Boipeba, Brazil — aka, paradise — is a small island located 53 miles (85 km) south of Salvador, right across the Bay of All Saints on the Atlantic Ocean. It is known for its idyllic culture, slow, throwback way of life, natural baths, and tranquil white-sand beaches.
For anybody in the know, it is a coveted vacation destination and is host to several of the best beaches in Brazil. Nature-rich, the region was designated by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage site and even during peak tourist season, it’s not overrun (you’ll see why shortly).
If you are looking for a place to experience sossego, or Brazilian ease, then Boipeba is just the place for you. If you want some late-night parties or clubbing along with your beaches, you won’t find that here. You’ll want to go to the neighboring island of Morro de São Paulo.
What to do in Boipeba
The idea behind Boipeba is to relax and unwind and fully sink into a slower, disconnected way of life. And for that, Boipeba pulls out all the stops.
If you are someone like me who has a limit to how long she can sit under a palm tree doing nothing, there are many nature-inspired day excursions:
- Canoeing in the mangroves
- Stand-up paddle
- Relaxing in natural baths
- Hiking through the tropical forest to Cova da Ouça
- Speedboat trip around the island
- Day trip to Morro de São Paulo
There is no need to organize any of these excursions prior to your arrival. There will be any number of operators waiting for you as you arrive in Velha Boipeba to offer you an excursion.
Feel free to arrive, get your bearings, and then decide. What may have seemed like a great idea before your arrival may feel like too much of a bother when facing endless white sand beaches and natural baths steps from your pousada.
The best time to visit Boipeba
Being the tropics, there is no bad time to visit. The decision of when to go all boils down to what you are looking for.
The busy season for Boipeba is December through March — the same is true for Salvador and much of the region. During that time you are going to find the highest prices and the most tourists wandering around.
Peak winter months are April through July, which means slightly cooler temps and plentiful tropical storms. There will be virtually no visitors, and many of the pousadas will be closed for the winter.
In early August, the skies typically start to clear and the region starts moving into summer mode. Tourism also starts picking up, as the northern hemisphere (particularly Europe) vacations for back to school. By October, the region is in full-on summer mode and I’d say that October or November is the ideal combination of summer sun, fewer tourists, and better prices.
The beaches of Boipeba
There are seven different named beaches as you head south down the island from Velha Boipeba to São Sebastão (Cova da Onça) on the tip of the island:
- Boca da Barra — The main beach in Velha Boipeba and is most likely where you will arrive. It’s where Rio do Inferno (that separates Ilha de Tinhare from Boipeba) meets the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the beachfront pousadas in Velha Boipeba are on this beach.
- Praia do Outeiros e das Pedrinhas — A continuation of Boca da Barra beach, and has some natural warm-water pools at low tide.
- Praia de Tassimirim — Contains many natural pools at low tide and is one of the main spawning points for sea turtles on Boipeba. There is some food and drink available from beach huts.
- Praia da Cueira — With a white sand cove, this is a stunning beach.
- Praia da Moreré — This is probably the most popular beach with tourists in Boipeba. With an inlet and coral reef, it is an ideal diving spot and has many natural pools. there is some food available during the day and has a number of pousadas.
- Praia do Bainema — Large calm beach with natural pools. It is also a working beach, and is where the local fisherman catch fish and shrimp.
- Ponta dos Castelhanos — This beach got it’s name from the wreck of the Spanish ship Madre de Diós. It is a major diving location and spawning location for sea turtles, but has no amenties.
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Where to stay
There are countless pousadas (the US equivalent of a bed & breakfast) on the island at a wide range of price points — with amenities to match.
The two most popular areas of the island to stay are:
- Velha Boipeba — known as the “old village”, it’s where the majority of the pousadas are, most of the excursions take off from, and where the largest variety of bars and restaurants is. Find a place to stay.
- Moreré — About halfway down the island on the Atlantic, Moreré is a large beach area surrounded by a number of pousadas. It is secluded location, with only about a hundred full-time residents and few pousadas and dining options. What it lacks in amenities it makes up for in natural pools, diving, and quiet beaches. Find a place to stay.
A place where time stood still
Residents of Boipeba pride themselves on being a sleepy fishing village that is hard to get to. While the island relies heavily on tourism to survive, they also place great value on the slow way of life with low levels of crime where kids can play on the streets unsupervised.
This means that a few things many of us take for granted don’t exist in Boipeba:
- There are no ATMs or banks on the island — bring cash with you. The pousadas, shops, and restaurants all take credit and debit cards, but there are still many times when having R$20 reais is simpler.
- There are no cars on the island. Wheelbarrow and horse-drawn cart is how things get around. The city has a pick-up or two for official business, and a tractor and some four-wheelers (ATVs) are available to take people between villages. But, walking and boat are the primary modes of transportation.
- There is no bridge to the island — residents even recently voted down an effort to tie Boipeba to the nearby mainland. This effort helps preserve the environment as well as the culture and deters a lot of people from visiting. It also means that everything that comes and goes to and from the island arrives by boat, so prices tend to be higher than you would find otherwise.
- Internet and cell service are spotty at best. Sticking with the theme of being a throwback in time, you won’t find great cell reception or fast internet on the island.
How to get there
Both the biggest upside and the biggest downside of Boipeba is the challenge in getting there. While only 53 miles from Salvador, those 53 miles are across the Bay of All Saints, so it’s a few hours — via various modes of transportation — to arrive in Boipeba. It’s this time and complexity that, in large part, deters many visitors and keeps visitor counts low.
To Boipeba via Valença
Virtually all travel to and from Boipeba goes through the town of Valença on the south side of the Bay of All Saints.
Coming from Salvador, you have a few options to get to Valença:
- Ferry boat (São Joaquim maritime terminal) to Bom Despacho and then a bus to Valença. It’s about 4 hours and will cost roughly R$35 reais per person.
- Ferry boat (São Joaquim maritime terminal) to Bom Despacho and then a taxi to Valença. It’s about 3 hours and will cost about $250 reais for the taxi and another R$5 for the ferry.
Once you arrive in Valença, the next step is to will need to get to the river for the speedboat departures to Boipeba (~R$45 reais). If you take the bus to Valença, you will also need to grab a taxi (~R$20 reais) to get to where the speedboats depart. Boats depart about every hour, with the last boats leaving around 5pm.
The hour-long speedboat ride was one of my favorite parts of the trip. The large, wooden speedboat holds about a dozen people and travels via an internal channel behind the Ilha de Tinhare, so you aren’t out in the open water of the Atlantic. By the time we arrived in Boipeba, we were already feeling the relaxed vibe from having just watched the ocean and mangroves go by for the past hour.
To Boipeba via other routes
Via Valença is not the only way to get to and from Boipeba:
- Aero taxi — for ~R$800 reais you can get from the Salvador airport right to Boipeba
- Catamaran to Morro de São Paulo and speedboat to Boipeba — The catamaran is a popular way to get to Morro, is two hours and is just over R$150 reais. It’s definitely the best time for money trade-off. The downside is that it cuts right across the Bay of All Saints, which can be known for its rough waters — even in the summer.
- Via Torrinha — there is a tiny town called Torrinha on the mainland that is the closest land point to Boipeba. It is possible to get a small boat from that point. You’ll need a good working knowledge of Portuguese to do this, as it is not well-marked and there are only a couple of departures per day.
Although not the easiest place to get to, the challenge is part of the charm. Highly recommend.
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