Definitely Rio de Janeiro, maybe São Paulo and Florianopolis. If you come to Brazil chances are those are the cities you’ll visit first. But how about after that? Besides Amazon jungle tours or a visit to Iguazu falls, it’s not obvious where to go if you want to dig deeper into Brazil. So what I ended up doing was starting all the way up north in Fortaleza and in a month’s time worked my way down to Rio (traveling around 1,700 miles by bus).
Here’s where I went…
A large, plain city with several decent beaches to choose from. If you’re on a budget then head to the sketchy Praia de Iracema beach, which has rooms starting at 55 R$ (divide numbers in Brazilian reals by the exchange rate, which as of this writing is around 1.72). Get off on Avenida Beira Mar facing the beach and bargain with the over dozen hotels clustered nearby. If you have more money to spend then head to upmarket Praia do Futuro a couple miles away.
The great thing about Fortaleza is that the nightlife is easy to find. Simply go to Dragão do Mar, an area of bars, nightclubs, and restaurants within walking distance of Iracema. From Thursday through Sunday you’ll find something happening. Nearby Dragão do Mar is Mucuripe (Rua Travessa Maranguape, 108), a megaclub that has three different dance floors, including one that played decent house and American hip-hop when I went. The cover is 30 R$ and the girls have attitude, but it’s not bad for a visit.
Speaking of the girls, I’ve never seen so many husky women as I have in Fortaleza. It’s as if they’re all spawn of football players, which is interesting because the men appeared normal. While the women tend to be overweight with hammy arms, it’s their wide build which was most disturbing. This was the first city I visited after Rio, so the downgrade in attractiveness was shocking and took a bit away from the Brazilian woman mystique.
Cleaner and smaller than Fortaleza, Natal has earned its spot in guidebooks as a city with tours around neighboring sand dunes and pretty beaches. The most common tour is the six-hour day trip up north to Genipabu Beach (60 R$). I hear trips to southern beaches are also nice but beware that all these excursions are extremely touristy, and if you can find an agency that rents buggies and has a decent map you may want to consider doing it yourself.
Praia Ponta Negra is the quaint tourist beach with clothing shops, modern restaurants, and a nightlife center. I stayed in Pousada Recanto das Flores for 50 R$ a night, a clean option located only one block away from the beach. I didn’t get to experience the nightlife but it’s around Rua Bezzera in Alto de Ponta Negra. The girls were cuter than in Fortaleza.
Praia de Pipa:
Further south you have Pipa, a beach village with laid-back hippie vibes. There are several nice beaches within walking distance of the center including Praia Madeiro, which is good for surfing (lessons and board rentals on the beach). On the main drag check out the restaurant with the big “Açai” sign for great sandwiches and… açai.
For nightlife there is usually something going on around Oz Music Bar starting late on Wednesday night, but on Thursday nights more people head to the beachfront in front of the reggae club. A block down from Oz (to the right towards the beach), there is a club with a hidden entrance that usually fills up on weekends. If you want to get laid here your best bet is to hit on the traveling gringas. They’ll be obvious to spot and you can open them with something like, “I have a feeling you speak English.”
The Brazilian girls that live in Pipa tend to be of the tattooed and dredlocked variety, but since this is a tourist destination you’ll get lot of well-maintained rich girls from cities nearby, though they’re usually traveling with family or significant others.
I stayed in the modern Pousada Rivas for 50 R$ a night. It came with a ceiling fan but if you pay a bit more you can get air conditioning. It was the best Pousada I’ve stayed at, with a nice pool, friendly family vibe, and a huge breakfast buffet that came with a great selection of juices, fruits, breads, cakes, meats, cheeses, and other goodies. I think the buffet is worth a stay here alone.
I greatly enjoyed my time in Pipa and definitely recommend a visit. It’s safe, offers good value, and is a refreshing break from the bigger cities.
Besides being known as one of the most dangerous cities in Brazil (and for that matter the Americas), it also has the most dangerous beach. Environmental damage over the past two decades has destroyed food and breeding grounds for bull sharks, and they’ve responded by coming closer to shore and attacking humans. The local government has pretty much given up on the problem and is trying to turn the state from a beach spot into a “cultural” destination. The only culture I saw in upmarket Boa Viagem was dozens of streetwalkers, especially on the weekend, though people tell me I should have gone to colonial Olinda where most dirty backpackers stay.
Your nightlife options are the expensive asshole clubs scattered around Boa Viagem like U.K., Audrey, and Nox, or the commoner clubs in old town like Downtown and Burburinho where the quality is poor. All leave much to be desired.
If you visit Recife, and I recommend against it, stay in Piratas Da Praia for a budget option (35 R$/night) or Bamboo, a comfortable hotel for old gringo guys (75 R$/night). The latter allows you to bring guests back at no extra charge, but beware of the bar—all the girls that hang out there are professionals.
What an overrated piece of shit city. It’s literally one big favela that is not worth more than two hours of your time. Leave your bags at the bus station, visit the historic center, and then get the hell out of town to a place that’s not so dirty or dangerous. Or just watch the movie Cidade Baixa.
It’s the only city in Brazil where I didn’t feel safe walking around during the day. To give you an idea of how bad it is, at the hostel the clerk gave me a map and marked half of it as areas that I shouldn’t go to, leaving just a few square blocks that I could explore without surely getting robbed. If you insist on staying here for more than a minute, lodge in Barra instead.
I can’t wait to meet hippie gringos who tell me with a smug look on their face that they’re going to Salvador to experience “a more authentic Carnival.” I’ll respond by saying, “Let me guess, you’ve never actually been to Salvador.” You’ll like this city if you love to romanticize about poverty and note how starving little kids seem “so happy,” a month before you go back to your first-world lifestyle. Asshole.
A rustic city seven hours south of Salvador by bus, Ilhéus is often used by travelers as a waypoint to the beaches of Itacaré 90 minutes away, but I was beached out by this point and just wanted to chop up my trip further South. Ilhéus does have a pleasant small-town feel and isn’t bad for a couple days (reminds me of Tena, Ecuador a bit), but it won’t offer you much in terms of beautiful women or sights. Ask for a seaside room at the Pousada Brisa do Mar (73 3231 2644 / Av 2 de Julho 136) for 50 R$ a night. It’s within walking distance of the center.
Other Northern cities I’d visit if I had time and will:
Jericoacoara: Only two hours away from Fortaleza by bus and 4-wheel Jeep, Jeriocoacoara has a beautiful beach located in a fishing village, with good conditions for wind sports and surfing. It rivals Pipa in terms of hippie vibe.
João Pessoa: Along with a decent beach, I’m told this city has pumping nightlife on the weekends.
Maceio: Another choice for visiting nice beaches (see a pattern yet?). Nearby Praia do Gunga is supposedly the most beautiful beach in Brazil.
Here are some related topics on the travel forum:
- How To Prepare For Brazil
- Carnival In Salvador
- Beach Game Strategy
- Florianopolis Tips
- São Paulo Tips
- Good Country For Girls And Lifestyle?
In conclusion, the north of Brazil has some nice beaches and decent value, but it’s rougher and doesn’t have Brazil’s most beautiful women. For that you have to start in Minas Gerais or Espirito Santo, the two states north of Rio, and work your way south (I’ll have more about my visit to Espirito Santo in the future). Unless you got money and time to blow and want to learn about Brazilian culture, I’d skip the north.
More Brazil Guides:
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