When my friend Julia found out I was visiting Brazil, her beloved home country, she enthusiastically suggested I spend some time in a little beach town called Trancoso. As I mentioned before, I’m traveling South America without an itinerary or guide book, so I welcomed Julia’s trusty recommendation. And it was trusty indeed!
After the week I spent in Salvador, I hopped an 11-hour overnight bus ride to Porto Seguro, took a quick boat ride across an inlet, and endured a crammed, windy 1-hour van ride through a hilly jungle, and arrived in Trancoso.
Trancoso is a paradise of unspoiled beaches and jungles. Every time I mention it to other people traveling in Brazil, I’m told, “Hmm, I’ve never heard of that place.” I love that Trancoso is off the regularly beaten path for the hundreds of people I’ve met backpacking through South America (and holy crap, there are a LOT of people doing the same circuit). I feel like I experienced something unique and special. Apparently, this is where Brazilians go on holiday. I did meet an older hippie couple from Alaska who said they’ve been coming here every year since 1985. I can only imagine how untouched this area was back then. Even today – with more and more people discovering it – Trancoso maintains a quiet, under-the-radar energy.
The heart of Trancoso, known as the “Quadrado,” is a small, charming common area. It doesn’t allow any cars, is lined with cute colorful houses and old, beautiful trees, and has boutiques and handicraft shops catering to the hippie-chic.
At one end of the Quadrado lies the São João church:
What lies behind this church took my breath away. It’s a cliff drop-off that offers this incredible view of the Atlantic Ocean:
Remember how awestruck I was to see the Plitvice National Park in Croatia? I had the same experience when I approached this cliffside view from the Quadrado. I was half asleep from my long journey and was just wandering around the town, not knowing what I was getting into when I peeked behind the church to find miles and miles of golden beaches.
‘Tis the beauty of traveling without any guides or preconceived notions. I love a good surprise!
Couchsurfing in a Jungle Paradise
I stayed in a pousada (small inn) on my first night, and spent the remainder of my time Couchsurfing with Fernando, a refugee rights educator originally from Portugal.
Fernando lives in a humble jungle paradise just a 25-minute walk from the Quadrado. It’s a little hideaway surrounded by coconut, jackfruit, and banana trees, a hammock swinging from the second-floor balcony, dogs and horses running around the property. I had my own room, and in true jungle fashion, I slept under a much-needed mosquito net. It all very much embodied the serene, laid-back energy of Trancoso.
Horseback Riding in Trancoso
Not only does Fernando live in a jungle paradise, he gets around town entirely by foot, bicycle or horseback like many of his neighbors. It’s common to see people riding horses all over town and on the beach, and lucky for his Couchsurfing guests, Fernando owns two horses himself.
The first thing we did upon meeting, in fact, was hop on the horses for a ride through the jungle and to the beach!
It was quite the experience. And if I’m to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t the relaxing, take-in-the-fresh-air, throw-my-hair-into-the-wind joy I had anticipated. It was actually a bit frightening!
I’ve only once gone horseback riding before, and it was a slow, easy trot through the canyons of Mt. Hollywood in Los Angeles (photos available here). Easy peezy.
This particular ride in Trancoso started out just as easy peezy – trotting leisurely through the jungle for about an hour, stopping on the beach for a beer and a queijo coalho (that toasted, cheesy goodness I told you about in Salvador). As you can see in the photo here, I’m all smiles.
It was when we hopped back on the horses to ride along the shore of the Atlantic Ocean that things got a little too real for me, and that smile morphed quickly into a face of fear.
Trotting along the beach, splashing in the water? No biggie.
Enter PROPER GALLOP, and that’s a whole different story.
gallop /ˈgaləp/ (noun): the fastest pace of a horse or other quadruped, with all the feet off the ground together in each stride.
I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I did not know that was the definition of a gallop. All feet off the ground together? That’s pretty much FLYING, isn’t it?
Indeed. My horse and I went fuh-LYING across the beach. Now, I’ve seen people gallop on horses, and they look graceful and happy. Me, not so much. I was clutching onto the reins for dear life and choking screams of panic.
I simply wasn’t prepared for the adrenaline rush that came along with a proper gallop. I had to stop a few times to catch my breath and grasp my reins more comfortably. But after a few tries, I got the hang of it and found my groove. Galloping was exhilarating!
And imagine your first gallop starting HERE, on Praia dos Coqueiros (Palmtree Beach)…
…and ending HERE on Praia dos Nativos (Local Beach):
An unforgettable experience for sure.
My bum was so sore for the next couple days, however, that I missed out on what sounded like an even more exciting and unique horseback riding opportunity. Trancoso is apparently best known for the remote Praia do Espelho (Mirror Beach), where during low tide, the reefs create natural warm swimming pools. Normally, Fernando takes his Couchsurfing guests there to ride the horses bareback and INTO the pools!
Swimming with horses? Um, that sounds awesome. I’ll have to do that next time.
Churrasco: The Grilled Meats of Brazil
No visit to Brazil is complete without going to a churrascaria (“chew-HOSS-kuh-REE-uh”), a restaurant serving specially grilled meats (churrasco). You know, where guys come to your table with swords of succulent meats to slice onto your plate. I went to a little rinky dink roadside one in Trancoso called Churrascaria e Restaurante do Pele. It was simple, it was tasty, and it was delicious.
I Heart Trancoso
I’m careful to not ever say I “regret” anything in my life and travels, but I do wish I’d stayed longer in Trancoso. The beaches are quiet and serene, and relatively untouched. The town is colorful and sweet. And you don’t have to be a hippie to enjoy its laid-back charm.
I even got to experience two iconic festivals while I was there: Yemanjá and São Brás. Click here for The Tranquility of Trancoso, Brazil (Part 2).