The Beginning of the Northeast – Fortaleza and Natal
February 10, 2017
We heard so many great things about Brazil’s Northeastern region that we just had to go! We booked a flight for $170 Australian dollars from Rio to Fortaleza. The flight was about three hours and saved us about 50hours on a bus. Busing is usually the cheaper option in Brazil but in this case the price was very similar and a flight saved us a lot of time (and sore backs and necks.)
Although we heard great things about the Northeast, we also heard bad things too. It is much poorer than anywhere we had been yet which can lead to crime. In addition, a big headline in the news lately has been the large gang violence in prisons in the Northeast. I did some research about Fortaleza before we arrived and apparently there are many parts of the city that are absolutely unsafe for us “Gringos” and even the tourist area is common for petty crimes such as robberies. I was a bit nervous and unsure of what to expect from the city.
Our flight arrived in the middle of the night and we had to get a taxi (no Uber’s were available) to our hostel. On the drive I saw streets very worn down, shacks for houses, tons of prostitutes in their underwear, and garbage everywhere lining the streets. To say the least, I was even more nervous about what we had gotten ourselves into.
After exploring the touristy street called Avenida Beira Mar the following day our opinions were changed. Sure, the majority of Fortaleza may not be beautiful or safe for a couple of gringos, but the one area of street lining the beach was very nice. We never brought our valuables with us so I don’t have any pictures, but there were many restaurants and bars and street food available for kilometres along the beach.
Although nobody spoke English we managed to find a nice restaurant that sold cheap beers (R$4 or like $1.75 for 600ml and they serve them so nice and cold!) It was interesting just sitting there watching all the hustle and bustle of the beach and restaurant. Dozens of vendors scurry around from table to table trying to sell all sorts of things, and it isn’t annoying such as vendors in some other countries that don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, all you say is “no obrigrada” (no thank you) and they continue on.
From Fortaleza we caught a bus for R$80 to Natal. The journey is about 8 or 9 hours. Unfortunately the bus station in Natal in about 20km from the tourist area and our hostel. Natal is quite a dangerous city at the moment due to current gang violence in the prisons causing riots. Besides that, there are many people living in extreme poverty right in the city. The area of Natal that tourists stay in is called Ponta Negra.
We caught an uber to our hostel – Republika hostel. It is the most reasonably priced in the area and has good facilities and a central location. The staff are quite helpful as well.
The first day in Natal we ventured out with an English guy, a Brazilian, and an Italian from our hostel to take a bus a few kilometres south to the world’s largest cashew tree. We tried cashew juice, cashew cachaca (alcohol similar to vodka but made from sugar cane), and many different coated cashews. It was a good day excursion, and it was very handy to have someone who spoke Portuguese with us.
The following day we went on a sand dune buggy tour. This is a very popular thing to do in Natal and for good reason, it was so much fun! The tour takes you to various sand dunes North of Natal as well as beaches and freshwater pools that are created from rainwater in the dunes.
There are many different companies and drivers in Natal but we went with a very professional company called Net Buggy Turismo. Our driver was named Pedro and he spoke great English and explained fun facts for us the entire way. The buggy was in perfect condition and although Pedro made the ride crazy (as we requested) we felt totally safe. Thanks Net Buggy Turismo for the best day we have had in Brazil yet!
The ride is full of adrenaline! The drivers go very fast and sometimes you feel like the buggy is going to flip or you will fall out – but it never happens. It’s better than any rollercoaster for sure! Besides that craziness, you get some beautiful views of some beaches and golden sand dunes. The driver also stops at sand slides, zip lines, sand boarding, cocktail stands, and a restaurant. It makes for a fun filled day! You absolutely cannot come to Northeast of Brazil and miss this.
Our final day in Natal we ventured into the actual city to check out a piece of history, the fort (Fortaleza da Nossa Senhora de Assuncao in Portuguese). It was interesting to see a building from the 1600’s but the views from the fort was what was the best! We could see beaches, the city, and even a guy riding a miniature pony up and down the beach. We walked to the main city beach after to enjoy some lunch and watch the locals on the beach. This area was definitely your poorer and would be very dangerous at night, but in a group during the day it was fine. We even found coconuts for R$1 which is less than 50 cents Australian!
Overall our time in Natal was great! It was a beautiful city was several things to do and see. I easily could’ve spent another two or three days there just relaxing on the beach drinking coconuts and caprinhas – but all good things must come to an end and we were off to an neighbouring town called Pipa next.