It’s entirely Pipa’s fault that we had to change our plans, postpone our return and stay longer. No one wanted to leave the beaches behind or say goodbye to the lazy days and lively nights. No wonder some visitors have ended up staying here forever.
Text: Elena Almada J. | photos: Andréa D’Amato
The original plan was to dedicate two weeks to the beaches of northeast Brazil: Natal, Pipa, the island of Fernando de Noronha, Porto de Galinhas and Maceió. But after less than two days in Natal we were on our way to the next destination. Locals and tourists alike insisted: “You’ll really love Pipa.” And although our adventurous souls are embarrassed to admit it, Pipa ensnared us like a Venus flytrap, returning us to the world after 11 days, tanned, with sun-bleached hair and sore feet after our many excursions.
To get there, we took a bus south, towards the former fishing village that was discovered by surfers and backpackers in the 1980s. Pipa has only had electricity since 1984; it’s a genuine hippie paradise in the largest ecological reserve in the state of Rio Grande do Norte.
Rocks, Tides and Sand
An hour away from Natal, the road becomes a natural lookout of imposing cliffs covered in tropical jungle. From here, you can see white beaches with warm waters. The wooden signs you can spot from the bus read Praia do Madeiro, Bahía dos Golphinos, Praia do Centro and Praia do Amor. At the end of our journey, narrow cobblestone streets filled with restaurants, various shops, artisans hawking their wares and wandering tourists welcome us to Pipa.
Thanks to a recommendation from a local surfer, we settle in a great lodging option, the Pousada Paraiso das Tartarugas. Most of Pipa’s hotels are located in town, but this establishment offers six rustic cabins made of wood and straw, perched amid the rocks and sand that link Pipa’s two signature beaches: Bahia dos Golfinhos (where you can swim with dolphins) and Praia do Amor (a favorite among surfers).
Built by a local fisherman just 11 years ago, this inn is only accessible along the coast at low tide. The current owners, Juan Zarauza and Daniel Segura from Argentina, and “Chiqui,” the Uruguayan chef responsible for some heavenly cuisine, will make you feel right at home. They’ll also give you the best tips on enjoying Pipa to the fullest.
The tide table is posted everywhere in Pipa, and it’s key to knowing when you can walk along the shore from one beach to the next. Otherwise, high tide may force you to climb as many as 200 steps to cross along the cliff.
Praia do Centro is the most popular beach; it’s next to downtown Pipa and home to terrific restaurants that offer a wide variety of local cuisine. Keeping to the right, you can walk to Praia do Amor, where the seaside experience is enhanced by a wooden outdoor library, with volumes available in several languages.
Nearby is the surfing school run by Berón, a local who lives in the jungle alongside the beach. He hangs his hammock out at night, and during the day, the kitchen at his barraca (beach bar) offers everything from coconut water and cocktails to delicious dishes served up with an ocean view.
On the other side of Praia do Centro is Bahía dos Golfinhos, where you can rent a stand-up paddleboard. It’s a great way to get a closer look at the dolphins.
To get to Praia do Madeiro, take the bus along the road to Tibau do Sul, then descend the long staircase lined with trees filled with charming sagui monkeys. At Praia do Madeiro, you’ll find a wide selection of quality bars and restaurants, as well as a number of water-related activities.
To the Rhythm of Forró
In addition to excursions by boat, buggy, kayak or horse, you can also experience the sensation of flight with kitesurfing. At the estuary of Barra do Cunhaú, less than eight miles from Pipa, the wind and waves are perfect for this sport, whether you’re an expert or a novice.
We set out in a buggy and board a raft for 12 reales (US$4) to reach the three miles of dunes at Barra do Cunhaú. In addition to the adrenaline of kitesurfing, we enjoy the pleasant surprise of a deserted beach nestled between the sea and the river. It’s a wonderful place to relax and let your mind drift with the gentle current.
To take in Pipa’s most spectacular sunsets, simply ask for directions to the well-known Mirante Sunset Bar (pictured above). Once you’ve made your way up, just order a drink, take a look around and toast to the sheer privilege of being there. Set to the sound of forró, Pipa’s bustling nightlife lasts until dawn. As the sun comes up, the sea becomes calm and velvety, hypnotizing visitors into staying “just one more day.” in
Daily flights to Natal from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, followed by ground to Pipa.
Pousada Paraíso das Tartarugas
Pousada Oka da Mata
Pousada Toca Da Coruja Hotel
O Tal do Escondidinho
Av. Baia dos Golfinhos 1130
Rua dos Bem te Vis, s/n
Av. Baia dos Golfinhos 1133
Pipa Beach Club
Rua Largo de Sao Sebastiao 277
Av. Baia dos Golfinhos 1074
Mirante Sunset Bar
Rua do Mirante, 01
Agora Lounge Bar (música para baila forró)
Av. Baía dos Golfinhos 795
Av. Baía dos Golfinhos 767
Oz Music Bar
Av. Baía dos Golfinhos (frente a Tribus Bar)