Boipeba's Natural Marvels

It’s an undeniable fact that, for the most part, tourists are fickle guests. They arrive, they consume, they produce waste and they leave. Of course, they pay generously for the privilege of not having to think about much for a few days or weeks, but the impact of tourism soon mounts up, and within very little time, if unmanaged, every “untouched paradise” is spoiled and overdevelopment rapidly erodes fragile systems of ecology, economy and culture.

Boipeba – much-hyped in recent years as the hot, new, unspoilt Brazilian beach destination – certainly runs the risk of suffering this fate. One of the islands of the Tinharé archipelago, off the southern stretch of the coast of Bahia state, Boipeba is undoubtedly a paradise.

Boasting over fifteen miles of totally unspoilt, white sand, palm-fringed beaches, and with a hypnotically simple island way of life, the promise of total relaxation, a perfect escape from urban Salvador. Because of its remoteness, Boipeba has so far been spared the rigorous development that has, over the last 20 years, transformed nearby Morro de São Paulo. Whichever route you choose, the journey invariably involves a long and complicated combination of boats, buses, ferries or four-wheel drives.

Every little helps

There are positive signs that, learning from the mistakes of the past, Boipeba’s caretakers may be successful in pioneering a much more sustainable model of tourism. AMABO, the Association of Residents and Friends of Boipeba, put together a Sustainable Development Plan with the aims of balancing the economic growth that incoming tourism generates with the needs of the local population, whilst minimising the environmental damage.

“Boipeba’s not the place to come if you’re looking for parties” Cristina told me, as we sat on the veranda of her pousada, Casinha Amarela, basking in the evening warmth of yet another beautiful day. “If you want parties, stick to Morro de São Paulo. The people who make the effort to get here, hopefully, appreciate Boipeba’s natural marvels, the unspoiltness.” Cristina, who moved from Rome some years ago and now balances her vocation as the island’s photographer with running a small pousada, is adamant that visitors to the island must recognise their impact on the environment – and, preferably, give something back.

The local library – a venture started by Cristina – encourages tourists to donate books at the end of their holiday for the community’s use. The friendly young librarian, Albino, jumped at the chance to practise his English with us as he explained how the library worked and the various community art and literacy projects
it hosts. The library, as well as the fairly recent introduction of the internet, is affording the previously cut-off Boipebans access to a wealth of information. And, apparently, the opportunity to learn foreign languages is one of the benefits that tourism brings to Boipeba.

Cristina actively encourages her guests and other visitors to think about what they could offer, and then organises skills-exchange workshops. Recently, for example, visiting doctors have run free healthcare
workshops for the villagers. “It’s all by word of mouth” she told me “but this is the kind of place where you tell five people, and they tell five people… and soon enough the whole village knows about it.”

Leandro, who recently finished building the luxurious Pousada Mangabeiras, situated at the top of a hill with impressive views over the long empty beaches, explained how the pousada had to conform to a strict set of building controls, which he supports. “We’re proud that we didn’t cut down a single tree to construct our pousada” he told me. “We designed the place around the natural habitat.” Other measures taken included installing solar panels and a water tower, which as well as making use of the rainwater, provides a stunning 360 degree view of the island.

When to go

Boipeba is a lush tropical island that often tops the 30°C mark and has light showers at the end of the day. Throughout the year the average temperature is 27°C and the rainy season runs from April to July. The island’s two main events are the Divino Espírito Santo feast day, which takes place on the seventh Sunday after Easter in Velha Boipeba and a special festivity in honour of the sea Goddess Iemanjá on the 2nd February, featuring a maritime procession and a lively party afterwards.

How to get there

Getting to Boipeba from Salvador is time-consuming and best combined with a stop-over on the island of
Cairú, connected to the mainland. There are boat services to Boipeba from the villages of Torrinhas (1hr), Cairú (1h20) and Graciosa (1h40). There are organised boat tours from Morro de São Paulo and a lengthy tractor service (which cuts across several beaches and a shallow river). A much quicker and stress-free route is the daily bi-motor plane flight from Salvador (30 min), but which doesn’t go down so well with the environmentally-conscious locals.

Getting around

Neighbouring Morro de São Paulo is the most popular destination in the region, famous for its attractive coastline, lively nightlife and beach raves – stop off on your way to or from Boipeba rather than spending just a day there. On the mainland the nearby fishing villages of Barra Grande and Camamu are an oasis of tranquility and deserted beaches. Before leaving Bahia state make sure to soak up the rich Afro-Brazilian heritage of urban Salvador.

Where to stay

Casinha Amarela is a cosy pousada run by the charismatic Cristina, the person to talk to to get involved in the island’s social projects. Mangabeiras is a great place to appreciate the natural beauty of the island – even more so from one of the hammocks laid out on the private balconies of the bungalows. A stone’s throw from the beach, Pousada Horizonte Azul is situated in a well-tended tropical garden. The best budget options include two campsites: Recanto dos Pássaros and Pôr do Sol in Velha Boipeba.

Eat, drink & have fun

In Velha Boipeba, the Panela de Barro restaurant comes highly recommended for its fresh, traditional Bahian
food. Make a point of trying out an acarajé (spicy bean fritters filled with prawns) at one of the stalls in the main square. Another option is to head to one of the floating oyster bars where you can eat oysters straight from the sea, but you’ll need to hire a boat to get there. Word-of-mouth is the best way to find out what’s
going on in the evening but the usual suspects are the Toca do Reggae bar and the hard to find (take a local along) Pagoda Illuminada, where DJs play axé and reggae.

Top 5 Things To Do

1. Deserted beaches – Most people congregate around the two main beaches but a short amble and you’ll find you’ve got one to yourself.

2. Explore the coast and the forest early morning on horseback.

3. Watch life go by, sipping a caipirinha with ginger and making new friends in Velha Boipeba bars.

4. Carnival in Boipeba – a donkey pulling a cart with a stereo on it. The perfect antidote to Salvador Carnival

5. Long lazy and delicious breakfasts on the veranda of the pousada, wondering how to improve on yesterday’s relaxation!

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Words by Kat Joyce
Photos by Iuri Kothe

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