It may not be the biggest of tourist magnets, but the city of Ilhéus on Brazil’s aptly named Cocoa Coast does have a certain charm, thanks to its compact and very walkable historic centre and handful of activities for the visitor.
You can’t mention Ilhéus without mentioning something about Jorge Amado, one of the country’s best known writers from the 20th-century that grew up here. There are signs of him just about everywhere – from museums, to street names, cafes and statues.
The list of things to see in this rough-around-the-edges town isn’t all that long, hence our 24 hr visit, but it does break up the journey if you’re travelling up or down this beautiful stretch of Brazilian coastline.
For that reason, staying in town may be the way to go as you’ve got everything close-by – a few museums, pedestrianised shopping streets and enough eateries to keep your belly full.
Come night-time, however, and it’s a whole different story.
Those that like their historic buildings are well looked after here, thanks to many lining the streets in the historic town centre. Some are restored, others need some loving attention.
Casa de Jorge Amado, a bright yellow and white building on the street also named after the author, is where Amado lived with his parents when writing his first novel. Today it’s immaculately restored and houses a museum that’s all about you know who. Probably a good thing his father won the lottery and built this house, as the writer’s museum may have been a little more humble than the mansion we can visit today.
If there’s one building that dominates the skyline, it has to be Catedral São Sebastiao by Praça Dom Eduado. It’s impressive inside and out and , I think, best enjoyed whilst sitting at nearby Bar Vesúvio with a cold pint of beer.
Watching the sunset colours on the façade in the afternoon is pretty magical, I’ve gotta say.
Somewhere else you can sit, relax, and take in the view of the cathedral is the tiny Dona Cafe. It’s here that you can sip on espresso, nibble on a pão de queijo (cheese puff) and while the day away.
Bar Vesúvio over on the praça may be an institution, thanks to Jorge Amado, but when it comes to the crowds, Barrakítika won hands-down when we were in town. This resto-bar packs them in, serving up inexpensive set lunches from feijoada to peixe frito (fried fish) and a menu filled with everything from steak to pizza – they even have a sushi bar next door.
Not surprised about the sushi bar being void of people, though, as this was the same story with any place that served sushi in all our Brazilian travels. The love of feijoada and farofa runs too deep in this country!
We opt for a substantially-sized calabresa calzone (17), packed with oozing cheese, onion and smoked sausage, and I couldn’t help myself with ordering the filé a cavalo (32).
Yep, that’s right. Horse steak – as tender as ever, served with fried egg and onions.
One thing we did discover about the centre of Ilhéus soon after the sunset is that virtually every business closes its doors. Including restaurants.
Walking down the criss-cross of pedestrian streets that were filled with people merely a few hours earlier resembles some kind of post apocalyptic scene. It’s eerie, dark, the shops and restaurants have pulled their metal window shutters down and it’s completely devoid of people.
Where were we going to eat?
Well, lucky for us the only place still open was Barrakítika, the one joint that rocks on and hosts a lively bar scene. They put more seats out onto the pavement, the music is cranked up and it appears that half of the town is boozing it up here.
Yet, their sushi bar next door still has no people. So sad.
Dinner was on the light side for us as we had lunch fairly late – a few beers, some cracking kibe and pastel árab filled with cheese and dried mint.
How we got to Ilhéus from Itacaré.
Cidade Sol bus to Ilhéus runs on the hour every hour and costs R$15pp, taking about 1.5 hours. From Ilhéus bus station it’s a quick taxi ride into the old town.