Things to Do in Northeast Brazil
Genipabu is a beach village known for its large sand dunes and freshwater lagoons. There are a few different ways to explore the mounds of shifting sand, with varying degrees of adrenaline — from camel rides to sand buggies to sand-boarding (esquibunda or skibunda) down the hot dunes and into the cool water.
The winds shifting across the sand means that the landscape of Genipabu is always changing. The sands pile up into dunes that rise and fall, creating ridges and mounds across the shores and eventually plunging into the sea. Certain areas of the dunes are accessible only by certified dune buggy drivers, who will ask if you want your ride “with emotion” or without, to determine the level of desired thrills. Sand boarding into the lagoons’ fresh water is a great way to beat the heat. No matter the method of adventure you choose, the unique landscape and natural beauty of both the sand and water at Genipabu is worth seeing.
Praia do Futuro is an urban beach popular for its good swimming and beach barracas (restaurants).
Unlike many stretches of beach along Fortaleza’s coastline, Praia do Futuro does not have a coral reef near the shore, which makes it a preferred spot for paddling. Several of the once rustic barracas have become large restaurants and entertainment venues in recent years, however, you will still find some that have remained unchanged for decades. Many of the barracas come alive on Thursday night when locals head to Praia do Futuro for a spot of crab eating and forró (Brazilian country music).
Praia do Futuro is not as busy as the other urban beaches in Fortaleza, and you are advised to catch a taxi to the area, particularly if you are visiting at night.
Mercado Modelo is a lively place stocked full of arts, crafts and touristy trinkets.
Located across the street from the restored art deco elevador lacerda (elevator) in a replica of the city’s old customs house, the market is a fun way to spend an hour or two and maybe pick up a bit of tourist tack for the folks back home.
Take a deep breath as you enter to prepare for the onslaught of vendors that’ll attempt to coax you towards their stall. It’s all pretty light-hearted so with a smile and a bit of friendly bartering, you’ll enjoy your visit here.
Warm waves and slow tides make the picturesque shores of Ilha dos Frades—a star-shaped island accessible only by boat—one of Salvador’s most popular family destinations. Visitors can enjoy one of the tropical beaches where white sand meets turquoise blue waters, or hike to the remote waterfalls or nearby hilltops, which offer incredible views of the idyllic bay.
Ponta de Nossa Senhora is the most famous beach on the island. Travelers will find cold beers, freshly fried fish, dozens of umbrellas and public showers that make spending a day under the sun here feel like a true island escape. Paramana Beach offers access to a natural swimming pool during low tide amid a scenic backdrop of natural forest. Visitors looking to truly get away can head to Viracao beach—a deserted and wild escape where coconut plantations and rocky crags protect the quiet shores.
Morro Branco’s red colored cliffs are an easy day trip from Fortaleza. While looking strikingly red from a distance (particularly when contrasted with the surrounding white dunes), when explored up close, you can see that the sand cliffs have a number of pink, cream and beige colored hues that together form their distinctive overall color.
The area can be explored via a warren of tracks that flow, maze-like, between the cliffs. Local guides are on hand at the Morro Branco village, to steer you through and point out the most interesting sections. You can also arrange buggy rides along the beach here or walk to the lighthouse.
Morro Branco craftsmen fill small bottles with the sand of varying tones to create a quite unique souvenir. You can buy the colored sand bottles along the beach and in the village.
This incredible Salvador city highlight has been beautifully restored to its original art deco wonder and as a result, has become a destination for travelers to this Brazilian town. Lacerda Elevator uses four distinct elevators to link Comercio with Cidade Alta. Visitors to this towering icon can travel 72 meters in under 30 seconds—a major improvement on the rope-and-pulley elevator first used by Jesuits on this same site back in the early 1600s.
Travelers love that Lacerda Elevator connects the low city to the high city and provides stunning picture-perfect views from its apex. Visitors can look out over the historical houses and old school churches that dot the landscape, as well as the arches of the Camara Municipal building—a 17th century structure that often plays host to local cultural events.
More Things to Do in Northeast Brazil
Travelers who approach the relatively plain exterior of Francisco Church and Convent will be amazed by the ornate artwork, fine details and gilded ceilings upon entering this iconic colonial monument. Built in the early 1700s, the church took decades to complete. Its unique interior includes three aisles, rather than the more typical two, as well as some of the most impressive pillars, vaults and golden woodwork in the country. The classic Baroque style of Sao Francisco Church and Convent showcases one of the most spectacular examples of religious architecture and artwork, making it a destination for traveler seeking to experience the history, beauty and artistry of another era.
Surrounded by pink sand dunes, sandstone cliffs and a winding river, Canoa Quebrada is a laid-back beach town blessed with a stunning, natural environment. While the town has grown with the times, it hasn’t lost that mystical feel that first attracted Italian hippies to settle in the area in the 1970s.
People visit Canoa Quebrada for its natural beauty and a healthy dose of the simple life - swim in the aquamarine waters, eat fresh seafood, party at night, and sleep it off on the miles of soft white sand.
There are many ways you can explore the sand dunes, cliffs and rainwater lagoon. Activities available range from buggy tours, kite surfing, horse riding or sailing in the bay – it is possible to visit the area in a day from Fortaleza but, unless you’re pushed for time, this is the kind of place where you don’t want to rush.
Canoa Quebrada’s main street has several bars and restaurants but if you can’t bear to tear yourself away from the beach.
With its vast, deserted beaches, towering sand dunes and pellucid waters, Brazil’s Costa Branca or "White Coast" is one of the country’s most enchanting regions, and its best-kept secret is the historic fishing village of Galinhos, a popular day trip from nearby Natal. Encircled by water and reachable only by boat, the sandy peninsula is a pocket of serenity, with horse carts in lieu of taxis and the landscape dotted with salt flats, mangrove swamps and rolling dunes.
If you’re looking to head off-the-beaten-track this is the perfect destination, but Galinhos isn’t completely void of life – in-the-know locals have long frequented the spot for kite surfing and wind surfing, while other activities include snorkeling and dune buggy rides.
In a city that’s filled with crowds of people, bustling commercial districts and an energy that can be described as nothing short of kinetic, the quiet out-of-the-way sidewalks of Dique do Tororo provide a welcome escape. Located near the south entrance of the stadium that housed the World Cup, Dique de Torro offers travelers city skyline views, easy access to some of Salvador’s most iconic African statues and plenty of historical information about the traditions of West African slaves. Plenty of restaurants, cafes and bars line the perimeter of this man-made lake, making this an ideal spot to grab a cold beer or tuck into a warm plate of traditional Brazilian cuisine. It’s possible to cross the lake by boat and travelers warn that while the place is relatively safe during daylight hours, it’s best to avoid Dique de Tororo at night.
Star-shaped Forte de Reis Magos (Three Wise Men Fort) predates the founding of Natal by nearly two years. The Portuguese began building the fort on January 6, 1598, the same day they celebrated Epiphany, hence the name and shape of the fort.
Natal, named after the Portuguese word for ‘Christmas’, was founded 23 months later on December 25, 1599.
Religious considerations aside, the decision to build the fort at the mouth of the Potengi River was purely a strategic one. Located on a sand bar that is covered at high-tide and positioned at Brazil’s easternmost point, Forte de Reis Magos was ideally placed to defend the continent from European and African advances.
The whitewashed and turreted fort walls were built to last and inside you’ll find a chapel, a well, cannons and soldiers' quarters. If you don’t come for the history, come for the views.
One of the most important cultural centers in Recife, the Francisco Brennand Ceramic Workshop attracts tourists, locals, artists and amateurs alike. This impressive sculpture gallery and garden honor the works one of Brazil’s renowned ceramic artists, Francisco Brennand. Founded by the artist himself, Brennand created the workshop on a large piece of land located within the bustling city of Recife to showcase his life’s work, as well as create a workshop for sculpture and ceramic artists. The expansive grounds are dotted with galleries, outdoor sculptures, and ponds amid a tropical landscape. Visitors can roam freely on the winding paths, in and out of the breezy buildings and workspaces and admire Brennand’s famously exotic, sensual and mysterious sculptures. Highlights include an ornate ceramic gazebo, intricate ceramic tiles, a sundial and sculptures incorporated into fountains and ponds.
Fortaleza is blessed with many spectacular beaches and Cumbuco Beach is no exception. Just 45 minutes drive from the city and attached to a small fishing village, the beach is distinguished by its rolling white sand dunes and empty stretches of sand lined with coconut trees.
Cumbuco Beach is a popular spot for kite surfing, sand boarding and buggy tours - the latter involving a hair-raising ride over the bumps and inclines that will leave you giddy and white-knuckled and most likely eager for more!
There are more sedate activities available including horse riding and boat rides, although the most popular activity is of course soaking up the sun on the beach.
The beach fills up with locals on weekends but there is little to do in the Cumbuco at night – you’ll need to return to the city if you want to party.
If the string of shallow coral reefs that grace Natal’s gorgeous, sandy coastline could be called a necklace, then Maracajaú Reef is its biggest, most beautiful jewel.
Known as Parrachos de Maracajaú, (coral reef of Maracajau) this complex reef formation full of coral, iridescent fish and other marine life, covers over 3.5 acres (15 sq km) and is about 7km (4mi) offshore from Maracajaú beach.
It is possible to dive in the area but, if you time your visit with the low tide, its natural pools are shallow enough for some fabulous snorkelling – possibly Brazil’s best. Floating in the warm, clear water above a coral garden as dozens of fish dart around you is a memorable way to spend the afternoon.
Most people visit Maracajaú on a tour. A boat will take you from the beach out to the floating platforms - a jumping off point to the reef but also a handy rest stop should you wish to come up for the occasional breather.
Built in the late 1500s, Forte de Monte Serrat was once known as Castelo de Sao Felipe and today still serves as one of the most iconic military structures in all of Brazil. Its traditional architecture, inspired by Italian traditions, originally housed three working cannons, and later was renovated to contain nine more. During times of war, soldiers were able to protect the whole of Port Salvador from Monte Serrat’s circular interior, although in the mid-1600s, Brazilian military was unable to hold off Dutch forces and ultimately had to surrender the fort.
Travelers in search of history will find the halls of whitewashed Monte Serrat steeped in military tradition. And those less interested in the nation’s past will still enjoy the picturesque views and incredible sunsets found atop this iconic fort.
South of the city, Ponta Negra is one of Natal’s most accessible beaches and fills up with locals on the weekends. It’s a popular spot year-round and has seen a fair amount of development along its 3km (1.8mi) stretch. Its northern end has a pedestrian-only boardwalk and a few large resorts and tends to be a lot less lively than the rest of the beach, which is chock-full of restaurants, bars, pousadas, surfers and travelers.
Apart from taking its fair share of the natural beauty that seems to be a given along Natal’s coastline, Ponta Negra’s most impressive natural attraction is an enormous sand dune - the Morro da Careca - whose 120m (390ft) slopes sheer directly into the sea. These days, its sandy slopes can only be appreciated from the beach due to increased erosion and damage to the surrounding rainforest.
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