Cananéia & Ilha do Cardoso; São Paulo state off the beaten track
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Cananéia, a small town with colonial beauty at every turn, is situated 3.5 hours from the city of São Paulo by car, and Ilha do Cardoso is just over the river from that, amidst national parks and protected lands. If driving up to São Paulo from Curitiba, a trip to Cananeia and Ilha do Cardoso is a great little stopover. While a bit of a bugger to get to, both of these places are fantastic spots to escape the fast pace of city life (São Paulo offers the chance for a pretty jam-packed itinerary!), and for that reason they’re a hide-out for São Paulo’s urban dwellers in the summer. However, tourism is still not huge in either, so you can relax and enjoy the beauty without having to dodge the crowds.
The area has a really interesting landscape, right at the point where the states of Paraná and São Paulo meet at the Atlantic Ocean. You can imagine all the weird and wonderful land formations when you look at the map:
There are no ATMs in Cananéia nor on Ilha do Cardoso, so make sure you stop in the nearby town of Itapitangui to find a cashpoint – and also have a look at the beautiful church there.
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There are a fair number of pousadas (B&B style accommodation) to choose from in this lovely little town. Choosing Cananéia accommodation near the riverside and the Martim Afonso de Souza plaza would be ideal. One that stood out to us in our search was Pousada Villa de Cananea, which we were about to book on account of its superb reviews, before we decided to go the extra 2 hours to stay on Ilha do Cardoso (we’ll let you judge whether or not that was a sound decision!).
Where to stay on Ilha do Cardoso
This is a no brainer in our eyes. Recanto Jeriva on Ilha do Cardoso is one of the better places we’ve stayed in the whole of Brazil – maybe even the best. When we saw it on AirBnB, we initially thought it was a standalone lodge, but it’s actually a community of Brazilians who set themselves up on a little plot of land a few decades ago. At the moment, there are 32 people living there, made up of 9 families. It has quite a commune vibe to it; the people work hard at their domestic, construction and fishing tasks, but we get the impression that this was a community created to escape the stress of city life rather than borne of an economic need to band together. At night, expect to be invited to chat and eat with them – when we were there a guy had brought his guitar so we had beers and sing-alongs until midnight. We paid 90R$ a night for a double room which included an amazing breakfast and fresh fish lunch.
Everyone in the community is incredibly welcoming, though most of them don’t speak any English or Spanish, which would have made this stay less memorable if we hadn’t been travelling with our Brazilian friend who could translate if we ran into miscommunications. The rooms are simple, and our double room lacked a plug socket, but we trusted everyone enough to leave our stuff charging in the kitchen. Everything is solar-powered so we were conscious not to use too much electricity anyway.
6 things to do in Cananéia & Ilha do Cardoso
1. Visit the Museu Municipal de Cananeia
The small town of Cananéia does actually have its own equally small museum. It features plenty of pieces from the area’s past, such as weaponry, indigenous artefacts, whaling tools and a life-size replica of a shark. It’s open from 1:30pm-6pm Tuesday-Friday, and opens a little earlier at 10am on the weekends.
2. Follow the trails
There are plenty of trails to take around the area, both in the national park and towards the beaches. A favourite is to walk the 6km through the forest down to Praia da Pereirinha (or you can just get a speedboat from Cananéia for 250 Rs split between up to 4 passengers). Those brave enough to tackle the 24km hike past Laje Beach will be rewarded with a natural pool at the end of it. If staying at Recanto Jeriva, there is a short trail across the island that passes by a wooden watch tower. From here, you can see where the river meets the sea and the forest crawls up the mountains.
3. Find Das Minas Waterfall (no, really)
Gonna be honest here – we need to be since this attraction comes up on a few of the web searches for Cananéia & Ilha do Cardoso. We tried to go and see this waterfall, as it was said to be halfway down the dirt track to Ariri, but when we got there we never actually found it. We’d heard the waterfall was on private property, so after following the sign along the road pointing us down a right fork, we drove past the 4-5 properties down that road expecting another sign somewhere. The only property that looked like it might have some potential was a camping ground, but that was completely empty with a chained up front gate and no reference to the waterfall anywhere. As this road was a dead-end, we just ended up giving up and continuing our journey along the dirt track from hell (more on this later).
4. Seek out some beaches
With so many islands and inlets, the area around Ilha do Cardoso is awash with beaches. These aren’t necessarily paradise beaches, but they’re a beautiful place to chill with a book in hand, or go for a run down their long, empty stretches (being lazy sods, obviously this is something in which we did not partake). The waves from the Atlantic Ocean would be big enough on a good day for surfing on Ilha do Cardoso.
Available in lots of different places in the Cananéia and Ilha do Cardoso area. Just get searching for a little hut renting the paddleboards out!
6. Go fishing
With its rivers and estuaries, the Cananéia & Ilha do Cardoso area is the perfect place for fishing. Note that a lot of it is covered by national parks, so just check before that you’re in a spot where fishing is fully permitted. You can organise guided fishing expeditions from Cananéia.
How to get to Cananéia from São Paulo or Curitiba
We’d say this is best reached by car to give yourselves flexibility. We’ve found car hire with reputable companies in Brazil to be some of the cheapest in South America, especially when using comparison sites such as Priceline.
From São Paulo, the drive to Cananeía will be around 3.5 hours, traffic-dependent. From Curitiba, it will take the same amount of time. Remember to pack extra cash for tolls!
If driving isn’t an option for you, the Valle Sul bus leaves São Paulo from Barra Funda at 3pm daily. Princesa dos Campos has a 10:30pm night bus from Curitiba to Cananeía.
How to get to Ilha do Cardoso from Cananeia
To get to Ilha do Cardoso from Cananeia, you’ll need another 2 hours in the car, or a 1 hour speed-boat ride. Pick up the speedboat in Cananeia from the riverside near the Martim Afonso de Souza plaza. Just to get to the island and back as a day trip will cost 40R$ per person for a return. To boat to a specific part of the island to access accommodation may cost you more. To get to Recanto Jeriva, for example, costs 140R$ pp and takes 90 minutes by boat. Make sure you’re in contact with any island accommodation to confirm how much it should be, and see if they offer a direct pick-up themselves.
When going to Recanto Jeriva, they suggested us a cheaper option by car to get down to their end of the island. We cursed it at the time, but it did save us a lot. From Cananeia, we got the Balsa ferry across back to the mainland (10R$, leaving on the hour and taking 10mins), then followed the one and only dirt track for 2 hours until we reached Ariri. If we hadn’t have been to Cananeéia first, we could have reached this dirt track via the mainland roads through the town of Itapitangui (the one we mentioned earlier with the ATM and pretty church) without the need for a ferry. Now, this dirt track is EFFING HORRENDOUS, and while we just about managed it in a normal car, a 4×4 is very much recommended. It certainly shouldn’t be attempted by a non-4×4 when it’s been raining as much of the way is just mud.
From Ariri, the Recanto Jeriva boat picked us up for free and took us the final 5 minutes down the river to Ilha do Cardoso. This journey was obviously specific to staying at the community in Recanto Jeriva, but your accommodation should be able to tell you if there are any alternative options to reach them.
If you’re not sure where to go after Ilha do Cardoso & Cananéia, here are our suggestions: