5 Days in Trancoso – Brazil
Have I visited paradise? From islands in the Caribbean, to Rio de Janeiro, to the breathtaking Gold Coast in Australia, I thought my eyes had seen paradise many times over. But then Trancoso happened. This old fishermen’s town in Brazil’s coastal state of Bahia might just be the real paradise I didn’t know existed.
Arriving in Trancoso, Bahia, felt like arriving in an undeveloped village, with lots of dirt roads, and people eager to help me find parking; for a fee, of course. I felt like I was arriving at a sports game and multiple scalpers were trying to sell me a ticket. My first couple of hours had me second guessing the decision to visit, and wondering if everything I had read about it was somehow about a parallel city I had not found.
My husband and I drove straight to the Quadrado, a rough rectangle in the center of town, edged by tall trees and little colorful houses. With no internet or access or our notes, we ended up eating our first meal at a place I would describe as a tourist trap. It was recommended to us by the guy who charged us R$30 for parking. We paid over R$250 for an average meal, and left the restaurant feeling like we should have done a better job researching the town to prevent a situation like this from happening. Rookie mistake, but we were tired and hungry, after waking up at 3am for our early flights, taking two connecting flights, and driving an hour to get there.
A Little History
Trancoso was discovered by the Europeans in the 1500s, but it wasn’t until the 70s that it started seeing more interest from people. The hippies “rediscovered” the area and joined the fishermen in a harmoniously way of living. The locals still want to keep it as undeveloped as possible, and even fight to keep the roads unpaved in an attempt to keep some of the bigger crowds from visiting the area. Electricity wasn’t even a thing until the 80s. Things move at a much slower pace in this unmodernized village. Power outages happen frequently, and sometimes it takes a few days to get a technician to come out. WiFi is also spotty and not as available as I expected.
That was perhaps the reason Trancoso will also be one of my favorite vacations to date. After struggling with the WiFi a few times, I decided to put my phone down and start taking in the lush view all around me. Fruit trees are everywhere, and sometimes I felt like I was in the middle of a jungle. At one point my husband and I saw 3 monkeys right outside our balcony. We probably sat there for a half an hour, watching them jump from branch to branch. I wonder if I would have noticed them had I been on my phone. I later found out that species is in danger of going extinct.
How to Arrive in Trancoso
Beyonce for sure took a helicopter to Trancoso, or a private plane, but for most of us, the way there is to fly into Porto Seguro, Bahia (from Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, or Salvador), rent a car, take either the ferry (if you come during slow season), or drive from Porto Seguro straight to Trancoso. The ferry is a good choice in slower months, but in high season (December through February) you’ll sit and wait to get on it for at least 30 minutes. Renting a car for the trip is the best way, as you’ll be able to explore the little nearby towns and beaches.
Where to Stay
If you’re thinking comfort and luxury in a village town are hard to find, guess again. Trancoso has luxury oozing out of it’s hidden Pousadas (similar to Villas), with a price to match. If you’re looking to splurge, Uxua Casa Hotel, and Estrela d’Agua Pousada will give you all the feels. We booked our stay at the intimate Casa das Janas, and would highly recommend it. At R$700 per night, we got all the luxury we needed. We enjoyed lazy mornings on our balcony, watching the monkeys jump from tree to tree. A diverse breakfast with a view, and refreshing moments at the pool at night.
The owners welcomed us personally upon our arrival, with hugs and fresh coconut water. It felt like we were visiting friends. Casa das Janas was a short drive from the Quadrado, but since we also visited a few nearby beaches, we didn’t mind not being exactly in the heart of the village.
When we arrived at the Quadrado early in the afternoon, I wondered where all the people were. It was quiet and most shops were closed. Little did I know the shops only open their doors after 3pm, because everybody goes to the beach, every day of the week. We slowly walked past the brightly colored fisherman’s houses (now shops, pousadas, and restaurants), and at the very back, past the white church (Igreja de Sao Joao Batista), was the mirante, or “lookout/viewpoint” where you can see the beach, past the thick, lush jungle.
When you’re taking in the beach view from the top of the hill, you’ll probably get approached by people with a small popsicle cart, offering to take your picture. The expectation is that you’ll buy a popsicle from them after they take the picture. They won’t charge money though. Not knowing how the popsicles were made, I declined the offer, and decided to use my camera’s self timer instead.
I would describe the Quadrado as the heart of Trancoso. As the sun starts going down, the shops start opening their doors, the restaurants start putting out fresh flowers on their tables, men come out to play soccer games on the green grass in the middle, and people suddenly start appearing out of nowhere. The streets welcome artists selling their crafts, and a lot of the light comes from lanterns dangling from the trees. We stood there, right in the middle of the Quadrado, and I looked up at the stars shining as brightly as ever. The Quadrado at nighttime is magical. All the things I had read about this little village started making sense. That first impression long gone, my body started relaxing in a way I hadn’t experienced before.
Parking anywhere by the Quadrado is paid, even street parking. The rate changes by the season you go. During Carnaval, which is when we went, many parking lots were R$20 per hour. We found a few spots that were R$30 for the entire day. After day 1 however, we decided to park a little before the Quadrado, on the street, and walk the rest of the way. Being we didn’t always have a plan on what we wanted to do, we wanted the flexibility to come and go without having to pay for parking every time. We normally walked about 10-15 minutes, and since we both love to walk, we felt it was the perfect solution to avoid the parking fees.
When you first start walking around this little Village, you might think things are very affordable. Especially considering how strong the Dollar is in comparison to the Real, BUT, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Everything is Trancoso is a pretty penny, but when it comes to shopping, it also means finding the best fashion from local designers. I probably went inside all the stores in the Quadrado, and my favorite was called Trancoseando. My favorite part? This shop cares about offering sustainable fashion, eco-friendly products, and promotes living a healthy lifestyle! Check, check and check!
Where to Eat
Restaurants at the Quadrado are expensive, with normal prices per plate being over R$100. One thing to note is that portions are normally big enough for two people. If you’re looking to save some money just consider walking out a bit and you’ll see prices go down.
Most hotels/Pousadas in Brazil offer THE BEST BREAKFAST ever, and shockingly, it’s always included with your stay. Take advantage of this and make sure to try all the different fruits, pastries, freshly squeezed juices, homemade cakes, eggs cooked to order, you name it.
For a snack at the Quadrado, I would highly recommend A Creperia. The French owner was there, and made our crepes for us. The Strawberry Nutella crepe was R$32, and worth every penny.
Like a Local
For a quick lunch, how about trying something from a Padaria (bakery)? Padarias are a big part of the Brazilian culture, and grabbing a salgado like a coxinha, or pao de queijo (gluten free cheese bread) will immediately make you feel and look like a local. We ate at Padaria Filadelfia a couple of times. It’s about a ten minute walk from the Quadrado, and their coxinha de catupiri was one of the best I’ve ever had. It’s made with shredded chicken catupiri cheese, so vegetarians/vegans be aware. I also ordered a vitamina de mamao e banana which is a papaya and banana smoothie made with milk.
Another padaria we liked was right at the Quadrado, called Padaria Marcos. It’s a bakery and convenience store. We bought big five liter jugs of water to take back to our Pousada, and THE BEST cake, called rocambole de brigadeiro.
For dinner, we decided to go to Capim Santo, one of the best in the village (reservations are a MUST), and as soon as we sat down, they brought out their signature drink, a freshly squeezed juice of lemongrass, lemon, and (I think) pineapple. The rustic live music (expect to pay a cover charge at any restaurant with live music) was soothing and set the mood for the night. The oysters were as close to perfection as it gets, and the food delicious. To my vegetarian/vegan friends, they have an entire menu section just for you!
Dinners in Trancoso are definitely an experience, and worth every penny. Reservations are a must, and many restaurants have limited seating times. Capim Santo, had reservations for 7pm, or 10pm. If you’re wondering why there’s three hours between the two, the answer is Brazilians like to take their time. They’ll sit and talk for hours. They’ll listen to the live music, and slowly drink their caipirinhas.
Bill and Tipping
You most likely won’t get your bill until you ask for it. Your waiter will then bring the credit card machine to your table. In Brazil they will NEVER take your card. Everything happens right at the table. They’ll ask you if you want to pay using a credit or debit card, and swipe right there. Tipping doesn’t happen the same way as in America either. Your waiter will ASK you if it’s ok to add “service” to your bill, which will be an additional 10%. They will usually have a separate credit card machine to charge the tip on.
Trancoso has a few beaches nearby, but super close to the Quadrado you will find two, very beautiful beaches, right next to each other. Finding them is a little adventure in itself. We asked two different groups of people how to get to them, and got different answers, before a local offered to take us himself. Although I felt a little hesitant to follow a stranger, I trusted my gut, which said he was just being helpful.
So how do you get to Nativos (Native’s Beach) and Coqueiros (Palm Trees Beach)? Let’s back up. Remember the Quadrado? If you’re standing at the beginning of it, on the opposite end as the white church, stay on the right side, walk past the little colorful houses, and just before you reach the white church (which is in the middle, and you should be on the right side walking towards the church), you’ll see a little street going down. Walk down all the way, and you’ll come to a paved road, walk down a little more and you’ll see a parking lot, keep walking through the little bridge, and voila, you have arrived right between the two beaches. The whole walk from the Quadrado should take about 5-10 minutes. Turn right to Coqueiros, or left to Nativos.
I did not bring my camera thinking we’d come back, but we never did. The beaches were beautiful, clean, and the water very warm. There’s a river in between them, and walking through it was very easy. The water only went up to my thighs.
The waves were crashing and we both went in the water together, leaving our stuff right on the sand. Trancoso is still pretty safe, and although I have a hard time trusting just about anyone I don’t know, I felt the risk was low, and enjoyed the water.
Although a few cities like Rio have banned the use of plastic straws, Trancoso hasn’t yet. We were very pleased to see a few beach restaurants offering metal straws, and some restaurants in town had paper straws. The village had many signs about keeping the town clean, and taking care of the environment. We made a note to bring our own reusable straws next time we visit a beach.
At the beach, many vendors accepted credit cards and It’s completely safe to pay them that way. They’ll always ask: “Credito ou Debito?” which means credit or debit. Just say “credito.”
If you’re wondering when to visit this beautiful place, the answer is whenever! It’s warm year round, and there’s always a nice breeze to cool you off. The Summer months are the hottest (and when it rains the most), especially November through April.
5 Days in Trancoso
Trancoso is my Bohemian paradise. Five days was enough time to realize I need more of it in my everyday life. More of this lifestyle I experienced there. I won’t soon forget how it felt to wake up and never reach for my phone, to take an hour to eat breakfast, to take three hours to eat dinner, to walk around the Quadrado, taking the time to look up at the stars. Time slowed down to the beat of my heart, and a part of my heart will forever stay in Trancoso.