Dolphins play offshore and blue-green waters lap onto the beaches around Morro de São Paulo, a village at the northeast end of Tinharé Island, off the Bahia coast. Morro de São Paulo — or simply Morro, which means "hill" — has retained its old charms while accepting its status as a tourist destination. During the summer, the clubs at one of the beaches are busy all night, every night. Like many other Brazilian beaches, Morro de São Paulo was an isolated corner of the world until it was discovered by travelers, some of whom have become residents.
The island also gets a generous share of Israeli tourists every year, having become a favorite destination for youngsters fresh from concluding their mandatory military service. Hebrew is spoken at several pousadas and other touristic spots in Morro.
Morro de São Paulo is in the north of Tinharé Island, part of the Dendê Coast. This stretch of the Bahia shores, south of Salvador, is named after the palm tree whose fruit are used to make an oil extensively used in the local cuisine.
Cairu, of which Morro de São Paulo is a district, is the only city in Brazil whose limits comprise an archipelago. Occupation of the area dates back to pre-colonial times. Local Tupiniquim people called the island Tinharé, for "land that advances into the sea".
A trip to Morro is perfectly rounded out with a visit to gorgeous Boipeba Island. According to Setur Bahia, Cairu originated in 1535 and Boipeba, a village on neighboring Boipeba Island, in 1565.
No cars are allowed on Tinharé Island. More distant beaches can be reached by boat, horseback, or trekking. The most popular beaches, arranged from the northern-most beach near the Farol do Morro, the island's lighthouse, to the southern-most:
- Primeira Praia (First Beach): The closest to the village; a small beach with calm waters, popular with families.
- Segunda Praia (Second Beach): Busy; great restaurants, snacks, clubs, and bars. The best place to socialize.
- Terceira Praia (Third Beach): A good beach for swimming, with restaurants and pousadas as well as a departure point for boat tours of Boipeba.
- Quarta Praia (Fourth Beach): A 1.2-mile long beach. Perfect for running.
- Praia do Encanto, or Quinta Praia (Enchantment Beach or Fifth Beach): A three-mile long, almost deserted beach with ocean pools formed by coral reefs.
- Garapuá: Ocean pools, a small fisherman's village and open wide spaces lure visitors to Garapuá, which can be reached by a trail (about 2 1/2 hours), horseback or boat.
- Pratigi: Access by boat or a three-day hike (available to groups only) offered by Rota Tropical, a local tour agency.
Gamboa, separated from Tinharé Island by the high tide, differs from other beaches in that it has slopes from which clay is extracted for clay baths. There's also a fisherman's village.
During the low tide, you can walk between Gamboa and Morro de São Paulo (about 1.2 mile).
When to Go
The coast of Bahia has balmy weather during most of the year. Summers are hot, but the sea breeze is an almost constant relief and temperatures stay within 68 F to 86 F. The rainiest months are April-June.
If you want to catch Morro at its liveliest, pair it up with a Carnival in Salvador. On Ash Wednesday, Morro kicks off its Ressaca ("Hangover"), a revelry with lots of post-Carnival beach and bar parties. Reservations in advance are recommended; usually, you can still find hotel rooms about a month before Ressaca. There are plenty of inviting accommodations in Morro de São Paulo, ranging from expensive to budget.
- There are no banks in Morro de São Paulo, only ATMs, so travelers need to make sure they have cash or a compatible bank card. Most inns and restaurants accept credit cards, but the type of card accepted varies and may be limited.
- A maintenance fee is charged at the pier upon arrival.
- Travel light. If your backpack is heavy, you can negotiate with locals — they will be waiting at the pier with wheelbarrows, eager to assist.
- If you're staying at an inn that is a distance from the pier, make arrangements for a boat transfer. Transfers are less frequent in the low season.
Getting to Morro from Salvador by Sea
Take a catamaran at the Maritime Terminal across from Mercado Modelo. But be aware that the open-sea, two-hour trip may not be easy on those who suffer from motion sickness.
Three companies provide catamaran service between Salvador and Morro; however, none currently accept credit card payments.
- Catamarã Biotur
Departure times: Salvador-Morro daily 9a, 2p; Morro-Salvador daily 11:30a, 4p
- Catamarã Farol do Morro
Departure times: Salvador-Morro daily 1p; Morro-Salvador daily 9a
- IlhaBela TM
If you are in Brazil, you can arrange a bank transfer, but this option may not be as palatable to overseas visitors. Since wiring money to Brazil is not cheap, it's best to e-mail each company and ask if they can reserve tickets for you (advisable if you're going to Morro during the high season).
Getting to Morro from Salvador by Plane
Getting to Morro from Valença
From Valença, the closest city on the continent, you can take ferries and motor boats to Morro. Camurujipe (71-3450-2109) has buses to Valença from the Salvador Bus Terminal (71-3460-8300). The trip takes about 4 hours. The motorboat ride lasts at least 35 minutes and the ferry boat ride, about 2 hours, but not in open sea.