Last updated: 05:00 AM ET, Tue November 29 2016

Hidden Brazil: Camburi

Destination & Tourism | Katherine Vallera | November 29, 2016

Hidden Brazil: Camburi

In a previous article, I described one of my favorite adventure destinations “off the beaten path” in Brazil.  Yet, perhaps this country is best known best for its beaches, and the coastline doesn’t stop at Rio de Janeiro.  Brazil has almost three thousand beaches to explore, which is great news for travelers who’d rather pass on the hustle and bustle of major cities.  Some of the best beaches in Brazil can be found along the three hundred plus mile coastline known as the Costa Verde, which stretches between Copacabana in Rio to Gonzaga in Santos, a port town near the city of Sao Paulo. 

Sometimes, the biggest challenge when traveling “off the beaten path” in other countries can be the language barrier.  In Brazil, the official language is Portuguese, and there isn’t much English spoken outside the tourist zones.  Even Spanish is uncommon in many parts of Brazil.  This is because the most populated regions are fairly isolated by distance from this country’s Spanish speaking neighbors.  If you don’t speak Portuguese but want to visit a unique destination, I recommend Camburi (sometimes spelled “Cambury”), located along the Costa Verde within the municipality of Sao Sebastiao.  This laid-back surfer town complete with a breathtaking mountainous backdrop offers establishments where English speakers are accommodated.

The Nau Royal Boutique Hotel and Spa (Alameda Patriarca Antonio José Marques, 1533 - Praia de Camburi, São Sebastião) welcomes international guests from all over the world.  This chic and romantic adult’s only hotel is adorned with stunning works that were painted by Brazilian artists and boasts a prime location on Camburi’s white sand beach.  A stay at this hotel comes with complimentary breakfast and afternoon tea that is served with gourmet hors d'ouvres.  While The Nau Royal prides itself on its luxury spa, additional amenities include a beach front swimming pool, hot tub and fire pit.

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The hotel’s concierge can arrange for car transfers from the Sao Paulo airport to their hotel in Camburi (2.5-hour drive).  Guests can also opt to take a helicopter transfer, which stops at a nearby island so that they can enjoy the beach.  The concierge at Nau Royal also assists guests with surfboard rental and booking tours.  These include boat tours that go out to the islands and local tours to a nearby waterfall in the Sertao do Cacau (Chocolate Forest).

For the most authentic local culinary experience, I recommend Nica’s Restaurante (955, Estrada do Camburi, 893 - Praia de Camburí, São Sebastião) and not just because it’s owned by my cousin-in-law’s family.  In fact, I would never have discovered Camburi if my cousin hadn’t married a Brazilian woman, named Helena, who speaks fluent English.  When she was a child, Helena’s parents, Nica and Cesar, ran a small food stand on Camburi beach.  The food stand was an instant success and gained so much popularity that in 2002, the family opened a restaurant to accommodate the demand. 

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Today, the family is assisted by a full staff, but the restaurant still uses Nica’s original and traditional recipes while Cesar still shops for the freshest ingredients.  The restaurant is a family friendly, open-air casual dining establishment located one block from the beach.  The décor includes bamboo walls and hanging plants, as well as hard wood tables adorned with brightly colored, hand knit placemats.  I ate at the restaurant several times during my stay and can attest to its authenticity.  The quality of food that is served at Nica’s Restaurant is on par with the home cooked meals Nica prepares for her family. There’s no wonder why Nica’s Restaurant has so many return customers and has evolved into a Camburi legend.

In preparation for my visit, Helena translated the entire eight-page restaurant menu into English.  Then, she had all of the menus reprinted so these bilingual menus remain at Nica’s Restaurant to this day.  I’m grateful she would put forth so much effort to make me feel welcome.  Furthermore, this is an advantage for tourists from the United States because now it’s easier to experience the taste of Brazil! 

Helena had also heard I was a fan of Brazilian moqueca, a fish stew I’d enjoyed while traveling in Bahia.  For my arrival, the restaurant prepared another amazing rendition of this traditional dish.  Nica was even kind enough to share her recipe:

Nica’s Brazilian Moqueca Caicara

180g hake fish (a mild codfish)

½ onion

Garlic*

Chili pepper

100 ml coconut milk

Chives

Parsley

Tomato Sauce

Salt

One plantain

Fish broth (optional)

Small pieces of fish in water thickened with manioc flour

Stir fry onions and garlic. Add the cod, tomato sauce, coconut milk and seasonings. Add plantain, and if the stew is too thick then add some fish broth. Serve with rice. *Nica didn’t specify how much garlic to use, but as an Italian-American, I’d say use the whole bulb!

I love Nica’s recipe for Brazilian moqueca caicara.  Not only is it hearty and delicious, but it’s also healthy and gluten free.  Please leave a comment on this article or tag @TravelPulse with a picture if you try this recipe at home.  We would love to hear how it turns out for our readers!

Both Nica’s Restaurant and the Nau Royal Spa Hotel are located along the same stretch of road called Estrada do Camburi.  This is the town’s primary thoroughfare, which happens to run parallel to Camburi beach. 

Another establishment on this street worth visiting is a nightclub called Tupinambar (Estrada do Camburi, 138 - Camburí, São Sebastião).  I found myself mesmerized by Tupinambar’s giant wall-to-wall murals.  They portray indigenous culture as it was when the Portuguese first arrived in the 16th century.  The house band, known as Koala Joe, fortifies this theme of Brazilian synthesis with a contemporary fusion of funk, Latin jazz, samba and reggae music.  While not all of the staff at Tupinambar are fluent in English, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem when ordering drinks.  For an authentic Brazilian beverage, order a Caipirinha.  It’s a cocktail made from Brazil’s rendition of distilled sugarcane liquor, called cachaca, mixed with sugar and lime. 

For souvenirs, look no further than the Rio Silveira Indigenous Reservation.  The natives who live there are known for crafting dream catchers, percussion instruments, and brightly colored hand-woven baskets.  They support their community by selling these handicrafts along the BR-101 highway.  If you have someone who speaks Portuguese and a car with good traction, you can drive into the reservation and visit them at the source.  Alternatively, you can purchase local handicrafts from Atelie Nica Brasil (Estrada do Camburi, 711 - Praia de Camburí, São Sebastião), a gift shop located next to the restaurant in Camburi.  Shopping in town is a convenient way to support the indigenous reservation and other local artisans. 

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When traveling to countries where there’s economic disparity, there are many ways to help local communities.  Something I like to is clean out my closet before I leave so I can pack my least favorite clothes, shoes and excess toiletries.  I use these articles as needed while traveling before donating them at the end of my trip.  I’m always amazed by how much this small gesture is appreciated and it’s humbling to realize we take clothing for granted.  For Brazil, I donated my clothes to the indigenous reservation.  I’ve found that most hotels will gladly accept donations, as well, on behalf of their local community.

Another thing to keep in mind for international travel is if the country you’ll be visiting has any visa requirements.  US citizens traveling to Brazil are required to obtain a visa in advance.  If you do not live in close proximity to a Brazilian consular, your travel agent may be able to refer you to a visa service.  Also before your departure, check with your bank and confirm that you can use your ATM card abroad.  Some US banks block ATM withdraws in Brazil, so you may want to stock up on Brazilian Reals prior to leaving the United States.  I only know this because my own bank has this policy.

With further regards to my personal experience, I’d like to make a point that I always felt safe in Brazil.  Regardless of whether I was traveling with my tour group, extended family, or even by myself; not once did I ever feel endangered or threatened.  Of course, it’s never wise to act carelessly while traveling in foreign countries.  Yet, it gives me great displeasure when I encounter negative stereotypes and propaganda that negate my experience. 

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Overall, I found Brazil to be absolutely wonderful and list it amongst my favorite countries.  It’s a remarkable nation that manifests an incredibld diversity with one of the most congenial and integrated cultures I’ve encountered.  I encourage travelers from the US to give Brazil a chance by embarking on their own firsthand experiences.  You’ll be blown away by all Brazil has to offer – from the food, the music, and the adventure to the people – embrace the heart and soul of this extraordinary destination!

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