The best-known town in Brazil
Lively city beaches
The Catedral de São Sebastião

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Among the pages of Jorge Amado’s book

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Among the pages of Jorge Amado’s book

In literary terms Ilhéus, 70km south of Itacaré at the mouth of the Rio Cachoeira, is the best-known town in Brazil, as the setting for Jorge Amado’s most famous novel, Gabriela, Cravo e Canela, and it’s just waiting to be discovered on an MSC South America cruise excursion.

If you haven’t heard of the book 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. Traditionally Ilhéus has also been popular for its lively city beaches, though given the options now available to the south and north, these need not detain you long.

When you step ashore from your MSC cruise you can’t miss the city’s landmark: the Catedral de São Sebastião on Praça Don Eduardo. It looks like a Romanesque wedding cake, with a 48m-high dome, but was actually started in 1931 and only dedicated in 1967. It replaced an older chapel deemed too small for the city and demolished.

Dating back to a structure completed in the 1570s, the Igreja Matriz de São Jorge is the oldest church in the city (though most of what you see today is seventeenth century), containing an old and venerated image of Saint George (São Jorge). The sacristy serves as a small Museu de Arte Sacra, with the usual church silverware, various religious sculptures and antique furniture on display.

Housed in an ornate mansion commissioned by Amado’s father in 1926, the Museu Casa de Cultura Jorge Amado was once the home of the city’s most famous son and now contains exhibits on the region’s chocolate industry and Amado himself. Apart from the centre, you’ll find the main concentration of bars in Ilhéus along the fine beach promenade of the Avenida Soares Lopes to the east.

Must see places in Ilheus

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    North Brazil

    Nature reserves and colonial atmospheres
    Nature reserves and colonial atmospheres

    Brazil’s north-east has definitely benefited from the nation’s economic boom and is now a region on the rise.

    Despite having the most dazzling coastline in South America, a buzzing beach scene and an exuberant culture that blends samba, reggae and African influences, the area, divided politically into eight separate states, has not been spoilt by tourism. 

    A cruise to Brazil’s north-east will show you the major cities along the coast: some, such as Recife, Olinda, São Luís and Fortaleza, have a deep colonial heritage; others, such as Maceió and Natal, have developed mostly in recent decades. All of these cities have their own city beaches plus more idyllic and deserted resorts hidden up and down the coast. The Ilha de Fernando de Noronha, hundreds of kilometres offshore, is one of the finest oceanic wildlife reserves in the world, an expensive destination but perfect for ecotourism.

    The smallest Brazilian states and long ignored by travellers, Alagoas and Sergipe have developed rapidly in recent years. Though lacking the romance of Rio and Salvador, the two state capitals of Maceió and Aracaju offer fine beaches and a smattering of history, while some genuinely well-preserved colonial towns are a short bus ride away.