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 dozen beaches that precede it along the SP-055 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 kilometrical 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.
Getting to São Sebastião
From São Paulo’s Tietê terminal, daily bus service is operated by Litorânea (tel. 0800/999-701, www.litoranea.com.br). The rodoviária (tel. 12/3892-1072) is at Praça da Amizade 10.
If you’re driving from São Paulo, take the BR-116 or SP-070 to the SP-099, followed by the Rio–Santos highway (BR-101/SP-055), which leads to São Sebastião. You will pass all the other beaches along the way. The travel time from São Paulo to São Sebastião is roughly three hours by car and four hours by bus.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition