Copacabana Beach in Rio, the mega city of São Paulo, the Amazon – these are some of the first places that come to mind when most people think about traveling to Brazil. But dotted along the coastline of this large and diverse country are small fishing villages and beach towns offering a different vibe and tempo altogether. One of these towns is Itacimirim.
Itacimirim is located 76 kilometers north of the colonial city of Salvador, in the State of Bahia. Here you will find nearly deserted golden sand beaches, sea turtles, lush palm trees, and warm ocean water. It was the perfect destination for our multigenerational group. We could lounge and relax on the beach yet we were close enough to Salvador for a day trip to experience the sights and sounds of that beautiful city.
Since we traveled to Itacimirim in the off-season it was very quiet throughout our stay. Most days we were the only visitors on the beach sharing it with the local fisherman, young surfers, and the occasional kite surfer.
We marveled at the sight of fisherman leaving for the sea each morning to catch fish the old fashioned way – by hand – with nothing more than small motorboats and coolers full of ice. Our eyes bulged at the sight of the crews returning every afternoon with huge hauls of fish in all shapes, sizes and colors. All the while, the young surfers – undeterred by the continuous crash of waves all around them – continued to hone their skills.
On the weekends a handful of Brazilians from Salvador would return to their vacation homes to recharge and refresh from their busy lives in the city. Kids building sandcastles, groups of friends playing beach football, boogie-boarders, and surfers dominated the sight and sound of the shore.
We swam. We laughed. We played on the beach and in the water like we were kids again. My mother-in-law would quickly befriend other grandmothers and soon our son found himself boogie boarding and playing in the sand with the other Brazilian kids. I even found the courage to try something new – paddle boarding. My mother-in-law, husband, and son cheered me on each time I stood up shakily on the paddleboard and slowly navigated my way across the water. They belly laughed when I would lose my balance and fall spectacularly on top of my instructor and into the water.
It was incredibly peaceful. And it was incredibly easy.
Our home base during the trip was a beautiful vacation home located off of Avenidas das Flores – a stone’s throw from the beach. It was the perfect choice for our multigenerational group with plenty of space to be together or apart. We stocked the fridge with everyone’s favorite comfort foods and drinks. Along the patio, artisan, hand-knotted hammocks waited to envelope any one of us its in embrace. And there was a private pool on the property just in case we wanted to mix up our water experience. But most days we would wander down the cobblestone avenue to the beach itself.
Coconut trees dotted the property providing shade and nourishment to quench our thirst. Every few days our neighbor would fashion an extra-long pole of bamboo sticks together in order to gently nudge the fruit from the treetops. It was exciting to watch and to see each one fall to the ground with a resounding thump. Within a few minutes we would have a tableful of coconuts and we couldn’t wait to hack open the tops of the fruit just enough to slip in a straw and taste the sweet milk within.
During our stay we experienced a culinary feast ranging in style and price. It’s hard to say which meal was the best because they were all very good and all very different.
On the beach, the family at Barraca Frango Fogosa treated us with a their off-the-menu and homemade version of feijoada (the Brazilian national dish of beans, sausages, and pork) and a variety of grilled meats.
A newfound and tiny restaurant – Comida Caseira – offered mouth-watering pasteis (a Brazilian-style fried empanada) and a singular traditional dish of the day. The restaurant would overflow with locals during the lunch hour.
Run by a charming family from Rio Grande do Sul, O Pescador served mouth-watering and freshly caught fish. Given his own gaucho roots, my husband couldn’t resist their grilled steak – it was a home run too.
Pizzeria Forno Lenha made an outstanding wood-fired pizza with the best thin crust I have tasted in long time. We greedily ate each piece while listening to the beautiful sound of a local Bossa Nova singer – Rosana Simpson – whose music played softly in the background.
And in the end the owner of Forno Lenha would surprise us all with a copy of Rosana’s CD personally delivered to us on our final day.
Finally, it was also hard to beat the freshly made ice cream of coconut or maracuja (a tropical fruit in Brazil). We waited in anticipation for the sound of the bells of the ice cream trolley coming across the beach or past our house.
The best part of our vacation to Itacimirim was the warmth and hospitality we encountered. Maybe it was because we were the only visitors in town? Maybe it was the connection to Itacimirim via my Brazilian mother-in-law? Maybe it was the generosity of the people living in this beach town? It doesn’t matter. It was an incredible vacation – we felt welcome and part of their community during our stay. We can’t wait to go back and experience it again.
Dorothy Hoffman is the creator of the travel blog, Squirts and Seniors. She is a Gen X-er who writes about traveling at home and abroad with her young son and aging parents.