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


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