Ilha de Itaparica
The largest of the bay’s 30-plus islands is the 35-kilometer-long (22-mile-long) narrow strip called Itaparica, whose lithe silhouette bisects the sea and the sky for those gazing out over the bay from Salvador. A favorite getaway for Soteropolitanos, Itaparica’s many palm-fringed beaches are lined with many weekend and holiday homes—some quite old and grand, others resembling favelas. In fact, stay away on holiday weekends because getting there and back will mean lining up for hours to catch a boat (make sure you buy your return ticket), and once there, you’ll be immersed in a sea of people.
However, during the week or in off-season, the “ilha” has a laid-back vibe that is conducive to R&R. Although the beaches are inferior to those north of Salvador, soaking in the calm blue water is as relaxing as taking a bath, and the view of the glimmering white city across the bay is quite enchanting. The island’s major crop is mangos, and you wouldn’t believe there could be such a difference in taste and fragrance, but once you sink your teeth into the real thing (depending on the season, they’ll be literally raining down upon you) you will be in mango heaven.
Getting to Ilha de Itaparica
There are two ways of getting from Salvador to Itaparica. The nicest, and simplest, is to grab a boat bound for Mar Grande at the Terminal Turístico Marítimo (Av. da França, tel. 71/3326-3434, R$3), behind the Mercado Modelo. The scenic trip across the bay takes 45 minutes with departures every 30 minutes between 6:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. (depending on the tides). On the other side, Mar Grande is a lazy beach resort town with some lovely old summer homes and tree-lined streets and lots of seafood restaurants. You can easily explore the beaches by foot or rent a bike. The return trip at the end of the day almost always offers the bonus of a fantastic sunset.
Another way to get to Itaparica is to grab a catamaran or ferry boat from the Terminal Maritímo de São Joaquim (Av. Oscar Pontes 1501, tel. 71/3633-1248, R$3), near the Feira de São Joaquim in the Cidade Baixa. Although you can take a “Ribeira” or “Bonfim”-bound bus, the easiest way to get to the ferry terminal is by taxi. Both ferries and high-speed (and more expensive) catamarans will take you to Itaparica’s main bus and boat terminal, aptly named Bom Despacho (Good Send-Off).
Ferry crossings take about an hour with departures every hour between 5 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. The speedy catamaran takes about 30 minutes, with boats leaving more or less every 60 to 90 minutes between 7:50 a.m. and 6:20 p.m. The ferry ride to Bom Despacho costs R$3.20 and the catamaran ride to Bom Despacho costs R$6. (Prices are slightly higher on Sat. and Sun.)
From Bom Despacho, buses travel to cities on the Recôncavo as well as southern coast destinations such as Valença, Camamu, Ilhéus, and Porto Seguro. You can also get a kombi (collective van service) that delivers locals and beach goers up and down the length of the island to individual beaches. Among the nicer destinations are Praia Ponta de Areia, north of Bom Despacho, and Praia da Penha and Barra Grande, several kilometers south of Bom Despacho. Also inviting is the colonial village of Itaparica, where you’ll find a few remaining vestiges of 17th-century buildings.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition