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Cities of Brazil : Sao Paulo, Natal & Rio
Join us on an adventure to one of the best eco-tourism locations on the planet. Brazil offers a wide assortment of ocean and freshwater diving as well as wildlife and nature experiences.
The largest cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are filled with sights, friendly people and international cuisine adventures. The northeastern city of Natal has its own special character. (Click on the map to go directly to the story about an area, island or city)
This is the second in a series of three installments on Brazil. The first was published at the beginning of 2004 and included Wild & Wet Bonito, Adventures in Aquatic Ecotourism and The Natural Paradise of the Pantanal Marshlands.
The series has been sponsored by the Brazilian Office of Tourism and Varig Airline among others. For a complete listing of travel resources [Click Here].
Sao Paulo International City of Acclaim
Sao Paulo is the largest city in South America and the third largest city in the world with nearly ten million people. It is the commercial center of the country for business. More than sixty percent of all Brazilian companies have their headquarters in this thriving city. It is also the intellectual center having the country's top research centers and universities.
Below the hustle bustle of this metropolis is a city with bohemian charm and traditional beauty. The suburbs hold beautiful gardens, ethnic communities, specialized shopping areas and an incredible selection of International restaurants and night clubs.
Ambiental Tours picked us up at the International airport and gave us a two-hour tour of the city. While we waited to make a connection, we were treated to lunch by their resident chef at their downtown office. Ambiental had made all the arrangements for the Bonito and Pantanal segments of the trip. They have offices in all the important areas of ecotourism and English-speaking guides which is a real plus.
Sao Paulo is the port-of-call where all travelers must arrive and depart. There was enough time to see a few sights and have lunch. We intentionally scheduled an overnight on our return so we could enjoy this fantastic city.
Upon our return, Freeway Tours found us at the local airport and helped us settle into the Transamerica Flats Hotel. This hotel is centrally located for restaurants and shopping. As the night approached, the city took on a very different atmosphere. With only one night to sample the incredible selection of International cuisine, we easily had a wonderful evening in Sao Paulo.
Natal: Northeastern City by the Sea
The city of Natal protrudes into the Atlantic and is the eastern point on the South American continent. In fact, it is so close to Africa that the local authorities are constantly plagued by illegal immigrates.
There are very few English speaking people in Brazil especially outside the two major cities of Sao Paulo and Rio. A mix-up with tour operator was difficult to resolve as we spoke only a little Portuguese. Luckily, we found another tour operator with several English-speaking guides.
We had no idea where we were to stay in Natal but were rescued by Superturs who had an office in the airport. they helped us to organize the rest of our trip and were extremely helpful when it came to making those hard to understand arrangements.
We stayed at the Pyramide Hotel for the first two nights while we arranged the rest of our trip. We settled into a big room with an ocean view over the pool and went down to relax and have some lunch pool side. We were so tired from our non-stop adventure that we immediately fell asleep and did not awake until the waiter woke us for our food.After a walk on the windy beach and a swim in the pool we were ready to explore Natal. This resort town is lined with while sand beaches and sand dunes stretching down to the sea. It is a busy town with shopping malls, restaurants and large hotels.
Praia Shopping is the best shopping in the area and has several excellent restaurants nearby. I am sure you can guess what we had at Camaroes Restaurante. This very popular restaurant served several wonderful seafood dishes full of seafood and was very inexpensive.
We made final arrangements to return to Natal at the end of our northeastern trip. The timing was good to be able to experience Natal's special mardi gras.
Natal: Genipabu Beach
Our next stop was an area to the North, which is known for its wide expanse of sand dunes. About 45 minutes out of town, we arrived at the Genipabu Hotel, which sits on top of a hill with a commanding view, and the largest pool I had ever seen in a hotel. We settled into our room just in time to greet our tour guide who was ready to take us on a dune buggy trip.
The buggy driver buckled us into the open-air vehicle with very big tires. We were off, Lynn in the front, and me bouncing in the rear. We entered the dunes and the driver wasted no time showing us how he could surf down the massive dunes backwards! He announced to all in his broken-English, that he was a "professional" and I should not worry about tipping over. However, I was more concerned about giving my digital cameras a sand bath.
There is something to say about racing down the beach with the wave lapping at your tires. This beach stretched for a hundred miles and most can be traveled along the shore with the right vehicle, good tires and a low tide.
Genipabu Beach has an excellent restaurant at the water's edge. From there, we watched the sparkling Atlantic while we dined on six baby lobsters, a big salad, beer and chocolate all for only $18 US including tip. Bar 21 soon became another one of our favorite spots.
We returned to the Genipabu Hotel to swim in the enormous pool and watch a brilliant sunset. Natal and especially Genipabu to the north is well worth a couple days of exploring, fun and relaxation.
Pipa: Hippie Haven
Just 50 miles south of Natal is the sleepy village of Pipa. The village sits a top reddish cliffs and looks over some of the most beautiful northeastern coastline. The beach which is accessible during low tides is home for dolphins and turtles, both of which are protected.
We arrived at the Pousada Marajoara, a short walk into the village. The pousada has a nice swimming pool, a free-swinging hammock and a stairway that leads down the cliffs to the beach. This was a convenient and inexpensive place to stay.
In the morning, we shared the beach with a local walking his dog and the fisherman returning from their early trip. The surfers who come from around the world, enjoy the challenging waves at Praia do Amor. Along the white sandy beach in Praia da Pipa are restaurants with tables that move with the rising tides. This popular beach has gentler waves and is the favorite of the younger surfers.
After our morning walk and a breakfast on the beach, we climbed the road through the tiny port up to the center of the village. Fruit stands, restaurants and tourist shops line the streets. By night, Praia do Centro becomes a crowded scene, a bazaar mixture of street side cafes and street vendors, reminiscent of the 60s hippie scene in the U.S.
The day was filled with a combination of beach, water, cafes and shopping. We took one of the schooner tours to the Baia dos Golfinhos to see the dolphins. All along this coast is the breeding grounds for the spinner dolphins and the ?? turtles.
Our stay along this part of the Natal coast served as a welcomed resting spot after the excitement of our Fernando de Noronha diving adventure.
One Night in Rio
The cosmopolitan city of Rio is not to be missed if only for one night. With so little time to spend, we were happy that we selected Hotel Gloria close to the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. We arrived that this wonderful old hotel with large rooms, distinctly Brazilian archectiture and commanding views of the Atlantic.The Rio skyline is filled with more than towering hotels that line Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. The most predominate feature is Pao de Arucas, Sugarloaf. This sheer pincale rises 394 meters at the entrance to Guanabara Bay on the north side of Copacabana. A two-stage cable car takes you to this spectaluar vista with 360 degree views of the city from its top.
Towering above the city is Corcovado, the figure of christ with arms out stretched, is an icon known around the world. The best way to see and photograph this 32 meter high statue is from helicopter. You can also drive and walk to the observation deck just below the statue. From here there are impressive views of the city and the bays below.
Rio is filled with restaurants, night clubs and of course shopping. Many of the high rise hotels have excellent restruants on their top floors. Here above the beach, we dine on international specialties with spectular views. In the warm evening air, an after dinner stroll along the well-lite Ipanema beach, with crashing waves, was a special treat.
Before we left, there was enough time for shopping. Our tour guide told us about the semi-precious Brazilian gem stones. He knew where in Rio we could find the best of these brightly colored stones. With names such as Rubillita, Aquamarine, Turmalina, Citrino and Citrino Rio Grande, we were excited to view the selection. Hidden at the top of a shopping center, behind locked doors, is Ben & Bros. Joyers. These brilliant stones are hand-crafted into beautifully set jewelry. We choose as much as our budget could afford from a selection that overwhelmed and inticed. The beaches, the city vistas, the food, the shopping and Brailizan gems, what more could you ask for with only "one night in Rio."