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Catussaba Resort in Brazil: A cruise by any other name

William K. WolfrumBy William K. Wolfrum,
Boat at Catussaba Resort
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At Catussaba Resort Hotel, they take advantage of their location -- on the beach. (GolfPublisher.com)

SALVADOR DA BAHIA, Brazil — Peering out your room will garner the sights, smells and sounds of the ocean. A buffet is laid out before you for the majority of the day. Attractive workers keep activities going for adults and children, though soaking up the sun is easily the most popular venture. Relaxation and happiness permeate the atmosphere.

All the things that make a cruise such a desired vacation are there for you, with but one exception — you're on land.

At the Catussaba Resort Hotel in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, it's easy to feel as though you've been whisked away on a journey to ports unknown. As the only resort in Salvador with direct beach access, Catussaba is a secured beach community of its own, yet only minutes from many of the city's numerous attractions.

The resort

Just a 10-minute drive from the airport, Catussaba is quick to whisk you away to a private, Club Med-style experience. Arriving through a guarded gate, the trees and natural vegetation of Brazil are given a great deal of play throughout the resort.

Once in, Catussaba offers 256 air-conditioned rooms that will more than suit a traveler's needs. Of course, the rooms tend to be used mostly for sleep, or to duck out of the sometimes scorching Salvador sun. The rest of the stay is devoted to a full-on beach-party atmosphere.

The rooms all funnel down toward a lavish pool area, that consists of four interconnected pools that create an island in the middle, where many activities — especially for kids — are based. The pools are kept immaculately clean and are naturally warm from the sun.

From the pools, it's approximately a 30-second walk to the ocean and Itapuã Beach. While not private, the beach is a natural extension of the resort. In the mornings and early evenings, you can gawk at the local surfers taking advantage of the warm ocean waters, or enjoy a dip yourself, with the security of lifeguards watching over you, and the occasionally erratic tides.

Located on the beach are several vendors, selling a nice variety of traditional Salvador clothes and other touristy items. Be warned, however, Brazilians have a strong haggling culture, so never take the first offer.

"Always haggle with the vendors," said driver Joao de Deus Sant' Ana. "I have seen Europeans pay 50 euros for things they could have gotten for five."

There are two restaurants at the resort, though one is open sporadically. The buffet, however, can be a real treat, with a wide diversity of foods both international and Brazilian. For travelers worried about Brazilian cuisine, fear not, Americans tend to thrive on the Brazilian diet, which consists of many seafood, pork and beef dishes. Also, the variety of fruits available is well beyond what most Americans can begin to fathom.

The morning buffet is very nice spread with options for everyone, with eggs, fruits, cheeses, meats, cereal, breads and pastries. It's also free, though the lunch and dinner buffets will cost you around an extra $15-20.

Room service is available 24 hours a day, and is reasonable. Example: A chicken club sandwich with french fries, delivered to you at the pool or in your room will cost less than $5.

The Verdict

Few things are missing from Catussaba, with the exception of Americans — despite Brazil's diverse tourism opportunities, the nation has done a relatively poor job promoting itself overall, and in the United States in particular.

"Most of our visitors come from Brazil, Argentina and other South American countries," Catussaba manager Mario Alves said. "I think we would like to have more from the U.S."

What Americans are missing in Catussaba is one of the top resorts in one of the top tourist destinations in Brazil. Basic rates for double-occupancy rooms will run from $120 (U.S.) and up, depending on exchange rate and time of year, and more luxurious rooms are available for a higher fee.

Also, keep in mind that rates will be higher in February, the month of Carnival. While Carnival itself lasts a week, in Salvador, it's pretty much a month-long, if not year-long celebration.

There are a few things that may not meet a traveler's high standards. The "business center" is in reality a few computers which tend to be taken up by kids and teenagers. Also, service can be a bit slow, but that is more an issue of the culture.

Overall, however, Catussaba is a vacation well spent. Cheerful workers help the relaxation ambiance that permeates the entire resort, and it's the type of high-end vacation spot that doesn't require one to be a millionaire to enjoy.

Also, most of the staff speak English to some degree, making it an American-friendly resort. At least Brian, an American from Akron, Ohio, whose company put him up at Catussaba for a job in Salvador, thought so.

"This is just unbelievable," Brian said. "There's no way I can let my company know what a nice place this is. They'd pull me out in a second."

Dining out

Catussaba is located a short drive from the main downtown Salvador area, making its many restaurants and scenic areas easily accessible. As a beach city, Salvador is seafood lovers paradise. Of course, if you'd rather stick to beef or chicken, you get an added bonus — even the best cuts of meat at Brazilian restaurants will run you much less than in their U.S. counterparts, with a large serving of filet mignon often running less than $10.

Nearby places to dine at include Mistura Fina and Yemanja. Both specialize in seafood, and are short trips from the resort. Try the mocequa — a large stew made with onions, tomatoes and coconut milk that will be combined with huge portions of crab, shrimp or lobster. It's a true Brazilian dish that easily transfers to international taste buds.

Another Salvador favorite is called acaraje. Made from deep-fried black-eyed peas, it's a slightly spicy snack that you can get stuffed with shrimp. Acaraje da Cera has two locations in town, and that's where the locals go to fill up on their favorite snack.

What to see

If you're visiting Salvador, one must take a side trip down Avendia Octavio Mangabeira, which runs parallel to the ocean. Finding a driver to take you on a tour and point out historical locations is usually easy and cheap enough.

The trip should take you down past the famous lighthouse and to Mercado Modelo, a great flea market where you can buy whatever souvenirs you are after, as its one of the largest markets for handcrafts in Brazil. There are also areas for food, and live music throughout the day.

Also, check out the bottom floor, where slave traders stored slaves in a disturbingly cramped, wet area. The area is kept open for all to see the past of Salvador, where the majority of citizens are direct descendants from slaves.

If you like the nightlife, Salvador is flat out heaven. It's Carnival all year in Salvador it seems, culminating in a massive blowout for the real Carnival in February.

If you're looking for a great place to hit the club scene, try Aeroclube Plaza Show — a former airport turned into an entertainment mall, with several dance clubs, and where you'll never be more than a few feet from being able to purchase your favorite libation.

For golfers, the options are fairly limited. The nearby Sofitel Hotel has the Itapuã Golf Course, a nine-holer that's better off avoided. If you really want to play, you'll need to head about 40 miles away to play at Costa do Sauípe, which gets raves from local golfers, the few that exist.

Fast Fact

Aside from the beach access, Catussaba Resort is different from most the other resorts and hotels in Salvador due to the fact that it is not corporate owned, but owned privately by a family.

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Catussaba frontDancer at Catussaba ResortCatussaba beach vendors

William K. Wolfrum keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. You can follow him on Twitter @Wolfrum.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Catussaba Hotel

    erwin wrote on: Oct 6, 2007

    The fact that most visitors are from Brazil and other South American countries with just a few Euopean and North American guests makes this resort a gem.
    With local bus service to downtown Salvador, I found it very much a 4+ or better resort - without the obnoxious demanding 5 Star crowd. The mix of nationalities of their guests is just right, they should'nt try to change it. In fact, it's precisely because South Americans choose to vacation here that sets this resort apart from the usual run-of-the mill gringo resort.