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We Return to the Coast, BR


February 3rd, 2020

As we left São Paulo in the pouring rain, we were not optimistic about the weather for the next few days.  Our destination today is the city of Santos on the coast – Brazil’s largest port – we understand 25% of the world’s coffee goes through this port!

As we drove into the city, it certainly wasn’t pretty being a port town but we had a place in mind to stay that we’d seen on iOverlander and we considered visiting the Pele Museum.  The museum is right in the centre of town which was 8 km / 5 mi away from the parking place so we tried to find parking within a click of it, but there was none to be found.  “Okay we thought, we’ll go park and take an Uber over” – well we arrived at the so called parking for RV’s but all around the lot there were signs (which Google Translate helped us with!) indicating that staying in your vehicle was not allowed – there was no where else in town and the city did not seem that safe to us so we were hesitant to just park on a street.  It continued to rain and we decided to begin what we’ve been told is one of the most scenic drives in Brazil:  Santos to Paraty.

The drive is back on the BR101 that we’d driven on last month.  Today’s part of the drive was all inland and so we did not see any beach towns till we arrived in Bertioga where we spent the next two nights.  The drive so far is very green but nothing out of this world for us – sorry if that sounds a bit jaded but being from British Columbia, we’ve driven a lot of forested roads in our days there and through many countries here in South America.  We did stop off the road at a few lookouts to actually see the coast.


We are now parked in a bricked parking lot right beside the beach.  There are no facilities except garbage cans on the beach and we are alone except for a large Argentinian bus type motor home at the other end of the lot.   The weather is still iffy, but we have time so we’re going to stay a second night.



Yesterday, Fran received an SMS message from the cell phone company that our bill is due on the 10th and the amount. It advised that we could pay at a bank or online.  Well online doesn’t work as we do not possess a Brazilian credit card and we’d been told she’d receive an email with the account to take to a bank – that never happened.

So on Tuesday, we had some drier weather, Fran walked into town to find the Vivo office and was told that since the account is not in her name (even though we have the name and ID number of our friend) they could not help us.  She was told to go the bank with the SMS message which contained a series of bar code digits but no actual bar code.  Well, she tried two different banks with no success.  One bank told her to go to a “lottery/bill payment store” but there she was told  that their system “wouldn’t take it” and the other said she needed a paper copy of the bill.

We spent the rest of the afternoon under a tree on the beach reading.  Wednesday we decided to leave as the rain was going to last all day according to the forecast.  We made our was to São Sebastiao and took the ferry across to Ilhabela (beautiful island).  We had a campsite in mind and we were told it was a lovely place to spend a couple of days and that the best beaches were on the west side.

As our “catching the ferry luck” continues, we bought out ticket and drove right on board.  It was about a 20 minute ride for about $5.

We first drove south on the island to have a look; we were not overly impressed; the beaches were small and narrow and there was NO parking for something the size of Tigger.  The road is narrow and it was hard to turn around when we decided to head to the campground/hostel.

We then drove north past the ferry terminal and before reaching the hostel, we passed through the historic centre of town/island where we actually found a parking spot.  We got out and walked around for about ten minutes (it was only three blocks long).

We carried on a couple of kilometres to Hostel Aloha but were again, not impressed.  It was more like a parking lot and as the beach across the road was full of small boats we wouldn’t want to swim in it and they kinda spoiled the view.  Since it was still only midday, we decided to catch the ferry back to the mainland and find a place on a nicer beach heading north.  Today the weather has been better with mostly sunny periods but you can see the rain clouds building over the “mountains”.

Well we struck out at four places; either because they were too small or not very nice/safe feeling and made our way to a lookout over the town of Caraguatatuba (say that three times fast!).

After sitting in the grass reading off the beach for a couple of hours, we went inside to eat dinner and it was so humid – like 90% humid.  We ran the AC a few times to help but at bedtime we relied on our fans.  Well that was not great because it was just blowing damp air around and then it began raining so we had to shut the roof one.  Not a great sleep for sure.

So Wednesday night, we reached out reluctantly (as we did want to ask them to do more for us) to our friend that set up the account.  On Thursday, he kindly went to the Vivo store and got a copy of the bill which he sent to us.  We will now have to print it out and see what we can do tomorrow

We left the lookout camp spot early on Thursday and made our way to an actual campground on the other side of this town and checked in at 9 in the morning!  Helmo made us feel welcome and he speaks Portuguese, Japanese and some English.

We got set up, did some chores and after lunch walked across the road to the beach for a couple of hours.  It’s still quite humid but not as bad and today it didn’t rain until we went to bed.

Today Fran asked Helmo about where a place to print her Vivo bill would be; he said he could do it in the office and after she explained the situation to him and asked about where to pay it, he offered to do so himself through his Bank’s phone app entering the bar code digits.  We’ll pay him with our camping fees when we leave.  How kind!  We have been so fortunate to meet people who speak some English and have been so willing to go above and beyond to help us.

Friday we awoke to blue skies, Fran did some laundry, Doug ran some errands.  On Fran’s walk she came across this:

Was it a real bird sitting on that sign? (Sorry it’s so small – was using phone camera.)  In case it was she didn’t approach it as she wanted to respect the signage. On the way back she saw this – it had moved!:

Turns out it’s a Burrowing Owl.

The burrowing owl is a small, long-legged owl found throughout open landscapes of North and South America. Burrowing owls can be found in grasslands, range lands, agricultural areas, deserts, or any other open dry area with low vegetation. They nest and roost in burrows, such as those excavated by prairie dogs.

Then two children approached to check it out and the bird remained on the post.  When they left it flew off but then returned and landed on the ground

Before returning to its burrow.

After our walks, we had lunch before heading to the beach.  That lasted less than 90 minutes as the clouds over the “mountains” turned black and we quickly walked back just in time to bring stuff indoors before it poured.  Temps are still reaching upwards of 28 C / 83 F and the humidity is still reaching about 80% most days.  We understand the rainy season ends next month and really, it hasn’t been that bad but we could do without the humidity.

Doug heard from Marcos yesterday and we are going to meet him at his house in Lagoinho, about 24 km / 14 mi from here.  It’s two blocks from the beach and he’s invited us to join him.  We still have two weeks before we have to be in Rio, so we have lots of time as Rio is less than 400 km / 250 mi away.

Saturday morning after exercising, we packed up and drove to Marcos’ housing complex but the guards at the gate would not let us drive in.  We contacted Marcos and he came over on his bicycle and after much discussions and phone calls, we could drive in and park on the street outside his house.  His house has a great deal of vegetation around it as you can see so it’s hard to get the actual house in a shot.

After catching up some, we spent a couple of hours on the beach  where we enjoyed a Nutella coma after treating ourselves to “tapioca”

That night Marcos made us a nice barbecue dinner.

Sunday was very hot and although we wanted to do a couple of nearby hikes while here, we thought waiting to do on Monday morning when it was less busy and hopefully cooler going in the morning, would be a good idea.  Marcos joined us for a while

Well Sunday night it began to rain and quite heavily at times. We awoke to continued rain on Monday that never let up and lasted through Tuesday AND Wednesday!  We’ve not had this kind of nearly non stop rain for this long the entire duration of this adventure we’re on.  There was the odd break in which we fit in a walk when we could but usually we came back wet.

Tuesday night, Marcos made us burgers and Wednesday we tried to take him out for dinner, but both nearby restaurants were closed.

We did stop at a roadside stand for some Bala de Coco – a super sweet kind of melt in your mouth fudge made with coconut that you keep in the freezer.  (It took us over a week to finish as you can only eat so much at a time.)

On Thursday we awoke to sunshine and Marcos could finally take us on the hike he’d been wanting to go on with us.  It was about 3 km out and we walked past large blue crabs:

A few beaches:

And through the “jungle” like coast.

He brought his dog Mina (a chocolate lab) along and we all enjoyed it a great deal.

After the hike, we left Lagoinha (Marcos was leaving that afternoon) and we made our way towards the town of Ubatuba.  Enroute we made a quick stop at the side of the highway to see a pretty waterfall called Escada:

When we reached Ubatuba (passing Praia (beach) Grande which was packed!) , we parked near the turtle project called Project TAMAR.

The Projeto TAMAR (Portuguese for TAMAR Project, with TAMAR being an abbreviation of Tartarugas Marinhas, “sea turtles”) is a Brazilian non-profit organization. The main objective of the project is to protect sea turtles along in the Brazilian coastline.

TAMAR was officially created in 1980. The first activities were not centered on the preservation of the turtles, but on the identification of them, where they lay their eggs and when.  At the start of the project, TAMAR took the first Brazilian pictures of a sea turtle spawning.  They have more than eight locations along the coast. 

In 1983, the oceanographers asked Petrobas (the large Brazilian oil company) for support on the project. The company analyzed all the actions of the project and decided to support it, by providing fuel to their jeeps.  By 2008, TAMAR managed to release more than 8 million turtles in the sea.

We spent about 45 minutes touring the place seeing various types of turtles that live in and off the coast of Brazil.  At this location, they are not rescued turtles but those hatched from eggs saved from poaching and used to educate the locals.

Next stop was lunch by the beach.  Seems the downtown beach is not so nice and the good beach here is before the town; as we drove through it on our way here, we did see a very busy beach area, but we did not know that was the nice part.

After lunch we hit a large supermarket and stocked up before getting to a beach on the other side of town that Marcos told us about and is a surfers favourite:  Praia Vermilha.  It was very nice and we watched a lot of surfers enjoying the big waves.

Friday morning, we made our way further along the coast to the city of Paraty which is a UNESCO site for its historical centre and the many islands off the coast.

Enroute, we’d been told by overlanding friends to stop in Praia Trinidade

– so we tried but the only campsite that could take rigs our size, wanted way too much for camping so we left but we did see the pretty beach:

Paraty is a preserved Portuguese colonial town used between 1597 and 1822.  It was a Brazilian Imperial city until 1889.  It currently has a population of about 36,000 and  has become a tourist destination, known for its historic town center, the nearby coast and beaches in the region. The historic center of the city, as well as four areas of  Atlantic Forest were inscribed an UNESCO World Heritage site in 2019.

After the discovery of the world’s richest gold mines in 1696 in the mountains of the nearby state of Minas Gerais, Paraty became an export port for gold to Rio de Janeiro and from there on to Portugal.  The ensuing gold rush led to the construction of the “Caminho do Ouro” or “Gold Trail”, a 1200 kilometer road, paved in steep areas with large stones, which connected Paraty to the Diamantina via Ouro Preta and Tiradentes. Not only was it used to transport gold to Paraty, but it was also used to convey supplies, miners and African slaves by mule train over the mountains to and from the gold mining areas. The Gold Trail fell into disuse because of attacks on the gold laden ships bound for Rio de Janeiro by pirates who frequented the islands and coves of the Bay of Angra dos Reis. Eventually a safer overland route from Minas Gerais to Rio de Janeiro was created. Finally, the gold itself began to run out in the late 18th century, and Paraty declined.

We expected really nice beaches here but it seems you have to take a boat tour/ride out to one of the islands to see any of the sixty some beaches  – since there are so many beaches in this country, we opted not to spend the money.  We did find a hostel on the other side of town that takes overlanders.  Hostel Canto Caicara is very well run and we decided to hang here for at least two nights.  It is right on the water but the beach here is quite muddy and full of little crabs.  You can walk about 500 m to an actual beach but it was not “up to our standards”  – yes we’ve become beach snobs again!  There are no waves and the water does not look all that inviting.

While here we made a reservation thru AirBNB for two nights on Ilha Grande (Big Island) as we’d read many good things about this pedestrian only island – a favourite of people from Rio for a break.

We took a walk into town part way along the river:

and explored the colonial historic centre and were pleasantly surprised.

This church, Santa Rita, was built in 1722 and restored in 1857.  It currently houses the Museum of Sacred Art.

They are getting ready for Carnival here (like in most towns and cities in Brazil):

This church, Nossa Senhora do Remédios is the largest church in Paraty. It takes up over an entire city block. Its construction began in 1646 when a woman named Maria Jácome de Melo donated the land for the construction of the village of Paraty, however she demanded two conditions: the first was the building of a chapel dedicated to Nossa Senhora dos Remédios and the second was that no one would harm the Indians that lived in the area at that time. The church was completed in 1873.

After two nights we decided to stay another two and Doug negotiated a better rate for those two nights.  The hostel was surprisingly not busy being a weekend so we’re sure they were happy to have us stay and make some money.

On Tuesday morning as we left the hostel the passenger side mirror clipped a tree as we were trying not to hit the low roof on the driver’s side.  It’s still usable but not pretty.

We’ll deal with that done the road after Rio.  We made our way to Conceiçao de Jacarie to catch the ferry to Ilha Grande.  This part of the drive was hilly again but we had more views of the oceans the many islands off the coast.  Who know that Brazil had this many islands on its coast? Not us.

We caught the 11 am ferry after parking in a lot that also takes overlanders if you want to stay there which we will probably do on our return.  The ferry ride is on a “fast boat” that took about 20 minutes.  Our AirBNB was ready when we got there; we got a room with a private bathroom, AC, a fridge and fast Wi-fi.  We cooled off and then went for a walk around the tiny town.  It’s very touristy (cruise ships come here too) with lots of small shops, boutique hotels and restaurants.

Ilha Grande (which means Big Island”) is an island located off the coast south of Rio. The island is largely undeveloped. For almost a century it was closed by the government to free movement or settlement because it first housed a leper colony and then a top-security prison housing some of the most dangerous prisoners within the Brazilian penal system. It was closed in 1994. The largest village on the island is called Vila Do Abraão with approximately 1900 inhabitants.

Mode of transportation of goods around the island:

The island, which is 193 square km (75 sq mi) in area, is now a popular tourist destination that is noted for its scenic beauty, unspoiled tropical beaches, luxuriant vegetation and rugged landscape. Most of its territory is within the Ilha Grande State Park. The remainder of the island is subject to stringent development restrictions.

In Ilha Grande was inscribed as a UNESCO Heritage Site. Although it has no roads and motorised vehicles are banned, the island has more than 150 km (93 mi) of hiking trails connecting all the coastal villages and hamlets. Lodgings have been made available near many of island’s 100 unspoiled beaches. 

After having lunch we decided to cool off once again in our air conditioned room before doing a 1.7 km / 1 mi hike west of town.  We got into our bathing suits as the final stop was on a beach.

We made our way uphill to the aqueduct which was hard to take decent pictures of as you couldn’t get far enough away for a clear shot. It was built with stones and whale oil in 1893 and carried water to the nearby prison: Lazaretto.  It’s 15 m tall and 125 m long – the aqueduct is still in use today bringing water to Vila do Abraão village.

It was quite hot and we looked forward to the upcoming swim.  The next stop was some prison ruins:

This place originally was a farmhouse and in 1884 it was redesigned as a quarantine stopover for European Immigrants (due to Cholera fears).  From 1940 to closing in 1954 it was operated as a second prison on the island and was destroyed in the 60’s.

We ended up at Praia Preta where we went for a swim.

(You can see a large cruise ship in the area too.)

We stopped at a viewpoint on the way back:

After we returned to town where we picked up some snacks and drinks for the next day.  We returned to our room and showered off before dinner.

We went to a cool artesian burger joint and really enjoyed the food.  We chatted with a young Brazilian who worked there named Lucas (who wanted to practice his English).  He was enjoying some acai so we got some after dinner ourselves.  Yummy!

Açaí na tigela (“açaí in the bowl”) is a Brazilian specialty/treat from the Amazon region. It is a dish made of the frozen and mashed fruit of the açai palm. It is served as a smoothie in a bowl or glass, and is commonly topped with granola and banana, and then mixed with other fruits and guarana syrup.  Açaí na tigela is sold in kiosks lining the beach promenade and in juice bars in major cities.  (You can also buy it frozen in the supermarket.)  The Açai berry is believed to have several health benefits:

  • They’re Nutrient-Dense. Açai berries have a unique nutritional profile for a fruit, as they’re somewhat high in fat and low in sugar
  • They’re Loaded With Antioxidants
  • They are said to Cholesterol Levels
  • They may have a possible anti-cancer effect and
  • They may boost brain function.

All we know for sure is that it is yummy!

We had a quiet night at our AirBNB.

There is an interesting mountain peak on the island called Pico do Papagaio (parrot peak).  You can barely make it out in the two photos below, again taken with a camera phone.

google close up

Wednesday, we caught a boat around the peninsula to Possa Beach where we did a twenty minute hike out to Lopes Mendes Beach – considered one of the two best beaches of the 102 beaches on the island and often in the list of the top ten in the country.

Well it was spectacular – worth the boat ride and stay on the island.  Lovely sea green water, powder soft sand that squeaks when it’s hot and you walk on it.  We had perfect weather, sunny a few wimpy clouds for contrast and a slight breeze.  The water was a little cooler than we’d experienced recently but perfectly refreshing.  There was a sand bar a little ways into the water where you could get up higher and get closer to the surf breaking.  (We forgot a waterproof camera so no pics from in the water).

Lots of trees along the edge of the sand to get shade and vendors selling snacks and drinks.


the arrow points to where were parked ourselves for the day

At times we saw dozens of frigate birds flying over head but so far up they are not clear in the phone camera:

We hung around swimming and chatting with people – it is now our fave beach so far in Brazil and we’ve been to about a dozen now.

Google shot

Upon returning to town (Vila do Abraão) we stopped at a beach bar for a beer or two before returning to our room to shower up and chill before dinner.

We went out around 7 for a walk and to get some “acai” for dinner. Thursday, our last day on the island we took a morning walk before packing up and checking out.  We were not in a rush to catch the ferry and return to Tigger, so before a light lunch we headed back to Praia Preta, the beach we visited on the first day, and spent about three hours.

We caught the 2:30 ferry, got Tigger parked where we could access power and spent that night and the next here for a good price.

We are still conversing with the owner of our Rio AirBNB about parking for Saturday through Friday and hope to get that sorted before Saturday.   We spent Friday at the parking area in Conceiçao as it clouded over and rained hard all afternoon.  Here they gave us 110 V power – yeah we could run our AC in this thick humidity – and did a few chores before packing up for Rio.  They charged us the same price as parking was and there are showers and bathrooms to boot.

We will head out tomorrow morning early sort our parking in Rio out before settling into our AirBNB on Sunday.