Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Natal
Known for its shifting sands and freshwater lagoons, the beach village of Genipabu attracts travelers who come for adventure on the rolling dunes. 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.
Tranquil Jacumã Beach (Praia de Jacumã) is surrounded by reefs that break up incoming waves, creating a peaceful environment and a cove that is ideal for swimming. The white sand beach is lined with tall palm trees that provide shade.
Located in the small fishing village of Jacumã, it is a relatively secluded beach not inundated with tourists or beach-goers. Known for its calm waters, tropical scenery, and fresh seafood, Jacumã Beach is a refuge away from the winds and the crowds of other Brazilian beaches.
For those craving a bit more adventure than relaxation, the nearby Jacumã Lagoon is a popular stop on dune buggy tours. The lagoon is naturally formed from rainwater falling on the sand dunes. Both “aerobunda,” or zip lining across the dunes, over the water and finally into the lagoon, and “skibunda” or boarding down the sand dunes into the lagoon as well, are available here.
Ponta Negra, one of Natal’s most popular and accessible beaches, stretches for 1.8 miles (3 kilometers along the shore. The lively south end of the beach is lined with restaurants, bars, hotels, and pousadas, while the northern end features a pedestrian-only boardwalk and a few resorts, lending it a more low-key vibe.
Via Costeira, also known as Senador Dinarte Mariz Avenue, is a significant beachfront walkway and paved road that extends from Ponta Negra beach in Natal. It is one of the most important avenues in Natal, with two lanes in each direction and no traffic lights. It winds along the coastline and is popular with visitors for its views of the beaches.
At 12 kilometers long, it climbs through Natal’s coast up to Meio Beach. It is bordered on one side by a secluded beach full of Natal hotels, and on the other by the Dunes Park natural protected area. It connects all of the local urban beaches of Natal with the city center, with Redinha Beach connected via the Newton Navarro Bridge. The sidewalk of the road is great for walking and biking, with access to different beaches throughout the route.
Pipa Beach (Praia da Pipa is not one single beach, but four, collectively stretching for more than 6 miles (10 kilometers. Backed by coconut palm plantations, sand dunes, cliffs, and Atlantic forest, these stretches of sand are considered some of the most spectacular in Brazil. The warm waters are home to dolphins and sea turtles.
If the string of shallow coral reefs that grace Natal’s sandy coastline could be called a necklace, then Maracajaú Reef is its biggest, most beautiful jewel. This reef formation full of coral, iridescent fish, and other marine life covers over 3.5 acres (1.4 hectares and is about 4 miles (7 kilometers offshore from Maracajaú Beach.
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.
The star-shaped Fort of the Magi 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. The location was ideal for defending against European and African advances.
At first glance, it seems as if you’re looking at an intricate forest— but this massive network of branches is actually just one cashew tree whose circumference measures 500 yards, producing over 60,000 nuts per year. It holds the Guinness Book of World Records spot for the biggest cashew tree in the world.
Covering an area of nearly 8,000 square meters and roughly the size of 70 normal-sized cashew trees, it can be difficult to distinguish between the original tree trunk and the rest of the tree. The massive branches extend sideways and eventually also take root and continue to grow across the land around it. Though its exact origins are unknown, it is believed to have grown due to a genetic abnormality and is over 1,000 years old. If accompanied by a tour guide, visitors are allowed to pick cashews right from the tree. There is also a large observation deck 10 meters high that allows for a panoramic view of the tree.
This large pool of fresh water grants a place to rest and refresh from the sun, wind, sand and adventure of the Natal beaches. Though nearly five meters deep at its center, it is shallow around the edges, making it a popular place with all types of swimmers. Its stunningly clear waters make this a scenic place to kayak, paddle board, and fish.
Surrounded by the towering sand dunes of the area, it is accessible only by a small trail or on a dune buggy over the sands. Once you arrive, there are several areas to relax, including restaurants and bars serving local dishes and fresh seafood. If adventure is more your style, the local aerobunda (zip lining over the dunes with a dip in the lagoon) or skibunda (sliding down the sand on a wooden board) are both a few of the activities available that will get your heart pumping. Snorkeling among the lagoon’s small fish is another option.
More Things to Do in Natal
Of Brazil’s many beaches, Cacimbinhas (Praia da Cacimbinhas) is known both for being a quieter beach — accessed only by walking down a long staircase — and for its wind sports. It’s a popular place for both kitesurfing and paragliding. The beach is framed by tall cliffs, which overlook the sprawling shoreline, turquoise waters, and reddish sand dunes below.
At almost 5 kilometers long, there are also expansive views of the coast between Tibau do Sul and Pipa. Walking down to the beach area grants visitors a more private, secluded Brazilian beach experience. Dolphins can be spotted in the waters off the coast. Others explore the Atlantic forest or the red sand dunes from which the beach gets its name.
With a lack of crowds, the remote beach is a favorite for those seeking calm. Surfing and swimming are other popular activities, depending on conditions.
The Natal Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana de Natal) was recently restored and is decidedly modern, making for an interesting stop in the city and an architectural landmark worth seeing. Its jagged shape and use of stained glass and light are departures from traditional cathedral design. Three interlocking crosses stand at the front entrance.
It is dedicated to the Lady of Presentation, the patron saint for which the city of Natal gets its name. Natal translates to Christmas in Portuguese and the city is was founded on Christmas Day in 1599, so there is a statue of the Virgin Mary in the cathedral designating this fact. The cathedral was famously visited by Pope John Paul II, and the site's small chapel has several beautiful paintings to see. Mass takes place daily, and a small basement shop sells souvenirs.
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 long, white sand beach outside of Natal is divided into two parts by the Pirangi river, creating the areas Pirangi do Norte and Pirangi do Su. Its calm, turquoise waters make it popular for swimming and water sports like surfing and diving, so competitions often take place on the beach.
There are also clear natural pools located 500 meters from the coast. Boat trips to the swimming pools, as well as coral reefs and other beaches, run frequently, and it's best to visit the swimming pools at low tide. There is a long boardwalk that makes it fun and easy to explore the shoreline, while a side trip to the massive Pirangi Cashew Tree — the largest of its kind in the world — is a main draw to this area, so don’t miss it!
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.
Baia Formosa translates to “beautiful bay,” a fitting name for this scenic city in eastern Rio Grande do Norte, bordering the nearby state of Paraíba. It is a well-known South American surfing spot with areas for both beginning and advanced surfers.
The central fishing village of Baia Formosa is home to many scenic beaches and lush landscapes, with green, preserved Atlantic forests and mangroves and a nearby lake known as “Coca Cola lake” for its dark reddish color. There are no paved roads outside of the main one that leads into town, and with numerous colorful fishing boats dotting the turquoise bay, the village maintains its quaint feel and charm. Some of the area’s smaller beaches are accessible only by dune buggy.
Popular with swimmers, the “Lagoa da Coca Cola” water is rich in iron and iodine and is believed to have curative properties. There are also three rivers that run alongside the bay, including the Guaju River where sea cows can be spotted.