The beckoning beaches of the northeast

Our days here feel lazy and languorous. That’s partly due to the relentless heat. The temperature sits around 30 to 35 degrees Celsius, sometimes climbing closer to 40 C, and the toughest thing is that it doesn’t cool off at night. Although the sun ceases to beat down, the heat remains oppressive.

The other reason for our laziness is that we have no obligations – a strange sensation that I love and hate at the same time. Of course there are my daily articles that must be written for TreeHugger, and I still wake up at 5:30 each morning to work – although it doesn’t feel like 5:30 since it’s already blazing hot, sunny, and the city is pulsating with music, shouts, and horns outside my window. But other than that, we are free to do whatever we please with each day.

Many of those days are spent exploring the spectacular beaches that dot the northeastern coast. It’s a region famous for its beaches and we, the pale-skinned Canadians who usually spend the month of January shoveling snow and holing up during whiteouts, are more than happy to lie on as many tropical beaches as we possibly can before returning home at the end of this month. (I joke with Jason that we probably should have included the cost of sunscreen in our budget, since we use far more than I ever thought possible and it’s much more expensive here than back home.)

These are some of the beautiful beaches we’ve been lucky enough to visit over the past weeks. Hopefully these will inject a bit of tropical warmth into whatever snowy weather you might be experiencing back home.

1. Tabatinga

We heard about this beach from a couple we met on a boat ride one day. They told us they were “very impressed” by it, which was a good enough reason for me. First we spent the day in João Pessoa, capital of Paraiba state, which is about 2.5 hours north of Recife. Then we drove 30 km down the coast to Tabatinga, where we stumbled across a gorgeous hotel that had just opened a week earlier and was still partially under construction. Because of it, they gave us a shockingly low rate for the night. It’s pretty awesome when one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed in is also the cheapest!

We spent the next morning walking the length of the beach, which has fine white sand, rolling turquoise waves, and stunning red cliffs that have been naturally eroded by wind and water to create an almost canyon-like effect. There’s something about beaches surrounded by mountains or hills that enamour me, far more than the long deserted strips of flat sand.

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2. Carneiros

Just two hours south of Recife is Carneiros, voted the 2nd most beautiful beach in Brazil. (#1 is the nearby island of Fernando de Noronha, which, sadly, we couldn’t manage to visit this time.) Since we couldn’t find a public access point to the beach, we based ourselves in nearby Tamandaré and took a fabulous 2-hour boat ride along Carneiros.

We visited a reef with natural pools filled with colourful fish and sea urchins, which the boys loved; a cove with three kinds of clay that we all slathered up with and will make every woman look 10 years younger (!!); and a spectacular little chapel that was built on the edge of the water in 1710.

Strangely, the beach itself was almost too perfect for me, with its unblemished white sand and endless waving palms as far as the eye can see. But it was really nice to see such a natural-looking beach, free from the condos and hotels that so often mar the landscape.

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3. Calhetas

One of my favourite spots in the world, this is where I once saw dolphins leaping around the bow of our boat, and I’ve never forgotten it. Sadly, there were no dolphins on our boat ride this time, but the beach was as lovely as ever. Ringed by rocks on three sides and fringed with magnificent palms, it’s a small cove with deep water for swimming and large, crashing waves that unnerved the boys sufficiently to keep them by our side (always a plus!).

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4. Porto de Galinhas

This is the most famous beach of the northeast, but with fame comes development, and that takes away from the character of a place. We went on Christmas Eve day, and it was quite crowded. We also sat through a surprisingly cold and windy rainstorm that lasted a few minutes before clearing up and returning to the usual blazing heat.

The boys loved playing in the reef pools that showed up in front of our barraca as the tide moved out. They tried catching minnows and hermit crabs while Jason and I lazed under the umbrella, eating fried manioc and charcoal-grilled fish.

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5. Itamaracá

Jason said this was the best beach day of all. Itamaracá is an island just north of the city, and it has a number of interesting sights. There’s a manatee reserve, which we visited, but the sleepy-looking manatees were less exciting for the boys than the huge dragon-like lizard they found outside. There’s also Forte Orange, which was built by the Dutch in the 17th century during their attempt to take over Brazil from the Portuguese. (What a different sort of place it would be had the Dutch succeeded!)

Although the water wasn’t the best for swimming – it was a sort of murky channel between the island and the mainland – the beachfront barraca, or restaurant, where we sat was fantastic. We ate the usual ‘beach meal’ of grilled fish, manioc, beans, rice, and salad – with Jason’s mandatory caipirinha, of course, and my favourite água de côco, or green coconut water – and spent the day in a state of total relaxation. The boys dug in the fine sand, filling empty coconut shells, and making friends with the neighbours.

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