Before colonial settlers began clearing the land to plant feijão and manioc, the southern coast of Rio Grande do Norte was covered with native Atlantic forest. Although only small patches have survived, a considerable swath has been preserved in the Santuário Ecológico de Pipa (tel. 84/3211-6070, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, R$5), 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) north of town between Praia do Curral and Praia do Madeiro (in fact you can access the park from the Madeiro beach). Although maps are available at the entrance, the easy hiking trails that lead through the forest are very well marked.
Buggy and Jeep Trips
Buggy excursions are a big deal in Praia da Pipa. However, unlike the beaches north of Natal where you actually careen around in sand dunes, Pipa’s lack of dunes mean that buggies zoom along flat beaches, up and down hills, and over rivers.
The most adventurous jaunt is a full-day outing (R$270 for four people) that goes south to the primitive Praia do Sagi, on the frontier of Paraíba, with stops at lagoons and beaches along the way. Half-day trips are also available to Sibaúma, Barra do Cunhaú, and Baía Formosa, 25 kilometers (16 miles) south. Insiders are already predicting that this stretch of gorgeous unspoiled beaches is going to be the next Pipa. For more information contact Pipatour (Av. Baía dos Golfinhos 673, Loja 2, tel. 84/3246-2234, http://pipatour.sites.uol.com.br).
A crowd pleaser for adrenaline junkies and adventure sports enthusiasts is the full-day Jeep adventure tour run by Pau de Arara (tel. 84/3246-2377, www.paudeararapipa.spaces.live.com). Pau de arara is a Portuguese expression that refers to the open flatbed trucks in which poor northeastern migrants fled the drought and poverty of the Sertão and traveled south to Rio and São Paulo in search of a better life.
With room for 13 eager adventure tourists, these modified Jeeps take you on a full-day adventure (R$85 pp) that includes stops for swimming in the natural pools of Praia de Sibaúma, sailing and kayaking at Barra do Cunháu, sandboard and esquibunda (“bum skiing”) fun in the dunes of Tibau do Sul, and a final rest stop at the nearby Lagoa de Guaraíras where you munch on crêpes and watch the sunset.
From Praia do Curral’s beach, you can often see dolphins. However, to see them at close range, take a 90-minute boat trip (R$25) into their midst where (after donning a life jacket) you can swim among them as they perform their marine acrobatics. Pipatour (see above) organizes several daily outings.
If you have a whole day to kill, ask to go out in Galego’s boat. Aside from being a sailor, Galego is a chef. After you mingle with the dolphins, he’ll take you to Tibau do Sul, where you can hang out around the Lagoa Guaraíras while he prepares a splendid seafood banquet that includes fresh oysters and grilled shrimp (the excursion, including lunch costs R$75.).
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition