Only 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) south of Arraial is lovely Trancoso. This rather upscale, yet still not too developed former hippie haven is favored by Brazilian and international celebs ranging from MPB diva Gal Costa (whose former digs are now a luxury pousada) to none other than raging bull Robert de Niro. Instead of the hardcore partying that goes on at neighboring Porto Seguro and Arraial d’Ajuda, pilgrims to Trancoso often prefer an evening of fine dining followed by drinks at the candlelit alfresco restaurants sprinkled around the Quadrado. (Although the surrounding beaches offer their share of hedonistic nocturnal activities, particularly when the moon is full.)
The Quadrado (Square), an immense open-air plaza carpeted in thick grass and framed by luxuriously shady trees, is the rather dreamlike historical, spiritual, and nerve center of Trancoso. On three sides, it is surrounded by colonial homes painted in vibrant colors, many of which now house stylish boutiques, pousadas and restaurants.
On the far side is the incandescent Igreja de São João Batista, built in the 18th century on the ruins of a Jesuit convent. As you approach the church, you also near the edge of the cliff behind it, which plummets down to an green mass of native Atlantic forest, a long strip of endless white beach, and a great sweep of Atlantic in shades of bright turquoise-green.
Only a five-minute descent from the Quadrado is a series of gorgeous unspoiled beaches, fed by rivers and bordered by mangrove swamps and jungle carpeted cliffs. At strategic intervals are sprawling barracas where you can catch the sun’s rays while bossa nova and lounge music wafts through the air. Closest to Trancoso itself is Praias dos Nativos, the more secluded deserted stretches of which attract the odd nudist. With calmer seas are the ultra trendy Praia dos Coqueiros and Praia do Rio Verde, ideal for bathing. By horseback, buggy, or on foot you can continue south along these primitive beaches, which stretch all the way down to Caraíva.
Among the many recreational activities offered in and around Trancoso are guided cycling tours. Operated by Natural Ecobike e Aventura (tel. 73/3668-1955, www.naturalecobike.com), excursions—which take place during the day and night—allow riders to explore both the beaches and Atlantic forest. Meanwhile, golfers are in for a treat if they choose to play the stunning 18-hole Terravista Gold Course (tel. 73/2105-2104, 8 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Sat.), located 18 kilometers (11 miles) from Trancoso on a cliffside overlooking the Praia de Taípe.
The nightlife of the town itself is less than wild, particularly in the off-season. However, there is usually a group playing live forró, samba, or rock music in the main square off the Quadrado or along the bars that lead down Avenida Principal. In the summertime, things heat up on the beaches of Praia dos Coqueiros and Praia do Rio Verde with parties, luaus, and even raves that last for three days and draw a young, beautiful crowd.
Festa de São Sebastião on January 20 is the most traditional festa in the city, complete with processions, fireworks, and the raising of the two decorated masts that can be viewed in front of the church of São João Batista.
If you don’t have to much luggage, you can reach Trancoso by walking south along the stunning beaches (and wading across a couple of rivers) from Arraial d’Ajuda (12 kilometers/7.5 miles). Otherwise, there is frequent Brasileiro bus service from the balsa going to Porto Seguro and from Arraial. The trip takes around 40 minutes (most of it through papaya plantations).
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition