By Georgia Grimond, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – At the end of a 56 kilometer dirt road lies the Bahian paradise of Barra Grande. Once a little fishing village, now only a small town it has become the go-to place to celebrate réveillon in Brazil. As well as having a host of new year’s eve parties to choose from, the peninsula is edged with endless, largely empty, beaches and is home to a wealth of wildlife.
“It is without a doubt the place in the whole of Brazil to spend New Years,” explains long-time resident and owner of Nirvana Beach Hotel, Bonnie Molnar. “It is where the young and beautiful are all heading to.”
At midnight on December 31st Molnar lets off fireworks from Nirvana to welcome in the new year. Her eco-boutique hotel is built among fifteen acres of fruit plantation and wilderness at the absolute tip of the peninsula that is marked by the lighthouse. Its position means that revellers along the coast and in the town will be able to see the display.
On the main beach in Barra Grande, Café de la Musique will begin six days of celebrations from Boxing Day, December 26th. They will host the biggest New Year’s Eve party in the town with an open bar and a full night of DJs. Fifteen kilometers south in Algodões, Tikal Praia Bar will have live music, top-quality DJs and a chic young crowd for its réveillon party which spills out of the bar and onto the beach.
Most of the time however, the Maraú peninsula is a quiet, rural hideaway. “The area is a rare, precious ecological paradise, with the perfect climate, rainforest, fresh water and beach,” Molnar says. “It’s like Fernando de Noronha [an island national park in the North East] but easier to get to.”
As Barra Grande sits on the shore of the third largest bay in the country (after Rio and Salvador), it is one of the few places in Brazil that gets a full sunset. On the bay side of the peninsula the water is clear and still, perfect for stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking and swimming. On the other side it meets the Atlantic Ocean so the sea is rougher and in places good for surfing.
The bay is home to a number of islands that are easily explored by boat. As well as winding through mangrove-lined tributaries, stops can be scheduled at waterfalls. The ones at Tremembe are wide and full. Visitors climb up to them and sit in the water to get the effect of a natural Jacuzzi. The nearby restaurant serves homemade cachaça (sugar-cane spirit) and good food.
On land, exploring is best done on a quad bike down the sandy coast road or by car along the unpaved main road. The Lagoa Azul (Blue Lagoon) is a tranquil freshwater lake rich in lanolin and good for bathing. Close by is a seven-kilometer beach at Taipus de Fora where natural swimming pools form at low tide and the coral reef and marine wildlife provide some of the best snorkelling in the area.
Beach bars pop up all along the coast, as well as in town. Many of the local restaurants cook excellent seafood and traditional Bahian dishes, such as moqueca, a kind of fish curry. At Pe de Manga they make authentic pizza, Macunaima serves sushi as well as some of the best sunset cocktails and Manga Rosa’s acai is rumored to be the best in Bahia.
For those who are self-catering, supermarkets and a market stalls sell quality fruit and vegetables and fish can be bought directly from the fisherman at the pier. The Barra Grande website lists a number of accommodation options on the peninsula, including pousadas, hotels, resorts and apartment rentals.
As a large part of the area’s magic is its remoteness, getting to it takes time. The quickest way to arrive is by boat from Camamu. Slow ferries leave throughout the day and faster speed boats can be booked too. From Camamu it is almost two hours to Ilhéus airport which is served by flights from all over Brazil, or it is approximately five hours to Salvador, which receives international flights too. Hiring a car is also a good option, and due to the state of the road, a 4×4 vehicle is advised.