My Dune Buggy Adventure In Pipa, Brazil

Pipa is a resort beach town in between Natal and João Pessoa, up in the north of Brazil near it’s shark-infested most eastern point. I planned to stay for only two nights but got sucked in because of the nice beaches, laid-back nightlife, and relatively cheap accommodations.

Before Pipa I was in Natal, a generic but safe city built around huge sand dunes. There I paid $35 to take a tour of some northern beaches in a dune buggy along with two other Italian tourists. During the tour we stopped every 15 minutes at some tourist station (it’s a trap!) where we had the opportunity to overpay for food and souvenirs with dozens of other tourists, mostly Brazilians vacationing inside their country.

The most irritating stop was in the middle of an enormous dune that offered impressive views of sand and ocean. Even though it was an inhabitable piece of land, there were three guys waiting right there on top of the sand mountain. One was selling snacks and the other two were selling photo-ops with their exotic animals, a bright green iguana and some sort of marsupial from the Congo. Tourists from buggies already parked paid a buck or two to have the poor creatures placed on their necks while photos were taken, screeching at the animals’ movements on their bodies.

I had a feeling the dune buggy drivers were getting commissions for stopping at every single tourist trap. This was later confirmed at lunch time when we were taken to a restaurant in a ghost town and asked to pay $20 for an all-you-can-eat buffet without any other options nearby. Turns out the drivers eat for free if they bring tourists to the restaurant, an ingenious business ploy by the owner.

I was unsatisfied with the tour. The fun seemed to be driving the buggy instead of riding in the passenger seat, so a week later in Pipa I jumped at the chance to rent one. It was a bit expensive at $110 for the day, but for several days prior I ate cheese and bread sandwiches for dinner, drank cheap Skol beer instead of caipirinhas with Sagatiba, and sold my body on the street, all to cushion the blow to my budget.

The hog (click this photo and others for bigger size)

My biggest fear was getting lost. The map from the agency was like one you’d get when entering an amusement part—definitely not drawn to scale. But turns out I didn’t even need the map. In my buggy I followed the water and it took me down well-worn paths of buggies before me, alternating between sand, rock, and dirt. I was getting the hang of driving the beast and ready to tackle more challenging terrain to see what it was made of.


Buggy on a boat


Hippo lunch
Birds feasting on a dead hippo

I passed a kitesurfing area and flew down the beach going what I guess to be about 40 mph. There was not a soul around and I enjoyed the isolation from tourists, vendors, and crippled 10-year-olds begging me for money. But then the beach got narrower until finally I was wedged between rock and ocean with a shallow pool of water about eight inches high blocking my path. I had a feeling I could blow through it but high tide seemed to be rolling in and I didn’t want to take a chance.

I backtracked a couple miles and found what seemed to be an alternate sand road going up a steep hill. The sand was thick and unruly so I backed up a good ways to get a running start. I slammed on the gas and flew up the path for the first thirty or so yards, but the buggy abruptly came to a stop with the engine still screaming. I tried to reverse but it wouldn’t move. For five minutes I sat there going forward, backward, forward, backward, forward, backward. I stepped out of the buggy and noticed that I dug the rear tires a third way into the sand, with the muffler literally resting on top of it. I was hopelessly stuck, in the middle of nowhere.




  1. Jake DaSnake November 18, 2009 at 11:15 am

    What do you mean “sold my body on the street?”

  2. speakeasy November 18, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Awesome. Glad to see the travel stories coming back. There’s more to life than game.

  3. Carl Sagan November 18, 2009 at 12:16 pm


    liking the travel stories as well.

  4. College Game November 18, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    I am in Central America and I got tired of the crowded school busses that cart people between towns, or depending on meeting gringos to travel with, as I am rolling solo. So, I bought a motorcycle, and am cruising around Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras solo. Its a bit dangerous but fast, and as I now know, the best way to travel.

  5. bez November 18, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    So you’re in Dipa riding a Pune Fuggy and you get stuck going back and forth up the deep end? Sounds like the right kind of trouble to me!

    bez’s last blog post: The Well-Rounded Man.

  6. Charles November 18, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    haha great story, wish it wasn’t to be continued, but the way you’ve been posting latley i won’t have to wait long. Keep up the good work

  7. Il Capo November 19, 2009 at 12:26 am

    Reminds me of my motorcycle tour in West Africa. Only instead of being stuck in sand I punctured my rear-tire in the middle of nowhere. I learned two very important things from that event:

    a) Always bring a spare (duh).
    b) That you can actually ride a motorcycle with a flat tire as long as the flat is the rear. You can go at least 3 miles (didn’t need to go further) at low speeds before it fails.

  8. Roosh November 19, 2009 at 6:44 am

    1: Come on there’s only one way to sell one’s body

    8: I was referring to Recife, but looking on the map I think you’re right and Joao Pessoa is more eastern.

  9. Mrs. Chocolate November 19, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Natal is beautiful, but the nightlife compared to SP sucks! everything end up too early (around 4 am). The food was amazing and also the beaches.
    Don’t forget to visit Praia do Gostoso… is very nice.

  10. Paper Alpha November 19, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    What about kidney and bone marrow sales? There’s a thriving black market for these in many countries.

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  13. Marmot October 31, 2010 at 6:32 am

    I wonder how the dead hippo got there, considering that they’re river/lake animals. Maybe someone placed it there for tourist amusement? 😉