Two men pass under the shade of a tree high up on the shore of a white-sand beach.

São Sebastião is sure to have a beach to suit your style. Photo © Sheila Tostes, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Map of São Paulo State, Brazil

São Paulo State

When Paulistanos say they are “going to São Sebastião,” they’re not actually referring to the busy seaside town with the colonial center located 220 kilometers (137 miles) from São Paulo, but to the 100-kilometer (62-mile) expanse of beaches and resort towns around it, included in the municipality of São Sebastião. In fact, very few people visit São Sebastião itself. Despite a pleasant colonial center, the presence of a large oil refinery and lack of good beaches mean that its primary interest is as an access point to the stunning natural beauty of Ilhabela, only a 15-minute ferry ride away.

More likely, “going to São Sebastião” means traveling to Maresias, Camburi, Juqueí, or any of the other couple of dozen beaches that precede it along SP-055, the highway linking Santos and Rio de Janeiro. The beaches themselves (most of which have pousadas and restaurants) are incredibly varied. You’ll find tiny secluded coves as well as long sweeps of sand lined with fancy vacation homes and stylish bars. While some beaches have calm waters that are ideal for toddlers, others boast awesome waves that seduce surfers. Ultimately, whether you’re in search of a family vacation, a flirtation fest, or a relaxing retreat, you’ll likely find what you’re looking for.

In the town of São Sebastião, the tourist office (Rua da Praia 174, tel. 12/3892-2620, 10 a.m.–8 p.m. daily) offers information on the entire coastline. You can also consult


Traveling east from Santos and Guarujá along the coast toward São Sebastião, after about 65 kilometers (40 miles) you’ll reach Barra da Una, the first beach of interest and a major nautical center. From here you can go sailing, hire a launch to take you diving off nearby islands, or go paddling up the nearby Rio Una in a kayak. Only 3 kilometers (2 miles) west of Barra da Una is secluded Juréia, backed by exuberant vegetation and blessed with a bewitchingly green sea. Farther along, Juqueí’s wide sandy beaches and calm waters are popular with families, as is the horseshoe-shaped Praia da Barra do Saí. The super-trendy beautiful beaches of Camburi and Camburizinho are magnets for a toned and tanned crowd who surf (the waves are rougher here) and sun by day and mellow out at night at the many rustic-chic bars and restaurants.

If you’re young, on the loose, and looking for even more action, avoid the excessively overdeveloped Boiçucanga and continue east until you hit Maresias, a gathering point for movers and groovers from all over the state. Big swells attract surfers, but a dangerous current makes bathing risky (although the blue-green sea is certainly seductive). As wild as the ocean is Maresias’s nightlife, with its multiple bars and discos. Another 5 kilometers (3 miles) east, Santiago is much more tranquil, as are neighboring Toque-Toque Pequeno, a quiet little fishing town with a relaxed vibe and a privileged view of the setting sun, and Toque-Toque Grande. Both Toque-Toques offer beckoning sands and good snorkeling. Hidden between them is the beautifully wild and quite deserted tiny Praia de Calhetas.

Sports and Recreation

To explore the islands off the coast, take a half-day schooner trip with Green Way (Av. Mãe Bernarda 2332, Juqueí, tel. 12/3891-1075), an operator specializing in ecotourism. Departing from Barra da Una, trips (minimum 4 people, R$110–150) include stops for diving and swimming. Equipment and snacks are included. Green Way offers kayak trips on the Rio Una (R$60 pp) as well as hiking, biking, and Jeep excursions into the native Atlantic forest. It also offers surfing classes for kids and adults of all levels of experience.


Sirena (Rua Sirena, Maresias, tel. 12/3077-0020, 10 p.m.–7 a.m. Fri.–Sat., cover R$40–100) bills itself as the best club in Brazil. Its phenomenal fame reels in beautiful young revelers from all over São Paulo state, seduced by the pseudo-Asian decor and casual beach vibe. Aside from electronic music, Sirena regularly features some of the top DJs on the international circuit. Although not as hip as it once was, its most serious rival is Galeão (Estrada de Camburi 79, Camburi, tel. 12/3865-1515, 10 p.m.–4 a.m. Fri.–Sat. daily summer, cover R$20–40), where you’ll hear a more eclectic musical mix of soul, funk, and hip-hop.

Getting There and Around

From São Paulo’s Tietê terminal, Litorânea (tel. 0800/285-3047) operates buses departing every two hours daily for São Sebastião’s centrally located Rodoviária (Praça da Amizade 10, tel. 12/3892-1072). The 3.5-hour trip costs R$43.

If you’re driving from São Paulo, take the Rodovia Aryton Senna (SP-070) to the São José dos Campos turnoff, then the Rodovia Tamoios (SP-099), followed by the Rio–Santos highway (SP-055), which leads to São Sebastião. For the southernmost beaches (Juqueí onward), instead of the Tamoios, take the Rodovia Mogi–Bertioga (SP-098) to the Rio–Santos. You will pass all the other beaches along the way. Travel time is roughly three hours.

If you don’t have a car, it’s quite easy to go up and down the coast between São Sebastião and Barra do Una by flagging down the bright yellow buses operated by Eco-bus (tel. 0800/771-0271) that regularly travel up and down the Rio–Santos.

Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Brazil.