Lay of the Land
The state of Bahia runs along the southeastern coast of Brazil, encompassing close to 600 miles of oceanfront land and a unique rainforest known as the Mata Atlantica. In the 1800s more than 3.5 million Africans were brought as slaves to its capital, Salvador, and today 80 percent of its population is of African origin. Salvador, like so many colonial ports, wears its history on its building facades. Wandering its cobblestoned streets amidst its colorful Portuguese-style houses is a great introduction to the Afro-Brazilian culture that spawned samba, feijoada, capoiera and bozza nova, and it’s an ideal jumping-off point before a Bahia beach holiday.
To its north and south along the coast are laid-back beach resorts that have been catering to Latin American vacationers for decades and have more recently drawn the attention of a sophisticated international crowd. The ones that have attracted movie stars and appeared on glossy magazine pages are those in and around Trancoso and Itacaré, two sleepy villages, where fishermen and surfers now share the beaches with likes of British bankers and models on break.
Trancoso is the trendiest beach resort in Brazil. The reason that the country’s wealthiest have flocked here, though, is for the beaches and the natural beauty. The town of Trancoso has a hippy market at one end, an ancient church overlooking the sea at the and colorful stucco houses in between. Former residences have been turned into hip boutiques and chic restaurants, where you’ll find kaftans imported from India at marked-up prices and delicious Salvadoran food. But as requisite as these fashionable nods are to please the newly arriving jet-setters, it’s the endless beaches and empty waves that make it worth the long trip.
When to Go
High season runs from December through March, which coincides with the major Brazilian summer holidays. However, the temperature is quiet constant year round in the 75 to 85 degree range, with more frequent tropical showers in summer May to September.
Since the U.S. required Brazilians to get visas to enter the U.S. after 9/11, Brazil has required Americans to have visas to travel to Brazil.
Most international flights arrive in São Paulo or Salvador. You can get connecting flights from either of those to Porto Seguro (closest airport to Trancoso) or to Ilheus (closest to Itacaré). There is also a private airstrip within a ten-minute drive from Trancoso’s Quadrado (main square). Your hotel can send a car and driver to collect you. Given the rough quality of many of the region’s roads, you are better off sticking to cars and drivers from your hotel than renting your own car.
Pack clothes for a very relaxed time at the beach. Brazilian women wear abbreviated bikinis and kangas (pareos) and Havianas most of the day and casual clothes in the evening. A good hat and lots of sun protection are essential. Leave all expensive jewelry and watches at home; no one in Brazil wears wealth on their wrists.