Life

Hidden beaches in Brazil an escape from Iowa winter

Children play in the shallows of Praia do Sissial in Governador Celso Ramos, Santa Catarina, Brazil. (Alexandra Olsen)
Children play in the shallows of Praia do Sissial in Governador Celso Ramos, Santa Catarina, Brazil. (Alexandra Olsen)
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In Portuguese, there is no English translation for the word “hike.” At least, not one that I have ever come across, being a native speaker and an enthusiastic hiker. This may be because many Brazilians do not view hiking as a leisure activity, but rather as a means to an end.

For example, if there is a gorgeous beach on the other side of a mountain, Brazilians will always find a way to get there and enjoy it.

This holiday season I experienced my first Brazilian hike, and it was precisely for this reason.

In December 2019, my husband, Cody, and I journeyed to Governador Celso Ramos, a municipality in the southern state of Santa Catarina, Brazil. We were there to spend time with family and to enjoy the flawless beaches that line the coast.

My grandparents own a small condo just two blocks from one of the area’s most easily accessible and popular beaches, Praia de Palmas. They’ve had the getaway for nearly a decade, and the whole family has fallen in love with this beach, no matter how crowded it gets around the holidays.

Praia de Palmas’ popularity is growing rapidly. Some might say too rapidly for the infrastructure that is currently in place. However, for my family, who have been there since the town was first starting to take shape, Palmas is a home away from home.

Trek to a ‘secret’ beach

We spent several mornings on the bustling beach and, although we were having a fantastic time taking in the sights and sounds, when my cousins suggested a trip to a “secret” beach, hidden behind the green hills that surrounded Palmas, we leapt at the chance to experience it.

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My cousin Juliane told us there would be walking and a forest trail involved in this adventure to find the beach called Praia do Sissial. Again, there is no word for hiking in Portuguese, but what she described sounded like a hike to me, so Cody and I prepared with tennis shoes and whatever hike-appropriate gear we packed, which was not much.

The drive to the trailhead was only around 3 miles south of Palmas and easy to find, as it was very close to the road, making parking a bit tricky. Once the car was maneuvered to fit neatly into the side of the hill, we were off on our trek.

The first part of the hike was a very steep and wide trail that appeared to have been originally intended for vehicles to pass through but has now been roped off, with only foot traffic allowed.

This section of the hike was before hitting the tree line of the forest, so it boasted some amazing views of the surrounding hills, known as “morros” in Portuguese. This was my favorite part on the way back to the car after our hike.

We marched up this incline, and I was grateful for having worn my tennis shoes. We were all panting and sweating within the first five minutes of our journey. So, imagine my surprise when a little boy carrying a folded chair happily strolled past us, parents and grandparents in tow.

They were all carrying a multitude of beach essentials and wearing only flip-flops on their feet, further illustrating the great lengths Brazilians will go to just to find a good beach.

I was still happy with my footwear decision.

As we hit the tree line, the trail narrowed and the temperature cooled, a welcome development, as the summer heat can be quite intense when not counterbalanced by a sea breeze. The trail was mostly downhill from there, with a few short inclines sprinkled in.

The scenery was incredibly green, vibrant and tropical. I was enjoying the safari of flora and fauna, spotting colorful flowers, butterflies and even a lizard as we made our way toward the beach.

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White sand, clear ocean and green hills

We reached the beautiful and secluded beach quickly; from the moment we stepped out of our vehicle to the moment we set our feet in the sand of Sissial, fewer than 30 minutes had passed.

Visually, the beach is very similar to Palmas: white sand, clear ocean and green hills curving in at each end to cradle this little slice of paradise. However, the size and tranquillity gave it a more “boutique” feel.

There were only a few other beachgoers there, including the flip-flop family from earlier, and we decided to set up camp near large boulders nestled on the north end of the beach. These rocks are not only scenic, they reminded me of a grown-up jungle gym and added another unique experience to our day at the beach. We climbed on them and sat watching the waves roll in and out in between swims in the crystal-clear water.

Unlike Palmas, there is absolutely no infrastructure on this beach, making Praia do Sissial a beautiful reminder of our planet’s natural beauty but also requiring that you pack everything you might need while spending time there.

When we began to feel the burning sun linger just a tad too long on our shoulders and our stomachs began to grumble for lunch, we decided to head back the way we came.

Finding the hidden beaches

There are several hidden beaches in Governador Celso Ramos, and many trails winding through the hills to find them. The trail to Praia do Sissial is a great place to start, as it is just challenging enough to scratch that hiking itch but not so challenging that you can’t carry some beach gear with you.

Next time I visit, I intend on beach-hopping to some of the other hidden beaches in the area. I also want to bring folding chairs and lunch to Praia do Sissial and spend the entire day enjoying this secluded paradise. If you ever have the chance to visit Governador Celso Ramos, I advise you to do the same.

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