In the penultimate state in the south of Brazil, Santa Catarina, you will find the island of the same name, with natural beauty and impressive beaches. No beach town on the island is more captivating than Barra da Lagoa. Pronounced “baha”, this small scattering of buildings no taller than two stories run alongside the fast-moving river that empties from the lake into the ocean.
Just south of the city of Itapema is a rugged three-pronged peninsula that is home to a few great beaches and towns. Bombas is the largest and the first one you will encounter, with a main avenue scattered with restaurants and bars, and a tranquil promenade just for bicycles and pedestrians right along the water’s edge. Over the hill and into the other cove is Bombinhas (smaller Bomba) and is much of the same beauty, just more condensed and more touristy. Continue further and over the steep hill to Praia Mariscal – this is a residential area with a beautiful beach and the possibility of an inviting hike up Morro do Macaco.
Everyone knows the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema in the heart of Rio de Janeiro city, but a few hours’ journey northeast is another peninsula that puts the inner city Rio beaches to shame. Arraial do Cabo is local, rustic and laid-back. The town of Cabo Frio is a 30-minute bus ride away and also has a lovely beach known as Praia do Forte, where a small inlet meets the beach creating crystal-clear still waters that are ideal for snorkeling and swimming.
Not your typical flip-flop and surf short beach town, this coastal spot, known simply as Buzios, is an upscale getaway for the residents of Rio. A gorgeous touch of nature at the tip of the peninsula turns into a smattering of shops and restaurants, that continues along a stunning boardwalk at the water’s edge to the town center, with more places to eat, shop and stay.
From the town of Porto Seguro, which some would classify as paradise, there are a couple of characterful beach towns. The first is right across the pond that splits the two towns, called Arraial d’Ajuda. Tight cobblestone avenues weave their way through nature trails and greenery all the way down to the dozens of beach umbrellas along the beautiful beach.
If you want a place with a slower pace than Arraial d’Ajuda, Trancoso is a short bus ride away. A similar style to Arraial, Trancoso is basically one main avenue that cuts through some quaint cafés and fine-dining restaurants to the main green area in town. Its centerpiece is a gorgeous old colonial church set before a cliff, which is a perfect viewpoint over the beach and ocean below.
Surfers, fishermen and the average beachgoer all flock to this popular beach town. Travelers will find a bustling main avenue, with an eclectic choice of restaurants and bars that ends at the prainhas (little beaches). One end offers great waves for surfing and fishing boats bob on the open water at the other end. Whatever you are looking for in a relaxing beach town, Itacaré can deliver it.
If heading north towards Salvador, this leisurely town should be on your list, or, if you are only visiting Salvador, there are two-hour boat trips direct to the island for a day or overnight stay. Everything here revolves around the beach, as the few little avenues in town all come together and lead down to the ocean, which has sweeping beaches on either side of the rocky point and calm, warm water that’s perfect for swimming.
This destination is often bypassed by travelers on the way to Ilha Grande, which is one of the reasons why its authentic beauty is still intact. The island off the state of Sao Paulo is covered in a natural park except for this area, which has the feel of a larger town but the tranquility of a small island village.