The coastline south of Natal  is a seductive mixture of dunes and lagoons, coconut groves and dramatic red cliffs. Limpid ocean pools are protected by coral reefs. Aside from snorkeling, you can indulge in some dolphin watching. The relative remoteness of many of the beaches has kept most from becoming overly developed.
Although a few can be reached by buses leaving from the local rodoviária, others require a car, or hopping a ride in a van, buggy, or Jeep. Most bugueiros and travel agents in Natal offer half and full-day trips that go as far as the legendary Praia do Pipa. Along the way, you’ll get a taste of numerous beaches such as Cotovelo, Pirangi, Búzios, Tabatinga, and Tibau do Sul.
Separated by the Rio Pirangi, the twin beaches of Pirangi do Norte and Pirangi do Sul are only 10 kilometers (6 miles) south of Ponta Negra along the RN-063 (Rota de Sol). The calm waters are ideal for swimming and windsurfing, and its palm-fringed white sands are dotted with friendly little barracas as well as beach homes belonging to wealthy Natalenses. Boats can take you to the reefs 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) offshore where you will encounter excellent snorkeling.
Pirangi do Norte has achieved Guinness Book of World Record fame for sheltering the world’s most immense cashew tree (Av. Deputado Márcio Marinhos, tel. 84/3238-2684, 7:30 a.m.–5:30 daily, R$2).
Nearby, Inhepoan (Rua do Cajueiro 100, tel. 84/3238-2958, 7 a.m.–6 p.m. daily) is an atelier where you can pick up locally made handicrafts along with a bottle of cashew licor, a heady local delicacy made from the tree’s fruit.
Búzios is another favorite getaway of upscale Natalenses. The northern stretch of the beach has limpid waters while the southern end’s wild waves lure surfers. Búzios segues into Barra de Tabatinga, another lovely beach framed by rugged reddish cliffs. From the summit’s Mirante dos Golfinhos, you’re treated to a spectacular view of the coastline, and of the dolphins that appear during low tide (usually between 1–3 p.m.).
Since this period coincides with lunchtime, take advantage of the scattered bars and restaurants that offer fish and seafood dishes along with glorious views. From Natal , buses with a final destination of Tabatinga travel to both of these beaches.
To get to Tibau do Sul is somewhat trickier. You’ll need to take a buggy, Jeep, or boat along the coast or, if you’re driving from Natal , take the BR-101 and then the RN-003 from Goianinhas. It’s only 6 kilometers (3.5 miles) north of Praia da Pipa  (and easily reached by van), but most travelers bypass its series of small, empty, cliff-protected beaches en route to its more famous neighbor to the south.
However Tibau do Sul’s beaches are strikingly unique. Their natural beauty is enhanced by the proximity of the Lagoa Guaraira, a freshwater lagoon ideal for swimming, boating, or kayaking as well as watching a picture-perfect sunset.
Should you want to stay awhile, the Rio Mar Pousada (Av. Gauraíras 56, tel. 84/3246-4103, R$150–200 d) offers a half dozen spacious and quite appealing chalets with living rooms and verandas featuring splendid views of the Lagoa and its surrounding lushness. The attractive grounds include a pool and lots of greenery.
Even if you don’t stay overnight, you can easily spend a whole day pampering yourself at Ponta do Pirambu (Rua Sem Pescoço 252, Praia de Ponta do Pirambu, tel. 84/3246-4333, www.pontadopirambu.com.br , 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily), a fantastic leisure complex set amidst an idyllic patch of nature. An ingenious complex made of palm fronds and recycled wood shelters a massage and therapy center, a lounge full of hammocks, and a gourmet restaurant. Wooden walkways lead to a swimming pool.
If you’re feeling a little too lazy to walk to the beach, you can always take the bamboo panoramic elevator. Entrance to the complex (including a drink) is R$40 (children under 7 are free). Tibau do Sul is easily accessed by buggy or boat from neighboring Pipa.