Itacaré – A Sustained Paradise

Sleepy fishing village turned hot destination, Itacaré now needs to be preserved

When you ask a Baiano about Itacaré you are met with a wistful and distant longing in their eyes and a big smile. Having witnessed the picturesque paradise first hand, I can finally see why. Cradled by the lush green forestry of the Atlantic Rainforest and renowned for its production in cocoa, Itacaré is a small village south of Salvador, on Bahia’s coast. This spectacular landscape boasts waterfalls and over 15 glorious beaches, and its highly preserved ecosystem and sustainable credentials have made it a focal point of the country’s booming eco tourism.

My journey began in the main city of Ilhéus, where the pace of life was welcomingly slower in comparison to the high energy of Salvador. A coach from the main bus station to Itacaré takes you there in just over two hours. It was a tranquil ascent into Bahia’s rural interior where homes constructed amongst the dense forestry and jaw-dropping views of the ocean provide a visual treat.

The conscientious Tourist

The antiquated feel of Itacaré’s historical centre contrasts with the numerous shops, modern bars and restaurants that have been introduced as part of the wave of new development and investment over the last five years; just off the main street a community of pousadas accommodate the thousands of visitors that flock to the region.

Vira Canoa, where I stayed, was a delightful gem. Its bamboo structure has been deliberately constructed in harmony with the island’s vegetation. Everywhere is filled with light and the smell of greenery. An inside/outside ’zen’ space with a combined lounge and bar area opens out onto palm tree-lined gardens. Vira Canoa is one of many local businesses that are part of the Carbon Free Tourism Programme set up to protect the area, whereby companies pay for seedlings planted to offset their footprint. The money goes to the Social Carbon Fund to support environmental conservation, human development and advancement of the area.

The pousada organised for a guide to give me a personal tour of all the special places that Itacaré had to offer. To my surprise, Raí, was a 19 year-old boy from the local area who knew the town and forestry like the back of his hand. His little anecdotes and recollections of the town’s landmarks gave a nice personal touch. One of the highlights was the original church of São Miguel built by the Jesuits at the beginning of the 18th century, where he and most of the town’s inhabitants have been christened or got married. Just opposite the church is a bay where fishing boats are moored. By day the water reaches just below street level but by night, when the tide has receded, you will often find the local children playing football on the sand.

Natural Harmony

Our first main stop on the tour was Concha beach. It was about 11am, still quiet and yet to be descended upon by tourists, so I had a chance to dip my toe in the emerald waters before moving on to Ribeira and Resende beaches. These were equally chilled spots where capoeira classes often take place, usually organised through your pousada. There are lots of organised group trails through the forests, as well as visits to Itacarezinho – the eco-friendly sea turtle project on offer. There is warm weather all year round and in September – Brasil’s autumn – the weather was heavenly and hot, so trekking in the forest requires sun cream and insect repellent! But if you fancy just roving around the landscape you can rent a bicycle for the day from about £15.

Raí was desperate to show me something special that wasn’t one of the obvious tour destinations. A little off the beaten track was the base for Casa do Boneco – a social project set up for young people to engage with arts, culture and education and to help them excel in all aspects of their lives. I met the founder Jorge de Jesus, who organises shows for the young people to perform in the village and at many of the pousadas. He explained how this and his other project Quilombo do Oitizeiro were part of the efforts to continue to sustain the local community and encourage the preservation of the land.

Jorge wanted to take me to a small island where he is building the equivalent of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant – which will be an addition to the tourist landscape and provide a catering training school for young locals, as well as a bar and restaurant for visitors to dine. This secret excursion also gave me a chance to see and cross the famous Rio de Contas river, which was integral to Itacaré’s role as a port in Bahia’s maritime history.

In a 20-minute canoe ride across amazingly calm waters, I was lucky enough to spot dolphins and other unusual fish. These waters are said to be the origin of life. Of course, no paradise would be complete without its beaches, and for sun worshippers Itacaré has an abundance of these, adorned with coconut groves – still unspoilt and incredibly beautiful. Sandy beaches run around the coast, and the more deserted natural beaches of Jeribucaçu, Engenhoca, Tiririca and Prainha are favourites among surfers, where the stronger waters offer great waves.

Itacaré is a tranquil, welcoming and breathtaking wonderland that has fostered the joyful and unapologetically laid back temperament of its people who live in total harmony with their natural surroundings.
Its beauty as a holiday destination is its somewhat split personality – by day a serene setting promises all the exoticism of Brasil’s interior with wildlife and vegetation, yet by night the bars and restaurants are full and vibrant with that characteristic Bahian party spirit, which is always up for the taking. JD

By Fola Odumosu

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