I didn’t know much about Santos, just that it was an easy beach getaway for Paulistas. It was hard to find relevant info—Santos isn’t cool enough for international tourists and Brazilians already know a thing or two about their own country and culture—so I wrote my own little travel guide while walking on the beach.
Yes, walking on the beach. Praia do José Menino, Praia do Gonzaga, Praia do Boqueirão, Praia do Embare, Praia Do Canal 5, Praia da Aparecida, Praia da Ponta da Praia… go grab a drink, clean the sand off your feet and repeat because beach walking is the top activity in Santos.
So if you ever find yourself in Santos, keep this in mind. Usual disclaimer, I may be wrong and tips are subjective by nature.
1. Upscale neighbourhoods are on the west end of the island—think Gonzaga, Boqueirão, Embaré and Ponta da Praia. When I first arrived, I instinctively went east because the port is on the west side and port neighbourhoods tend to be dodgy. Well, in Santos, it’s the opposite.
2. São Vicente (on the east side) is a different municipality with a different bus system. It’s less wealthy than Santos—according to my downstairs neighbour, an old lady who had an opinion about everything, it’s “cheio de ladrões” (“full of thieves”). I can’t offer statistics and I walked through the neighbourhood several times without seeing criminal activity (very disappointing). Joking aside, it’s an okay place but some streets do look pretty dodgy.
3. Again, I can’t provide reliable data, but I find it’s often cloudy in Santos. When I was looking at Airbnb and travel websites I kept on wondering why all the pictures included were taken in overcast conditions. Well, the joke is on me now because I mostly have overcast skies as well.
4. Panificadora Clássica (Av. Dr. Epitácio Pessoa, 23—Boqueirão) has a great comida a kilo buffet upstairs (every day, from 11:30 a.m.).
5. The pirate boat cruise—Passeio de Escuna—is fun and entertaining. Catch the boat just past the Deck do Pescador (40 real for a 90-minute cruise).
6. Many of the pousadas listed on Expedia are pretty crappy. I walked past a bunch of them and let’s just say they are very overpriced by the look of it—reviews aren’t great either.
7. Airbnb places in Santos and around have weird fine print I haven’t seen elsewhere in Brazil—bedding and towels not provided, no Wi-Fi, etc. Make sure to read listings carefully.
8. Santos beaches are polluted like most urban beaches—plus there’s the port and draining canals run up to the shore and into the sea. That said, there aren’t dirty, i.e. it’s not like there’s trash everywhere. Warning though—fine sand, sticky sand!
9. Taking the chair lift—Teleférico de São Vicente—to the top of Morro Voturuá is probably not worth it for 40 reais, unless you want to splurge on the paragliding experience. However, I found the Museu do Café pretty cool (10 reais) and for me the coolest attraction was the quick boat commute between Santos and Guarujá.
10. Santos isn’t particularly amazing if you have beach experience in Brazil and if you’re just going for a quick day trip—beaches are better in Guarujá, for instance. However, I found I did appreciate Santos after a couple of days. People are friendly, pretty relaxed and the coast is great for long walks.