Porto Seguro may have the higher population, but its across-the-river neighbour of Arraial d’Ajuda has the appeal of tourists. Both centres, separated by Rio Buranhém, can be reached by a quick 10-minute ferry – with Arraial another five minutes drive from the wharf.
Peak times see this area buzzing with people – swarming the small town and lapping up the easy-going lifestyle, beaches, plethora of shopping and dining options. And they’re not just for the budget traveller, either, as many clothing boutiques and a couple of high end restaurants cater to those with deeper pockets.
The historic heart of this once quiet fishing village clusters around Igreja Nossa Senhora d’Ajuda that was built in 1549 – sitting at the top of a cliff overlooking the palm-fringed coast and surrounding turquoise waters.
Visit in the middle of the day and it bustles with day-trippers that are dropped at the adjacent park – wielding selfie sticks and stocking up on magnets, dream catchers and t-shirts at souvenir stores by the church.
The benefit of staying in Arraial is you get to see what it’s like after the day-trippers have moved on. A lot less people and a much more pleasant area to enjoy.
My favourite time was just before sunset, sitting in or walking through the small park – Praça Bigadeiro Eduardo Gomes – near the church, beneath big old trees filled with tillandsias and chirping birds.
For those that can’t function without fresh fruit and vegetables, there’s a small market set up on the main drag at the top of town where the collectivo vans drop off.
A handful of vendors have permanent stalls full of well-priced produce from morning to afternoon. Definitely worth poking around.
Over the road from the small market is this little store. I only found it when we were walking along the street and I smelled something very familiar. The aroma of spices that reminded me of my beloved Fiji Market in faraway Sydney.
I literally followed my nose and discovered Casa dos Temperos Produton Naturais – a small grocer that specialises in all types of whole spices, dried herbs as well as tinned pantry items, blocks of unrefined sugar – even maté cups and roasted coffee beans.
My kind of place!
When in need of a quick snack, Panificadora Pão de Minas is a worthwhile place to head. Aside from being a convenience store, these guys sell a variety of sweet and savoury baked goods in a self-serve cabinet.
Breads folded with ham, tomato, corn and catupiry cheese, plus there are cookies, bolos and my favourite – sonho de creme – custard filled doughnuts.
Coffee-wise, there are a few cafes about the centre of town that help keep us addicts pumped.
361 Café is a contemporary set-up with a few tables out front, and much more seating in its large rear eating area. They do cakes, sandwiches and empanadas for sustenance, and regarding the coffee, it’s pretty decent – even if it does come from a pod machine.
Over on Praça Bigadeiro Eduardo Gomes near the little church, Café da Santa tempts you with its cabinet filled with elaborate cakes and confectionaries.
The coffee’s good and they also do sandwiches, salads, savoury pastries and breads – best enjoyed in the rear leafy courtyard or coveted tables overlooking the praça.
I couldn’t help myself with the towering mil folhas – a bit of a Brazilian take on the millefeuille – although here it’s layered with copious amounts of doce de leite and crunchy logs of sweet meringue.
Sugar on sugar on sugar on sugar. Way too much for me.
Most of the restaurants in Arraial can be found along Rua du Mucugê – it’s winding street that’s jam-packed with restaurants, boutiques, tour operators, hotels and pousadas.
One place that rakes them in is Portinha Gastronomia Típica. This per-kilo restaurant may look a little fancy and deceptively expensive, but its R$49.50/kg price point is still very doable for budget travellers like ourselves.
And I’ve got to say, it’s the most impressive spread we’ve seen so far. There’s an amazing variety of regional and international dishes, desserts and well-stocked salad bar.
For a really good fix on burgers, the guys at Burger Society have you well and truly covered. They’re more on the artisanal side rather than those typical Brazilian-style burgers you see around the traps – which I also like.
There are seven burgers to choose from, all of which have a 160g patty along with whatever variety you go with. My choice – the blue burger (20) – featuring onion chutney, bacon, blue cheese and rocket. A nice change from meat, rice and feijoada, I tell you!
Aside from your typical soft drinks, there’s only one alcoholic bevvy available – Heineken.
They don’t do desserts of any kind, so fix this by heading over the road to Fior di Latté Gelateria for some ice cream.
For a cheap and cheerful feed, Cantinho Mineiro has all of that covered. They specialise in typical food from Brazil’s state of Minas Gerais – like carne de sol and linguiça mineira, but there are a couple of pastas for good measure.
Brazil wouldn’t be Brazil without its version of Italian food, after all.
Spaghetti carbonara (16) for a certain someone that wanted a rest from Brazilian food, and mexidão (20) for me. This is the specialty of the house; an extravaganza of rice, feijão, calabrese, smoked ham, slow-cooked beef and eggs. Flavour-wise, it didn’t quite rock it, despite its variety of ingredients. Nothing a bit of salt couldn’t fix.
Many places can be found for a drink all over the town – touristy or where the locals go. If you want to keep it local, the streets around Praça São Braz have a few options. They’re cheaper, as well.
Nearby is Praça Carlos Alberto Parracho, an adjacent park where you’ll find food and drink vendors peddling stuff that’s very wallet friendly.
For a different type of atmosphere, head over to Praça Bigadeiro Eduardo Gomes, grab an outdoor table at El Bodegón and take in the cool breeze, jazzy beats and occasional clinging of bells at the church nearby. Bliss.
You can eat there too, so expect to chow on carnes, sandwiches, salads and pizza.
How we got to Arraial d’Ajuda from Ilheus.
We got the Rota Bus from Ilheus bus station, cost $R77 pp and it takes 6 hours to Porto Seguro. From Porto you can grab a taxi from the bus stain to the ferry (balsa) for R$20. A bit expensive, considering you’re there in 5 minutes.
Buy your ticket for the ferry at one of the offices, cost R$3.80 pp and then grab one of the collectivo minivans just up from the ferry wharf. Just tell them “Centro Arraial” and you just get in and wait for it to fill. Cost R$3 pp. It’s less than ten minutes drive down to Arraial.