The Simple, Unspoiled Beauty of Trancoso, Brazil
The area appeals to celebrities and wealthy Brazilians alike
Trancoso, Brazil—known as the Saint Tropez of Bahia—offers laidback living, unspoiled sandy shores, and historic charm at its heart.
The best weather in the region falls between December through March, when rainfall is minimal, and the temperature is its warmest, making it the perfect winter escape for those located stateside. Thanks to its quieter, yet-no-less-vibrant vibes than other Brazilian hot spots like Rio and São Paulo, Trancoso is an idyllic and low-key place to buy a second home.
Situated in the southern part of the northeastern state of Bahia, Trancoso is a one-hour drive from Porto Seguro Airport. While there are no direct flights from the United States, you can easily connect via São Paulo, a one-hour- and- 45-minute flight, or through Rio, which is just a 90-minute flight. Should you travel by private jet, Terra Vista airport is only 30 minutes outside of town.
Celebrities, like Anderson Cooper—who bought a home in the historic city center known as the Quadrado—and a host of Brazilian stars, are flocking there, as are notables like Matthew McConaughey, Will Smith, Beyoncé & Jay-Z (Beyoncé even recorded a music video there), Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Alessandra Ambrosio, who reportedly have all vacationed there.
“There’s an energy in Trancoso,” said Polyana de Oliveira, director and founder of Viare Travel based in São Paulo. “It’s charming and sophisticated, while at the same time rustic and down to earth.
“We’re seeing a lot more luxury clients looking for this sort of experience,” Ms. de Oliveira continued. “It’s an ideal place to escape from the hustle and bustle of a big city.”
Most people buying there are looking for second homes, and from places like France, Italy, and Argentina, said Roxane Covo of Bossa Nova Sotheby's International Realty in São Paulo.
Depending on the location, home prices vary here. For example, a house on the Quadrado with sea views is around US$1 million to US$2 million, while beachfront property can run upward of US$5million.
“People are buying everything from small cottages to big mansions,” Ms. Covo said. “It’s very popular to have a house on the Quadrado or in close surroundings, but people are also buying big mansions and villas on the beach with sea views.” The most expensive areas are Itapororoca, where the Fasano brand is building a hotel with surrounding villas, and the Terra Vista Golf Resort, which is considered one of the best in South America.
Trancoso is located in the municipality of Porto Seguro, the region where Portuguese explorers, commanded by Pedro Álvares de Cabral, arrived in Brazil for the first time in 1500. Trancoso was founded by Jesuit priests in 1586 as a fishing village and named São João Baptista dos Indios.
“The village remained mostly unknown until it was discovered in the late 1970s by hippies,” Ms. de Oliveira said. “At the time, it was just a set of houses arranged around a large lawn, the famous Quadrado, with a church in the background. Since the 1980s, when Brazil experienced a mini-economic boom, wealthy travelers from the southeast of Brazil, mainly São Paulo, began to make their way up to Bahia. With the increase of tourism in the state, and the construction of roads and airports, the tourist potential of the region has experienced an exponential growth.”
Part of its allure today, however, is that it still retains its quaint, off-the-beaten path beach town vibes in an a truly authentic way.
“The historic city center area, known as the Quadrado (which means ‘square’ in Portuguese, in spite of the fact that it’s actually a rectangle) is probably one of the most charming and magical places in Brazil,” Ms. de Oliveira said. This carefree UNESCO-protected site is surrounded by little colorful colonial houses, where you can find some of the best high-end restaurants, shops, and bed and breakfasts. You’ll often stumble upon pop-up soccer games, children playing, and animals grazing on the grassy knoll.
Many of the houses here, including Anderson Cooper’s, were restored by Dutch designer Wilber Das, in collaboration with local artisans, using traditional techniques and recycled materials. They present a vibrant picture with painted facades in hues of bold cobalt, canary yellow, and shocking pink. One of the most iconic buildings here is Igreja de São João Batista, a lovely little white church dating back to the 16th century, from which you’ll discover arguably the best scenic views of the ocean. Although it is the most touristic part of the village, there are still some local families living there, which makes the area very authentic and adds to the charm.
“Trancoso has become a very popular place not only for its natural beauty but also because it has several world-class restaurants and shops,” Ms. Covo said. Here you can buy everything from Indian handcrafts to Brazilian bikinis. There are tons of designer Brazilian brands, as well as many local designers of crafts and custom furniture shops. Keep in mind, many stores don’t open until late in the day, because, well, shop owners here believe in pleasure before work, and time is not of the essence—if that’s any indication of the overall attitude here.
“Trancoso has become the Saint Tropez of Bahia without losing its charm and identity,” Ms. Covo said. “The local traditions have been well kept,” she said.
The region as a whole, has a large indigenous community. “On the way to Trancoso, and even on the beaches and in the village here, you’ll find lots of people from local reservations known locally as aldeias indígenas, which translates to indigenous peoples, selling crafts or tours of the area,” Ms. de Olivieri said.
“Besides the traditional fishing village population, there’s a mix of indigenous culture in the region, which makes for a really enriching experience being here,” she said. The Pataxo Indian tribe has their own reservations in Caraiva and Barra Velha.
Trancoso’s residents represent a diverse cultural landscape with a healthy mix of sophisticates and celebrities, artists, hippies, and locals alike.
There are two main beaches just below the village: Praia dos Nativos and Praia dos Coqueiros, both lined with palm trees and framed by distant cliffs. You’ll find small beachside kiosk-style restaurants and bars as well as beach service with rustic lounge chairs and cabanas for relaxing. In addition to sunbathers, you just might spot a few horses striding along the shoreline. No big deal.
Each year in early March, Trancoso plays home to its own musical festival, Festival Música em Trancoso. which brings jazz, classical, and Brazilian musicians together with concerts held at the L'Occitane Theater (the owner of the eponymous beauty brand, who has a home here, built it).
One of the advantages of Trancoso’s location is that it’s within 40 minutes to an hour’s drive of quaint neighboring villages, Ms. Covo said.
Visit Praia do Espelho, also known as Mirror Beach, which is considered one of the prettiest beaches in Brazil due to its staggering cliff rims and the water, which is so clear it “mirrors” the horizon line. There are also a number of restaurants here. It’s not far from the village of Caraíva, a small peninsula with a river on one side and the ocean on the other. “There are no cars here, only donkeys with carriages that will take you to your pousada or for a tour around the village,” Ms. Covo said.
Thirty minutes north is Arraial D’Ajuda, which has a more intense nightlife and is full of small shops and restaurants.
Whatever your pleasure, there’s a little slice of life here to suit every whim.