The beaches of Brazil are admired all over the world and at home. Brazilians love spending time with sand beneath their feet, tucking into a caipirinha or enjoying an intense game of volleyball. Given that Brazil has more than 20,000 miles of coastline, it is little wonder that the beach pervades the national psyche. Beaches are romantic, immortalised in song (Copacabana and The Girl From Ipanema spring to mind) and can dominate the atmosphere of a town or city.
With so much coastline to explore, international tourists tend to stay in Brazil’s more accessible south, where there is undoubted variety. The beaches of Rio de Janeiro naturally spring to mind, but contrast those packed city beaches with the deserted Lopes Mendes on Ilha Grande, the exclusive resort of Búzios, or the multiple surfing hideaways down in Florianópolis. However, no beach tour of Brazil would be complete without venturing north.
Simply put, no two beaches are the same. In Natal, the advancing high tide all but eliminates the sand twice a day, giving rise to beachside restaurants on the promenade that make heading to the beach a fairly formal occasion. Contrast that with São Luis, where the inlet of water exposes the city to a vast expanse of sand, high winds and large numbers of football, volleyball and futevolei (volleyball played with the feet) enthusiasts. Meanwhile, in Salvador, the north east’s largest city, the beaches are cramped and arguably lacking in character. True beach lovers head south to Morro do São Paolo to get their sandy fix.
Of course, the most memorable stretches of sand tend to be more secluded, away from the noise of cars or a concrete backdrop. The supremely laid back settlement of Jericoacoara is almost nothing but sand, where not even flip flops are welcome. Accessible only by dune buggy, visitors regularly bounce into town, soon settling into the slow pace of life in Jeri as it is affectionately known (my best advice for pronouncing the town’s unnecessarily long name would be Jerry-qua-quara). With sand dunes, pools and high vantage points of the beach below, life in Jeri revolves around the sand.
Another north-east seaside option is Canoa Quebrada. Wind farms on the horizon and the odd paraglider in the foreground form an attractive backdrop to the characteristic orange cliffs. Fans of coastal erosion will love the unique rock formations that lie a little inland. Once again, buggies are the best way to get around, giving you access to these rocks, the cliff top views and a dip in some quicksand.
All these beach spots are unique in their own way, but my personal sand highlight in Brazil is not on the coast. Lying a few kilometres inland is the quite remarkable Lençois Maranhenses National Park. Never have I experienced a more jaw-dropping view, coming over the crest of the hill. Sand dunes stretch into the distance, with freshwater, blue pools lining the valleys. It is an ethereal, other-worldly place, quite unlike anything I have seen before. The heavenly sensation of soft sand on the sole of the foot sends waves of calmness up through your body as you drift over the dunes. Combine this with a float in the pool and you have a quite sensational experience.
Brazil’s northern sands are often overlooked in favour of those in the south. The busy beaches of Rio are certainly worth seeing, but experiencing as many varied beaches as possible is great motivation for exploring the country’s coastline. One notable absence from this article is Fernando de Noronha, an archipelago over 200 miles off the north east coast, home to what are widely regarded as the best beaches on the planet.