Itacaré: A Bahian Paradise With Added ChocolateBRAZIL
Itacare Bahia: A Tropical Paradise With Added Chocolate
If you asked us to define what would constitute tropical paradise, we’d normally suggest something like “miles of powdery-sand beaches, baying coconut trees, glorious sunsets and a wonderful fish-based cuisine”. And the area around Itacare Bahia certainly ticks those particular boxes.
Add to that gourmet chocolate products made from locally produced farms and we’d happily sell our own body parts to get there.
Such as it is on Brazil’s glorious Costa do Cacau (or “Cocoa / Chocolate Coast”). And yes, you heard that right.
We only decided to pay it a visit at the last minute ahead of our stay in the Marau Peninsula close by. Suffice to say, we’re so glad we did. Even if the weather meandered through a range between semi-decent and dreadful for the four days we were there. Nonetheless, we managed to see and do enough during our stay to make us want to promise ourselves that we’ll return sometime in the future.
In the meantime, here’s our guide and what Itacare and its surrounding area have to offer.
Jeribucacu, near Itacare
Table of Contents
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- Take a day trip to the Marau Peninsula
Situated 250 km south of Salvador and 75 km north of Ilheus, the small fishing town of Itacare is part of a larger coastline known as “The Discovery Coast”, so named because it’s where the Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral first landed in Brazil in 1500. And, because of the mile-upon-mile of protected (and UNESCO World Heritage) Atlantic Rainforest that still hugs the coastline, much of what can be seen today is as it was all those hundreds of years ago.
As with a lot of Atlantic-facing Brazilian coastal towns, it developed as a tourist destination by drawing surfers from home and abroad, attracted to the huge waves that roll onto the beaches north and south of it. And, as with most places where surfers settle, the town is colourful and enjoys a laid-back vibe. Although there’s been a noticeable influx of more upmarket hotels and pousadas in recent years.
One of the many surfing beaches around Itacare
Beaches for everyone
You’ll certainly be spoiled for choice when deciding on which beaches to choose from. And not just the ones close to the town centre either. Indeed, for our money, the best choices are at the end of a bus ride and/or a decent rainforest hike.
To be honest, we didn’t trouble the town beaches during our stay – apart from a brief visit in between heavy downpours of rain. Praia da Concha is the closest to the town centre and is characterised by lots of beach restaurants, sun loungers and people. And not much else. More attractive are the smaller beaches of Tirririca, Costa and our pick of the bunch, Resende – with just the odd hut selling snacks and green coconuts.
These beaches are accessed via a dirt road that continues at the far end of Pituba, Itacare’s main restaurant, bar and shopping strip. At the very end of the road, Praia Ribeira serves as the starting point for a rainforest hike to perhaps Itacare’s most famous beach, Prainha.
Again, full disclosure, we didn’t go there – mainly because the weather was so awful that we felt a 30-40 minute hike up and down through a muddy rainforest was not going to make our must-do list. And as most blog posts and travel articles we’d read referenced muggings that have apparently happened along the trail. Although our pousada hosts vehemently denied that this was still a problem – more of an urban myth generated by a notorious mugging from yesteryear, they said.
However, we did make it to two beaches further south of town that took a little more effort to get to. And, as we’ve found time and time again, that extra bit of effort tends to bring its own rewards in the form of unexpected gems.
As with many beaches along this coast, the best time to visit Jeribucaçu is at (or near) low tide when the receding water exposes large sections of gorgeous, clean sand.
To get there from Itacare, it’s possible to take a bus (direction Ihéus) and ask the driver to drop you off at the start of the trail (Trilha de Jeribucaçu). From where it’s a 4 km walk along a bumpy dirt road to the actual trail entrance, and a further 30 minutes or so downhill to the beach. We took the easy option of jumping in a taxi directly to the trail entrance instead. Better still, if you have your own car, there’s a parking area there, too.
The beach has been a big draw for surfers for some time but it attracts plenty of families and local tourists at weekends. During the week, however, it’s much quieter.
Apart from its beautiful location, it features a lovely lagoon and spit of sand behind the main beach. There’s a sprinkling of beach huts selling grilled fish and tapiocas (folded pancakes of tapioca filled with melted cheese, tomato etc). And there are walks to the south along the rocky shore to other secluded beaches, too.
Bear in mind that, if you want to avoid the long hike back for the bus, there’s very little internet or phone service around. So, if you want a taxi to pick you up at the trail entrance it’s better to pre-book it before you go.
Jeribucacu Beach and its lagoon
One of the best beaches in Bahia and hands down our favourite beach in the area, Itacarezinho (literally translated as “Little Itacare”), is a long stretch of gorgeous sand sandwiched between the rainforest and the sea. And with just one beach restaurant at the northern end, there’s plenty of wild, empty beach to explore.
But, for a sheer spectacle of drama and colour, the stream that runs directly onto the beach from the rainforest behind is hard to beat. Picking up tannins from the flora of the rainforest, the stream has a gorgeous tea-brown colouring that conjures up a myriad of colour when it mixes with the turquoise-blue of the sea. Just stunning.
For many, Itacarezinho is the final stop on the famous Four Beach Track, which starts at Praia Engenhoca and passes through the rainforest via Praias Hawaizinho and Camboinha. We managed a short section in the opposite direction before heavy rain made its inevitable appearance and the steep, muddy incline became almost impassable. But, by all accounts, it’s a fabulous 4.5 km hike. And, although it can be done independently (as we were planning to do), most people tend to go with a tour company and/or guide – not just for the same security reasons as at Prainha, but also because transportation to and from Itacare is taken care of.
Being cheapskates, we naturally opted for the bus (direction Ilhéus / Ubaitaba), getting off at the KM50 mark on the main road and hiking the 2 km dirt track down to the beach at Itacarezinho.
Itacarezinho Beach as approached on the Four Beaches Trail
The point where the stream reaches the beach
The tannin-infused stream meets the sea (and a stormy sky)
Interested in housesitting while you travel?
We’re more than a little bit partial to chocolate, so spending some time on the Costa de Cacau was always going to be something of a treat for us.
The area has been home to cacau farms since the late 19th century when cacau was first introduced from the Amazon. But with a highly questionable and harsh approach to its labour force, many of whom were ex-slaves, its boom years were not without controversy.
And, in 1989, an epidemic of witch’s broom disease devastated the cacau crop, crippling the local economy as a result. It’s still around today, stifling the recovery to previous levels. In response, some farm owners have converted their farms into museums and visitor centres, offering tours and tastings. One of the nearest to Itacare is Vila Rosa in Taboquinhas, 20 km inland.
However, if you don’t have time for that, just visit one or two of the specialist chocolate shops in Itacare, centred around the main street, Pituba. We’ll freely admit that we ate considerably more than the daily recommended dose of chocolate (if such a thing exists), but if we had to suggest something to buy it would be as much cocada de cacau as you can comfortably carry. Imagine the richest and softest chocolate brownie you’ve ever tasted in your life. Then try to imagine it imbued with fresh coconut. Magical.
And, when you’re done with that, head to one of the stalls on Pituba displaying local fruits and cacau pods, together with bottles of cachaça (a kind of Brazilian rum) and vodka. Then ask for a caipirinha de cacau – a cocktail of cachaça mixed with cacau honey (the juiced pulp from inside the pod).
Cocada de cacau
The best of Bahian food
We adore Brazilian food. But we absolutely love Bahian food. It’s one of our primary motives for going there. And it’s a good enough reason on its own for us to go back.
In particular, Ian has to fight the urge to order a Moqueca Baiana (Bahian fish and coconut stew) in every Bahian restaurant he visits. But, as Restaurant Tia Deth has a menu of over a dozen varieties (including octopus, crab, lobster and fish with banana) he managed to get his fix without much of a problem. The restaurant also serves two other classic Brazilian seafood dishes, Bobo de Camarao (essentially a Moqueca with added ground cassava) and Camarao na Moranga (a creamy shrimp stew served inside a pumpkin).
Our favourite restaurant, though, was Lua Cheia Bar + Cozinha on Pituba. In addition to a great welcome and top-notch service, we loved the Xinxim (chicken curry with lime, shrimp and peanut sauce – said to be football legend Pelé’s favourite dish).
A street stall in Itacare selling caipirinhas de cacao
Other things to do in Itacare
So, apart from working your way around the beaches, hiking through rainforests and eating your own body weight in chocolate and fish suppers, is there much else to do in Itacare?
Just a bit. And, this being Brazil, much of the activities available are geared towards the outdoors. So there are kayaking tours upriver, white water rafting on the River Contas, horseback riding in the forested hillsides and hikes to waterfalls, to name but a few.
Of course, if you want to try your hand at surfing, there are some surfing schools for beginners available in town. And in July / August, you can book on to humpback whale-watching tours.
Around town, there’s likely to be a capoeira (a unique Bahian mixture of martial arts and dance) performance somewhere around. They might be advertised or just materialise seemingly out of nothing. But if you can catch one, don’t miss it. Your hotel or pousada might be able to help you find one. Or ask in a bar or restaurant.
For a sundowner, head to the Deck Bar – a rustic bar with a good sunset view. Then take a stroll along Rua Pituba for dinner, dropping in at a bar, ice cream parlour or chocolate shop when the mood dictates. In truth, there’s not much going on there during the day, but in the evening it’s a laid-back and safe place to spend some time.
Take a day trip to the Marau Peninsula
Immediately after our stay in Itacare, we spent a further week on the nearby Marau Peninsula, where the beaches were even better. And we’d wholly recommend it as a separate destination. But you can also take a day trip there from Itacare on an organised tour via a notoriously bad 40km-long dirt road
On the trip, you’ll visit the glorious Praia de Taupa de Fora with its gorgeous rock pools (best on or near a full moon). And you can take an additional boat ride to the islands dotted around Camamu Bay.
The beaches in the Marau Peninsula are simply stunning
Combine your visit with other Bahia hot spots
Although Bahia is a large state, it’s such a beautiful and diverse region that it would be a shame to miss out on some of its other wonders, if you have the time.
For instance, beyond the Marau Peninsula, Ilha Boipeba is a remote natural paradise with beaches and rock pools to compare with Taipu de Fora. And just north of there, Morro de Sao Paolo is a more upmarket island retreat brimming with pousadas, restaurants and extensive nightlife.
Salvador, with its incredible West African heritage and fantastic food scene, is six hours away from Itacare by bus and ferry.
And the majestic Chapada Diamantina National Park, with its fabulous table mountain scenery, dramatic waterfalls and multi-day hiking opportunities can be reached in a day. Indeed, it’s at the top of our priority list for our next visit to Bahia (which can’t come soon enough).
Where to stay
As we mentioned, there’s now a range of accommodation in Itacare from cheap hostels through to higher-end pousadas.
However, we’re so glad we found Pousada Burundanga, just a 10-minute walk from Praia Concha. A beautifully designed pousada, decorated with local art and set amidst a landscaped tropical garden, it was a welcome respite from some of the bad weather we experienced. And, in a country where pousada breakfasts are something of a speciality, the morning buffet here was exceptional.
How to get there
If you’re already in Brazil, the nearest major airport is in Ilheus. From there you’ll need to take a taxi or Uber to the bus terminal, from where there are hourly buses to Itacare (two hours). If you’re flying from abroad you’ll normally have to connect in Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paolo.
From Salvador, it’s a little more complicated by bus as you’ll first need to catch a ferry to Bom Despacho on Ilha Itaparica, from where there are regular buses (Cidade de Sol and Aguia Branca) to Itacare (five hours).
Of course, if you’re planning on exploring more of the coastline (and Chapada Diamantina, too), then renting a car might be a good option instead.
A multi-coloured sea rolls into Itacarezinho
Final thoughts on Itacare Bahia
Although the weather was something of a challenge at times, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Itacare. It’s a slice of coastal Bahia that ticks all the right boxes, but without the large crowds that some of the more famous resorts (such as Morro de Sao Paolo and Porto Seguro) attract.
However, it’s difficult to believe it will stay this way for too long. And we did witness plenty of building work going on during our stay (July 2023). Let’s just hope that whatever further development takes place, it continues to be relatively sensitive to its beautiful surroundings.
Restaurante Tia Deth
Lua Cheia Bar + Cozinha
Praia de Jeribucacu
Praia de Itacarezinho
When is the best time to visit Itacare?
As with most of Bahia, Itacare is an all-year-round destination. However, the rainy season is between March and July (or even August), when there can be heavy downpours. Sometimes it rains for days. On other days it can rain for a short burst before the sun comes back out. We went late July and had a mixed bag of weather on each day.
The dry season is October to February when temperatures are also at their hottest. But there’s always a chance of some rain during this period, too. And, of course, the dry season is also peak season, bringing with it crowds and higher prices.
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Hi, we're Ian and Nicky, an English couple on a voyage of discovery around the world, and this blog is designed to reflect what we see, think and do. Actually, we'd like to think it also provides information, entertainment and inspiration for other “mature” travellers, too. So please feel free to pour yourself a glass of something suitably chilled and take a look around.