Búzios — from fishing village to famous beach resort

by Elizabeth Willoughby

Back in the 1600s, fishermen of Armação dos Búzios, a quaint little village 170 kilometres (105 miles) north of Rio de Janeiro, were whale hunting specialists. They built houses along a narrow strip of beach, now called Praia da Armação, that provided secure anchorage for their fishing vessels. From there they caught the whales that would provide the oil to light the town and discarded the waste from the giants on Ossos (Bones), the neighbouring beach. It remained a fairly simple village until three centuries later when Brigitte Bardot "discovered" it while vacationing with her Brazilian boyfriend in the ‘60s.

praia da armacao


The international attention that came with Brigitte Bardot's visit to Búzios spelled the end of the old ways on this neck of land. Hotels, summer homes for the rich and famous, restaurants, night clubs, boutiques and malls have flooded in to accommodate the swarming population during summer months, which rises from the 20,000 permanent residents up to 150,000. Even cruise liners anchor offshore, allowing hundreds of passengers to become part of the spectacle. With the exception of some small boats that still dot Praia da Armação and surround a nostalgic piscatorial monument, Búzio's past is virtually unrecognisable. But that's not to say it isn't an interesting place to visit. Búzios has become an internationally famous beach resort for a reason.

By day choose from various beaches depending on whether one wants to sun bathe quietly, socialise, play with the kids, surf, sail or snorkel. Decide between calm, blue-green crystalline waters on a secluded beach of fine, white sand, an urban coastline or a wild shore with open seas and heavy waves. Each beach has its own natural characteristics, vista and surf temperament and nearly every one is faultlessly beautiful. Alternatively, there are day trips to take. Hike into the Atlantic forest or spend a day on the sea hopping on and off schooners at predetermined islands and beaches.

beachesNighttime, though, is when the place really comes alive. The famous Rua das Pedras (Stone Road), lined on both sides with shops and restaurants from chic to kitsch and classy to eccentric, begins waking up after 9 p.m. The street fills with people of every nationality and every age, dressed in everything from casual to formal. Dine in decadent splendour eating succulent fruits of the sea while looking out at the moonlit waters, coastline, anchored boats and starry night. Whiffs of ocean salt blow in on gentle gusts of wind. Complaisant waves lap the shore at irregular intervals only a few meters below guests' feet. Arabian music pipes through the rooms of this guesthouse/restaurant and a young beauty lithely moves around tables. The sinuous grace of the belly dancer enraptures the entire house.

Afterwards, something more peculiar. Knock on the door of the bar with the newspaper-covered windows and hope that Kaiser, the owner, will let you in. If he does, greet chaos in a packed house. Every space of wall and ceiling are covered in photographs, pictures, messages and posters, illuminated by black lights, coloured lights and candles. The photographs are of Kaiser with his dog, with friends, with patrons, of patrons, and messages are written by guests of the bar. Whoever chooses may write on a napkin what he likes best about the place – if Kaiser favours the note, he puts it up. There is a lot to comment on other than the strange decor. Kaiser is a one-man show. In his kerchiefed head, bermuda shorts, t-shirt and feet taped like a dancer's, he pours drinks while spinning in circles, creates his own alcoholic concoctions, lights them on fire for effect and accompanies the music (Cuban mostly) with his maracas, bells, tambourine and dance steps, with costume changes between sets.

KaiserStroll the streets from one location to the next — bars, bistros and sidewalk patios, parties and live music performances — into the wee hours, getting your fill of ever-changing venues here today, gone tomorrow.

No longer a small fishing village and not even particularly Brazilian in atmosphere, Búzios is a destination flocked to by celebrities and the regular upper crust who love both the beauty of local nature and the vibrant nightlife.


Images ©Elizabeth Willoughby 2002

This article was published at © 2008

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