Life’s a Beach – Praia da Pipa

16 May

Praia da Pipa, or simply Pipa to its friends, is regarded as one of the most fashionable and beautiful beach towns in Brazil’s northeast. It has a winning combination of golden beaches, stunning scenery, year round warm temperatures, good surfing, boutique accommodation, cosmopolitan restaurants and a lively nightlife. This chic destination will captivate your imagination and leave you recalling its charms with a dreamy, far-away look in your eyes.

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Located in Rio Grande do Norte, Pipa is an easy two hour bus journey south of Natal in the district of Tibau. The 80 kilometre coastal road twists and turns offering glimpses of a sapphire coloured sea with white crested waves and clusters of fearless surfers. We were mesmerised from the word ‘go’!

As with many of Brazil’s fashionable beach towns, Pipa started life as a sleepy fishing village. It was first visited as a holiday destination in the 1970’s when long-haired surfers and hippies discovered its charms. Over the years Pipa has opened its arms to a mixed and alternative crowd from international backpackers to young Brazilians looking for adventure. These days Pipa is attracting an increasing number of high-end visitors drawn by the town’s developing sophistication and global appeal driven by a number of international visitors now calling Pipa their home.

The excellent facilities and infrastructure now being developed comes at a price. Pipa’s accommodation options are some of the most expensive in Brazil. If like us your budget is more moderate, camping at one of Pipa’s laid back sites is a great option. We stayed at Pousada e Camping das Mangueiras. With shady sites, clean showers, free Wi-Fi and central location, it’s one of the best budget options in town. During busy holiday periods (especially over New Year when we were there) the campsite can become quite crowded but the atmosphere is very friendly and this doesn’t deter the local wildlife from dropping by.

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Pipa sits on a peninsular jutting into the Atlantic and is surrounded by no fewer than twelve stunning beaches. There’s something to suit everyone with dramatic pink cliffs rising above golden sand, verdant green forest, volcanic rocks, sand dunes and natural lagoons.

Many of the beaches can be reached by an easy saunter from Pipa’s centre. The main beach stretches out in front of the town. Its calm seas, water sports and plentiful restaurants attract families and day trippers from Natal and Recife. If the crowds get too much, head a little further afield for your own secluded slice of paradise.

One of our favourite spots was Praia do Amor or the beach of love, so named due to its heart-shaped appearance. The beach transported us back to Pipa’s roots where the vibe was chilled and ecologically friendly. The focus is on surfing and hanging out. It’s possible to reach the beach by taking a short walk at low tide from Praia de Pipa or alternatively, take the large stone steps cut out of the cliff and enjoy the stunning views.

Relaxing on the beach we watched our freckles multiply and our tan lines darken. We admired the white tips of our fingernails as we siphoned fine grains of sand through our hands. We felt crunchy granules in our hair and our lips tasted salty. We splashed around in the shallows and body surfed in the waves. We helped ourselves to second-hand books and ordered cold beers.

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Pods of inquisitive dolphins and gentle turtles fill the turquoise waters around Pipa. Several operators offer boat tours to see dolphins and the chance to swim alongside them but it can be somewhat of a bun fight as mobs of life jacket clad tourists jump into the same spot of water and frighten the intelligent dolphins away. A much more satisfying and scenic way to encounter the dolphins is to wait until low tide and walk along main beach to the gorgeous Baia dos Golfinhos to swim with them for free.

We managed to get our timings wrong and started the walk as the tide was coming in, so we had fun clambering over rocks and getting covered in sea spray but when we arrived we had the beach and the dolphins to ourselves. We saw two dolphins – the closeness and natural setting made the encounter very special.

With the tide coming in fast and no exit from the cliff above Baia dos Golfinhos we decided to continue walking around the coast to Praia do Madeiro. The walk is not for the faint-hearted as it follows a small rocky path close next to the incoming waves but the sense of adventure is worth the effort.

Surrounded by large cliffs at one end and Atlantic forest at other, Praia do Madeiro is a beach paradise.  Palm trees swayed in the breeze and the surf rolled onto fine golden sand. There are small beach huts offering everything from caipirinhas to fresh coconuts and the seafood man will be happy to hand shuck as many oysters and fresh prawns as you can digest.

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As the sun starts to set head to the Coconut Bar on Pipa’s main beach. Built on stilts above the water it’s an excellent spot to indulge in a cocktail as the tide rolls in underneath you and the sky turns red.

The image of rustic restaurants serving homely fare to the fishing village is far from the reality. Nowadays, Pipa is filled with juice bars, funky coffee shops and artisan ice-cream shops that wouldn’t look out of place in Rio. Exotic regional Brazilian cuisine is served alongside international dishes in modern and minimalist looking restaurants. You’ll be spoiled for choice! For cheap eats, do as the locals do and head to one of Pipa’s bakeries or a pay-per-kilo buffet restaurant.

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Despite its small size, Pipa is quickly earning itself a party town reputation where the young and hip live it up in trendy bars and banging dance clubs all night long.  As Dan and I found ourselves in Pipa for the New Year celebrations, we just knew we had to take advantage of what Pipa had to offer.

Behind Carnival, New Year is often considered to be the social highlight of the Brazilian calendar. Hypnotic beats filled the air and beckoned joyful and animated visitors into the bars and restaurants lining Pipa’s central cobblestone roads.

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It’s tradition in Brazil to wear all white on New Year’s Eve to bring good luck, happiness and prosperity in the coming year. Being just over ten months into our South American travels, anything white that we owned was now a dreary shade of grey so we bucked the trend and went as colourful as possible.

    

The beach crowd swelled as the countdown to midnight drew closer. As the clocks struck twelve, fireworks exploded in the sky and the party began in earnest. People danced, sang, drank and soaked up the electrified atmosphere. Live bands played rock, samba, bosa nova tunes and as the evening went on they were replaced by DJ’s. When dawn was only just breaking, and the party was still in full swing, we snuck back to our tent hoping for at least a few hours rest before it was time to head back out once again to the surf and sand.

 

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