The Rio-Santos road, with all its twists and turns along the coastline, its enchanting beaches and its rich sense of history, is one of the stunning roads in Brazil;
The winding road leaving Santos unlocks the sort of natural beauty that few other routes can boast and was even the inspiration for the famous song, As Curvas da Estrada de Santos, penned by Roberto Carlos, the famous Brazilian musician.
The Rio-Santos is a federal highway that runs between the Serra do Mar and one of the most beautiful stretches of Brazilian coastline. It is 457 kilometres long and connects the capital of Rio de Janeiro to the metropolitan region of Santos. Alternating stretches of mountainous curves with panoramic ocean views, the road offers access to dozens of small coastal towns and also features several privileged viewpoints to let drivers take a break and enjoy the vista.
At first glance, Angra dos Reis – a two-hour drive from Rio – has little to boast of other than its harbour. However, it is at sea that she shows her true beauty and reveals her magnificent hidden surprises. They are no less than 365 islands off the coast that account for more than two thousand beaches of all varieties, from private properties to truly tropical hideaways accessible only by boat – you can rent both private or shared boats. To reach Ilha Grande, the largest of the islands, you can catch a ninety-minute ferry to the island’s main port, Abraão Village. The village itself prohibits the use of cars, on ecological grounds, but offers a range of options in terms of accommodation, all of which are located close to nearby trails leading to more than 100 beaches and waterfalls. It is a dream destination for those seeking adventure, relaxation and nature at its purest.
The coast of São Paulo offers a similar, but slightly more urbanised alternative: Ilhabela, a charming island with a twenty-minute crossing (a ferry that also transports cars) from the coastal town of São Sebastião. Known as the “Capital of Sailing” – given that it plays annual host to a week of international nautical events – the island offers a good spread of restaurants and accommodation, ranging from the more rustic to the more sophisticated, as well as several idyllic beaches. This is home to the Ilhabela In Jazz festival that takes place every year, usually in October, an fabulous international event for those who appreciate the elegant harmonies of jazz surrounded by the sounds of the sea.
Another well-known destination on the same stretch of coast is Caraguatatuba. With seventeen beaches, the city plays host to a number of gastronomic festivals, such as the Festival do Camarão (Shrimp) in June, the Festival da Tainha (Mullet) in July and the Festival do Mexilhão (Mussel) in November. Much like the coastal towns of Maresias and Ubatuba, it is one of the more popular summer resorts amongst Paulistas (residents of São Paulo)
In addition to the beautiful scenery, the Rio-Santos also offers access to some important historical references from days of colonization in Brazil: the charming Paraty, one of the oldest cities on the south coast of Rio de Janeiro, has managed to preserves its historical centre with the aesthetic richness of the era, with its colonial architecture and quaint cobbled streets. Annual events, such as the Feira Literária Internacional (International Literary Fair), mean people flock to the town in July and August. As well as the entire historical context, there are waterfalls and boat trips to pristine beaches – a perfect getaway for those searching for tranquillity. Further north along the São Paulo coast is the city of Bertioga, home to the oldest and best-preserved fortress in Brazil: the Forte de São João, dating back to 1547.
And needless to say, the highway begins and ends with two of the oldest and most important cities in Brazil: Rio de Janeiro, South America’s most popular tourist destination with its famous beaches and cultural attractions, and the city of Santos, the largest city on the coast of São Paulo and home to the busiest port in Brazil.
Given the vast array of things to see and do along the Rio-Santos the old saying could not be more fitting: it’s the journey that counts, not the destination.