Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Northeast Brazil
Warm waves and slow tides make the star-shaped Frades Island (Ilha dos Frades) one of Salvador de Bahia’s most popular destinations. Enjoy beaches that boast white sand and turquoise water, or hike to remote waterfalls and hilltops that offer panoramic views of the bay.
Surrounded by pink sand dunes, sandstone cliffs, and a winding river, Canoa Quebrada is a laid-back beach town blessed with a stunning natural environment. While the town has grown with the times, it hasn’t lost that mystical feel that earned its reputation as a ‘hippie town’ in the 1970s.
Palm-fringed sand and surf-worthy waves await sunseekers at Futuro Beach (Praia do Futuro), one of Fortaleza’s most popular family beaches. Stretching 5 miles (8 kilometers) along Fortaleza’s east coast, Futuro Beach offers ideal conditions for swimming and surfing, and is lined with lively beach bars (barracas).
Within day-trip distance of Salvador, the silken sands and palm-lined shores of Praia do Forte are renowned for their biodiversity. Set around a high reef, the coast is dotted with tide pools and rocky coves—a natural haven for marine life, with calm, shallow waters perfect for families with young kids.
Salvador's Mercado Modelo is a lively place stocked full of arts, crafts and touristy trinkets.
Located across the street from the restored art deco elevador lacerda (elevator) in a replica of the city’s old customs house, the market is a fun way to spend an hour or two and maybe pick up a bit of tourist tack for the folks back home.
Take a deep breath as you enter to prepare for the onslaught of vendors that’ll attempt to coax you towards their stall. It’s all pretty light-hearted so with a smile and a bit of friendly bartering, you’ll enjoy your visit here.
Fortaleza is blessed with many spectacular beaches and Cumbuco Beach is no exception. Just 45 minutes drive from the city and attached to a small fishing village, the beach is distinguished by its rolling white sand dunes and empty stretches of sand lined with coconut trees.
Cumbuco Beach is a popular spot for kite surfing, sand boarding and buggy tours - the latter involving a hair-raising ride over the bumps and inclines that will leave you giddy and white-knuckled and most likely eager for more!
There are more sedate activities available including horse riding and boat rides, although the most popular activity is of course soaking up the sun on the beach.
The beach fills up with locals on weekends but there is little to do in the Cumbuco at night – you’ll need to return to the city if you want to party.
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. Afternoon is a particularly popular time to visit, with the sunset being a highlight for many.
At the northern tip of Tinharé Island, idyllic Morro de São Paulo is reachable only by boat or plane. Flanked by sandy shores and coconut palms, the car-free island town is a thriving resort, with jungle hikes, festive nightlife, and some of Bahia’s most gorgeous beaches.
Fortaleza Beach Park is a hugely popular entertainment and leisure complex on the northeastern coast of Brazil. Every year, more than 700,000 people visit the tropical playground’s resort, hotels, restaurants, shops, sailing raft museum, water park—one of the largest in South America—and beach.
Morro Branco’s red colored cliffs are an easy day trip from Fortaleza. While looking strikingly red from a distance (particularly when contrasted with the surrounding white dunes), when explored up close, you can see that the sand cliffs have a number of pink, cream and beige colored hues that together form their distinctive overall color.
The area can be explored via a warren of tracks that flow, maze-like, between the cliffs. Local guides are on hand at the Morro Branco village, to steer you through and point out the most interesting sections. You can also arrange buggy rides along the beach here or walk to the lighthouse.
Morro Branco craftsmen fill small bottles with the sand of varying tones to create a quite unique souvenir. You can buy the colored sand bottles along the beach and in the village.
More Things to Do in Northeast Brazil
This incredible Salvador city highlight has been beautifully restored to its original art deco wonder and as a result, has become a destination for travelers to this Brazilian town. Lacerda Elevator (Elevador Lacerda) uses four distinct elevators to link Comercio with Cidade Alta. Visitors to this towering icon can travel 72 meters in under 30 seconds—a major improvement on the rope-and-pulley elevator first used by Jesuits on this same site back in the early 1600s.
Travelers love that Lacerda Elevator connects the low city to the high city and provides stunning picture-perfect views from its apex. Visitors can look out over the historical houses and old school churches that dot the landscape, as well as the arches of the Camara Municipal building—a 17th century structure that often plays host to local cultural events.
With its jumble of colonial buildings, cobblestone lanes, and pastel-painted façades, Pelourinho (aka Pelo) is Salvador da Bahia’s oldest and most colorful neighborhood. Despite a dark past—Pelourinho was the location of Brazil’s first slave market—the historic district is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and important cultural center.
Considered to be one of Brazil's ten most beautiful beaches, Pipa Beach (Praia da Pipa) is in fact not one beach, but four beaches, that between them stretch for over 10km (6.2mi).
Backed by coconut palm plantations, sand dunes, cliffs and Atlantic forest, the beaches are spectacular, while the warm waters of the surrounding ocean attract native turtles and dolphins.
Pipa first became popular with surfers in the 80s and its fame spread, causing the little beach town of the same name to grow accordingly. Pipa town is now the place to party and traditional Brazilian music (as well as non-traditional!) is a nightly feature here. The town is also good for shopping.
Pipa is surrounded by natural beauty and there are plenty of adventure activities available here to help you experience it first-hand.
Opened in 2013, this massive stadium, which seats some 55,000 sports fans, was built by German architects and played host to World Cup excitement in 2014. Teams from Spain, Nigeria, Switzerland and the Netherlands have all graced the green of this iconic field. And in 2016, Fonte Nova Stadium again posed as a global soccer stage during the Summer Olympics.
Travelers agree that the impressive sports structure is worth checking out. A positive police presence has increased security, making it relatively safe and easy to move around the sports Mecca. While there are few places of interest beyond the gates of Fonte Nova, guided tours—which include a behind-the-scenes look at the locker rooms and playing field where some of the world’s top soccer players have already stepped foot—make it worth a visit for soccer fans and sports fanatics alike.
Natal is known for its spectacular beaches and Barra do Canhaú is no exception. Its clear waters and white sands are backed by palm trees and mangroves, as saltwater meets freshwater at the mouth of the Curimatau River. Canhaú, the small fishing village near the beach of the same name, has retained many of its original charms.
This tropical island, which once played host to the Sul America Tennis Open, is home to some 40 kilometers of white sandy beaches, thick green forests and stunning ocean views. Travelers used to the typical Caribbean beach scene will find that Itaparica Island (Ilha de Itaparica) offers a more rural escape, where tiny villages, scenic waterfronts and old school churches take the place of colorful beach umbrellas, pushy vendors and tourist-filled stretches of sand.
The tropical town of Mar Grande is home to bustling markets, shopping and plenty of restaurants—though visitors agree the food on Itaparica is not much to write home about. Those looking for a more traditional island getaway should head to the north coast, where the beaches are scenic and the ocean views are beautiful.
If the string of shallow coral reefs that grace Natal’s gorgeous, sandy coastline could be called a necklace, then Maracajaú Reef (Parrachos de Maracajaú) is its biggest, most beautiful jewel.
Known as Parrachos de Maracajaú, (coral reef of Maracajaú) 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.
This tropical paradise ranks high among the most popular destinations in and around Salvador. Located in the traditional fishing village of Jandaira, the sandy shores of this rural spot became famous after a Brazilian soap-opera was filmed here. Today, travelers flock to Mangue Seco, where fewer than 300 residents have been known to warmly welcome visitors from across the globe. Pristine beaches, rolling sand dunes and an off-the-beaten-path vibe make this a perfect stop for visitors to the state of Bahia. The boat trip from the mainland offers picturesque views and travelers are greeted by towering coconut trees that line stretches of untouched beach. While a trip to Mangue Seco will definitely lighten tourists’ pocketbooks, visitors agree that it’s one of the best places in Brazil to experience unspoiled tropical wonder.
With waterslides, jungle ziplines, and palm-fringed swimming pools, the Arraial d'Ajuda Eco Park is one of Brazil’s most popular water parks. Just moments from Bahia’s white-sand beaches, the adventure park has both water and land activities suitable for the whole family.
When the Portuguese Navy captain Theodozio Rodrigues de Faria and his crew survived a brutal storm at sea, the international explorer vowed to honor the saint who saved his life once he arrived on the shores of his destination. Today, the gilded halls of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim Church (Igreja de Nosso Senhor do Bonfim), home to a replica image of an original Portuguese statue of Christ, still stand as homage to one captain’s survival.
Travelers venture to the top of Sacred Knoll in search of similar modern miracles, making it a point of pilgrimage for visitors from across the globe. Services at Nosso Senhor do Bonfim blend old world Catholic traditions with the worshiping practices of West African slaves, making for a memorable and uniquely Brazilian Sunday morning.
This large sand dune located in the center of the city of Natal has become the main symbol of the city and the state of Rio Grande do Norte. Pictures of Morro do Careca grace the front of most all Natal postcards.
Covered in part by lush green vegetation, it rises 120 meters from the ground below at the southern end of Ponta Negra beach—one of Natal’s most popular. Its combination of rich Atlantic forest and smooth sand surface gives it its name, due to a visual likeness to a bald head. Once a popular recreation spot for skibunda (sand boarding,) it is now prohibited to climb the hill for the natural preservation of the forest and for erosion prevention. Colorful Brazilian fishing boats called jangadas dot the coastline beneath it. Morro de Careca remains a iconic place for beach-goers and photos.
South of the city, Ponta Negra Beach (Praia de 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.
Travelers who approach the relatively plain exterior of São Francisco Church and Convent (Igreja e Convento de São Francisco) will be amazed by the ornate artwork, fine details and gilded ceilings upon entering this iconic colonial monument. Built in the early 1700s, the church took decades to complete. Its unique interior includes three aisles, rather than the more typical two, as well as some of the most impressive pillars, vaults and golden woodwork in the country. The classic Baroque style of São Francisco Church and Convent showcases one of the most spectacular examples of religious architecture and artwork, making it a destination for traveler seeking to experience the history, beauty and artistry of another era.
Built in the late 1500s, Forte de Monte Serrat was once known as Castelo de Sao Felipe and today still serves as one of the most iconic military structures in all of Brazil. Its traditional architecture, inspired by Italian traditions, originally housed three working cannons, and later was renovated to contain nine more. During times of war, soldiers were able to protect the whole of Port Salvador from Monte Serrat’s circular interior, although in the mid-1600s, Brazilian military was unable to hold off Dutch forces and ultimately had to surrender the fort.
Travelers in search of history will find the halls of whitewashed Monte Serrat steeped in military tradition. And those less interested in the nation’s past will still enjoy the picturesque views and incredible sunsets found atop this iconic fort.
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