The northeast state of Bahia in Brazil has, for the first time this summer, experienced the arrival of the English tour companies. With many local businesses struggling to survive through the rainy season, it was a much welcome, if somewhat unprepared, arrival for the area.
The tourism industry in Bahia is, at present, offering a comfortable balance of not overtly touristy holidays, with everything one would need to enjoy a relaxing yet interesting break. As an area which should be appreciated for its outstanding natural beauty and is culture rich in tradition, Bahia is definitely a destination not to be travelled by the night-life seekers or booze cruisers. The type of traveller that you are determines where you choose to stay and in what type of accommodation.
The coconut coast offers the all-inclusive, ‘all that jazz’ style hotels. Fully equipped with tennis courts, fine restaurants and nightly entertainment, there is the option for tourists to never leave the complex or sun-bed! But for the more independent traveller, the option of staying in the village is the more ideal choice.
“Use without abuse” is the motto for the charming fishing village of Praia do Forte, which is working hard to ensure the safekeeping of village life, while understanding the need for continuing tourism, preferably eco-tourism. Klaus Peter, the original owner and entrepreneur of the land of Praia do Forte, donated the space to the municipality under the condition that residents could not sell their property, only hand it down to their children. Ultimately, the village has the feel of a community and to stay in it offers a glimpse of what laid back life can be like in Bahia.
On entering the village, situated 55km north of the airport, you will be pleasantly surprised by the contrasting landscape that greets you. From the natural pools and coconut groves, nature surrounds you in abundance and the mix of hippy, arty surroundings, in a safe environment, will have you chilled out in no time.
The centre of the village is now a paved area with an excellent choice of local restaurants, bars and shops on either side. The restaurants mainly serve Brazilian cuisine, although, for a change, the Italian restaurants and Mexican offer a respectable alternative.
Bahia cuisine is based on a mixture of three cultures from three different continents: Europe, Africa and South America. With the African influence being dominant, the cuisine served contains a lot of original African ingredients.
The speciality dish of Bahia is a fish stew called Moqueca. Prepared in dendé (palm oil) and coconut milk seasoned with tomato, garlic, paprika and onion, Moqueca comes served in an earthenware dish, accompanied with the obligatory bowl of rice and manioc (a tropical plant with an edible root), which is served with nearly every dish in Bahia. To wash down the dish, a caipirinha does the job.
Although becoming a tourist destination, simple local life is still visible in Bahia, with evening games of dominoes on the main street taking place and local musicians playing in the Placa da Música at weekends.
By day, you can pass away the time observing local life beside the São Francisco de Assisi church, which sits on the beach overlooking the fishermen on the shore. A church built so close to the sea was believed to protect people whose livelihood came from the sea. Outside the church, village people sell their local crafts in the small market.
Over on the other side of the village, the Garcia D’Avila Castle, reopened in 2002, is considered to be Brazil’s oldest stone building. The castle is in walking and cycling distance from the village, and a tour of the castle is well worthwhile to help you understand how Brazil’s first colonisers lived.
The beautiful coastline of Praia do Forte holds many reasons for people to visit, but one of the biggest is that it is one of the main nesting areas for sea turtles. Because of this, the area was chosen to be the headquarters for the Tamar centre project. The centre, which is open everyday, offers visitors the chance to learn about the five species of turtles found on the coast of Brazil and, as the chance of seeing a turtle in its natural environment is quite high, the centre gives valuable information of how to respect these creatures and their habitats.
Where to stay:
The village offers a good variety of accommodation, from the more tropical splendour of the EcoResort, ideal for the tourist who wants to explore the nearby Sapiranga ecological reserve – one of the remaining stretches of Atlantic forest.
For a more inexpensive, but still comfortable option, The Vila Dos Corais is charming in its design and is situated just a five minute walk from the main street.
For travellers requiring all-inclusive packages, the Iberostar Bahia and Vila Galé Marés, located just outside the village are excellent choices.
Best time to visit:
Between September and March is the nesting season for the turtles and, with Bahia’s high temperatures, this is the main tourist season. However, even though the rainy season is from May to July, winter in Brazil is still a good time to visit, especially if you want the beach to yourself.
From July, it is possible to see Humpback Whales off the coast of Praia do Forte. These beautiful mammals have chosen Praia do Forte as one of their favourite destinations to breed and give birth. Daily trips to see these amazing creatures leave from the village and can be booked with the Portimar agency.
How to get there:
Many UK tour companies are currently offering unbelievably good prices for a two week package tour, flying from Gatwick and Manchester and TAP Airways fly direct from Lisbon.
Coconut coast is a destination that should be experienced sooner rather than later, as development plans for the coastline are already underway. The area at the moment boasts beautiful natural areas for people who appreciate wildlife. It is most definitly not for those who are looking for nightclubs by night and burgers by day!
For more information about the areas mentioned in the article, visit www.praiadoforte.org.br or www.viladoscorais.com.br