There was just one other couple in the tiny air-taxi office in Salvador's swanky airport.

There was just one other couple in the tiny air-taxi office in Salvador's swanky airport. Bleary-eyed from the early morning start, we were led outside to a waiting minivan and driven towards a private hangar. Two tiny planes were parked on the runway; two smart pilots dressed in starched white with mirrored sunglasses stood waiting to greet us. On board, I reached nervously under the leather seats, but there were no bulky life jackets destroying the streamlined interior. "Don't worry, the planes float," one of the pilots flashed me a reassuring smile.

Twenty minutes and a few Hail Marys later, we were sweeping over thick vegetation and bumping down on the tiny runway of the island of Tinhare, just off Brazil's Bahia coast - our destination the village and beaches of Morro de Sao Paulo.

Switching the plush air-taxi for a cranky old bus, we trundled down the dirt track, only to be deposited in the middle of the lane a few hundred yards later. From out of the bushes, a group of young boys appeared offering to carry my bags. There are no paved roads at Morro de Sao Paulo; the final mode of transport to your beach hotel - whether you arrive by air or ferry - is wheelbarrow.

Morro de Sao Paulo is defined by its beaches and its laid-back vibe. Still relatively undeveloped, the little village street is a sand track lined with ramshackle restaurants, bars and tiny shops. Apart from the ruins of an old fort and a clutch of great seafood restaurants, there's little else here.

At night, however, the atmosphere is buzzing. The big sandy square at the top of the street is full of stalls selling jewellery, women offering hair-braiding and men strumming guitars.

Morro de Sao Paulo's string of numerically named beaches starts with Primeira Praia, or First Beach, close to the village, which is reached up steps cut into the rocks from Second Beach, round the headland. The latter is the busiest sweep of sand, home to daredevil surfers, children doing back-flips in the waves, and shacks selling spicy empanadas, or pasties.

Third Beach, lined with brightly painted hippie-chic pousadas, disappears at high tide, the waves crashing against a barnacle-covered wooden wall.

Fourth Beach, past tangled mangroves and around another headland, is the wildest. Here, locals in shorts and cowboy hats gallop on horseback through the surf. When the tide is out, people bathe in rock-pools full of tiny black-and-yellow striped fish. A giant, two-storey thatched beach shack serves the most delicious grilled shrimps and cold beer.

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Villa Guaiamu, 3rd Praia Morro de Sao Paulo, Caixa Postal 17, 45400-000 Valenca, Bahia, Brazil (00 55 75 4831035; www.vilaguaiamu.com.br).

Time to international airport: Salvador airport is 20 minutes away by air-taxi, which costs 270 Brazilian reais (£50).

COMFORTABLE?

Villa Guaiamu was the first pousada on the island. Twenty years ago there was nothing between the hotel and the village. There are 22 rooms scattered among the palm trees. When you check in, you're told to keep to the paths and watch out for falling coconuts - and the crabs scuttling around. Once, the island was covered with blue crabs - or guaiamu - but they are a local delicacy and the only ones left are at this hotel, where they're protected.

Rooms are simple and clean, with hammocks strung up outside. Breakfast is served on a big, open colonial-style terrace, with teak furniture, soaring white columns, wooden carvings and palms.

Freebies: soap.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Doubles cost 160 reais (£30) with breakfast.

I'm not paying that: Pousada Tia Lita (00 55 75 483 1532) on Third Beach has rooms from 60 reais (£11).

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