Sun, Sand, and Seclusion in São Paulo

Small peninsula with white beaches

Photo © Michael Sommers.

Visitors to São Paulo who pity the fact that its residents are landlocked in a seemingly never-ending urban jungle shouldn’t feel too sorry for them. After all, within a couple of hours by car (a couple more by bus) Paulistanos can easily access some of the most beautiful beaches on the entire Brazilian coastline, in which mountains and exuberant Mata Atlântica collide spectacularly with emerald green coves and bays lined with sugary sands.

Although many of the beaches on the so-called Litoral Norte (North Coast)—a 250-km stretch that extends from the port city of Santos up to the frontier of Rio de Janeiro state—get mobbed during the summer and on long weekends, there are still a few that (due to more difficult access) have managed to remain off-the-GPS of the million or so cars that descend from the capital on any given holiday weekend. Here are a trio of options for those in search of a primitive getaway far from the tanning crowds:

Calhetas (São Sebastião)

When Paulistanos announce they are “going to São Sebastião,” they’re not actually referring to the busy seaside town with the charming colonial center located 220 km from São Paulo, but to the 100-km expanse of beaches and resort towns surrounding it.

Tiny Calhetas is an idyllic white sand beach splayed upon a tiny peninsula between the larger (and more sonorously named) beaches of Toque-Toque Pequeno e Toque-Toque Grande. Bring supplies because aside from shady almond trees, there’s no infrastructure to speak of. There are, however, natural pools for floating and a waterfall in which you can rinse off as you make your way through the rainforest up to the highway.

Why It’s So Secluded: Only 16 km from São Sebastião, at Km 144 along the Rio-Santos Highway, the entrance to Calhetas—via a condo complex—is private and no cars are allowed. Easiest access is via the local Ecobus that runs at regular intervals up and down the coastline from São Sebastião’s bus station.

If You Can’t Bear to Leave: The only hotel around is the Ilha de Toque Toque Boutique Hotel, a 15-minute walk away from Calheta, whose tastefully appointed bungalows are built into a lush hillside overlooking the sea. Rambling grounds boast a pool, hot tub, and decks galore. The owners also rent out nearby chalets that are ideal for small groups in the mood for a housekeeping holiday.

Bonete (Ilhabela)

Only a 15-minute ferry boat ride from São Sebastião, Ilhabela is Brazil’s largest off-coast island. While 85 percent is covered in preserved Atlantic rainforest, its dozens of beaches and constant breezes attract sun worshippers and watersports enthusiasts en masse (particularly sailors and windsurfers) not to mention upper class Paulistanos, many of whom arrive at their luxury villas via private yacht or helicopter.

To avoid the hip beach lounges and swarms of cruise ship passengers, head to the Robinson Crusoe-worthy beaches on the open Atlantic side of the island. One of the most drop-dead gorgeous is Bonete, on the south coast, which offers a bewitching mixture of waters and colors with turquoise ocean mingling with the jade green of the Rio Nema.

Why It’s So Secluded: Bonete is reachable only by boat ( 1 hour) or a scenic, but mosquito-ridden hike (4 hours) through the rainforest from the village of Borrifos.

If You Can’t Bear to Leave: Checking into Pousada Canto Bravo gives you private access to the beach as well as surrounding nature. Accommodations are best described as primitive chic. Leave your gadgets at home; there’s no electricity (although a solar generator supplies essentials), meaning candlelight and bonfires reign supreme.

Praia do Cedro (Ubatuba)

As is the case with São Sebastião, when Paulistanos talk about going to “Ubatuba,” they are actually referring less to the town itself than to the surrounding 90 km of coastline that stretches along the Rio-Santos highway from Praia da Figueira to Camburi (on the frontier of Rio de Janeiro state).

Located some 20 km south of Ubatuba, untamed Praia do Cedro is routinely voted one of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil. Only a narrow strip of white sand prevents the tangle of lush jungle from tumbling into a transparent blue-green sea. Luckily the beach’s only inhabitant, Dito, had the foresight to open a bar.

Why It’s So Secluded: After turning off the Rio-Santos highway and following a bumpy 7-km dirt road to Praia da Fortaleza, you have to leave your car and continue along a foot path for 40 minutes before arriving at the beach.

If You Can’t Bear to Leave: In Praia da Fortaleza, A Casa do Sol e da Lua, is a casual, family-style hotel occupying an adapted beach house. Meals are served at a collective table, nightly DVD sessions are held in the living room, and there are plenty of decks and hammocks spread around the property where you can disappear with passion fruit caipirinhas.


Maps of Brazil

Looking for more printable maps of Brazil?
All Brazil Maps →