Attractions in Natal, Brazil: What to do and where to go
Natal offers hundreds of activities for the vacationer traveling to this Brazilian city. It has many historical monuments as well as beautiful beaches. Explore sand dunes in a buggy or contemplate the history of the first settlers of Natal in one of the many museums and galleries. Remember that Carnaval is held every year in Brazil and Natal is no exception. Their particular festivity of local tradition, however, is called "Carnatal" so get ready to delve into Brazilian culture as you never have before.
"Carnatal" is a festivity that is held in Brazil in the months of February and March, four days before Ash Wednesday. It is a very different celebration from the all famous Carnaval, which is celebrated in the rest of the country. The Carnaval in Natal is a quieter affair, where people get together and celebrate in small groups at home or in a small forum of some sort. Many Brazilians and tourists who want to get away from the noise and excitement of Carnaval come to Natal for a quieter, more laid-back experience.
Carnatal, however, is one of the largest events that are held in Brazil outside of the Carnaval season. It is celebrated between November and December and is mainly concentrated in the area around Machadao Stadium. During the festivities, about two miles of roads are closed off and enormous trailers drive slowly down the route, while bands play on the beds of these trailers, called "Trios Electricos" (electric trios).
A pre-established perimeter is set up around the "Trio Electrico" with a rope. If you want to follow a band on its route, you have to pay an entrance fee to be a part of the "bloco" (restricted area for the people who want to follow a float's particular band). Upon paying the entrance, you receive a t-shirt with distinctive colors called an "abada," which is basically proof of purchase, easily distinguishing the people who didn't pay the entrance fee. It is recommended buying the entrance fee in advance because, depending on the featured band, tickets can run out.
Natal is blessed with miles of beautiful beaches at the foot of sand dunes. Three of them are long and sit right in front of the city: Ponta Negra, Via Costeira and Praia do Meio.
Hands down, Ponta Negra is the most famous beach of Natal and it is where the majority of the people go. It used to be a small coastal village but with the tourist boom of the 90s, a number of hotels, restaurants and shops sprung up in the area. It is perfect for playing in the waves and enjoying the beauty of the enormous sand dunes.
Via Costeira is a very extensive, six-mile long avenue, which runs alongside the sand dunes of Natal. The beaches that are located here are tranquil and perfect for a bit of relaxation. The majority of the vacationers in Via Costeira are guests of the hotels that can be found up and down the length of this street. Each hotel normally has its own access to the beach.
Praia do Meio is a series of small beaches in the northern part of the city. Here you can find the famous Fortaleza dos Reis Magos. Part of the coast is protected because of the coral reefs that are found here. As a result, you can find tranquil waters that are great for swimming or windsurfing. In this area, there is a World War II military base that you can go and visit during museum hours.
Buggies and Sand Dunes
One of the main attractions (and, incidentally, the most exciting) in Natal are the dune buggies. The beaches are so big and full of dunes that buggies are recommended for transportation from one beach to another. The drivers can take you down tranquil routes or paths filled with dips, ramps and thrills. Make it clear what option you like the best so that you can enjoy your ride. Enjoy the beauty of the beaches, the sea and the dunes. There are also points along the northern coast where you can rent camels to travel up and down the coasts of Natal.
There is a protected area called Parque das Dunas (Dune Park) where you can enjoy the flora and fauna of the region. It is dedicated to the protection of the long chain of dunes found in Natal.
Forte dos Reis Magos
The Forte dos Reis Magos (Three Kings Fort) is located on the shores of Praia do Forte, right in front of the beach. It took the colonizers of this area about 30 years to finish building the fort, which was made with sand, bronze, wood and stone blocks. The architect designed the fort in a form that was typical of the times: a five-point star. Reis Magos was the backdrop of the bloody battles between Portuguese colonizers, French pirates, Dutch invaders and the local indigenous population. This is definitely a stop you have to make when visiting Natal. Take a taxi or rent a car to get here since it is about two miles from the hotels and restaurants.
Museo Camara Cascudo
The Camara Cascudo Museum was inaugurated in 1960 and is the largest museum in Natal. It is run by the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, where you can find anthropological, archeological, speleological, zoological exhibits and more. There are also fossils of prehistoric animals as well as tools and weapons used before the Portuguese colonization. Camara Cascudo features replicas of caverns and mines of Currais Novos. The information in the pamphlets is in Portuguese so take your dictionary and make the most of your visit to this museum.
The Acuario Natal is a privately funded aquarium that is run by a family of marine biologists and retired ecologists. It is located between the beach and Litoranea 1901 Avenue, near the Redinha Nova. You can find 60 different species of marine life in tanks of all sizes, with animals such as piranhas, sea horses, octopus, manta rays and even penguins! There are also crocodiles, turtles, snakes and monkeys from the region, as well. Look over the menu of the cafeteria for a bite to eat and browse through possible mementos of your trip to take home from the gift shop.
The Biggest Cuajeiro Tree in the World
One of the main tourist attractions in Natal is in the Pirangi do Norte District, only 10.5 miles from Natal. Here you can find the biggest Cajueiro Tree (known as a Cashew Tree) in the world, registered in the Guiness Book of World Records. The tree covers an area of approximately 8,400 mts², roughly about the size of 70 normal trees together. It was planted in 1888 by a fisherman named Luiz Inacio de Oliveira, who died at the age of 93 in the leafy shade of this Cashew Tree. In the harvesting season, the Cajueiro produces about 80,000 pieces of fruit.
To enter the site, pay a small entrance fee/donation, which is used for the site's upkeep. The visit is conducted by guides (both English and Spanish speaking) who explain the characteristics of the tree. Within the park, there is a lookout that is approximately 6 meters tall, from where you can see the tree's canopy as well as the beaches nearby. Outside the park, there are a number of kiosks where you can find food and souvenirs.
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