Natal – The City of Dunes in Brazil’s North-East Corner
Natal is the sun-soaked capital of Rio Grande do Norte State in far north-east corner of Brazil, and the arrival point for all kinds of beach and buggy-based adventures. The state has some of the friendliest people in Brazil, which is quite a proud boast in such a hospitable country. The smiles are as warm as the rays, even in the small city. Natal is known as the City of Dunes and is surrounded and interspersed with huge sand hills, lagoons in between them, and gigantic cashew trees spreading out over the sands. Natal is actually closer to Freetown in Sierra Leone, West Africa (2,900km) than it is to Porto Alegre (3,100km) in the south of Brazil or Rio Branco in the Amazon (3,600km).
The dry, hot climate and endless miles of beautiful beaches make Natal the perfect starting point for buggy and 4x4 adventures along the north-east coastline of Brazil. The 4 day Natal to Fortaleza journey, with extensions to beautiful beach towns of Pipa and Jericoacoara at each end, is perhaps the finest journey in Brazil. It covers 345km of the 8,000km coastline, almost exclusively on sand.
Dune adventures around Natal include those buggy trips, dune-slides and zip-lines, sand-boarding and even camel rides. Surfing, kite-surfing and sea-fishing offer more activities on the water. The fun also comes with Natal’s cultural side – the Carnatal Festival is the largest micareta (out-of-season Carnaval) in Brazil, attracting visitors every December from all over the country to follow major axé artists playing their music from the backs of lorries passing through the streets of the city. There is also a rich folkloric tradition in Natal and Rio Grande do Norte, with Maria Bonita and Lampiao being local characters visible everywhere. Natal is also a city proud of its Nordestino cuisine, with traditional dishes of green beans and dried meat, also supplemented by fresh seafood choices, especially with fresh prawn and crab dishes.
Natal itself is generally used as a short stop on the way to exploring the stunning coastline of the north-east corner of Brazil, and with relatively short flight times due to its close proximity to Europe and North America, it makes a perfect beginning for escapes to the year-round Brazilian sun. Within 24 hours of leaving home to fly to Natal, you may already have spent your afternoon snorkelling on the tropical reefs of Maracajau and Maxaranguape, sliding down the dunes of Genipabu, or swimming with dolphins in Pipa.
Suitable Destination For: Those who seek sun, sea, sand and a little adventure... or a lot.
Best Time to Visit: Natal is hot and dry at most times of the year, although April to June is the wet season. It is worth remembering that January and February plus July are the Brazilian holiday periods and likely to be busy.
Essential Sights & Activities: The dunes! To the north of the city are the dunes around Genipabu and Jacuma, with buggy rides, sand slides and camels. Maracajau and Maxaranguape are postcard-beautiful tropical reefs a little further north. The city itself has Praia da Ponta Negra with good restaurants at decent prices. Natal is also the best starting point for trips to Pipa in the south and all the way around the coast to Canoa Quebrada, Fortaleza and Jericoacoara heading north-west.