By Joshua Rapp Learn, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – In April 22, 1500, after nearly two months at sea, Pedro Álvares Cabral sighted land in the distance, and named the protruding hill Monte Pascoal. The hill was around 30km south along the red bluffs of the coastline from where Cabral eventually struck land and became the first European to set foot on present day Brazil.

The safe waters where Pedro Álvares Cabral sailed into, Joshua Learn photo
The safe waters Pedro Álvares Cabral sailed into, photo by Joshua Learn.

It may have been more than just the calm sea around the mouth of the Bunharem River that inspired the Portuguese explorers to stop. Turquoise waters, golden sands and a stretch of virgin Atlantic rain forest covered the entire area of what is today the southeast corner of Bahia, and where Cabral decided to first pull into Porto Seguro.

It didn’t take him long to realize that the land he had struck lay east of the allocated colonial territories delegated by Pope Alexandre VI in order to settle land disputes between the Portuguese and the Spanish empires. Keen on fulfilling his intentions of opening new trade routes and spreading Catholicism (by any means necessary), Cabral was quick to send news to Portugal.

At the time, Cabral didn’t grasp the size of his discovery, however. Porto Seguro, and indeed Brazil in general, began its life in European consciousness as The Island of the True Cross, as the explorers didn’t realize they had come across an entirely new continent. It took another 34 years before a village was founded on the site, though the Marco da Posse, a standing marble monument declaring the Portuguese possession of Brazil, was erected in 1503.

The Marco da Posse, photo by opimentas/Flickr Creative Commons License
The Marco da Posse, photo by opimentas/Flickr Creative Commons License.

In the 1970s Porto Seguro enjoyed a boom in tourism in Bahia. Partly due to the arrival of Lambada – a style of music and dance originating in the far northeast of the country – Brazil’s first city quickly acquired a reputation for its nightlife. Today, no matter what time you arrive in the city, you are never far from the sound of music.

People searching for a little more tranquility can head across the Bunharem River to Arraial D’ajuda, a striking suburb on top of a hill south of Porto Seguro. Here the colorful colonial buildings are filled with handmade crafts and souvenir shops while the various squares are littered with food stalls cooking sizzling Bahian cuisine.

The hill of Arraial d’Ajuda sits above one of Porto Seguro’s best beaches, Praia da Apa Fogo. Walking south along the golden sands of what is referred to as the Discovery Coast brings you to a beautiful red cliff-lined stretch of coast, and the farther south you walk, the more abandoned the beach becomes. Only a couple of kilometers away from Arraial D’ajuda, you will have the epic cliffs virtually to yourself.

Porto Seguro is straight up the coastline, almost 1000km from Rio de Janeiro. Night buses traveling to Porto Seguro leave from the Novo Rio station every night and (supposedly) arrive the following afternoon, making around a 14 hour trip. Travel in Bahia, however, can be unpredictable and delays caused by weather, protests or problems with the road are frequent. Luckily, Porto Seguro has an airport for the impatient.

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