar cane, manioc and livestock.

After sighting land off Monte Pascoal in April 1500, Cabral and his men sailed three days up the coast to find a safe port. The Portuguese landed not at Porto Seguro (literally Safe Port), but 16 km further north, at Coroa Vermelha. The sailors celebrated their first mass in the New Land, stocked up on wood and fresh water, and set sail after only 10 days on shore. Three years later the Gonçalvo Coelho expedition arrived and planted a marker in what is now Porto Seguro's Cidade Alta (Upper Town). Jesuits on the same expedition built a church in Outeiro da Glória, to minister to the early colonists and convert the Tupiniquim Indians. The church is now in ruins. In 1526, a naval outpost was built in Cidade Alta, and once again, the men from the Companhia de Jesus built a chapel and convent, the Igreja da Misericórdia.

In 1534, when the colonies were divided into hereditary captaincies, Porto Seguro was given to Pero de Campos Tourinhos. In the following year Tourinhos founded a village at the falls of the Rio Buranhém, Porto Seguro, and seven other villages, each with a church. Despite the churches, Tourinhos was denounced to the Holy Inquisition as an atheist—apparently the captain didn't keep the holidays and, worse, he forced the colonists to work on Sunday, a blasphemy against God (and an abuse of cheap labor). Tourinhos was imprisoned, and shipped off to Portugal and the Inquisition. His son Fernando then inherited the captaincy.

Information recently unearthed at the Federal University of Bahia has revised some ideas about the history of the Indians during the colonial period. The Tupiniquim, not the Pataxó, were the indigenous tribe when the Portuguese landed. They were rapidly conquered and enslaved by the colonists, but the Aimoré, Pataxó, Cataxó and other inland tribes resisted Portuguese colonization and constantly threatened Porto Seguro. Military outposts along the coast, in Belmonte, Vila Viçosa, Prado and Alcobaça, were built to defend the Portuguese from European attacks by sea and Indian attacks by land.

The Indians still managed to take Porto Seguro on two occasions, and according to documents sent by colonial judges to the Portuguese crown, attacks reduced Porto Seguro to rubble in 1612 (thus undermining Porto Seguro's claims of having 16th-century buildings).

It is now believed that the Jesuit College in Cidade Alta was rebuilt after 1620. In 1759, the captaincy of Porto Seguro passed on to the crown and was incorporated into the province of Bahia.

Cidade Alta
If not the first, then among the first settlements in Brazil, Cidade Alta is marked with a stone (now fenced off and encased in glass) placed in 1503 by Gonçalvo Coelho. Walk north along Avenida 22 de Abril about one km. Once you've arrived at the roundabout, don't follow the sign that points left to the historic city, unless you're driving, but take the newly-built stairs up the hill. The attractions of this part of the city include superb views of the beaches and the opportunity to see very old buildings such as Igreja Nossa Senhora da Misericórdia (perhaps the oldest church in Brazil), the small Museu Antigo Paço Municipal (1772), Igreja Nossa Senhora da Pena (1535, rebuilt 1773), Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Jesuítas (1549) and the old fort (1503).

Reserva Biológica do Pau Brasil

This 10-sq-km reserve, 15 km from town, was set aside principally to preserve the pau brasil (brazil wood tree), which was almost completely wiped out along the littoral during the early years of colonization.

Porto Seguro's Carnaval is acquiring a reputation throughout Brazil as a hell of a party, although it is not at all traditional. Locals fondly remember the Carnaval in 1984 when the theme was the Adam and Eve story. Costumes were pretty skimpy to start with, then everyone stripped off as if on cue. The police were called in the following year.

Many of Brazil's favorite musicians have beach homes nearby, and often perform during Carnival. On the Sunday before Carnaval a beauty pageant is held at the Praia Hotel.

Municipal holidays celebrated include:
3 January until February
Bumba Meu Boi is celebrated with a musical parade
5 to 6 January
Terno de Reis is celebrated in the streets and at the churches. Women and children carrying lanterns and pandeiros (tambourines) sing 0 Reis and worship the Reis Magos (Three Wise Men).
20 January
Puxada de Mastro features a group of men who parade a mastro (symbolic figure) to the door of Igreja Nossa Senhora da Penha. Decorated with flowers, the mastro is hung in front of the church, with the flag and image of São Sebastião, and women then sing to the saint.
19 to 22 April
Discovery of Brazil is commemorated with an outdoor mass and Indian celebrations. This seems a rather baffling celebration, since the Indians were here first, and, later, fared badly at the hands of their `discoverers'.
15 August
Festa de Nossa Senhora d'Ajuda is the culmination of a pilgrimage starting on 9 April. A mass procession, organized in homage to the miraculous saint, is followed by food, drink and live music.
8 September
Festa de Nossa Senhora da Pena is the same as Festa de Nossa Senhora d'Ajuda except for the additional enlivenment of fireworks.
25 to 27 December
Festa de São Benedito is held on 27 December at the door of the church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário. Boys and girls from Cidade Alta blacken their faces and perform African dances, such as congo da alma, ole or lalá, to the music of drums, cuíca, atabaque and xeque-xeque.
31 December
NewYear's Eve is when everyone rushes around shouting `Feliz ano novo, Baiana!' (Happy New Year), strangers kiss and serious partying ensues.

Porto Seguro is a hot spot for lambada enthusiasts. The lambada is an erotic and entertaining local dance which involves some agitated leg tangling and exaggerated hip wiggling whilst pressing belly buttons. The origins of the international hit The Lambada are disputed between Bolivians and Brazilians.
For live music and booze go to Rua Portugal or Passarela do Álcool (the equivalent of a `booze alley'). The street is lined with bars and restaurants, and there's usually live music somewhere. Reggae Night, on Avenida Beira Mar, is a big club on the beach, with dance music and bands. Nearby, Banana Reggae is another popular spot. If you want to try something different, Bar Escritório, on Rua José Rodrigues, is a hole-in-the-wall bar with about 50 varieties of local cachaça—the top shelf features bottles with snake for extra bite!

Things to Buy
Pataxó Indians relocated from the interior of Brazil are nominally under the care of FUNAI. A few Pataxó are hanging on south of Caraiva and are trying to maintain some semblance of their traditional way of life. Those north of Porto Seguro sell trinkets (overpriced colored feathers, pieces of coral, fiber wristbands with beads) to tourists at Coroa Vermelha. This make-believe village is simply a sad little collection of thatched-roof huts and dugout canoes by the beach. Porto Seguro also has souvenir shops that sell Pataxó jewelry, basketware and earthenware ceramics.

Please don't buy items made of turtle shell or consume turtles or their eggs! Most of the species of turtle found in Brazil are threatened with extinction.

North of Porto Seguro, next to the paved coastal road, are several attractive beaches, such as Mundaí and Coroa Vermelha, and finally, at Km 25, the town of Santa Cruz Cabrália. These beaches are easily accessible by bus and, consequently, not as pristine as those to the south.
About five km north of town is the nicest of the northern beaches, Mundaí, with barracas at the mouth of the Rio Mundaí. North of Rio dos Mangues, at Ponta Grande, the highway cuts inland a bit. The beach is uncrowded, with tranquil waters—and hard to reach. Six km before Cabrália is Coroa Vermelha, with Pataxós craft stands, a monument to the discovery of Brazil and some fair beaches.

Santa Cruz Cabrália
There's not much to Cabrália, but its terra-cotta roofs and palm trees are pleasant enough. Climb up to the bluff for the view overlooking the town and to visit Igreja Nossa Senhora da Imaculada Conceição, the lonely, white church which was built by the Jesuits in 1630. The elderly caretaker will tell you the history of the region, as well as the inside story on Cabral's expedition. Fried shrimp and a batida de coco at the barracas by the church enhance the view of the offshore reef, the boats and the palm trees in and about the bay of Cabrália.

After taking the ferry across the Rio Buranhém, you rejoin the road, which continues along a long stretch of dreamlike beaches, with a bluff backdrop. Up on the bluff, a short walk from the beach, are the rapidly expanding villages of Arraial d'Ajuda (also known as Nossa Senhora da Ajuda) and Trancoso, which are 4.5 km and 26 km, respectively, from the ferry crossing. The rush to develop the region south of Porto Seguro is in full swing in Arraial d'Ajuda and Trancoso, which are being developed to match the facilities in Porto Seguro: paved roads, electricity, pousadas, chopp and, of course, bottled beer. South of Trancoso, a poor, unpaved road continues for 42 km to the small village of Caraiva.

Arraial d'Ajuda
Fifteen years ago, before the arrival of electricity or the road from Porto Seguro, Arraial was a poor fishing village removed from the world. Since then, the international tourist set has discovered Arraial and its desolate beaches, and a time-honored way of life has all but vanished. The village has gone too hip too fast: along Arraial's maze of dirt streets, barefoot-poverty jet-set trippers eat the dust of trendy package tourists in dune buggies, and slick shopping galleries sit awkwardly alongside rustic reggae cafés. The increasingly littered main beach is lined with barracas and the beach-lounge set, while further south, hippies let it all hang out along the nude beach at Pitinga.
Yet, for some, Arraial d'Ajuda is the place to be. Younger and wilder than Porto Seguro, Arraial d'Ajuda is a wonderful place to tan and slough off excess brain cells. Newcomers soon fall into the routine: going crazy every evening, recovering the following morning and crawling back onto the beach for more surf, sun and samba.


Arraial d'Ajuda is built on a little hilltop by the sea. The main street running from the church to the cemetery is called Broadway. Many of the restaurants and bars, plus a couple of cheap pousadas, are here. Most of Arraial d'Ajuda's pousadas are tucked away on the ocean side of this hilltop, along the dirt streets. Mucugê is the name of the beach below the maze.

From the ferry landing, the dusty 4½-km road to Arraial d'Ajuda runs about 100 meters inland of Praia do Arraial and passes several pousadas. Heading south from Arraial d'Ajuda towards Trancoso, the road passes a series of beaches—Pitinga, Taipe and Rio da Barra—before reaching Trancoso.


There's now a police post in Arraial d'Ajuda and their attitude to drug-taking is less tolerant than in the past.

Praia Mucugê is good until 3 or 4 pm when the sun hides behind the hill. Many of the beach barracas are home to do-it-yourself samba and guitar music. The barraca facing the ocean on the far right has great music and a fantastic batida de abacaxi, (vodka and pineapple). The barraca to the far left, Tia Cleuza, has good fried shrimp for a couple of dollars.

Praia Pitinga, the river beach closest to Arraial d'Ajuda, has red and green striped sandstone cliffs, sparkling water and large grained sand. It's acceptable for women to go topless anywhere. Nude sunbathing is OK for both men and women on Pitinga beach and points further south.

Places to Stay
Pousadas are popping up every day. Old pousadas change their names, management comes and goes, and owners trade property deeds like baseball cards. Prices also change very rapidly here. Out of season you should be able to negotiate heavy discounts. Make sure your room has either a properly fitting mosquito net over the bed or preferably a fan.

For organized campgrounds, try Camping do Gordo, which has very basic facilities and is close to the ferry landing point; or Camping Arraial d'Ajuda, which is closer to town on the beach at Praia de Mucugê and has better facilities.

Places to Eat
If you like to eat by the kilo, you'll do well in Arraial—comida a kilo is the latest trapping of the civilized world to hit Arraial. Restaurant Nona Madeira, on Caminho do Mar, is the best by far. A doorway on Broadway near the church leads to Restaurant São João, which has good-value seafood prato feito for $4.50, and an extensive menu of more expensive seafood dishes. It's a friendly, family-run place—you have to walk through the living room of the house to get in.

Behind the church on the edge of the bluff, Josefina Grill Bar is a colorful restaurant with smooth music and grilled seafood and salad dishes for $10. Further along the road, Restaurante Tubarão is a breezy place with tasty, wood-fired pizzas. The barracas down at the beach have excellent fried shrimp and other seafood.

Arraial d'Ajuda is pretty lively in the evenings. Cruise Broadway for drinking and lambada or forró dancing—Chega Mais and Bali Bahia are two popular bars. The small shopping lanes off Caminho do Mar, A Galeria d'Ajuda and Beco dos Cores have some slick bars for more cashed-up travelers. Cine Bar is an open-air cinema with good movies every night for $3. Café da Marta, about a 10-minute taxi ride from the village, has been recommended by readers as a hot spot for dancing. Arraial d'Ajuda's pousadas host open festas with musicians every evening. Once a month people gather on Praia de Mucugê to sing, dance and howl at the moon.

Getting Around
VW Kombis congregate in front of the church on Broadway to ferry passengers to the beaches around Arraial. Bicycles can be hired at several shops on Broadway.

Trancoso lies on a grassy bluff overlooking the ocean and fantastic beaches. The central square, known as Quadrado, is lined with small, colorful colonial buildings and casual bars and restaurants nestling under shady trees. Horse riding is popular around the area, and there are some lovely walks in the surrounding rainforest.

Pára-Raio is an ambient restaurant and dancing bar with outdoor tables under massive trees. Black White Danceteria is a large dance club open on weekends. Occasionally, raves are organized at secluded locations along the beach out of town, complete with bars, sophisticated sound and lighting systems and all-night dancing. The walking bridge across the river is missing several planks, so watch your step in the dark!

Without electricity, cars or throngs of tourists, the hamlet of Caraiva is primitive and beautiful. The village is strung out along the east bank of the mangrove-lined Rio Caraiva. The bus stops on the far side of the river, where small dugout canoes ferry passengers across to the village for $0.50. The beaches are long and deserted and dashed by churning surf. A warning: the black-sand streets of the village get incredibly hot—take footwear with you at all times.

Boat trips up the Rio Caraiva and to the Parque Nacional de Monte Pascoal are easily organized in the village. The tiny fishing village of Curuípe, nine km north, has no electricity or regular accommodation, but it's possible to stay with villagers—speak to Edivaldo. Corumbau, 12 km south, on the far side of the national park, is not as primitive, and has electricity and a couple of pousadas.

Excerpts from Brazil - A Travel Survival Kit, 3rd edition, by Andrew Draffen, Chris McAsey, Leonardo Pinheiro,  and Robyn Jones. For more information call Lonely Planet: (800) 275-8555. Copyright 1996 Lonely Planet Publications. Used by permission.

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Brazil - A Travel Survival Kit

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