Morro de São Paolo is one of three inhabited islands in an archipelago of 26 off the coast of Salvador and although no longer a hidden gem, it is still a gem. From Itacaré the bus took us to Valenca where we took a 30 minute speed boat to Morro. Friends that had trodden this path 10-15 years ago described Morro de São Paolo as a relatively off grid destination that residents of Rio visited for some relaxation after the excitement of the carnival. It is certainly still a destination for Brazilian holiday makers but the word has spread and Morro de São Paolo has now become an international go to destination.
As the boat pulls up to Morro the, blue seas, white beaches and incredible forests are visible before even disembarking. The island has no cars, there is one ambulance apparently which we luckily never saw and one tractor that collects the rubbish once a day. The ‘taxis’ that greet you from the boat whisking away your luggage are actually men pushing wheelbarrows laden with luggage around the island to the destination of your choice. Unfortunately we had used up the last of our cash in Valenca and therefore had to turn down the willing assistance of many. Immediately we wished we had saved our pennies as the hill from port to town is super steep, even more so with a backpack and it was a fair old way to our accommodation. By the time we arrived I felt the marines could have signed me up.
You become aware pretty early on that Morro de São Paolo is tourist friendly. It prides itself on its safety record and you do feel immediately at ease as soon as you disembark. The town is very Saint Tropezesque from the multiple clothing boutiques, to the restaurants to the very clientele. We shared a boat with a jewel covered family with match luggage which gave me the fear that my backpack and plastic watch would be a bit out of place in such a destination! However, I soon realised that Morro de São Paolo caters for everyone, high end and budget, once you’re in your bikini no one knows!
There are five main beaches to take in, slightly unimaginatively named First beach, Second beach etc. A wooden boardwalk takes you around from First to Fourth beaches, Fifth is a bit more of a mission. First and Second beaches have restaurants lining the walk ways with copious beach seating and super keen touts trying to lure you in. We made our way to fourth beach with was a lot quieter and really beautiful with turquoise waters and multiple rock pools to cool the singeing skin. For those that didn’t want to walk the beaches there were horse and carts on hand to ferry them from one to another.
It might not be mainland Brazil but there is no doubt about the allegiance of Morro de São Paolo residence when it comes to football. Watching a game between Paris St Jermain and Bayern Munich, the Brazilian player Neymer made an appearance and the bar went wild. We watched two goals by other players but then Neymer scored the third and final goal and that was it, everything went crazy. The waiters were hugging each other, passers by were being dragged in and hugged it was a massive celebration. If that’s what it’s like watching a Brazilian player for a European team, I can only imagine the atmosphere when Brazil played in the world cup in Brazil!
There are a whole heap of activities to get involved in on Morro, depending on your budget, there are zip wires, para-gliders, hiking, restaurants up mountains and also the chance to get to other islands. They are no short of accommodation with a pousada (guest house) at every turn so they are prepared for the influx of tourists that arrive at peak season.
The majority of people that leave Morro de São Paolo go on to Salvador which was the route we were taking. There is a boat that goes directly between the two by going out into the Atlantic ocean but we were advised to take the ‘semi terrestre’, the boat bus, boat option that takes you by boat to Valenca, round the peninsula by land and across the estuary by boat. The reason for this that as one guy explained, the water is pretty stormy and in August this year a boat sank killing 18 people. He was pretty blasé about it but it certainly changed our travel route, especially looking out over the choppy sea. The ‘semi terrestre’ route was pretty efficient and got us to Salvador in one piece so it gets my vote!
Morro de São Paolo is beautiful, and well worth a visit. It has a different feel to it to the desert island tranquillity of Ilha Grande but off season we could still find areas of beach just for ourselves and enjoyed the warmth of the sea without too much competition! It was still fairly busy on the first two beaches and I understand that at peak season the world descends! You can shape your stay on the island how you want, choosing relaxing or partying, shopping or sporting activities. You do have to run the gauntlet of the restaurant touts but there is a wide selection of places to eat, again catering for all budgets. You can get a mean caipirinha too!