Brazil (Espiritu Santo)
Vitória
As a city, VITÓRIA is vaguely reminiscent of Rio with its combination of sea, steep hills, granite outcrops and irregularly shaped mountains on the horizon. Founded in 1551, it’s one of the oldest cities in Brazil, but few traces of its past remain and nowadays most of the centre is urban sprawl. Vitória is not a tourist town, and few people visit it unless they have a very definite reason. The heart of Vitória is an island connected to the mainland by a series of bridges, but the city has long since broken its natural bounds, spreading onto the mainland north and south: the major beach areas are on these mainland zones, Camburi to the north and Vila Velha with its beach Praia da Costa to the south. Vitória is renowned as the world capital of marlin fishing. It also has the unfortunate distinction of having the highest murder rate in Brazil and, although violence is unlikely to affect the casual visitor, appropriate care should be taken.
Centre
One of the very few truly historic buildings in the centre of Vitória is the fine palace of the state governor, the Palácio de Anchieta, which dates from the 1650s but is almost entirely closed to visitors. The one part you can see – the tomb of Padre Anchieta, in a side entrance (Mon–Fri 8am–4pm) – is something of a curiosity. Anchieta was the first of a series of great Jesuit missionaries to Brazil, and is most famous for being one of the two founders of São Paulo, building the rough chapel the town formed around in the sixteenth century and giving his name to one of that city’s main avenues, the Via Anchieta. He was a stout defender of the rights of Indians, doing all he could to protect them from the ravages of the Portuguese and pleading their case several times to the Portuguese Crown; he was also the first to produce a grammar and dictionary of the Tupi language. Driven out of São Paulo by enraged Portuguese settlers, he retired to Vitória, died in 1597 and was finally canonized. The tomb is simple, set off by a small exhibition devoted to his life.

Next to the palácio is the large and unremarkable early twentieth-century neo-Gothic Catedral Metropolitana (Mon–Fri 7–11am & 5–8pm, Sat 8–11am & 5–8pm, Sun 7–9am & 5–8.30pm). Much more distinctive is the simple whitewashed Igreja do Rosário (Sat 5–8pm & Sun 7–9am), a few blocks to the east on Rua do Rosário, which was built in 1765 by and for local slaves, and is now protected as a national monument.

There is one museum in the city worth a look, the Museu do Solar Monjardim (Tues–Fri 12.30–5.30pm, Sat & Sun 1–5pm), on Avenida Paulino Müller, in the bairro of Jucutuquara to the southeast of the centre; take the bus marked “Circular Maruipe” or “Joana d’Arc” from Avenida Beira Mar. The museum is a restored nineteenth-century mansion filled with period furniture and household utensils, and it gives a good idea of the layout and domestic routines of a colonial estate. But if you’re used to the fine displays of colonial artwork in the museums of Minas Gerais you’ll find it disappointing.

Convento da Penha

The most memorable reminder of Vitória’s colonial past is on the southern mainland in Vila Velha: the chapel and one-time Convento da Penha, founded in 1558 (daily 5.30am–5pm). Perched on a granite outcrop towering over the city, it’s worth visiting not so much for the convent itself, interesting though it is, as for the marvellous panoramic views over the entire city. It is a major pilgrimage centre and, in the week after Easter, thousands come to pay homage to the image of Nossa Senhora da Penha, the most devout making the climb up to the convent on their knees. It also marks the southernmost point the Dutch managed to reach in the sugar wars of the seventeenth century; an expedition arrived here in 1649 and sacked the embryonic city, but were held off until a relief force sent from Rio drove them out – you can see how the 154-metre hill must have been almost impregnable.

You have a choice of walks up to the top. The steepest and most direct is the fork off the main road to the left, shortly after the main entrance, where a steep cobbled (and extremely treacherous) path leads up to the convent. Less direct, but considerably safer and with better views, is to follow the winding Rua Luísa Grinalda – a very pleasant thirty-minute walk. Once at the top, the city is stretched out below you, the centre to the north framed by the silhouettes of the mountains inland and, to the south, by the golden arcs of Vila Velha’s beaches. The builders of the chapel thoughtfully included a viewing platform, which you reach through a door to the left of the altar. More interesting than the chapel itself is the Sala das Milagres, next door to the café: a collection of photos, ex votos, artificial limbs and artefacts from grateful pilgrims.

To get to the convent from the centre, take the #500 bus and ask the driver to let you off at the third stop after the Terceira Ponte, which will leave you within easy walking distance of the convent.

Vitória’s beaches

Both the main city beaches look good, with palm trees and promenades in the best Brazilian tradition, but you can only swim at Praia da Costa to the south. The Praia de Camburi is overlooked by the port of Tubarão in the distance, where iron ore and bauxite from Minas are either smelted or loaded onto supertankers, benefiting the economy but ruining the water. You have to go a little further afield for perfect coast.

The most beautiful beaches lie around and to the south of the burgeoning town of GUARAPARI, 54km to the south of Vitória and easily accessible from the Rodoviária – Viação Alvorada buses run every half hour from 5am to 9pm. There are dozens of hotels here, mostly white skyscrapers catering for package holiday-makers (prices are generally in the $50–$125 bracket), as well as a very useful eighty-bed youth hostel, Guaracamping, 800m south of the centre on Avenida F, Quadra 40, Itapebussu (tel & fax 027/261-0475; $7 per person). If you fancy raucous nightlife and holiday-making Brazilian-style, then Guarapari is the place. On the other hand, if you need some tranquillity to escape to, a mere 10km to the south of Guarapari along the ES-060 are the beaches of Enseada Azul and Dos Padres. These are amongst the finest in Espírito Santo, with a glorious backdrop of hills covered in tropical vegetation, but these too are very popular in the summer.

Some 260km north of Vitória, near the border with Bahia, is the resort town of CONCEIÇÃO DA BARRA. Its beaches are popular with mineiros in the summer and there are many reasonable hotels on the attractive Praia da Guaxindiba, including the Pousada do Sol, Av. Atlântica 226 (tel 027/762-1412; $20–35), which also has a pool. A much more pleasant place to stay, however, is the small village of ITAÚNAS, some 20km further north on the edge of the Parque Estadual Itaúnas, best known for its thirty-metre-high sand dunes. Beneath these lies a small town that was engulfed in the 1970s after the vegetation surrounding it had been cleared for farmland. It is said that occasionally the dunes shift in the wind to uncover the spire of the old church. There are only a few pousadas in Itaúnas (all $20–35 and quite simple) and it’s always worth calling ahead in the summer: try Pousada Gajiru (tel 027/988-8000), Pousada das Tartarugas (tel 027/988-8155) or the Pousada Cambucá (tel 027/988-2243).

Arrival and information

The enormous, modern Rodoviária (tel 027/222-3366) is only a kilometre from the centre and, outside, all local buses from the stop across the road run into town; returning from the centre, most buses from Avenida Jerônimo Monteiro pass the Rodoviária and will have it marked as a destination on their route cards. If you’re heading straight for the beaches on arrival, any bus that says “Aeroporto”, “UFES”, “Eurico Sales” or “Via Camburi” will take you to Camburi; to the southern beaches you need “P. da Costa”, “Vila Velha” or “Itapoan” – all can be caught at the stops outside the Rodoviária or in the centre. As an alternative to the buses, taxis are quite cheap and a good option in this small city, where the distances are relatively short.

Trains from Belo Horizonte pull into the Estação Ferroviária Pedro Nolasco (tel 027/226-4169), 1km west of the Rodoviária, over in the mainland district of Cariacica; it’s connected to the city and Rodoviária by yellow buses marked “Terminal Itacibá” and by most of the city’s orange buses, including those marked “Jardim América” and “Campo Grande”.

The airport (Aeroporto Eurico Sales; tel 027/327-0811) is situated a couple of kilometres from Camburi beach, some 10km from the city centre, and is served by frequent green buses, which can drop you on Avenida Beira Mar, its westward continuation, Avenida Getúlio Vargas, or at the Rodoviária.

There are very helpful tourist information booths at the Rodoviária (Mon–Fri 8am–9pm, Sat 9am–4pm) and at the airport (daily 8am–noon & 1–9pm; tel 027/327-8855), both of which have lists of hotels, brochures and city maps. The central office of the state tourist company CETUR is at Av. Princesa Isabel 54, 4th Floor (Mon–Fri 8am–6pm; tel 027/322-8888).

Eating and drinking

Local cuisine is based around seafood and is pretty good: crab is a key ingredient for many dishes, and lobster is plentiful, cheap and tastiest na brasa (charcoal-grilled). No stay in Vitória is complete without trying the moqueca capixaba, the distinctive local seafood stew where the sauce is less spicy and uses more tomatoes than the better-known Bahian variety. For a taste of local sweets and other delicacies, try the stalls in the Sunday market (8am–noon) on Praça Costa Pereira.

You won’t find many classy restaurants in the centre of town, though there are a number of good (and cheap) comida por kilo places near the Palácio de Anchieta along the Escadaria Maria Ortiz stairway; the best, with a great selection of both mineiro and local dishes, is D’Barro Restaurante at no. 29. For something a little different, a cheap and simple Lebanese option is the Empório Árabe at Rua Dionísio Rosendo 56 (Mon–Sat lunch only). Otherwise, even the most humble lanchonete will tend to have one or two local seafood dishes on offer beside the usual salgados and hot dogs.

For better eating, however, the beaches, or rather the districts just inland from them, are the places to head for. Camburi, especially, has a large concentration of restaurants (the green buses to the airport will take you past several). Perhaps the best place to sample an authentic moqueca is at Dona Cândida e Bigode at Rua Helena Müller 244, Bairro Jesus de Nazareth (closed Mon & Sun evening; tel 027/325-4483). Located in a poor neighbourhood mainly inhabited by fisherfolk, the restaurant serves wonderfully creative seafood dishes that attract people from all over the city. Similar regional fare, but served in more sophisticated surroundings, is available at many other places: good choices are Partida Alto at Av. Dante Michelini 4367, Praia de Camburi (tel 027/337-4510), and Pirão at Rua Joaquim Lírio 753, Triângulo dos Bermudas, Praia do Canto (closed Mon; tel 027/227-1165). Vitória also has some good (but expensive) Portuguese restaurants, the best by far being Lareira Portuguesa at Av. Saturnino de Brito 260, Praia do Canto (closed Mon & Sun evening; tel 027/345-0329). There are Japanese restaurants too, taking advantage of the availability of excellent seafood: good, and quite reasonably priced, is Kotobuki at Rua Afonso Cláudio 60, Praia do Canto (evenings only, closed Mon; tel 027/225-8721).

Nightlife

Vitória’s nightlife is concentrated in a couple of areas. The Praia do Canto (particularly the streets between Rua Joaquim Lírio and Rua João da Cruz) has loads of bars, and the area attracts people from all backgrounds. There are a couple of good live music venues here too: Boca da Noite, Rua João da Cruz 80 (tel 027/227-1615), and Academeia on the same street at no. 535 (tel 027/225-2428). The Jardim da Penha district, with the Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo nearby, is also lively, with bars open into the small hours of the morning. The Loft Jump Bar, Avenida Fernando Ferrari (Thurs–Sat from 11pm), opposite the university, has become the trendiest nightclub in the city – take the airport bus. Also in Jardim da Penha, there’s forró dance music every Friday (from 10pm) and samba and pagodé on Sunday (after 9pm) at Chalana, Rua Regina Vervloet 30.

Accommodation

The choice for accommodation is between dozens of establishments in the beach zones, which tend to be fairly expensive, and hotels in the centre, which are generally cheaper. For really cheap places, the row of rather grim hotels facing the main entrance of the Rodoviária is your best bet. There’s a youth hostel, the Praia da Costa (tel 027/329-3227; $8 per person), near the beach of the same name at Av. São Paulo 1163.
  • Central hotels
    • Alice Vitória, Praça Getúlio Vargas 5 (tel 027/322-1144). The best downtown hotel by far, with well-equipped rooms, a pool and a decent restaurant. $70–90.
    • Avenida, Av. Presidente Florentino Avidos 347 (tel & fax 027/223-4317). A cheap central place, with a number of reasonable rooms, some with air-conditioning, TVs and frigobar. Single quartos are a particularly good deal at $7. $10–20.
    • Cannes Palace, Av. Jerônimo Monteiro 111 (tel 027/222-1522, fax 222-8061). A mid-range central hotel, with good rooms and parking. $35–50.
    • Prata, Rua Nestor Gomes 201 (tel 027/222-4311, fax 223-0943). A good budget option in the centre, with basic rooms with high ceilings and either fans or air-conditioning. The better rooms face the pleasant Praça Climaco and the Palácio de Anchieta. $10–20.
    • São José, Av. Princesa Isabel 300 (tel 027/223-7222, fax 322-4556). Large mid-range business hotel, comfortable and good value, though noisy. $35–50.
    • Spala, Av. Alexandre Buaiz 495 (tel 027/222-5648). The best of the budget hotels facing the Rodoviária, with a range of rooms, some with TVs. The best are at the front, but their $5 quartos are windowless and dingy.Under $10.
  • Beach hotels
    • Alvetur Praia, Av. Dante Michelini 877 (tel 027/225-3911, fax 225-3710). A mid- to upper-range hotel on the Praia de Camburi, with pool and sauna. $50–70.
    • Best Western Porto do Sol, Av. Dante Michelini 3957 (tel 027/337-2244, fax 337-2711). At the furthest end of Praia de Camburi, the beach’s most expensive hotel and the one with the most extensive range of facilities. It’s also the nearest hotel to the industrial port. $70–90.
    • Camburi Praia, Av. Dante Michelini 1007 (tel 027/325-0455, fax 225-7451). A pleasant medium-size hotel, with sauna and pool, and apartments facing Camburi beach. $50–70.
    • La Residence Victória, Av. Dante Michelini 1777 (tel 027/397-1300, fax 397-1302). One-bedroom apartments (with kitchen) on the Praia de Camburi in a smart building with pool. $70–90.
    • Pousada da Praia, Av. Saturnino de Brito 1500 (tel & fax 027/225-0233). Excellent-value pousada with a pool and just 18 rooms. Situated on Ponta Formosa, overlooking the more intimate Praia do Canto. $50–70.
    • Senac Ilha do Boi, Rua Bráulio Macedo 417 (tel 027/345-0111, fax 345-0115). A relatively small luxury hotel set on the Ilha do Boi facing the beach, with pool, sauna, a very good restaurant and great views. $50–70.