In mid-november Olivia, James and Peter had a few days off from school and work so we went on a road trip to the coast with Linda, Anders and their kids Elma and Ivar. This time we went to explore Maresias on the Atlantic coast north of São Paulo.
Maresias is internationally known for its white beaches and gnarly waves. Most may not know of it unless they are dedicated surfers because Maresias is a go-to-place for surfers and hosts national as well as international competitions all year round.
This surfers wonderland is located in São Paulo state in the county of São Sebastião. In the 18th century this was the land of the Bandeirantes. The bandeirantes were explorers of private expeditions into the interior of Brazil. The Bandeiras hailed mostly from São Paulo and consisted of 2-300 men or bandeirantes. Portugal had little interest in exploring the vast interior of the country focusing on setting up trading posts along the coast. The bandeirantes were greedy white men who wanted wealth. They were uninterested in the land and hunted only for precious metals and stones like gold and diamonds and of course natives to sell as slaves.
Despite their less than honourable quest the bandeiras were essential in the territorial formation of Brazil. Many of today’s modern cities were built around the mines discovered by the bandeirantes. Many towns were established along the coast as well to support the growing mining towns because of the harsh conditions of the interior and the scarcity of supplies.
This has obviously changed in the past 300 years. With the exploration of the country’s interior came the vast agricultural business of Brazil. When we drive to the coast, we cross the vast open landscape with sugarcane fields as far as our eyes can see (and it is far!) for hours on straight highways until we get to the end of the plateau that we live on and start descending through a thick strip of atlantic forest down towards the ocean. Getting there is not altogether easy; the road is serpentine as it winds down the mountain side narrow and steep. Around holidays it gets so congested that a few kilometers will take hours. So the best time to go is when nobody else goes. We typically try to go a day or two before the holiday starts. Once there though it feels like all these places are the same; fenced in by the ocean in the front and the mountains in the back limiting their expansion. Without the roads leading over the mountain and only a few roads leading in and out, the towns are quite isolated. The towns feel a bit backwards and poor compared to the bigger cities on the plateau that keep expanding in every direction every day.
Highlights from Maresias
We prefer using Airbnb when travelling with other families. It is more fun, allows more space and interaction and usually is a cheaper option. This time we rented a house inside a condominium. So apart from the house we also had access to all the amenities; pool, sauna, game room etc. Being walking distance from the beach we discovered is a prerequisite. It is such a drag having to load into a burning hot car to go to the beach and having to find parking and so on. Having learned that lesson on previous trips we chose this place that was just 5 min from the beach and a 10 min walk into town where all the restaurants, bars and shops are located.
The beaches are truly gorgeous here with the mountains veiled in mist guarding the bays. The water can sometimes be so rough that you can’t really go swimming, especially if there are little kids. Sometimes we have limited the kids to knee-high water and sometimes they can’t let go of our hands. On occasion we have stayed on the dry part of the beach because of the currents and waves. There are lifeguards who constantly assess the water and guide people left and right with sharp whistles.
On our first morning the kids and I woke up early and at 0500h went to the beach to see the sunrise. Despite the early hour (or because of it) we were not alone. For some people the party of the previous night had not ended yet and they were still enjoying their “saideira” (nightcap).
In the following days we tried three approaches to the beach experience:
A) The traditional “rent a serviced spot”
Most of these beaches that line the coast of SP have sun chairs and parasolls set up for you to rent. The idea is often that you pay the equivalent of 100SEK for a spot for the day and for that sum you can consume drinks and food from the same vendor that provides the spot. Usually there is a wide array of snacks, food and drinks ready for your consumption with just a wave of your hand. You keep a tab and pay up when you decide its time to go home. The nice part about this is you don’t have to pack a picknick and bring a cooler full of drinks and ice to the beach. Another nice part is all the shopping you can do from your sun bed! The vendors walk up and down the beach all day selling their goods. You can find everything from oysters to beach wear to homemade empanadas (that are delicious by the way). The downside is that you are surrounded by a lot of other thong clad people doing the same thing. Takes away the joy and beauty of the beach and the ocean. The focus is suddenly turned towards the social part of the beach. There are little parties all around with people bringing loudspeakers on wheels to share their preferred music with everyone on the beach. People who know me know that this is not my preferred option although it is quite practical.
B) The independent beachgoer
The house we stayed at had a kit of sun chairs and parasolls to take to the beach so we tried this one day. We wanted to try another part of the beach, a part that wasn’t so crowded. So Peter and Anders loaded all the kids and the beach kit into our 7 seated KIA and drove to the south end of the beach. Linda and I walked and discovered that we got the better end of the deal. Lugging all that stuff down to the beach wasn’t as fun as it sounded. Once in place however it was nice to have some independence and space. Linda and I had packed sandwiches and drinks and some snacks. The rest we bought from the vendors that patrolled even these less crowded spots. One of our favourite things to eat on the beach are “espetinhos” which are skewers of meat, cheese, shrimp and sausage. Vendors patrol the beach carrying a portable, three tiered grill, yelling QUEIJO, CAMARÃO, CARNE!!!
If dragging beach stuff TO the beach irritated Peter, dragging the stuff back and loading them into the car made him livid. Peter and Anders got the idea to rinse all the chairs off in the ocean before putting them in the car. This just made things worse. After the ordeal the car was full of sand and saltwater and a very disgruntled driver. 😉
C) Off the beaten track
Most big beaches are long, wide, have great surfing and beautiful water but they are also the most exploited. Over time residential areas have been built up against them, there are parking lots and just lots of people. There are however a lot of smaller beaches that are not as accessible. But…with some spirit of adventure, strong legs and a can (or two) of bug spray you can enjoy them. And the best part is you can enjoy them all by yourself. By looking at the map we located a beach called Praia Brava. Brava means “angry” and is a common name for beaches that have wild waves and strong currents. Perfect for surfers, not so perfect for kids but it is so worth it to have your own private beach.
Obviously this is not a trip we take with beach chairs, parasol and the whole shebang. A backpack packed with sunscreen, a towel, bug spray, a snack, some water and a change of dry underwear (mainly for the guys as trekking back up and down the mountains through the tropical forest in sandy swim shorts tends to result in terrible chafing) is enough.
The trek led us up and over a mountain through the forest. It was hot but at least it was shaded under the deepgreen forest ceiling. After we reached the top and started descending we reached a junction; one path leading steeply down to the left and another through softer brush down to the right. We chose the right path, and by that I mean direction, decision wise it was wrong which we discovered a ways down as the brush became increasingly dense and scratched us bloody. Our adult legs were striped as if attacked by 100 vicious cats while the poor kids had more on arms and face. So we turned around and went back to take the left path. Once back there we saw an arrow scratched deeply in the dirt in the middle of the path. Couldn’t believe we ALL missed it!
Back on the right path the forest eventually opened up to reveal the ocean. The beach was beautiful and empty save for a few surfers who had been dropped off by boat and now couldn’t be picked up because of the wild waters. They eventually had to make the trek in wetsuits, barefooted while carrying their boards.
We ended up spending a couple hours there during which the kids playing in the surf, the guys did a leg workout and I, per usual, walked along the edge of the forest and then along the beach wondering what it must have been like to arrive at these places when Brazil was colonised. “Could they appreciate the divine and pure paradise or were they just relieved to see land after a harrowing voyage on the Atlantic?”
After depleting our stock of provisions we headed back up the mountain to get home before anyone suffered from low blood sugar. Our travel companions are very sensitive on that point (we are talking Jekyll and Hyde sensitive) and, as a family, always eat twice as much as ours does. It is a standing joke on our trips together.
On our way back we played “I opened my grandmother’s trunk”. The kids loved it and did very well. By the end everyone was playing except Peter who took the lead and kept the march at a good pace.
In my opinion, this is by far the best way to experience a beach to get that sliver of tropical beach paradise on this otherwise polluted and exploited planet.
Maresias was a good trip. It took way to long to get there because of the holiday. What should have taken 6 hours took just over 10 hours. This is not unusual here and we were prepared for it. There are lots of towns and beaches along this stretch of coast. Juqueí is a very popular spot in these parts with a beautiful wide and long beach. We went there for half a day and noticed that the beach there is more level and the water not as fierce so a better place for kids, especially the small ones. So basically any one of these places is good for a long weekend or a week. Daily trips to neighbouring beaches is easy and quick.
Some restaurants we really liked were Frida Restaurante Bar located in Boiçucanga a few towns over from Maresias. Really cozy setting and good food.
In Juqueí there is a small shopping mall by the beach with lots of cool beach wear and housing things. There are also several nice restaurants that serve sushi, poke and burgers and ice cream. All look very nice but we opted for the burgers at Beach Burger which were very good.
In Maresias we liked the Restaurante Terral Maresias. Despite being in town as apposed to on the beach it has a cozy, genuine atmosphere and great drinks. A good place to enjoy the traditional fried seafood and a typical caipirinha.
One night we had pizza and Moqueca at a restaurant smack on the beach called the Os Alemão. Great pizzas that were mostly enjoyed by the kids and coveted by us adults who chose the seafood stews with rice (which are really the thing to eat here). The Moqueca is a traditional dish on the coasts of Brazil. I wrote about it in a previous post about Jericoacoara. Check it out.