As a Brazilian national, I often will happily share here my travel experiences and knowledge of my own country. So I decided to begin with one of my favorite cities in Brazil and capital of the State I was born: Natal, known as the “city of the sun”.
Natal is the capital of the State Rio Grande do Norte, and its name means “Christmas”. Yes, from “Merry Christmas”. Why? Because it was founded on December 25, 1599 by the Dutch. Again yes, the Dutch also made part of Brazil’s colonization. Interesting, I know. Sometimes I even forget this part of the History, which can easily explain why there is such a mix of culture in my country, influenced by the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and French colonizers.
You probably never heard of Natal before, I don’t blame you. Most of the people who think about traveling to Brazil only consider Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo or maybe Salvador. Brazil is a huge country, the 5th largest in the World, so you can have an idea of how many amazing places you can find there.
Natal is located on the North East coast of Brazil, which means it is surrounded by amazing beaches. The city combines relaxation and at the same time, offers everything you need – from Shopping Malls to amazing restaurants – for your vacation.
I have been visiting Natal since I was a child, so I have already my favorite places and to do’s in the city. Here are my favorites:
Forte dos Reis Magos – The Three Wise Men’s Fortress
Founded even before Natal itself, the Fortress carries this name because it was founded on January 6, 1598, the day of the Three Wise Men. Today it is the oldest and most important historic monument of the city, it was a military construction, which later was taken by the Dutch.
This is the most beautiful place I find in Natal, it is basically on the sea and you can access it by a little path, kind of a long but beautiful walk that goes all the way into the sea. When the water is high, the Fortress looks like a little island.
At the Fortress you will learn a bit of Natal’s History and make wonderful pictures of the newly built Newton Navarro’s Bridge.
Newton Navarro’s Bridge
The 1,8km long bridge and 55m high became one of the most famous postal cards of the city. It was founded in 2007 and designed by the Italian engineer Mario de Miranda, connecting the south to the north side of the city, above river Potengi. The name was chosen to honor a famous local artist.
Ponta Negra Beach
It is the most famous beach of the city, where you can sit and drink coconut water and admire the Morro do Careca, a famous large dune and postal card of the city. Is also where you will find great restaurants to eat amazing local food and contemplate the view.
Not so far from the city, you will find this amazing beach surrounded by refreshing lagoons and by dunes where you can even ride a camel! It is probably the most famous and traditional beaches to be visited while you are in Natal.
The largest cashew tree in the world
Planted approximately in 1888, the tree has been growing more and more ever since. Today it corresponds to 70 normal sizes cashew trees and in 1994 it entered the Guinness Book of Records as the largest cashew tree in the world. It is a preserved area, which you can enter and walk among its bushes. To get there you will need a car or a bus offered by tourist companies.
Barreira do Inferno – Hell’s Barrier
I have never entered this place, but also thought it to be interesting, for not being a common place to be seen in Brazil. It is a rocket launch base of the Brazilian Space Agency. It was founded in 1965 and it is still used nowadays. The protected beach in this area is an important place for turtle’s reproduction, taken care by the famous Brazilian Tamar Project. If you are curious to learn more about this place, visits should be booked in advance, and you can stop there on your way to the largest cashew tree in the world.
One of the amazing beaches located around Natal and my favorite one. At least last time I went there is wasn’t packed with tourists; it was actually kind of paradisiac. It is famous for its dunes, where you can take a ride on a Buggy and go for an adventure. It was previously used for filming, used as a simulated desert.
The first time I went to this beach it was basically deserted, almost no one was there and you could find only a few guest hotels. However, in the past few years it became really popular and you can expect to find it packed during holidays throughout the year. The most amazing thing about this place is that you can see the dolphins swimming around.
The most beautiful beach close to Natal. Take a day tour to this place and you will fall in love with it, where you can go snorkeling and even diving. Some tourist agencies offer daily tours, but if you would like to spend more time in this little paradise, you can book a hotel and stay a little longer to relax.
Natal is one of my favorite cities to go out and eat, you can’t go wrong in any restaurant you go; the food is always amazing. But, after years every time I visit the city, these are my mandatory stops for delicious food:
Camarões: my favorite restaurant in Brazil. It is impossible to visit Natal and not go there for an amazing shrimp dish.
Mangai: the best one for traditional regional food.
Abade: fancy and with the best bread I ever had.
Tábua de Carne: great for traditional food.
As I have family living in Natal, I never stay in hotels when I go. However, I can tell you the two best areas you can stay while visiting the city:
Via Costeira – where the best hotels of the city are located, right in front of the sea.
Ponta Negra – there you will find inexpensive hotel options and at the same time with a great view of the sea.
Transportation: I would mostly take a taxi or rent a car. Taking the bus in Natal is not so unsafe as in most of Brazilian big cities, but if you take it just watch out your stuff.
The airport is close to the city, but the best way to get from there to the center is by car, so take a taxi.
The best place to go shopping is at the Midway Mall. There you will find stores for mostly anything you need, restaurants, cinema, pharmacy, and much more.
An Extra Something:
Have you ever been to a traditional Brazilian Beauty Saloon? When in Natal, book an appointment at La Vie, they will pick you up at your hotel for a beauty day, which you can get your nails and hair done, a facial, massage and much more. Get a little surprise if you mention you read about them on Packing my Suitcase.