Beaches North of Natal
Heading north from Natal—by bus or buggy—the beaches get increasingly wild and the dunes more impressive. Half- and full-day buggy tours from Natal give you a “best of” the closest series of beaches stretching from Redinha, across the Rio Potangi, to Mariú, 50 kilometers (31 miles) north. Although some of the beaches are lined with summer houses, most are tranquil little fishing villages with a few basic barracas and restaurants serving fried fish and simple seafood dishes.
The most famous draws are Genipabu with its shifting dunes and dromedaries, and Pitangui and Jacumã, with their alluring freshwater lagoons. Praia de Maracajaú is renowned for the ideal snorkeling around its vast offshore reefs.
The first beach north of Natal, Redinha, is only a 10-minute ferry ride across the Rio Potengi. A small fishing village with reef-protected waters and pleasant barracas serving fried fish and icy beer, it also offers a great view of Natal and is a very easy day trip, although it can get crowded on weekends. The balsa (ferry) runs daily 6:10 a.m.–9:50 p.m. and costs R$1 for foot passengers and R$5 for cars. Alternatively, you can take a bus from the local rodoviária that crosses the newly completed Ponte Newton Navarro.
Another fishing village is Genipabu, 25 kilometers (16 miles) from Natal, whose fine sand dunes are even more spectacular. The quintessential postcard images of Natal’s dunes are usually taken here. Genipabu is the primary destination of Natal’s bugueiros since the constantly shifting dunes practically cry out to be buggied over (if you come here on your own, there are also many local bugueiros who can take you for a spin).
Equally fun is trying to run up and down the dunes, or traveling across them by mule or dromedary. Yes, dromedaries were long ago imported here from the Sahara and they hardly look out of place at all. Although you’re definitely paying for the gimmick, it’s hard to resist a ride even if costs R$40 for a half hour. Another very fun way to get sand up your nose is to indulge in esquibunda, in which you place your posterior on a wooden board and go tobogganing down the dunes.
You can also take advantage of the waters of the mesmerizingly blue Lagoa de Genipabu, a freshwater lagoon fringed by lush plants and cashew trees. For lunch amidst the dunes (getting there involves a 10-minute trek through the sand), head to Bar 21 (tel. 84/3224-2484, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Tues.–Sun.), for delicious fish and seafood. Should you be enticed to spend the night, the Pousada Soleil (Av. da Praia 91, tel. 84/3225-2064, www.pousadasoleil.com.br, R$90–180 d) is a simple little beachfront place with clean, basic rooms and a cheery atmosphere. Buses to Genipabu leave at 45-minute intervals from Natal’s rodoviária.
Pitangui, Jacumã, and Mariú
Located 45 kilometers (28 miles) north of Natal, Pitangui is a little fishing village with an enticing palm-fringed beach. Aside from swimming in the ocean you can also float, kayak, and pedal around the Lagoa Pitangui. Set amidst snow-white dunes, the lagoon is also a great place to try aerobunda—which involves attaching yourself to a cable and swinging (butt-first) across the sand and into the water. The same fun can be had at the adjacent beach of Jacumã. Each aerobunda descent costs R$5.
For snorkeling, Muriú, 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Natal, is a wonderful destination. From the beach, boats take you 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) offshore to reef-protected pools where you can get an eyeful of colorful fish. Since the region is known for its shrimp farms and lobster fishing, this is the place to stuff yourself on crustaceans.
Maracajaú, which lies 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Natal, offers some of the best snorkeling in Rio Grande do Norte. When the tide recedes, the extensive coral reefs located 6 kilometers (3.5 miles) offshore form vast natural pools known as parrachos, whose warm and particularly limpid waters (reached by boat) are transformed into fantastic open-air aquariums. Depending on the tides, depths range 2–6 meters (7–20 feet).
The shallower regions are equipped with floating bars. Maracajaú Diver (Praia da Maracajaú, tel. 84/3261-6200, www.maracajaudiver.com.br) offers two-hour snorkeling excursions out to the reefs for R$60, along with “baptismal” diving excursions for R$160. Check out the website for info about Maracajaú. Although there are no buses to Maracajaú, you can easily hire a taxi or buggy to bring you here from Natal.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition