Natal is a city located in the Northeast of Brazil. The city is blessed with a year round tropical climate. As the Portuguese found a lot of cities in Brazil they must have run out of creative names when they found Natal. Natal translates to Christmas in Portuguese and well, Natal was found on the 25th of December, so why not?
Besides an abundance of Christmas and palm trees, Natal offers worthwhile urban beaches and is surrounded by sand dunes sparsely covered in greenery, dark rivers and clearwater lakes.
The fun thing about Natal is that it used to be a hub for international tourism. Due to the rise of other popular tourism destinations international visitor numbers declined. Natal is still a favoured holiday destination among Brazilians, but I think it is time to put Natal back on the map for international visitors (I mean, it even has an international airport!). Find top things to do in Natal and everything you need to know before your visit.
SURFING IN NATAL
Natal is a hub for surf tourism. Natal is the first city in Brazil where I am able to crush some waves at an urban beach without risking ending up as a sharks meal. Initially I am bit annoyed with the lack of rental shops for boards but I quickly realised that meant I didn’t have to share the waves with too many people.
It very likely you easily find some of surf rental shops at Ponta Negra beach, but I promise you the waves are better from Praia dos Artistas and all the beaches that are North from this beach. There is one rental shop in Avenida 25 de Dezembro, you can recognize it by the surf- and skateboards sitting outside. The best time to go surfing in Natal is from November to March, around this time the strong swells roll in from the Atlantic.
LITORAL DEL NORTE (NORTH COAST)
There are countless agencies in Natal that offer a tour to the South or North coast for sightseeing. These tours are either conducted by a 4X4 jeep or buggy. The beaches South of Natal are more stunning, but in the North you can get your daily dose of adrenaline cruising through the dunes. Travelling by 4X4 seems more appealing so I decide on a day tour along the North coast by 4×4.
The first stop is at a giant tree named ‘arvol do abraço’, which translates to hugging tree. Two giant trunks permanently intertwine, making up for one big tree. We spend some time there and get back in the car. To my surprise we don’t head over to the main road. We drive up to the dunes instead when the adventure kicks off. I sit in the middle not wearing a seat belt (because who wears a seat belt in Brazil?). My body moves to the rhythm of the dunes. We make it to our next stop: a stunning beach and the biggest palm tree plantation I’ve ever seen in my life.
After some photographs we hop back in the car. Ronaldo, our driver, is hyped up and rushes his way through to the dunes and by the beach. I am almost sad when we make it to the next stop. For our next stop we drive into a forest that ends up at a clearwater lake. We spend the remainder of the morning hanging out in hammocks, surrounded by heaps of fish that kind of look like the skin eating fish in a spa.
After lunch we hit up more beaches where we make quick stops for a refreshing dive and photos. By the time we digest our lunch we get to the best part: adrenaline kicks. We arrive to a dark river hidden in the sand dunes surrounded by palm trees. Some genius constructed a giant slide that ends up in the river. I slide off with a body board and used the board to drift along with the river fors ome time, while my travel companion is singing ‘ slowly drifting, drifting away, wave after wave’. We end the tour with sand boarding in the dunes.
WHERE TO STAY
So where do you sleep after all the surfing, dunes and adrenaline kicks? The area where most tourists go in Natal is Ponta Negra, also referred to as the Copacabana of Natal. This area features countless accommodations, restaurants, tourist shops and a fair stretch of beach. I stayed in Republika Hostel, which had a great atmosphere, is affordable and offers a great breakfast. Book directly on their website or by WhatsApp to get the best price deal.
GASTRONOMY IN NATAL
As Natal is a beach town, all seafood is great in this area. Other than that there are heaps of restaurants offering traditional Brazilian dishes. My favourite place to eat anywhere in Brazil is in foodparks. In Natal I found ‘Praça de Foodtruck’ along Avenida Roberto Freire in Ponta Negra, where they serve all kinds of (vegetarian) dishes, Brazilian specialties and craft beers.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The average temperature in Natal is 26 to 28 degrees Celcius. In the summer temperatures might go up to 38 degrees Celcius. The summer is from August to February, which is also the best time to visit Natal. The winter, also referred to as the rain season in Brazil, is from February to July. April is often the wettest month. Bear in mind South Americans celebrate their summer holidays from December to February, therefore this is also the high season. Beaches and accommodations are packed during these months.
HOW TO GET THERE
Natal is well connected by land and air. The town has an international airport, with direct flights coming in from several destinations in Europe. There are also a lot of short and long distance busses that can take you to Natal from other big cities in Brazil.
Will you help put Natal back on the map? Let me know below!