One of Bahia’s, indeed Brazil’s, top travel destinations, the island of Morro de Sao Paulo usually conjures up images of a laid back holiday destination with coconut palmed beaches and a buzzing nightlife scene for those that seek it. Sounds amazing eh…Well it’s not. After spending three weeks exploring North Brazil’s beaches, both my girlfriend and I were totally disappointed with Morro de Sao Paulo. Why?
Morro de Sao Paulo is part of the island of Tinhare, close to Salvador. It’s normally desribed as an island - to get my point across, I’d describe it as a giant rock pool. The beaches here just are not very good for a swim, or even a dip. In reality, the beaches are giant rock pools. In photos, Morro de Sao Paulo’s beaches may look lovely, but the photos don’t tell the whole story. When I go to the beach, I like to be able to go for a swim in the sea, but that’s very difficult in Morro de Sao Paulo. The beaches are very tidal, the seabed rocky and the water is normally up to your kness unless you walk for miles out into the sea, through all those rocks. Morro de Sao Paulo’s beaches are pretty - but it’s sea is not, and often a murky brown.
We left earlier than planned - that is how poorly I regard Morro de Sao Paulo. There are many better beach destinations in Brazil.
Assuming you are still planning to travel here, here comes the travel guide:
Morro de Sao Paulo’s Beaches & Hotels
Morro de Sao Paulo has five beaches, all of which pretty much blend together. The island of Tinhare, on which Morro de Sao Paulo is located, also has other villages, and beaches. Morro de Sao Paulo’s beaches are named 1 to 5 - beach 1 is closest to town, while beach 5 is just over an hours walk from town.
Beach 1 - a five minute walk from where boats dock, beach 1 is just 100 metres long, and densely backed by various buildings and pousadas.
Beach 2 - a 10 minute walk from where the catarmarans arrive, beach 2 is the busiest of Morro’s beaches. This is well known throughout Brazil as the party beach, with lively nightlife and beach bars serving drinks late into the night during high season. Beach 2 is Morro de Sao Paulo’s only decent swimming beach, and is about 150 metres in length. There’s a dozen restaurants, and various pousadas here.
Beach 3 - this beach is quieter, but not so good for swimming. It’s about a 15 minute walk from the port, and about 400 metres in length. The near end of this beach is narrow and with little space to lay down a towel - the far end is better for lounging in the sun. The near end (ie near Beach 2), has a handful of good, cheap and peaceful pousadas. After checking out various options, we chose Pousada Farol Das Estrellas - we got a tiny, but clean room with air conditioning, plus a small beach front balcony for just R$50 a night (low season). Rooms not overlooking the beach cost even less, and there’s various other good but cheap pousadas set back from the beach. Set at the far end of Beach 3 is Vila Dos Corais Hotel - I’d recommend this option for those seeking a more upmarket, luxury hotel in Morro de Sao Paulo, due to it’s location. Beach 3 is, in my opinion, the best beach to stay on - it’s quiet, and various restaurants are within easy walking distance.
Beach 4 - is a 20 to 25 minute walk from the port, and stretches for a couple of kilometres. The beach is backed by coconut palms, and is undeveloped with the exception of a scattering of small, luxury resorts every now and then. If you choose a hotel on Beach 4, it might be better to arrive by plane, as the airport is probably nearer your hotel than the port. I’d be very disappointed if I booked one of these luxury hotels on Beach 4 in the expectation of finding a lovely Brazilian beach resort. The beach is pretty, but the sea is not, especially at low tide. Beach 4 is not a swimming beach, and many of the hotels here are fronted by extensive rock pools.
Beach 5 - also known as Praia do Encanto, it takes over an hour to walk here from Morro de Sao Paulo. This is one of the prettiest beaches, and is very undeveloped with only 3 upmarket and luxury hotels. Here you are far away from everything.
Gamboa - it takes about 45 minutes to walk to Gamboa from Morro de Sao Paulo, or you could arrange a boat tour (R$20). The main beach has several bars and restaurants, and there’s various pousadas in town. Nearby Ponta do Curral beach is more deserted, and there are also clay mud baths nearby.
Garapua - is a small fishing village with a beautiful beach a three to four hour hike through the rainforest South of Morro de Sao Paulo. There’s a few pousadas and some good seafood restaurants serving typical Brazilian food. Many boat tours from Morro visit Garapua, or you could get a tractor to take you there.
Ilha Boipeba - Ilha de Boipeba is in fact a different island from Tinhare, however it’s possible to travel by tractor between the two. The beaches here are more beautiful, and less developed than those of Morro de Sao Paulo. There’s a few pousadas in both Boca da Barra, near where the ferry arrives, and in Morere which is further to the South. There’s many lovely beaches to explore here. A boat tour from Morro de Sao Paulo costs R$45 - you could be asked to be dropped in Morere for example. Other ways of getting to Boipeba from the mainland include: a 30 minute speed boat journey from Torrinha; 12.30pm ferry departure from Valenca (4 hours, daily except Sunday apparently); from Graciosa, which is a little South of Valenca, a boat leaves daily for Boipeba at 2 pm, except on Sundays and takes two and a half hours.
Getting to Morro de Sao Paulo
Catamarans, or rather small ferries (with toilets), leave the Terminal Maritimo de Mercado Modelo in Salvador. The cost is R$60 one way (R$100 return), and various boats leave every day at 9 am, 9.30 am, 11.30 am and 2pm. The journey to Morro do Sao Paulo takes 2 hours, and is a little boring (little to see except when you depart Salvador), and the sea rough at times. In high season, there are more boats I believe. The catarmarans arrive at the small port which is very close to the main town of of Vila. There’s various cheap pousadas within a five minute walk of the dock. There is a port tax of R$ 6.50 per person.
There are also flights from Salvador to Morro de Sao Paulo with Brazilian airlines Addey Taxi Aereo and Aerostar. Flights arrive inland - close to the 4th and 5th beaches. If you plan on staying in a hotel on 4th or 5th beach, it’s better for you to arrive by plane, otherwise you’ll have a long walk from the dock - there are no taxis on the island, only locals with wheelbarrows offering assistance with your bags.
For further travel advice see also our guide to Salvador & it’s surroundings, our guide to Brazil & it’s beaches, plus articles on Salvador and Praia do Forte, an alternative beach destination near Salvador .