Merely a couple of hours on a catamaran from Salvador is the popular island destination of Morro de São Paulo – home to sun, sand and relaxation.
This island-off-an-island attracts all walks of life. Families, couples, groups of friends and anyone else between – all looking to get away from it all.
Located at the northern tip of Ilha de Tinharé, Morro’s car-free village is all about walking. Not that it’s a sprawling place, mind you, as you can leisurely walk along the main drag from the top of Rua da Prainha to the end of Second Beach in 10 minutes. The only things that’ll slow you down are the couple of small hills and maybe a market stall, bar or cafe you’d like to stop at.
Being car-free means you either cart your luggage from the wharf to the hotel yourself, or use one of the taxis. Bearing in mind these taxis are merely wheelbarrows pushed by a guy that will charge you for the privilege – guys that pounce the moment you step off the boat and make your way to the end of the wharf to pay your R$15 tourist tax.
Here’s one of the places that slowed me down when we wheeled our bags to our pousada on Second Beach.
It’s tiny, dimly lit and wood-panelled decor was enough to convince me they did good coffee. It’s hard not to judge a book by its cover (or insides, in this case), but the coffee does match the trendy fit-out.
We became regulars on both days we stayed on the island; lapping up the great espresso and free wifi. Probably should have tried some of their food, maybe a cake or brigadeiro, but somehow that never happened.
There are plenty of eating options strung all along the village and its side-streets – local food, lots of Italian and a couple of grocery stores where you can buy and DIY.
It can get pretty pricey if you go for things like fresh seafood at the beach restaurants, but we didn’t struggle at all even with our travellers budget.
I kinda liked the look of this place – Bodeguita Restaurante Lanchonete – tucked in a side street at the bottom of the hill where First Beach starts.
Four or five tables on the pavement is all they can offer, with a menu that stretches from sandwiches, burgers and hotdogs, to pasteis, tapioca pancakes and petiscos. And they don’t scrimp on some of the servings, either.
We feasted on churrasco misto (25) – a grill-fest of chicken, beef and pork sausage on rice, beans and farofa. That’s not all. A really good moqueca (35) joined in, as well.
As prolific as Italian restaurants are all over Brazil, we never really stepped foot into one throughout all of our travels. Somehow, here on Morro, we ended up in two of them. Go figure.
Just off the main walkway on Third Beach is a quiet street with a few dining options. It’s here at the very popular Bella Vida Restaurant that we sat for lunch, beneath the pousada of the same name.
The grilled seafood looks to be the way to go here, considering what almost everyone was ordering, as did some of the pasta. This pair went for a rather large frango a milanesa – crumbed chicken (34), and a delicious sandwich supreme (29) – also with crumbed chicken, plus oozing mozzarella, grilled onions and salad.
So where did we stay?
This place – Le Terrace Baiano Praia.
Our room was the one just above reception, closest to the beach. Really nice place with modern decor, a lovely bathroom and breakfast terrace on the roof.
I mean, just look at that view.
A few reviews did say it can get a little rowdy at night from the restaurant next door, but I came prepared. Earplugs.
The next door restaurant – Sushimar – likes to play loud music. Seriously loud music well past midnight. Maybe something to do with hoping to get the attention of potential diners.
Earplugs didn’t work at all, and neither did the loud music for the restaurant, so it was two very sleepless nights at Le Terrace, I’m afraid. Especially the second night when Sushimar stopped its music at 1.30 am and the bar on the other side decided to have a live performance at 2 am. I was ready to murder a few people.
What is there to do on Morro? Well, as much or as little as you like. Personally all I wanted to do was sleep during the day, but regular trips to Cafe 41 made sure I stayed awake.
If beaches are your thing, then this place has you covered. You only need to choose which one you like the look of most. The water is clear and incredibly warm. Heavenly, shall I say?
There is a zip line that drops from the first hill down into the water at First Beach. Looks like loads of fun, if you don’t have issues with heights.
There’s snorkelling, diving, you could take a boat trip, go shopping – or do a bar hop.
Speaking of bars.
The ultimate bar experience would have to be sunset drinks at Toca do Morcego. This place is perched on the hillside, on the edge of the forest and overlooks the main channel that separates Morro from the mainland. Yes, there’s a cover charge just to get in the door, but it’s kind of worth it.
One word of advice. Get in early to nab a table or one of the lounges. Oh, and don’t forget to bring a selfie stick. You may be the only person without one. Just kidding.
There’s always Point Popular Lanchonete & Restaurante that spills out onto the sand, with its 2 for 1 caipirinhas and caipiroskas. Great place to kick off the havaianas, feel the sand between your toes and people watch.
Once the sun goes down, more places seem to come to life. Lots of people milling about, outdoor restaurants and bars are lively, and a handful of drinks barracas set up shop along the Second Beach walkway.
They may appear to be mini fruit vendors, but that arranged fruit is there to lure you in to order one of their tropical cocktails. You can even have one in a hollowed-out cacau pod.
A lot of the resto-bars along the Second Beach walkway also have seating on the beach; many of them beautifully lit with lanterns and candles.
Marilyn Cafe was another one that did 2 for 1, so what better way to take advantage of cheap caipirinhas than to sit under the stars in the cool breeze, drink in hand?
Wood-fired pizza seems to be the go here, as does getting rowdy whilst watching football inside, so a large pizza to share did it for us.
If the crowds and noise down on the waterfront gets a bit much, I’d say head down to this small restaurant and settle in with the locals. It’s quiet, there’s no loud music and the husband and wife owners are beyond friendly.
All your typical Brazilian meals can be had, and it’s all really well priced. It was bisteca (pork chop) and frango (chicken) with fritas all the way, for us. The usual accompaniments of rice, beans, farofa and salad are included.
How we got from Salvador to Morro de São Paulo.
There are a couple of companies that boat people from Salvador – we used Bio Tur catamaran that departs at either 9 am or 2.30 pm. It costs R$90 pp and takes about two hours. Pick up your tickets at the wharf either on the day of travel or the day before. You’ll need your passport for id.