What It’s Been Like Social Distancing In Santos, São Paulo, Brazil

Hi guys! It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post, but I decided to ease my way back into it. Given the uncertain future of travel in the next year or two, I might pivot to writing a bit more about travel-related thoughts rolling around in my head instead of featuring specific destinations. For example, I’m hoping to publish a list of 20 destinations I plan to see in the 2020s. Keep an eye out for that post coming soon, but in this post I’ll be sharing what social distancing here has been like!

How I Got Here

I came to Brazil in January with hopes to teach ESL for about six months. Non-essential businesses started to close here in mid-March, and so at that time I moved from teaching lessons in person to giving them online. As a teacher I always prefer in-person education over distance learning, but given the circumstances, it was really lucky to be able to make the switch. It was also a bit of a blessing in disguise, because I’m now fully location-independent. This will allow me to travel much more freely after the pandemic while still earning a steady income.

I stayed in the city of São Paulo from January to April. Social distancing was fine there, but I lived in a small rented room in a house that had other tenants, so I was always a bit nervous that someone might be COVID-positive and spread it to everyone in the house. On May 1st, I decided to relocate to the city of Santos and move into a studio apartment.

Santos is still in the state of São Paulo located about a 90-minute drive south of the metropolis. Despite being one of the most important shipping ports in South America, Santos feels much quieter and more relaxing than São Paulo city. It’s been the perfect place to self-isolate because the city has miles of oceanfront walkways that have generally not been crowded.

This post is not going to claim to be a comprehensive guide to the city for travelers post-lockdown. All main attractions are closed right now, including the city’s collection of historical and maritime museums. But since I imagine the number of foreigners who’ve decided to stick it out in Brazil is quite low, I thought it might be interesting to document what it’s been like here. This post will start with a section on everyday life in quarantine in Brazil, then move on to the parts of Santos I have been able to enjoy despite the widespread closures. Let’s dive right in!

Life In Quarantine

The Situation on the Ground, As I See It

I’ll start off by giving some opinions on what I’m seeing here in terms of the virus response. As many people probably know, Bolsonaro has received a fair amount of criticism for not acting quickly enough and taking the pandemic seriously. The numbers don’t paint a pretty picture for Brazil at the time being. While I’m skeptical that the official case count will ever surpass the United States (due to lack of testing here and due to the fact that the US is reopening despite not having flattened the curve), Brazil is already second in the world for confirmed cases.

Like in the United States, there have been protesters here decrying lockdown and demanding that the economy reopen (who are not abiding by social distancing standards, as shown in the video below). However, there have also been protests in opposition to Bolsonaro, which involve residents banging pots and pans or otherwise making as much noise as possible while leaning out open windows and demanding Bolsonaro’s resignation and/or impeachment. Political polarization is no stranger to this country, which in many ways shares similarities to the US.

Although Brazil hasn’t given a date for a proposed reopening, lockdown measures here seem to be somewhat lax. In São Paulo, many businesses that were definitely not essential remained open (for example, chocolate boutiques and protein powder shops). I’ve heard that Brazilians have yet to receive anything akin to stimulus checks, but that may have changed recently.

My Daily Routine

I’ve found that I’ve settled into a pretty set quarantine routine. I usually teach in the mornings and then make lunch (more on food below). As long as the weather is good, I go for a walk in the afternoon. Since this is basically the one time per day I get to be active, I typically walk at least two miles and have even made it up to eight or nine miles in a day. It’s easy to walk for hours without getting bored because of the beautiful ocean views!

By the time I get home, it’s usually already late enough in the afternoon to start thinking about dinner. If I need to, I go over to the nearest supermarket to pick up ingredients. Evenings are typically spent relaxing, watching movies, browsing social media, or playing Animal Crossing (the classic Gamecube version on a PC emulator).

Animal Crossing for Gamecube, in all its pixelated 2001 glory.

Cooking: My Latest Obsession

Has anyone else’s life started revolving around food since they started social distancing? For me, it’s basically been a journey from knowing nothing about cooking (and also really disliking it) to embracing it and learning to play around with different flavors.

My go-to meals have included fried rice, yakisoba, pasta, and ravioli. Anything that can incorporate as many food groups as possible will float my boat, which is why something like fried rice is so great. You can basically chop up and throw in any veggies you might have in the fridge, and it’s bound to be delicious. It’s also fun to experiment with different spices like clove, peppercorn, curry powder, garlic, and chili sauces.

My apartment only has a mini-fridge with a tiny freezer compartment, so I’ve been forced to be creative and not just buy a bunch of frozen TV dinners. I also don’t have an oven, so I’ve been sadly deprived of things like pizza. Overall though, I think this has resulted in a much healthier diet than if I could just stock up on more junky alternatives.

Mitigation Measures

In general, only grocery stores are guaranteed to be open. Some restaurants are open for takeout and delivery, but many have just closed until further notice. I don’t really see a lot of people ordering takeout, so I think the restaurant industry has been hit hard here, especially since Santos is a resort town.

The grocery store nearest to my apartment. I'm lucky that it's pretty big and has always been fully stocked. There was never a toilet paper shortage in Brazil, at least from what I saw.

The beach has also been closed since I arrived. Sometimes the sidewalks near the water will have some metal barriers in place, but most people who are out for a stroll just walk around them. It’s not totally clear if those sidewalks are officially off-limits or not, but enforcement of any such rule seems like it’s not really a thing.

I mean, in all honesty, is this really preventing anyone from going anywhere...?

One thing I really appreciate is that masks are required while walking in public or to enter grocery stores. An employee won’t allow anyone into the supermarket without a mask, and although enforcement of mask-wearing outside isn’t super strict, I’d say well over 95% of people are wearing a face covering of some sort. Masks are widely available and can cost as little as 50 cents (USD). There are a variety of styles including reusable cloth masks and single-use disposable ones. I’ve even seen people wearing those plastic face shields when out and about, so people seem to have embraced this easy and affordable way to help mitigate virus spread.

A notice on a grocery store entrance saying masks are required. I've seen temperature checks at a grocery store further away, but they haven't implemented that here, at least not yet.

More About Santos

As I mentioned before, this post is not designed to be a comprehensive guide to this seaside city. With most things still closed, I have basically only gotten to see a silhouette of the city. Nonetheless, I’ve still been able to enjoy the beautiful waterfront and will showcase it here.

The Waterfront

Beaches

Santos has a wide, flat, sandy beach that stretches from one end of the city’s southern coastline to the other. It has been strictly off-limits for the month of May and therefore been empty. However, I’ve read that the water here isn’t known for being super clean, so although walking along the beach is lovely, I’m not sure that I’d want to swim in the water even if it was open.

Waterfront Parks

A strip of green space that hugs the coast for multiple miles separates the beaches from the city blocks. Each section of this park has different statues, fountains, artwork, and monuments, which are interesting to check out.

Another thing I love about Santos is the prevalence of calçada portuguesa. This type of mosaic sidewalk can be found in Portugal as well as in other former-colonies around the world.

Basílica Menor de Santo Antônio do Embaré

This large cathedral across from the beach is the most notable in the city I’ve seen so far. It’s been closed, so I haven’t been inside, but I’ve still been able to appreciate its exterior every time I walk by.

Praça das Bandeiras

This plaza features all of the state flags of Brazil (I think), as well as a fountain and a historical model of a streetcar.

Praia do Itararé & Ilha Porchat
(Itararé Beach & Porchat Island)

This beach is technically in the neighboring town of São Vicente, but it’s within walking distance of Santos if you continue to go west along the water. It’s huge, and the sand looks a little more black here than on the beaches of Santos.

That red squiggle is the "Escultura 100 Anos da Imigração Japonesa" by artist Tomie Ohtake. Dedicated to the Japanese community in Brazil, this sculpture has intrigued me since I first saw it at a distance, but I think the park it's located on that juts into the water is closed. This is the closest I've been able to get to it, from Itararé Beach.
Ilha Urubuqueçaba (Urubuqueçaba Island), which is too small to have anything built on it. It's basically a mini forest of palm trees. During low tide, you can approach it on foot.

If you walk all the way down the far end of Praia do Itararé, you’ll eventually find yourself at Ilha Porchat (Porchat Island). This small piece of land is connected via a single road, so it doesn’t require a ferry to get to. Isla Porchat looks very luxurious and exclusive, being home to only a few very tall skyscrapers that I’m sure offer amazing panoramic views. I’ve ventured over once, but haven’t explored the island in depth.

View of the Baía de São Vicente from Porchat Island

Sunsets

Santos offers some amazing sunsets (at least from the far east end where I’ve been staying, called Ponta da Praia). Even if I’ve had a pretty lazy day indoors, I’ll typically go out for a few minutes to see the sunset with the beach only a few minutes away from my apartment.

Weather

The weather in Santos in May has generally been good, although sunny days aren’t always guaranteed. There was one day where it rained pretty heavily and the oceanfront drive flooded for about a day after that (see video below). In general, the weather has been pretty nice and comfortable though.

Things I Missed Due to Social Distancing

Since the city is home to a massive international shipping port, there are a lot of historical museums that I haven’t been able to visit. There’s even a coffee museum, which I’m really bummed about! (Coffee was a major factor in Brazil’s historical growth and economic development, which is why the museum is located here, where it was shipped abroad.)

There are also ferry services to the city of Guarujá on the other side of the Estuário de Santos river. These have actually been operational even now since many people use them to commute, but I’ve avoided them because I don’t want to contribute to additional crowding there.

Is Santos worth a visit after the pandemic?

If São Paulo is on your wish list for 2021 or beyond, and you plan to spend a week or more there, a day trip or overnight stay in Santos could be a great way to see more than just the city. However, it should be noted that Santos isn’t even considered one of Brazil’s best beaches, so if that’s what you’re after, I’ve heard that many of the beaches in the north of the country are spectacular.

I was warned by my former landlord in São Paulo to watch out for pickpockets in Santos, but so far I’ve never felt like someone was trying to take anything from me. That might be because there are no tourists here due to lockdown (plus it’s low season right now), but if you eventually want to visit, just keep that in mind. He recommended always staying in places with other people nearby. If you plan to mainly enjoy the waterfront, there will always be enough other people out walking and biking to discourage pickpockets (even under current circumstances).

What's Next For Me

With the virus continuing to spread in Brazil, I expect to be here for at least the next three months. I recently purchased a ticket from Rio de Janeiro to Lisbon for mid-August because it was super cheap, but I’m well aware that I may not be able to leave Brazil (or enter the EU) at that time and may have to stay longer. Nonetheless, I do plan to slowly work my way over to Rio and continue social distancing until the curve is sufficiently flattened.

How has social distancing been for you? Is your country opening back up, or remaining closed? What do you think the next few months will look like? Leave a comment and let me know! I’m curious about how other travel enthusiasts are feeling about their current situations. Thanks for reading, and welcome back!

Share This Post With Fellow Travelers!

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. We were in Brazil and South America through to mid-March and everything was find from a virus perspective. But we knew things changed rapidly after we returned home. I can certainly understand why you would want the open water walkways in Santos. We liked Santos when we visited. Good that mask are recommended. Although that is the case here in Canada, it is followed haphazardly. I made masks. And we have ordered faces shields. As Canada opens up, people seem to have forgotten there is a deadly virus still around. We are unfortunately grounded for awhile. We are at greater risk and it seems that we can no longer count on anyone but ourselves to stay safe.

  2. MY RIG Adventures

    It’s really interesting to hear about how isolation in a foreign country is looking for you. We were travelling within our own country (Australia) at the time of border closures etc. So we decided at the last minute to high-tail it ‘home’ to the in-laws place for the duration. So I guess it’s all been fairly normal for us. But I can see how lock down in other countries could feel a bit distressing if you’re not in a comfortable position. How perfect that you’d picked up work anyway and could move to online teaching. Sounds like it’s just settling into a new kind of lifestyle for a while. It’ll be something you’ll remember forever.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. It’s hard to know what everyone else is going through right now, as much of our news is so single focused. It seems that you are in a beautiful place to be social distancing with those beaches, beautiful architecture and lots of places to walk. I worry about Brazil and the state of your government and what will happen with indigenous people and the rainforest under Bolsonaro and hope nothing too drastic happens while he is in office.

  4. Tania Muthusamy

    Sounds like you have been coping well in Santos during covid and have even learnt a valuable new skill in cooking. Well done. Walking everyday with the beautiful sea views sounds like a lovely way to spend the time too. I haven’t been to Brazil but hope to visit in the future and maybe put Santos on my intinerary.

Leave a Reply