The city of Natal is “painted” with the same organic colors proudly displayed on the Brazilian flag: blue skies, golden-yellow sand dunes and green palm trees. During the FIFA final draw, it was announced that the USA team would be playing against Ghana in the Arena das Dunas for their first game on June 16, 2014. Even though the USA is in Group G — which is considered one of the hardest group’s in the 2014 World Cup — fans really hit the jackpot with having Natal as the perfect host city to cheer on the US team.
Natal, the City of Sand Dunes
There is something so welcoming about Natal’s natural aesthetics that people are immediately drawn to surfing its blue ocean waves, riding buggies across sand dunes and absorbing sun rays on some of the most beautiful beaches. Natal is specifically known for its unique, steep sand dunes, which are fun attractions for visitors to explore during their stay.
A good place to start is Ponta Negra beach. Visit the 400-foot-tall Morro do Careca (which translates to “Bald Hill”). It’s the tallest sand dune in Natal. This sand dune is the infamous natural landmark printed on most postcards sent from Natal.
For thrill seekers, we suggest a buggy or a camelback ride over the sand dunes and around the lagoons of Genipabu beach and the Parque Turistico Ecologico. Looking for another place to explore the dunes with the family? Head to Parque das Dunas, which has playgrounds for children as well as a few hiking trails to enjoy with family and friends.
“Natal” Translates to Christmas
Full of beaches and sunny weather, it’s hard to believe that Natal — known for its beaches and sunny weather — means “Christmas” in Portuguese. But in reality, the name suits the city’s history. Portuguese explorers founded Natal on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 1597. On Jan. 6, 1598, the Catholic population celebrated the Day of Epiphany, and it was also the day the Portuguese built Fortaleza dos Reis Magos, which means “Fort of the Three Wise Men.” It was strategically built in the mouth of Rio Potengi to prevent pirates from invading the city and today, it has one of the most breathtaking views of Natal.
Natal’s Hot Beaches
Even though it is impossible to watch too much soccer in Brazil, those who need a break can play hooky at Natal’s picturesque beaches. Natal’s beaches stretch as far as 250 miles, with coral reefs, natural bodies of water and sand cliffs. Drive down Via Costeira, the large costal avenue, to view the different beaches before stopping to relax. Remember most of these beaches do require a small entrance fee. Go surfing, parasailing and snorkeling. And go dolphin watching if you make it down to Praia da Pipa.
Beach Areia Preta contains darker sand than most beaches, and provides more shade for beachgoers who need a retreat from the sun. Visit Redinha beach, usually frequented by the locals and located in the northern region of Natal. Grab a cheap bite to eat while checking out some amazing views of the city at this beach. Praia de Mãe Luiza is not a swimming beach, but visitors can climb 150 steps to the top of the lighthouse, Farol de Natal, for a 360-degree view of the city. Other beaches to explore are Praia dos Artistas, Praia do Forte and Praia do Meio. We recommend taking a stroll through Centro Municipal de Artesanato at Praia do Meio. It’s a great place to shop for handcrafted souvenirs.
When the Sun Goes Down
Hotels along the seafront are the most sought-after accommodations in Natal. The Grande Natal International Airport is conveniently located 11 miles from the city center, and is easy to get to via taxi. Ponta Negra is a hot spot for nightlife, shopping and upscale restaurants. Since gastronomy is key in Natal, guests who don’t know what to order but would like a taste of the Brazilian cuisine, should try the following mouthwatering dishes:
- Tapioca – Manioc flattened into a crepe-like dish filled with meats, cheese or coconut.
- Carne-de-Sol – A sun-dried meat delicacy usually served with beans, rice or a salad.
- Paçoca – Manioc flour with pieces of dried meat seasoned with garlic and onions.
- Dolce de leite – A delicious dessert that consists of caramelized, sweetened condensed milk paired with fruits, cashews or coconut.
A cold refreshing Chope, Brazilian draught beer, is a nice complement to some of these dishes. From the beaches to the tasty cuisine, Natal, the capital of Rio Grande do Norte, has something to offer all types of travelers even if you’re not a huge soccer fan.
– By The Brazilian Tourism Board (Embratur)