On our trips to Brasil, I really regret that we did not have the time to make it to the Northeastern Province of Bahia. Our expat friends went to the Salvador Carnival in Bahia before they took us to the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. They told us the Bahians know how to throw a great party and it felt very local and authentic. My regret was only made worse when Lonely Planet announced it as one of their 10 recommended regions to visit in 2018. Thanks to its connection with the African slave trade, Bahia has been the centre of uniquely Brazilian arts and culture like the martial art capoeira and samba music. And, did I mention the amazing beaches??
Salvador Bahia Brazil
What To Do in Bahia Brazil
Salvador da Bahia is the provincial capital and definitely worth a visit.
Fun Salvador Brazil Facts
The city was named after the bay on which it is located (Bahia in Portuguese). The Bay was named by explorer Amerigo Vespucci who went on to lend America it’s name too!
Under the Portuguese, Salvador was the first capital of Brazil for over 200 years.
The old part of Salvador has been recognised as an UNESCO world heritage site. The pretty Spanish Gothic buildings making up the Pelourinho neighbourhood have also been used as the city’s red light district and a working class neighbourhood.
The UNESCO world heritage site listed historic centre of Salvador da Bahia
Salvador has Brazil’s oldest cathedral dating from the mid-16th century.
Salvador was a huge centre of the slave trade. About 1/3 of the slaves from Africa were sent to Brazilian and most of those passed through Salvador. In fact, the city had the first slave market in the Americas from 1558.
With so many Salvador Brazil beaches, you don’t even need to leave the city to find a beautiful beach.
If you are visiting Salvador Carnival, you should pay to get yourself a Bloco shirt and then you can be in a cordoned off area behind the music playing trucks roaming the streets. Otherwise you are in the general scrum of the carnival and it can get claustrophobic.
Colorful Salvador Carnival in Salvador Bahia Brazil
Other Top Places of Interest in Bahia
The Parque Nacional da Diamantina is a mountain area good for hiking and wildlife spotting. The little town of Lencois was a diamond boom town and the gateway to the national park.
About 400 kilometres south of Salvador, Itacare Brazil is a small fishing and surfing village with an eco-tourism bent.
Parque Nacional Marinho de Abrolhos is a marine park with reefs and islands that Charles Darwin visited in 1832 as part of his South American voyages. Darwin, of course, went on to write The Origin of the Species which laid out his theory of natural evolution. Today it’s got great diving spots and is where people come for whale-watching.
Bahia province has the longest coastline in Brazil and numerous islands of its coast, the Bahia Brazil beaches give you plenty of options. In fact, even in the capitol city of Salvador, there are more than 50 little islands in the city’s bay. Among the best Bahia Brazil beaches are those on the Morro de Sao Paulo, Forte Beach and of course the beaches in Itacare Brazil.
Trancoso is an affluent beach town beloved by celebrities around the world as well as the elites of Rio and Sao Paulo. The nearest airport is Porto Seguro which is an hour from Trancoso. Needless to say, there are some very high-end places to stay and to dine.
Barra Beach in Salvador da Bahia
Tips for Visiting Bahia in Brasil
Who better to ask for advice on visiting Bahia than travel bloggers who have been there? Below are the recommendations and travel tips for Bahia from three fellow travel bloggers.
Salvador and Morro de Sao Paulo
The state of Bahia is the cradle of afro culture in Brazil. This is the state where the vast majority of great musicians and other artists come from in Brazil.
The capital is called Salvador da Bahia and is the city in Brazil with with the best music scene. It’s also the best preserved colonial town in all South America and and absolutely fantastic place to visit.
I would recommend that you stay in the old part of Salvador when visiting the city. This is where you feel the heartbeat of this amazing city, with women in traditional dresses and capoeira dancers in the streets.
If you need a break from the city head for the Bahia Brazil beaches. I would recommend the island called Morro de Sao Paulo. This is a small tropical island, just a couple of hours of sailing from Salvador. The island is car free and has amazing beaches. This is a tropical island when it’s most fun.
The island has several of the best beaches in Bahia and they have numbers.
Bahia Beach (Photo credit: Claus)
I personally prefer saying at the Primeira Praia (first beach), because it’s near the town center. Or Quarta Praia (forth beach), because it’s the longest and most quiet beach.
Segunda Praia (second beach) is where the party is. Great place to hang out, but it can be very noisy at night, as the Brazilians know how to throw a party.
Bahia has many other fantastic places to visit. But these are the two places that I keep coming back to whenever I visit Brazil.
Salvador do Bahia is the capital of Bahia, and it’s amazing. You won’t run out of things to do in Salvador.
The Salvador Brazil beaches are great, with white sand and blue waters but it can get a lot crowded on holidays and weekends. Our favourite of the Salvador Brazil beaches was the Praia do Farol da Barra (or Farol da Barra Beach) and it’s stunning!
Igreja do Bomfim (or Bomfim Church), is also incredible. Buy some ribbons to tie on the church’s gate while you make a wish to have it granted!
But my favorite part of all was the beautiful Pelourinho neighborhood. All the buildings there are colorful and well preserved! No wonder it’s a UNESCO world heritage site.
Two things not to miss: coconuts for less than a dollar and acarajé, a deep-fried been dough filled with lots of stuff like shrimps and chili sauce.
The city of Salvador in Bahia (Photo credit: Thais Saito)
The African Soul of Brazil
In 2009 I spent two months travelling all over Brazil, the country at the top of my travel dreams list. Out of all the places we visited, Bahia was the one we liked the best.
Brazil is a very diverse country, product of lots of cultures mixing and matching – Bahia is where the ‘African soul’ of Brazil survives at its strongest. You can see African influences in the traditional food, music and even religion – some local people practice Candomblè, a syncretic religion that mixes Catholicism and the worship of African deities. You can also assist to ceremonies, where worshippers enter a state of trance.
In terms of places to see in Bahia, I recommend Chapada Diamantina for hiking, Morro de Sao Paulo island for the Bahia beach experience and Itacaré Brazil to surf and enjoy the relaxed Brazilian vibe. And naturally, don’t miss visiting Salvador!
Get away from it all on oe of the many Bahia Brazil beaches
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Given that Brasil was a colony of Portugal, you know that there are going to be Portuguese influences everywhere in the country especially in the food. For example, the Mercado Central has rows of vendors selling bacalao (salted codfish). I’m not such a big fan of bacalao but Portuguese pastries are a completely different story. Who knew there were so many different ways of making eggs with sugar that were all simply delicious?? The best Portuguese bakery in Sao Paolo is Casa Mathilde without a doubt.
Casa Mathilde is located in the Centro district in a building that used to be the former stock exchange. Down the street from Saint Benedict’s Monastery and across the street from the Martinelli Building, Casa Mathilde is perfectly situated to be the perfect snack break when you are sightseeing in downtown Sao Paolo.
Casa Mathilde has both a bakery for bread as well as desserts. They pride themselves on producing artisanal quality Portuguese desserts from traditional recipes. The kitchen is visible through a glass divider so you can watch the magic happen.
As you know, I have a definite fondness for desserts. I have tried out the sweets in Paris and London, danishes in California and the cakes in Vienna. All in the name of cultural research for the benefit of my readers, of course. I wouldn’t want you to waste your time on something that was not worth the calories. These Portuguese pastries in Sao Paolo did not disappoint.
The outstanding dish of Casa Mathilde is its pastel de nata (egg custard). They are so popular, there are regular batches being made on site. The outer pastry is flaky and soft, and the custard inside just melts into your mouth. There are lots of other delicious biscuits, pastries and breads for sale at Casa Mathilde. The hard part will be narrowing down your choice. Egg custard may be tasty but they are definitely filling.
I’ll let you salivate over some photos from the best Portuguese bakery in Sao Paolo:
Casa Mathilde is located on a street corner at the Praca Antonio Prada in Sao Paolo. There are large windows where you can sit and watch the action happen on this busy plaza.
Their website is all in Portuguese but really what do you need to know about delicious pastries anyway? You stand in line and order a coffee and your pastries. Take your tray to a table and inhale some pastries. Easy peasy.
Even though the cafe is modern and spacious, every time I have gone to Casa Mathilde, it’s always been busy. Definitely do consider buying some pastries to take away for a snack later.
What do you do when you get tired of how rundown your street is looking? Most people would call and complain to the city council. In Rio de Janeiro, though, rundown streets are a dime a dozen and probably not that high on the financially-strapped city’s list of problems. So Chilean artist, Jorge Selaron took it upon himself in 1990 to fix the steps outside of his house. Along the way, he got caught up in the project, redid the whole street and created a new Rio landmark. It’s officially known as Manuel Carneiro street although everyone knows it as Escaderia Selaron.
The Selaron steps is a steep street that runs between the two artsy neighbourhoods of Santa Teresa and Lapa. Santa Teresa is a gentrified bohemian neighbourhood which is easily accessible from downtown Rio by a special tram. The area has lots of galleries, cafes and the very nice relais & chateaux boutique hotel, Hotel Santa Teresa. The Lapa neighbourhood is stuffier and filled with street art.
A selection of the tiles on the steps
There are 250 steps that total about 125 metres. The work took over 20 years to complete with Selaron adding to the project until his death in 2013. Had he not died, you could see unadorned parts where he no doubt would have finished tiling.
unadorned space that will now never get tiled
Selaron started off using yellow and green, the colours of the Brasilian flag. He got the mosaic pieces from construction sites and urban waste sites.
He started expanding his colour repertoire in later years though. From what I could tell he got lots of red tiles in some sort of bulk deal.
There are more than 2000 tiles many of which were donated by visitors and admirers. We really liked checking out the tiles to see which ones were from the most random countries. There are more than 60 countries represented. A fun game for the kids was guessing how many countries they could spot.
Approximately 300 of the tiles are paintings by Selaron of a pregnant African women.
Selaron’s mysterious pregnant African woman and that’s Selaron himself with his swashbuckling mustache.
There are houses all along this street. When Selaron started his project, his neighbours thought he was crazy. Now, the neighbours are flooded with tourists especially during peak season such as Carnival.
A gate and a mailbox to a house on the road tries to blend into the tile work.
Rio considers Selaron the city’s version of Antoni Gaudi, the Catalan artist known for using broken pottery to create mosaics. Selaron, with his handlebar mustache, even had unique facial hair just like Gaudi.
Selaron died in 2013 in mysterious circumstances. His body was found lying on the steps that he had lovingly created.
Social commentary on living in a favela
Social Commentary translated into English
The Selaron Steps achieved international fame when they were featured in the 2003 hit song ‘Beautiful’ by Pharrell featuring Snoop Dogg. By the way, the beach scenes from this video were filmed in Copacabana Beach.
Rio likes to think of Selaron as their answer to Catalan modernist, Antoni Gaudi. In Sao Paolo, we had Estevado who created The Stone House who is compared to Gaudi, too. The Stone House is completely covered in ‘stuff’ the artist had either found or bought and then cemented into the wall. These items ranged from the ordinary (phones) to the ridiculous (tourist souvenirs). Although Selaron’s work is more similar to Gaudi’s broken pottery mosaics, Estevado has pushed the boundaries of Gaudi’s ideas and created something completely new. What do you think Gaudi would have thought of these two Brasilian artists who have paid homage to him?
Although you think that you may have seen the scene from movies and photos, nothing prepares you for the real thing. A mass of sun-kissed humanity prowl, pose, and play on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro in Brasil. The water crashes in effervescent waves spraying their foam onto soft, white sand which stretched as far as your eyes can see. The sea does not get tired of landing on the beaches of Rio and neither do the Cariocas (as residents of Rio are known) who live in the city. From dawn until dusk, the beaches are full of human activity. Blessed with sun, sand and sunshine, Cariocas are beach lovers for good reason.
The Beaches of Rio
Rio de Janeiro is blessed with an abundance of beaches both along the ocean-front and its other inlets such as its lagoon. The most famous of these beaches is the legendary Copacabana Beach. Fallen a bit from grace from its heyday in the 1950’s, Ipanema beach next door is now the trendy beach.
A sea of umbrellas next to the ocean of water.
A sarong with the names of Rio’s beaches on it.
The posts on the beach with numbers are an easy way for people to meet others on the beach. For example, the section in front of the Ceasar Park Hotel on Ipanema has lots of foreigners. Posto 7 is where the surfers are and between Posto 8 and 9 is the gay hangout. Certain favelas have specific posts where their residents congregate.
Posts on the beach so you know where to meet your peeps.
Love, ageless and evergreen. This photo really makes me want to break out into Barbra Streisand.
Unlike the city, the beaches of Rio are democratic. Next door to the bit with the foreigners on Ipanema Beach, we find local Brasilians. A little bit further along there is a large gay section. Bronzed, oiled and wearing the bare minimum, you don’t know which people on the beach are favela dwellers and which are residents of the super-pricey apartment towers with an ocean view. After all, everyone is pretty much wearing nothing.
One of the omnipresent stands on the beach renting umbrellas and stands.
Sorry to burst your bubble but you can definitely tell the tourists even before you hear their voices. The tourists are the ones with the milky skin, one-piece bathing suits and/or expensive sunglasses. On the plus side, the foreigner section of Ipanema has masseurs who bring their massage tables onto the sand. While my children were gleefully being pounded by the surf, I was on the sand having my aching muscles bashed about by a former Brasilian triathlete. For approximately $20 a half hour, she kneaded away the stresses of the 12 hour flight from London. Blissful.
Further along from Ipanema, Leblon is known for being family-friendly. The water is calmer and there is less of a scene. On the other hand, we have heard the water is less clean because the outlet for the lagoon is at Leblon. We stuck to Ipanema Beach because it was the closest to where we were staying.
I’ll drink to tired children!
In any event, all of our children came down with a 24-hour tummy bug sometime during the week. A local Brasilian told my friend that visiting children do often come down with a little something from playing in the water at Rio. There are simply too many people and sanitation is not the best.
Life is a Beach
Some people are sleeping in the sunshine while others sprawl on the deck chairs and sand watching the local talent. The heat of the sun bares down on everyone, a hot oven baking even the most energetic of the children into listlessness. I am surprised that many people don’t seem to be wearing sunglasses.
One of the predominant scenes are boys and men playing football. They play in circles kicking the ball to each other, barefoot in the sand and showing off their sporting prowess. The football starts in the morning and goes until dusk. The men remind me of preening male peacocks displaying their tail feathers for the world to see.
It’s never too early or too late for football in Brasil.
Showing off some skills on the beach
The cafes on the edge of the beach are great for a snack or a tipple. The heat of the sun may make the restaurant staff a little bit dozy too. For example, my son waited for 45 minutes for his banana split. When I went to ask them what the status of the order was, they told me they ran out of bananas. Perhaps we should have been told that earlier?
Coconuts waiting to be hacked open for their sweet water.
Make mine a caiprivodka (a caiprinha made with vodka) please.
You don’t need to leave the beach for a snack. Enterprising vendors weave through the sea of umbrellas bringing drinks (coconuts, caiprinhas) and food (grilled prawns, crisps) to the people too languid to walk.
A bikini seller makes his way through the sun umbrellas.
I’m not sure what you are selling but I’ll take it.
Although there are vendors on the beach itself, the wide sidewalk by the beach has its share of shopping as well. You can buy everything from bikinis and sarongs to tourist souvenirs.
The vendors lock up their stuff overnight on the beach.
My children loved the beaches of Rio. The giant waves crash in an endless rhythm perfect for playing and bodyboarding. They simply did not get tired of playing at the beach even though they went every day.
Splish splash on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro
You would think from the photos that everyone has a perfect body they are showing off to maximum effect. What I noticed about the sun worshippers is that everyone flaunts everything whether they are the next Giselle Bundchen or not. That lack of self-consciousness is a refreshing attitude for a non-Brasilian like me.
Beautiful in every way.
If I lived in Rio, I would be at the beach every day, too. The city has its fair share of problems, but at the beach, everyone is happy. The glare of the sun washes out all of the unpleasant bits so that Carioca life is seen with a soft-daydream quality.
We were open-mouthed at the sheer opulence of the parade floats and costumes in the Sambadrome at Rio’s Carnival. We have been to a lot of parades but we were completely blown away. Between the sound system, the floats and the dancers, Rio’s spectacle was the most extravagant we had ever seen. A look at the backstage of Rio’s Sambadrome parades, though, reveals a whole lot of work and a fair bit of dodgy dealing.
Preparing for Rio’s Sambadrome Parades
My children got to try on some Sambadrome parade outfits when we went to the H.Stern jewellery museum. The handmade beaded outfits are heavy. My daughter couldn’t even move her head wearing a plumed head dress. I assume that’s why the women’s costumes were so skimpy. It would be hard to dance and smile for an entire hour and a half through the Rio Sambadrome parades if your outfit was heavier than you.
Details from the outfits on display at H.Stern
Each year the theme for each samba school changes as does the costumes, floats and official song. The planning work for the next year’s carnival begins almost as soon as the previous year’s carnival ends. You need new costumes, music, floats, dances and choreography.
The kings and queens of each school proudly displaying their flags.
The beads, feathers etc. of the costumes are recycled from year to year. The costumes themselves are always different though. Hundreds of people-hours are spent designing and creating the costumes for the thousands of people involved.
Detail from a handmade beaded jacket.
The Samba Schools
Rio has more than 100 samba schools and the top 12 are part of the elite Special Group. Below the Special Group, there are other tiers (just like in football divisions), Groups A, B, C and D. Just like in football, samba schools can be promoted a division or relegated down to another group. Also, similar to football, the samba schools inspire fierce loyalty that can make grown men cry.
The incredible variety of outfits and creativity.
The samba schools are a bit like community centres. They provide a recreational outlet for favela dwellers. People are really devoted to their own samba school. Even within the same favela, there may be different samba schools. Each one has its own flag and colours. The samba schools were started in Rio in 1920 based on the centuries old traditions and structures of carnivals held in the city.
The city of Rio set up Samba City located near the port to help the Special Group prepare for Carnival. A massive 93,000 square meters, each Special Group member gets its own warehouse so that they can prepare and rehearse for Carnival. These warehouses are also where the floats and the costumes are made and stored. A trip to a favela would reveal that there’s hardly any room in these shanty towns for oversize floats prior to their use in Rio’s Sambadrome parades.
A Sambadrome dancer on her way backstage to get ready
At any time of the year, you can visit Samba City and get a flavour of the spirit of Carnival. Visiting Samba City is a popular tourist attraction and you can get organised tours to see it. Regular tours are conducted in both Portuguese and English.
Funding Samba Schools
Each samba school works hard to create a masterpiece of showmanship and theatre for carnival. Located in favelas, I wondered how the samba schools funded this extravagance. While many people living in favelas are dirt poor, other inhabitants are the working class. For example, they work as the maids, gardeners and household help in the houses of the wealthy. I can’t imagine either type of favela dweller having the spare cash needed to participate in Rio’s Sambadrome parades.
This castle from the St. George and the dragon story is filled with dancers.
The official story says that samba schools raise money for their activities through fundraisers, government grants, ticket sales and corporate sponsors. Many of the participants in the Sambadrome parades don’t have to pay for their outfits. Moreover, there are people who are paid to work on Rio’s Sambadrome parades as their official job. So, you would need to do a whole lot of fundraising to finance this effort.
The level of detail on the floats was mind-boggling. You can see why it took a year to prepare.
The ugly truth? The millions of dollars needed for the extravagance of the samba school displays at Rio’s Sambadrome parade comes from the underbelly of Carioca life. Drug dealers launder money through the favelas. Drug gangs fund the samba schools to keep the favela dwellers happy and turn a blind eye to the drug dealing in the community.
Who needs religion? The opiate of the masses can be sparkly costumes and dancing. It wasn’t just the theatricals, music and dancing that reminded me of Bollywood movies. Indian Bollywood movies are immensely popular and cheap to attend. They are a way to keep people entertained and their minds off their problems. At least the Brasilian samba schools require audience participation. There are at least 4000 people marching in each school’s parade and countless more behind the scenes doing the artwork, music, construction etc.
Not content with ordinary animatronics, this float had people in swings!
In addition, carnival is funded by gambling sources. Although gambling is illegal in this very Catholic country, back-street gambling in the form of a lottery called ‘jogo do bicho‘ is very popular. This money is laundered through samba schools, too. Our guide, Marco Bransford, told us that the government is considering making Jogo do Bicho legal. Brasil is not doing well financially and the government could use the tax money raised from the lottery.
The floats are giant, with exquisite detail and dancers in outfits wearing incredibly detailed outfits too.
The dodgy funding isn’t limited to Brasilian sources either. The 2015 Carnival winner, Beija-Flore, was rocked by controversy that its floats were funded by the dictator of the small West African nation of Equatorial Guinea. The people of Equatorial Guinea are among the poorest in the world even though the country is oil-rich. It’s a bizarre form of wealth transfer to take from the poor of one country to give to the poor of another country (and not even for health, education or other resources that would improve their lives long-term). Such controversies are old news in Rio’s Sambadrome parades. For example, in 2006, another school was accused of being funded by Venezuelan President Chavez.
I went to Brasil thinking that Catholicism was its religion and football was its main preoccupation. Now, I know that samba schools are another form of religion. Between Catholicism, football and samba, the people in the favelas of Rio are kept too busy to complain about their miserable lot in life. It’s a win/win for everyone, or so it seems.
The nearly-full moon lent its glow to the oversized metal gates and the front garden path to Caraca monastery at the Caraca Nature Reserve in Brasil. The gardens themselves were dark, the shrubs creating shapeless forms and safety for the scurrying of little creatures. The mountain night air was crisp providing a welcome respite from the heat of the day. In front of the monastery doors, a tray of fruit and meat was placed as an offering to the Special Guest of the evening, the maned wolf (guara). Like any modern-day celebrity, the maned wolf could be a diva and refuse to perform on stage even though the spectators had paid and were waiting patiently. There were thirty of us sitting in chairs and on steps around the monastery gates eagerly anticipating the wolf from 7pm onwards.
The gated entrance to the monastery
We all waited patiently at the beginning. The first to get restless were the children. I sent mine off to bed at 9pm. I was reading a fantastic book – The Traitor’s Wife by Kathleen Kent about the executioner of King Charles I of England who finds himself in Puritan New England when the monarchy is restored to Charles II. I was happy, therefore, to wait out the wolf.
Waiting for the elusive maned wolf
In fact, I was the last person to leave the patio at 12:30 in the morning having decided that I really should get to sleep. Just as I am in bed at 12:45, I hear a wolf howl. Typical. Mr. Wolf had won in our little battle of wills. There was no need for him to gloat.
Briefly I wondered if I was just listening to an audio recording of a wolf howl played by the priests just to keep visitors believing in the myth of the Maned Wolf who would eat in front of you. I hear the next morning that the priests at the monastery had found all the food gone. I decide that I would give the Catholic priests the benefit of the doubt that they wouldn’t cook up such a scam to increase tourist numbers. Other visitors I spoke to who had been at the reserve for a couple of days said they hadn’t seen the wolf either. So, who knows? Moral of the story: Don’t expect to see the maned wolf.
Caraca Nature Reserve
Caraca Nature Reserve is located on the outskirts of the little town of Santa Barbara in the interior state of Minas Gerais about 120 kilometres from the state capitol of Belo Horizante. Belo Horizante itself is a one hour flight from Rio de Janeiro or approximately 8 hours by car. Caraca receives its name from the mountain behind the monastery which looks like the profile of a Bishop’s face complete with mitre.
Caraca was founded in 1774 by a Portuguese monk. He couldn’t convince enough other monks though to join him in his little venture in the back of beyond. He left his property to the Portuguese Crown who gave it to other missionaries. In 1820, these monks created a school and a seminary which became very popular and prestigious.
The sanctuary buildings seen from a distance
A massive fire burned down a significant portion of the monastery in 1968. The costs to replace the monastery were prohibitive. The government and the church decided to cooperate to turn the remaining portion of the monastery into a pousada (traditional inn) and the sanctuary into a nature reserve.
Portions of the burned out shell of the monastery
It’s easy to imagine how beautiful the whole place would have been.
Remnants of the old monastic life are today still in existence. There is a hill which is a replica of Calvary (complete with three crosses), a massive church, cloisters and halls of residence for the monks and students.
The Monastery’s large church shows how many people would have been to Mass during its heyday.
The Pousada at Caraca
The Pousada at Caraca very much reminds you of the monastery it used to be. The rooms are simply furnished. You have a choice of a double bed or single beds to make a double, triple or quadruple. There are crosses and religious paraphernalia everywhere.
Spartan but comfortable accommodation
The interior decoration style is full-on Catholic Monastery.
The head of the monastery, an older priest in a polo shirt and chinos, introduced himself to us. He said so far this year 22 different nationalities had visited his monastery.
We saw him regularly shuffling through the corridors of the monastery. I did wonder at his baleful expression – if he was remembering the days of yore when the premises were full of robed monks who would pray and study instead of earnest hikers in shorts and sneakers gulping from water bottles.
The only place with WiFi in the Pousada is the cloisters. It was quite amusing seeing people twist, turn and balance to get a glimmer of WiFi for their electronics. In the end, I just gave up on WiFi.
The beautiful cloistered garden
You are very isolated from the rest of the world at the monastery. This isolation is part of its charm. You really are a world away. On the other hand, the isolation did lead to half the monastery burning down before local fire trucks could arrive for the rescue.
The Pousada doesn’t discourage Earthly pleasures though. There is a small store that sells bottles of wine, soda and chocolate milk. You can also get wine for lunch and dinner.
Lunch and dinner at the Pousada is served in the old Monastery dining room. The tables are laid out cafeteria style. In the middle of the room, there is an intricately carved stone lectern. The walls are lined with portraits of previous priests who reign fire and brimstone through their expressions. The buffet serves up standard Brasilian fare – there was always black beans, rice and pasta to keep my children happy.
Food served in keeping with a simple monastic style
The breakfast was served in a smaller cafeteria. My children loved breakfast because they could make their own pancakes and eggs. The ingredients are laid out on the buffet and you are expected to cook over the stone hearth with an open fire underneath.
Exploring the Nature Reserve
The Nature Reserve consists of about 30,000 acres of grassy fields and forest surrounded by mountains. The reserve is home to 386 species of birds, 42 species of reptiles, 12 species of fish and 76 species of mammals.
The beautiful landscape
There are numerous trails of various difficulty. The trails are well-marked and each is assigned a difficulty.
Why you should go chasing waterfalls at the Caraca Nature Reserve in Minas Gerais
Easy trails (classified us up to 2 kilometres) will take you to a small beach, waterfalls and lookouts over the valley. We did some of these trails with our children and they were indeed easy.
Hiking through the Caraca Nature Reserve
Our favourite path lead to a small (for Brasil) waterfall. The waterfall was tiered over 4 stages and about 130 feet tall. At stage 3 which is where the path leads you, you can enter the waterfall. The mountain water was crisp, cold and a joy to enter on a hot day. The water retains a reddish brown hue because of the minerals in the soil.
The small waterfall
The easy hiking paths were wide and fairly flat and occasionally even shaded from the heat of the sun by trees. You could hear the chirping of birds everywhere which is pretty standard for Brasil. As you walk, you will notice lizards scampering around rocks and butterflies fluttering amongst the flowers. It feels a million miles away from the crowded beaches of Rio.
An isolated little beach
We spotted lots of little lizards
Other trails, marked as long distances (2-6 kilometres), are more challenging. For trails that are above 6 kilometres you are required to hire a registered guide to escort you.
Visiting Caraca Nature Reserve
It is suggested that you stay 2 days at the Caraca Nature Reserve so you can do a few of the different walks. We did meet plenty of people though who were staying longer. I think the lack of WiFi would’ve sent me over the edge though.
We were told last year that 17,000 people visited the nature reserve. Many Brasilian people come just for a weekend with nature. We met lots of Brasilian visitors, some French and a couple of Americans. My husband was surprised that there weren’t more people from the United Kingdom (even paging through the visitor books for past guests).