In literary terms ILHÉUS, 400km south of Salvador, is the best-known town in Brazil and the setting for Amado’s most famous novel, Gabriela, Cravo e Canela, translated into English as “Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon”. If you haven’t heard of it before visiting Ilhéus, you soon will; it seems like every other bar, hotel and restaurant is either named after the novel or one of its characters.
The coastline around Ilhéus is broken up by five rivers and a series of lagoons, bays and waterways. Much of the town is modern but it’s still an attractive place, its heart perched on a small hill overlooking one of the largest and finest-looking beaches in Bahia.
Most locals prefer the coastline to the south, particularly around the village of OLIVENÇA, served by local buses from the centre. Half an hour out of town is the beautiful beach at Cururupe, where there are a series of bars, some holiday homes and groves of palm trees. The main attraction is the Balneário, public swimming baths built around mineral water from the Rio Tororomba. The baths complex is pleasant, with an artificial waterfall, and bar and restaurant attached. The coast between Ilhéus and Olivença is very beautiful and you can camp virtually anywhere along the way.
The unspoiled beaches north of Ilhéus are among the best Bahia has to offer. Frequent buses run to the busiest beach town along this stretch, ITACARÉ, 70km from Ilhéus, and a fishing port in its own right. The town is a haven for water-based adventure sports, including rafting and canoeing, which you can arrange through Papaterra (t 73/3251-2252) and Hawaii Aqui, at Rua Pedro Longo 169 (t 73/3251-3050), which is also a pousada and internet café. There’s no shortage of cafés, restaurants and bars in town, especially at the southern end of the beach.