Santos: Brazil’s Bustling Island City With Gardens Galore

Brazil, Santos

A Tale of Two Cities, Part 1: Santos

Likely you’ve never heard of Santos. Almost certainly you’ve never heard of her sister city across the estuary, Guarujá. But every Brazilian has.

These cities lie about one hour southeast of the city of São Paulo. Each is situated on a large coastal island, and though each boasts lovely beaches, they are quite different in most other respects. This week, we’ll get to know Santos. Next week, we’ll take the ferry across to Guarujá and go exploring there.

One Of The Best Cities In Brazil—But Don’t Take My Word For It

Santos is a bustling city of about 420,000. It is, in fact, generally conceded to be the busiest port in all of South America, servicing both container and cruise ships. But Santos isn’t the grimy blue-collar town you might imagine. Around 2010, with the discovery of oil and gas reserves offshore, there was a sudden inrush of white-collar jobs. Also, many of the locals are well-paid professionals who actually work in the city of São Paulo, but who make the commute daily because they prefer to live in Santos.

Santos, in fact, regularly appears on lists of the top cities in Brazil in which to live. In 2016, Santos ranked #6 among the best cities in Brazil as determined by the United Nations, considering factors such as average level of education, life expectancy, and income. Santos was rated earlier this year as the best city in all of Brazil for those 60 and over. In a country where people are given to complaining about the government and services, everyone here speaks highly and proudly of Santos, of its superior services, safety, and high quality of life.

Santos is attractive as well. Nature has blessed her. Here, as in so many cities in southeastern Brazil, morros, those tree-covered cones of granite, so quintessentially Brazilian, nestle along the coastline. Broad beaches are washed by the South Atlantic. The unbroken gardens running along the beach are considered by Guinness to be the largest in the world.

 The beach gardens of Santos extend for miles
The beach gardens of Santos extend for miles

I really like the way Santos organizes its beaches—and I’ve seen plenty here, up and down Brazil’s extensive coastline. The beaches are Brazilian, and yet organized—two words not typically used in conjunction. There are bike lanes, and the calçadão (broad beach sidewalk) for pedestrians. Permanent kiosks serve up seafood and icy-cold beers.

On the weekends, locals and daytrippers throng stalls and pushcarts, which offer everything from handicrafts to churros (wickedly delicious tubes of deep-fried pastry stuffed with chocolate or caramel cream). The beaches are broad, in many stretches a full two city blocks from the calçadão to the water’s edge. You stand surrounded by clutches of beach umbrellas of every color, and the sounds of laughter, volleyball, beach soccer, and, of course, the crash of the waves. Close to the kiosks, the smell of the sea gives way to that of churrasco, Brazilian-style barbecue. Ahhhh…

Paradise? Well, if I’m picky, the sand here has clay in it. It’s grayish in spots and isn’t as sugary soft as over in Guarujá, which we’ll visit soon enough. But there are certainly worse places to hang your hat!

It’s often more than 200 yards from sidewalk to water
It’s often more than 200 yards from sidewalk to water

If you tire of the beaches, Santos boasts an aquarium and a number of museums, including ones dedicated to coffee, the navy, fishing, soccer, and one specifically to Pelé, widely regarded as the greatest soccer player of all time, who played most of his career right here. There are botanical gardens and an orchid park housing a small zoo. You can tour the historic district (Santos dates all the way back to 1546) by streetcar. And there are good restaurants everywhere, offering seafood of course, but really almost any type of cuisine you might want.

Santos has generally fine weather, too. While there are four seasons, even in winter (June-August), daily highs often reach 70, and lows rarely fall below 55. The intermittent gusts from the south are invigorating. Summers are hot, but not oppressively so, and these days most homes have air conditioning.

Brazil, Only Better

I find myself liking the people here as well. They take pride in their city, and despite the continuing economic crisis in Brazil, the city provides a high level of services, and it is quite evident that the city is well managed, from garbage pickups to bus service to hospitals. You have to give credit to the paulistas for this. Brazilians universally, if sometimes begrudgingly, acknowledge São Paulo to be the most organized and industrious of all the Brazilian states, and I would have to concur. It doesn’t hurt that Santos is one of the state’s—indeed, the country’s—wealthier cities.

While Santos forges ahead through the economic downturn, there are many apartments currently on the market. Many are second homes or investment properties, and their owners want to unload them. It’s not quite the buyer’s market you’ll find over in Guarujá, but there are definitely deals available.

Getting The Lay Of The Land Around Santos

Santos is located on a large island which it shares with the city of São Vicente—which was the first permanent Portuguese settlement in what would become Brazil. The most attractive areas lie on the south side of the island, where the beaches are strung along an arc facing the bay and the South Atlantic.

While there are many nice areas here in which to rent or buy, the most desirable bairros (city districts) in my view are Boqueirão, which is centrally located, and Ponta da Praia, to the east, where the estuary empties into the sea. Another bairro to consider is Gonzaga, which includes the central shopping district; it’s convenient to everything, if perhaps a bit noisy. I would avoid the western end of Santos, adjacent São Vicente, as there are two favelas nearby.

A stretch of beach in Gonzaga
A stretch of beach in Gonzaga

Although the beach is undeniably attractive, I suggest also looking at properties one to two blocks inland, for a couple of reasons. The first is that in Santos, buses run along the beach avenue, so unless you get a unit facing away from the beach, you’ll have to contend with traffic noise and also dust if you are on one of the lower floors. And marisia, the salt air, slowly corrodes appliances.

By moving just a couple of blocks away from the beach, you’ll not only avoid these problems, but find cheaper rents, and also lower prices in pharmacies, markets, and restaurants. It’s the same in beach communities everywhere.

It’s a fairly straightforward matter to rent a furnished unit here for 90 days on what is termed a por temporada (for the season) lease. Standard long-term contracts in Brazil are for 30 months, but it is common these days to add a clause which allows the renter out after 12 months with no penalties. Traditionally, property owners have asked for a fiador, or co-signer, for long-term leases, but now most will accept a deposit held in escrow. Surprisingly, many owners actually prefer to rent to foreigners.

Here’s a sampling of what’s on the market in Santos today

If you’d like to rent first to check out the area, there are plenty of furnished units available in managed buildings.

bullet You can live a pampered existence in a 47-square-meter (506-square-foot) one-bedroom, fully furnished apartment in centrally located Boqueirão. Built in 2015, the unit is very clean and well appointed, and has air conditioning and a balcony. The building is a 10-minute walk from the beach and offers a whole range of amenities, including three swimming pools, gym, party room, barbecue area, sauna, Jacuzzi, card/game room, laundry facilities, and more. The monthly rent of 2,500 reais (US$809) includes condominium fees and property taxes (IPTU).

bullet If you’d prefer a bit more space, check out this fully furnished and tastefully decorated duplex (here indicating two floors) in the Ponta da Praia area. Downstairs: living room with small balcony, kitchen, laundry area. Upstairs: bedroom and separate office. The building has 24-hour doorman, gym, sauna and Jacuzzi, pool, and breakfast room included in the rent of 2800 reais (US$906). Maid and laundry service are available but not included.

bullet You can rent a fully furnished, bright and airy two-bedroom apartment of 70 square meter (753 square feet) in the Gonzaga area, six blocks from the beach and three from the central shopping district for 3,700 reais (US$1,197). Building amenities include 24-hour security, pool, gym, party room, and more.

There are plenty of places for sale as well. In this market, you should press for reductions and concessions.

bullet If you are ready to buy, you can pick up a two-bedroom (both en suite), three-bath apartment in the center of Boqueirão, located on a quiet street. Airy and bright, it has a large living room and kitchen with maid’s area, AC in the living room and bedrooms. Recently remodeled. Near markets, bakeries, drugstores. Asking 420,000 reais (US$135,922).

bullet You can pick up a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment in Ponta da Praia, less than one block from the beach, for 310,000 reais (US$100,323). The total area is 70 square meters (850 square feet). The apartment, remodeled, is well-lit, has air conditioning, balcony, and service area off the kitchen. The building has a doorman, elevator, and covered parking.

Note that banks in Brazil will rarely provide financing to foreigners. Seller or developer financing might sometimes be found, but cash is king.

You’ll find more units on the market after Carnival, which can fall from mid-February to late March. Some units which were rented out or occupied by the owners during the winter high season (December to February here) will come on the market after Carnival.

Santos has a lot to offer, so it’s not surprising that it’s a bit pricey—by Brazilian standards. But for those with dollars, pounds, or euros, Santos offers the most elusive of beasts: a truly desirable beach-side location, at very reasonable prices.

But I opted instead to rent across the river, over in Guarujá. Why? I’ll tell you next week.

John Clites
For Overseas Property Alert


Letters To The Editor

Hi Kathleen,

We are originally Swiss, but since we are traveling around over three years by now, we are more cosmopolitans who are looking for a new residency.

We read your reports and think that you might could help us. We love Hawaii and Australia the most, but we were told, that it is nearly impossible to get residency in Hawaii or Australia (western Australia) due to our ages (52 and 46).

We would like to invest in a property and get a permanent visa. We have been in Panama, Thailand, Costa Rica,… but we are looking for a warm climate with wind and waves (not too humid) We love to windsurf, kite, and do all kind of outdoor sports.
What possibilities do we have? Can you help us?

We have a fixed monthly income. Don’t have to work, but would love to if there is a possibility. We would love to live on the ocean…. We hope you can assist us and are looking forward hearing from you.

Thank you and kind regards,
Sandra and Roger

Several locations in Brazil would provide the climate and activities you seek. The Northeast region in particular offers generally sunny, hot weather, and a low cost of living. I particularly like the small city of João Pessoa, in Paraíba, which has an exercise-oriented mentality which might appeal to you. For wind- and kite-surfing, there are also cities in the Southeast, such as Vila Velha, in Espíritu Santo, and Santos and  Guarujá, featured this week and next.

The difficulty is in obtaining a permanent visa. Brazil does offer a retirement visa, but either you or your spouse must be at least 60 years old. There is an investment visa as well, but simply buying a property won’t qualify you. You’ll need to open an ongoing concern employing Brazilians. As the investment required has been increased and as Brazil is not an easy country in which to conduct business, especially for foreigners, I wouldn’t recommend this route if all you really want is residency.

It is, however, quite easy to reside in Brazil as a tourist for up to 180 days per year. If you had a spot you could reside the balance of the year, you could pursue this route, even trying out a few locations, and hopefully finding a spot just right for you.



What would be an inexpensive but safe place for an expat to live in Brazil? The country interests me but I’m a bit concerned about crime.

Bill S.

Brazil does not have a very good reputation for safety, and there are places that even I wouldn’t venture, although I know the country and the language well. However, there are cities which are safer, and in general these same cities might also be a bit easier for an expat to assimilate into culturally.

Curitiba, the capital of the state of Paraná, could be a good choice. It has an excellent mass-transit system which has served as a model for many other cities. Its diversified economy has helped it to weather the current recession better than most cities, which in turn has limited crime. There are many parks and cultural activities. Many multinationals are represented in Curitiba, so it might be a bit easier to find other expats to hang out with. It’s also surprisingly inexpensive considering the quality of life.

Florianópolis, the capital of the southern state of Santa Catarina, is a lovely city—its name in fact means “City of Flowers.” It is located mainly on a large island, and it has some of the best beaches in a country known for fine beaches. Florianópolis became known years ago for its surfing, principally among Europeans, but today you’ll find expats from many countries there. The city is smallish (a bit under 500,000 year-round residents) with a European feel to it.

A number of cities in the state of São Paulo are also worth a look. Ribeiro Preto gets good reports, and also some of the cities in the Vale (Valley) do Paraíba, such as Taubaté.

Have a question? You can write to Lee here.