Things to Do in Natal
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dunas Park or Parque das Dunas is the second largest urban park in all of Brazil, offering a retreat into nature from the hustle and bustle of city life for both locals and visitors. Its scenic mixture of lush rainforest and tall, golden sand dunes creates a unique landscape to experience. It’s a chance to see some of the region’s natural environment.
Walking and aerobic exercise are popular activities in the park, and a stroll along one of the many trails allows for sighting of the area’s trees and plant life. There are over fifty types of native trees alone, many of which are located in the popular Bosque Valentine. Guided tours are given daily to help visitors spot the different native plant species. The entrance to the park through the Bosque dos Namorados has information about activities and orientation for the area, along with various recreational facilities.
More Things to Do in Natal
Natal is known for its spectacular beaches and Barra do Cunhau is no exception. Its clear blue ocean and white sands are backed by palm trees and mangroves - as saltwater meets freshwater at the mouth of the Curimatau River.
Cunhau, the small fishing village of the same name, has retained many of its original charms despite having switched from more traditional fishing to harvesting the abundant shrimp population in the surrounding waters.
Barra do Cunhau beach has perfect conditions for surfing and kite surfing but is still popular with swimmers – particularly where the reefs form natural pools between the mouths of the Catú and Curimatau rivers.
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