Brazil’s City Beaches – Fortaleza & Natal

The northeastern coast of Brazil is a long, sandy shoreline with quiet beach towns tucked in between large modern cities. We travelled along the coast destined for these smaller towns and found ourselves spending a few days in the cosmopolitan cities in between. The cities ended up being much nicer than we anticipated and found we really enjoyed Fortaleza and Natal, Brazil.


The first large city we stopped in was Fortaleza, capital of the state of Ceará. With a population over 2.7 million people it is the 5th largest city in Brazil. If you read anything about the city on-line you will undoubtedly find it listed in the top 3 of the most dangerous cities in Brazil. We hadn’t intended on spending much time in this large city and these reports didn’t entice us to book hotel rooms for any longer than needed.

After reading the safety warnings we were expecting to find a dingy city with ramshackled houses and shady characters at every turn. Instead we were surprised to find a very modern city with tall skyscrapers, public walkways and a long, clean beach.

The dark clouds that hovered above the city early in the morning were beginning to disperse so we decided to check out the city’s famous beaches. With almost 5 km of unobstructed beach, the waterfront in Fortaleza is a great place to go for a long walk. We began at Poço da Draga Beach which was quiet in the morning and felt less urban than we expected. A collapsed pier provided an interesting scene against the blue water and golden sand.

We continued to follow the shore and soon reached Iracema Beach. Determining which of the four beaches you’re on isn’t easy because one beach drifts into the next on this long stretch of sand. You know you’re on Iracema Beach though when you see a modern, bronze statue of a woman. The name Iracema is the name of an indigenous female character in a popular Brazilian book. The statue of Iracema is a tribute to the beloved Brazilian author who was born in Ceará.

Not far from the statue, a long pier reaches out into the water and acts like a playground for local kids. A group of them were laughing and having fun as they dared each other to jump off the pier into the water below. For us, the pier allowed us to a better view of the city’s skyline behind the beaches.

The sun came out as we reached the most popular beach, Meireles. On one side of the wide beach, the warm Atlantic Ocean gently brushes up against the golden sand. At the edge of the beach a 3 kilometer long pedestrian and bike pathway keeps people a little removed from the busy Avenida Beira Mar on its other side. This area has the largest concentration of tall, modern buildings. We felt very safe walking on the long boardwalk and wondered why there were so many safety warnings for Fortaleza.

Dozens of beach bars are spread along the sand. By this time we were very hot from the strong sun and the shaded patios were the perfect place to stop cool down.

Near the end of the pathway we reached the final beach. Mucurpe Beach has a small harbour filled with fishing boats with funny looking triangular sails. It was a pretty scene to see dozens of them with their sails furled and bobbing in the water just off shore. This beach felt quite different than the others. There weren’t many tourists, the restaurants became a little shabbier and we noticed a large police presence. We didn’t feel unsafe in this area during the day but we did feel the need to be a bit more careful with our belongings.

A few blocks from Iracema Beach is Catedral Metropolitana de São José. We walked to the church from the beach and just before we reached it, the sidewalk became very busy with people rushing back and forth. We realized were were near the central market. Police with large guns stood at the market’s entrances and some of the people looked a little shady. It was a little unnerving and such a different feeling from the safety we felt at the beach. We hadn’t intended to go into the market, and with the police presence and the busy crowd we thought it best to avoid. Immediately beside the market we saw the large neo-gothic cathedral. It is a nice building, but not overly pretty inside or out. It would be a site you could skip seeing.

On the drive to Fortaleza we passed dozens and dozens of large cashew orchards. We had been told that Fortaleza is the place in Brazil to buy cashews so we were on the lookout. We found a few stores in our neighbourhood that sold the tasty nuts for only R$70/kg ($13 USD). We couldn’t resist the price so we bought a half kilo of them. They were almost twice the price of the Brazil nuts we bought in Belém , but after seeing how they grow, we couldn’t complain about the price. 

Where to stay and eat in Fortaleza

The safest part of the city also happens to have the highest concentration of tourist hotels. Meireles Beach is the most popular area, but the neighbouring communities of Iracema and Mucuripe are just as safe, and possibly a little less expensive. Our hotel was 3 blocks from Iracema Beach and we felt very safe walking between the two during the day and early evening. Another popular area is Futuro Beach, but it next to a very poor neighbourhood and apparently it is more common to have petty crimes occur there.


Five hundred kilometers southeast of Fortaleza is Natal, the capital of the state of Rio Grande do Norte. With a population of less than a million, the city felt less busy and didn’t have a congested area of high rises like Fortaleza.

The main beach, Ponta Negra, spans the length of the large bay at the south end of the city. It was Sunday when we were there and Ponta Negra Beach was filled with locals. Some were sitting under umbrellas, some were swimming in the ocean, but a lot were playing soccer (football). I had expected to see a lot of beach volleyball being played on the beaches in Brazil. We saw a few volleyball and tennis courts around the country but pick-up soccer seemed to be much more popular.

Because this beach is narrower than the ones in Fortaleza it was easier to notice the large difference between high and low tides. First thing in the morning we saw chairs and umbrellas being set up when the tide was going out, but later in the day the entire area was covered in water, leaving only a small strip of sand.

As with most of the beaches in the country there were a lot of vendors pushing carts along the sand. They seemed to sell everything including beach wear, frozen açaí and ice cream, corn on the cob, chicken skewers and surprisingly, cocktails.

At the end of the beach is its namesake, Ponta Negra (Black Tip). Before reaching the end of the point we walked by a large natural sand dune called Morro do Careca (Bald Hill). The sand dune used to be open for people to climb up and down, but has recently been closed to prevent further erosion. Today’s it’s still a nice distinctive landmark.

We were walking along the sand toward the end of the point, admiring the interesting looking black rocks in the sand when three locals approached us. They heard us speaking English and stopped to warn us of going much further. Apparently on the other side of the point there is a very poor community and people are known to come from this neighbourhood to the point and rob unsuspecting tourists. The rocks provide perfect hiding spots for would-be thieves. We should have noticed that there were fewer and fewer people going in our direction but with the pretty landscape, we didn’t even think about it. We thanked them for their warning and turned around to return to the busier beach where it was more safe.

Natal is sometimes ranked near the top of the most dangerous cities in Brazil. We did find that it felt a little unsafe to walk in the evenings between the restaurants along the beach and our hotel. Because of this we stayed away from the smaller, quiet roads and stuck to busier streets and had no problems.

Where to stay and eat in Natal

The safest area in Natal is near the most popular beach, Ponta Negra. Not only is it the safest area, but it is also where you can find a lot of restaurants and hotels.

Getting to and Around Fortaleza and Natal

Both cities are easily accessible with international airports, large bus stations and are located on major highways. To get to and from smaller centres such as Jericoacoara or Pipa you can take one of the many daily buses leaving from the bus stations in either city. (Read our story from Jericoacoara here, and Pipa here). To get around each city we found Uber to be a cost effective, safe option.

Safety in Fortaleza and Natal

Driving into and out of both Fortaleza and Natal we passed a few rougher looking communities with favela-style slums and realized that the rumours of the danger levels are likely true in some neighbourhoods. As we found though, those areas are far from places where tourists would visit. During the day we felt completely safe to walk and take pictures near the busy beaches.

We try to be safe whenever we travel by never bringing valuables such as jewelry and trying to dress so we fit in as much as we can. Mobile phones are very popular to pick-pocketers and ours were always kept in zippered pockets or bags. We don’t carry large amounts of cash and only show small bills when shopping. Our most valuable item is the camera which is kept well hidden in a weathered camera bag carried across the body and only brought out for short times when being used. In busy places such as markets there are more likely to be pickpockets so you need to be extra careful. It’s always wise to avoid empty beaches especially at night. We were given good advice by a local who said to stick to busy streets when walking anywhere as there is a less likely chance of being robbed when others are around.

To read about our other adventures in Brazil click here.

Coming Next – Pipa – The Perfect Beach Town


    • Thank you so much, we weren’t sure what to expect from Brazil and were overly impressed with everything we saw. The people though were what really made it special. Brazilians are some of the friendliest people we’ve met in our travels around the world. Maggie


  • Both cities look quite fetching, especially Fortaleza. Coastal cities with high-rises are appealing for their balance between civilization and nature. It’s too bad that crime lurks amongst the beauty, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We were a little surprised that we liked the look of Fortaleza since we prefer natural settings, but both had very pretty urban beaches. The crime levels were quite unnerving, but happy to say we didn’t have any problems on our entire trip in Brazil.

      Liked by 1 person

  • No other country conjures images of paradise quite like Brazil, and its beaches are no exception. When I think about beaches in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana and Ipanema are the first stretches of sand to enter my mind. I very much like your photos of the colourful street mural from Poço da Draga Beach in Fortaleza. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Aiva, the funny thing is we aren’t really beach people but there are so many gorgeous coastal settings for the beaches in Brazil, it may have changed us😊 Ipanema and Copacobana still rank pretty high in scenic spots, but there are a few others that rank higher on our list. Thanks as always for your comments! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • It’s really sad that such beautiful cities like Fortaleza and Natal have high crime rates. I guess it’s always a good idea, especially in places like these, to choose an accommodation in an area where most tourists stay. I wonder if the heavy presence of police officers at certain spots, like the market in Fortaleza, does make people feel safer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not being used to a heavily armed police presence it makes me feel less safe. I wonder why they need to be there, has something happened or will something happen. Especially in the cities in Brazil, you really should stay in the touristy, safe areas. Outside of the large cities it’s easier to explore the neighbourhoods a little more.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Coming from Nova Scotia,, where beaches are still mainly in the rough, which I know is probably more rare than the norm these days, it always surprises me to see so many beaches lined with tall buildings. Beaches do add such personality to a city. Even cited as dangerous, those cities are beautiful. Brazil is such a fascinating country.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Another very interesting post. Brazil’s famous beaches are what readily comes to mind when I think of the country. Great to hear your thoughts on safety too and that locals were kind enough to alert you to possible dangers ahead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We had a few different warnings from locals in a few different places in Brazil. They don’t get a lot of international tourists, but seem to look out for the ones they do get. Thanks for commenting, Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Fortaleza looks like any urban city and as you pointed out doesn’t give an impression of being unsafe. I have seen many vlogs of travelers and residents in Brazil. I think many towns have these shady areas and criminals. Sao Paolo typically has this reputation. The Brazilian seaside cities have so many modern glass structures. From your pictures, Natal seems to have a more rustic vibe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes we saw a lot of sketchy areas in the cities across the country but thankfully we didn’t have any problems. Natal is actually a large, modern city too, but the beach area is more natural, so you can forget you’re in a city.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Thanks for the memories, I rode between the two cities by car one hotel on the beach and the other nearby on both; have my entries in my blog. Love the country used to lived in the south at Curitiba. Cheers

    Liked by 1 person

  • City beaches can sometimes disappoint but these certainly don’t seem to fall into that category. They are cleaner than I had perhaps expected and of course flourishes of art are never far away. Thank lord you were warned by the locals at Ponta Negra, it looks and sounds like something Sladja and I would have wandered into at first glance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We were of course expecting the worst, but were so thrilled to see the clean beaches, pathways and streets. They gave the city a great character rather than being a dirty eyesore. There were a few places in Brazil that the locals warned us about going into certain areas. I think Brazil is a lot better than it used to be for safety, but you still have to be more diligent than other countries.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Loved the sculpture and your tour boat. You are more intrepid than me. I have taken the dangerous destinations off my list now but it’s just because I can’t run as fast as I used to…😉

    Liked by 1 person

  • It’s so nice to hear stories about native people warning travelers about potential dangers. I just read a post by another blogger who had traveled all over Jamaica and was warned more than once by locals to either put their cellphones away or in some other way take care at that moment.


  • I used to do that when traveling, try to blend in to the environment better and not wear expensive items. I’m not a jewelry person but I do always carry my camera. In Belize city there was a sheriff that told my husband and I to hide our cameras when we were walking through one neighborhood. We never had any problems, people were always nice but it was weird to me how the hotel we stayed at had armed guards walking around everywhere and we just walked out to explore the city and nothing happened. In the stores we shopped at there were employees on every isle to watch the shoppers from stealing and in some of the smaller stores they would just lock the doors behind us once they let us in…it was a strange expedience but so beautiful there. Just like this adventure you shared from Brazil. I would love to visit there. That mural is so pretty, lots of artists there it looks like too.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Beautiful photos! Our life in Fortaleza seems so far away now. I’m so glad that you heeded the safety warnings during your stay. Fortaleza is a beautiful city and the people are very warm and welcoming. But its extreme poverty–that tourists rarely see–breeds extreme violence for survival. For example, you can lose your life for refusing to hand over your expensive pair of running shoes. The tragic event that still haunts me is the robbery and brutal murder of five, adult male, Portuguese tourists–lured by the illegal sex tourism of young local girls forced into prostitution–on their first night in Fortaleza, before even checking into their hotel. After their families got no news from them for over a week, the local police found their bodies buried in the sand on the Futuro Beach not far from my workplace at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That story is heart breaking and the reports we read on-line are also very scary so we weren’t sure if we’d even leave our hotel, but we’re glad we did and were able to see some of the nicer areas.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Thanks for an interesting look at two cities I wouldn’t have thought of visiting. I like the look of the Natal beach in particular. I’m not surprised you saw somany people playing football, given Brazil’s reputation in the sport!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was expecting a lot of volleyball. I’m not even sure why. We wouldn’t have visited these cities either if weren’t travelling by bus, but we’re glad we stopped and got to see them. Both were much better than we expected.

      Liked by 1 person

  • There are quite a lot of tall skyscrapers on the beachfront of Fortaleza! Lovely beach shots (love the look of the fishing boats). For me, the beach at Natal is prettier – I really like the rocks on the beach. It’s a good thing to always be vigilant to avoid being an easy prey for thugs (always something to remember wherever you go).
    I’m just thinking now: You must have had your fair share of cashews while touring South America 🙂 .

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think many of Brazil’s cities used to be much worse for safety, now at least there are parts where you can feel completely safe, but sill others where you have to be on guard or just avoid. Speaking of safety how was it in Pakistan?


  • It’s wise to be cautious in some of these places. I lived in Guatemala City for 3 years and wore no jewelry when exploring some neighborhoods. In the Central Market and on mass transit, I used a small backpack instead of a purse and wore it in the front when I could cover with my arms.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are parts of Central and South America where you really have to be careful. For us, out of all of them, Brazil seemed to have the most amount of sketchy areas with a much higher danger than any other country in SA. They also have the most obvious difference between wealth and poverty which is likely part of the problem. But having said that, there were so many places that we felt completely safe and absolutely loved.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Great post! I went to Fortaleza a few years ago and didn’t know it was apparently dangerous because we only stayed in some parts of the city. It’s true that when we roamed around a bit with the car we passed some pretty rough-looking neighbourhood, and I remember that this contrast between the modern-and-clean-looking city and those much-poorer areas made me quite sad. I didn’t know about Natal but its beach does look beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

Submit a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s