The Magnificent Beaches of Pipa: A Complete GuideBRAZIL
4 May 2023
The Magnificent Beaches Of Pipa Brazil: A Complete Guide
Brazil’s spectacular northeastern coastline stretches for over 3,000 km between the states of Bahia and Maranhão. Featuring some of the world’s finest beaches, it’s a region that attracts a huge domestic and international audience.
Tourist hubs such as Fortaleza, Natal, Recife and Salvador are typical destinations favoured by European and North American tourists. Slightly off the radar, however, is a whole array of lower-key beach resorts that are well worth making the extra effort to get to.
One such place is Pipa, an hour-or-so south of Natal and four hours north of Recife. Whilst it’s not exactly off-the-beaten-track, its surfing beach town vibe, thriving food and nightlife scene, together with a complete lack of high-rise buildings, makes for an appealing alternative to some of the international resorts we’ve already alluded to.
But, for us, its real attraction is its fantastic beaches. After spending two weeks there, we can honestly say we haven’t seen such a varied set of stunning beaches in one location anywhere else in the world.
And, in this article, we’ll show you why.
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THE MAGNIFICENT BEACHES OF PIPA BRAZIL
Pipa Brazil is located within the state of Rio Grande de Norte. Until the 1970s, it was little more than a simple fishing village. That all changed after groups of surfers discovered its charms and word soon got out, attracting surfers and backpackers from across the world.
Thanks to strictly enforced environmental rules, the town’s development hasn’t run amok with high-rise apartment blocks and hotels. Something that blights many other Brazilian beach resorts. And, whilst the town itself isn’t exactly picture postcard perfect, its main drag is still an attractive mix of restaurants, bars and boutique shops.
Nowadays, it’s a big draw for Argentinians, whose influence can be seen in the range of restaurants (lots of pizzerias and Argentinian steak houses) and by the number of Spanish speakers all over town.
And, because of its surfing roots, there’s a young, hippy vibe to the place. Unsurprisingly, the weekends can be noisy as partygoers arrive en masse.
You might sometimes hear it referred to as “Pipa Beach”. Although this specifically refers to the central beach, it’s also used as a catch-all term for the town and its surrounding beaches. Indeed, at either side of low tide, it’s possible to walk between each one. And it’s such a feature that details of tide times and links to online tide tables are commonplace in hotels, pousadas (B&Bs) and elsewhere in town.
Our guide begins in the south at Praia das Minas and takes each beach in turn as far north as Praia de Cacimbinhas
The beaches of Pipa Brazil
Praia das Minas
This wild stretch of deserted powder sand has absolutely zero facilities, no shade and a surf that’s not particularly safe to swim in for most of the year. But don’t let that put you off!
Running for nearly 5 km south of Pipa, it’s accessible via Rua das Tartarugas (“Turtle Street”), reflecting the fact that the beach is also used by sea turtles to lay eggs between December and April.
Behind it, sandstone cliffs, dunes and Atlantic rainforest fight for dominance. All the while, groups of vultures circle above, the silence only being broken by the rumble of tourist-laden quad bikes and jeeps that cruise the coast throughout this region.
The superb sands of Praia das Minas
You can explore the beach in two ways – either by wandering on the sand or along the cliff edge. To be honest, walking its length can be difficult as the sand is very soft and you might find it hard going in places. But, apart from one our two local fishermen and a small group of surfers, we had the beach to ourselves on both of our visits.
Which is why we found it so irresistible.
However, if you do have the time, take a walk along Turtle Street (avoiding the quad bikes and jeeps) and deviate off to the cliff edge for some fabulous views. There’s actually stepped access from the cliffs to the beach approximately a third of the way along, so you can easily combine the two if you wish.
On the other hand, attempting to clamber up one of the sand dunes behind might prove to be a literal step too far – as we found out on a couple of occasions.
Praia das Minas from the cliffs above
Dunes and quad bikes behind the beach
If you access the beach at close to low tide, you can actually continue north beneath the cliffs of Pedra de Moleque and the Chapadao, Also referred to as Praia da Cancela, this is another wonderful stretch of sand, with barely another soul to share it with.
It eventually connects with Praia do Amor. Although, even at low tide, there are a considerable number of rocks to negotiate for at least a couple of hundred metres. A better alternative would be to climb the steps to the Chapadao and access Praia do Amor from there.
Storm clouds over Praia das Minas and the Chapadao
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Indeed, we’d recommend you visit the Chapadao anyway as part of your Pipa Beach experience. Translating as “plateau” in Portuguese, it’s essentially a sandstone ledge that forms part of the cliffs of Pedra de Moleque. The story goes that when Portuguese explorers first set eyes on the cliffs, they thought they resembled a barrel – or pipa in Portuguese.
The plateau serves as a meeting point and viewing platform for the endless convoys of quad bikes. But you can get away from any crowds by wandering along the cliff edge, where you’ll be treated to superb views of both Praia das Minas and Praia do Amor.
A view of the storm clouds from the Chapadao
To get to Praia do Amor from here, take the footpath that leads beyond the Praia do Amor sign and enter the Amor Restaurant grounds before descending to the beach via the steep wooden steps.
View of Praia do Amor from the Chapadao
Praia do Amor
And so on to, “Love Beach”. So named not because of any dubious-looking shenanigans in the sand, but rather the heart-shaped cove it’s set in.
The sand here is a lot firmer than on Minas, making it a lot easier to walk on. And the beach features surfing schools, bars, restaurants and rows of sun loungers for all-day relaxing. Although, thankfully, many of the buildings are tastefully hidden behind foliage at the base of the cliffs.
And if you want beginner surfing lessons, this is the beach for you. Indeed, we saw plenty of pre-teens having one-to-one coaching out in the water.
But when the tide does go out, the rock pools that remain become a favourite hangout for children and adults alike.
Further north along the beach, a couple of staircases provide access and exit points, connecting with the main drag through town.
Although we do prefer our beaches wild and untouched (like Praia das Minas), Amor does have the advantage of shade and plenty of amenities. And, once again at low tide, it provides a lovely walk on clean, white sand pitted with volcanic rocks, to Pipa’s central beach.
Umbrellas and sun loungers on Praia do Amor
A view of the beach with the Chapadao in the background
Praia de Pipa
Because of its central location, this is probably the first beach you’ll see when you arrive in Pipa. A stunner it ain’t – especially compared to the other beaches on either side of it. And it’s by far the busiest of all the beaches we’re covering here. However, it does have its own unique attractions, depending on whether the tide is in or out.
When it’s in, the reduced space can make it appear extremely crowded. Even out on the water where dozens of pleasure and fishing boats are moored. So unless you’re planning on having lunch at one of the restaurants that overlook the beach, this might be the time to avoid it. However, as the tide begins to retreat, many more restaurants spill out onto the beach (especially at the southern end), where feet-in-the-sand tables and chairs are highly sought after.
Meanwhile, vendors patrol the beach offering everything from bikinis and sarongs to popcorn and ice cream. Even guys with mobile BBQs selling their (surprisingly delicious) Queijo de Coalho (BBQd cheese on wooden skewers). Our go-to guy was the one selling his Bolinho de Macaxeira (shredded meat wrapped in cheese and mashed cassava, then deep-fried). Which, by sheer coincidence, seemed to pair perfectly with an ice-cold Brahma beer or two.
(As an aside, we’ve heard people complaining about the presence of the vendors. And, we’ll be honest, we’ll normally try to avoid being pestered by over-zealous people selling stuff to us in the street. But we genuinely found the vendors here to be non-pushy and very pleasant. To the point where they’re obviously accepted as part of this particular beach scene).
When the tide goes out, dozens of rock pools appear – perfect for escaping the crowds and keeping cool. And, judging by the number of cooler boxes we saw, they sometimes double as natural beer and caipirinha gardens. Particularly in the late afternoon.
The beach and rock pools at low tide
But perhaps the best reason for checking on the tide times is to be able to walk at low tide to Praia dos Golphines (Dolphin Bay Beach), just to the north. The walk itself takes about 20 minutes from the main restaurant area. And, once it’s safe to do so, there’s a constant trail of people wandering back and forth.
Beach restaurants – and lots more people – on Praia de Pipa
Along the way, there’s a stretch of sand known as Praia do Porto, where a natural pathway carves a route through the rocks and boulders. The rock pools here are so fascinating that it’s worth taking your time to take a closer look. If you can find your way past the inevitable Instagram photo shoots.
People heading from Praia de Pipa to Praia dos Golphinos
Praia dos Golphinos
After which, the sublime Praia dos Golphinos unveils itself in all its spectacular cliff-topped glory.
Here, the rock pools disappear and the shallow water drops to a sandy floor. The almost flat beach retains an element of the retreating water, creating watercolour reflections of the cliffs, sun lounger umbrellas and even groups of girls and boys playing “keepy-uppy” with a beach ball.
It’s a fantastic beach to walk on from one end to the other, where it becomes pretty much deserted. And overlooking it are sandstone cliffs covered in Atlantic forest for its entire length.
But the real treat is in the water. Yes, it’s great for swimming. But swimming for fun is one thing. Swimming with dolphins, on the other hand, is something entirely else.
On our three separate visits to the beach, we were treated to a rendezvous in the water with a group of dolphins (mostly females and their calves) that played, spun and twisted around us. There was no need to look for them either. They’d simply just appear and cruise around for as long as we were there. For us, it was reason alone to visit Pipa. And we’re just so happy to have been lucky enough to be amongst them in their natural habitat.
The only downside is that plenty of small tour boats arrive from Praia de Pipa in search of them, too. And sadly, the sight of an accelerating speed boat heading towards a newly spotted dolphin is not something we’ll remember fondly.
Sunloungers beneath the cliffs
A view from further along the beach
Of course, when the tide is on its way back in, the sensible approach is to wave goodbye to the dolphins and walk back via Praia do Porto to Praia de Pipa. It’s the only route back. However, there IS an option – which is to stay put and wait for the tide to recede again (another good reason to know the tide times).
To help pass the time, there’s a small selection of sun loungers attached to a group of pop-up bars that can be rented out for a small fee. So, if you have the inclination, you can try one or several freshly made caipirinhas while the incoming water laps around your feet in the sand. Something we can wholeheartedly recommend!
A horse enters the surf on Praia dos Golphinos
Praia do Madeiro
At the northern end of the beach, another rocky point reveals the next in Pipa’s collection of sandy masterpieces. Once again, it’s possible to walk around at low tide. But, as at Praia do Amor, you’ll have to negotiate plenty of rocks and boulders to do so.
The alternative is to jump on a local bus (headed for Tibau do Sul) and ask the driver to let you off at Praia do Madeiro, approximately 10-15 minutes from Pipa’s central bus station. You can walk it along the road instead, but expect it to take 45 minutes to one hour without any shade.
Madeiro is another beach accessed via a couple of sets of steep wooden steps. Once again the sand is composed of fine white powder, there’s surfing for beginners and there are more dolphins offshore to watch at play. The water here is calmer, too, making swimming much easier.
Perhaps surprisingly, the beach hosts the largest number of restaurants and bars in the area. And, on our two visits, we felt hassled a little too much by one or two of the front-of-house staff assigned to accost any passers-by.
However, we did unearth a little gem in Hall Pipa Beach, at the very end of the restaurant strip. Argentinian-owned, it stands out from the rest like the colourful, surf-influenced tropical bar it is
The Hall Bar on Praia do Madeiro Pipa
Beyond, the beach suddenly becomes wild and deserted. Coconut trees sway in line beneath the cliffs. The sun loungers and umbrellas fade into the distance. And, with every step, you re-enter a world where the only things you can hear are the gentle lapping of the waves and the occasional birdsong from the cliffs behind.
View of Praia do Madeiro from the crossing with Praia de Cacimbinhas
Praia de Cacimbinhas
Once again, a rocky point marks the cross-over onto another beach – this time Praia de Cacimbinhas. And, unsurprisingly, it’s another glorious stretch of sand backed by cliffs and dunes. And, due to its lack of facilities (apart from one small hotel), you may very well be the only person there. Which is always fine by us.
In fact, if you’ve reached this point on foot just keep going until you arrive at a set of wide-open sand dunes above the cliffs. The view back along the beach from there is stunning. And, if you’d rather not return to Pipa along the beach you can catch the bus back from here, too.
Praia de Cacimbinhas – looking towards Tibau do Sol
Other things to see and do
Along with the rest of the coastline in this part of northeastern Brazil, Pipa provides plenty of opportunities to explore the sand dunes north and south of town on organised buggy and quad bike tours. Although we didn’t do this so can’t recommend any particular tour company.
Meanwhile, Santuario Ecologico is situated on the rocky outcrop between Praia dos Golphinos and Praia do Madeiro and is accessed from the road that connects the two. It’s essentially a sanctuary for birds, monkeys, reptiles etc, and includes trails and viewpoints.
Within the town, Avenida Baia dos Golphinos is the main drag around which you’ll find most of the restaurants and boutique shopping. And believe us, if you’re worried about what to wear on the beach, you’ll find something to suit you here.
Finding something to eat is just as easy. Although our experience on the quality of food was fairly mixed. But we can recommend El Farolito for Argentinian steaks and Tapas, where the tuna encrusted with sesame seeds was out of this world. A shout out, too, for Estação Pipa Brew where good quality craft beer can be bought from a serving hatch and dispatched while sitting on a street bench outside.
Elsewhere, you’ll come across some excellent street art, such as those along Rua Praia do Amor.
Street art in Pipa
How to get there
The nearest major airports are in Natal and Recife. Although Natal is considerably closer and has easier connection options.
NATAL TO PIPA
It’s possible to get a bus (with Viação Riograndense) to Pipa from the central bus station in Natal, but you’ll first need to take the shuttle service from the airport. We decided to opt for a private car transfer direct from the airport to our accommodation in Pipa. Costing 220 reais (£35 / $44) for the 90-minute journey, it was certainly more expensive. But we found the convenience far outweighed the additional expense. If you’re interested in this we recommend you contact Transfers Erke directly.
RECIFE TO PIPA
From Recife airport, things are a little more complicated. Again you’ll need to make your way from the airport to the bus station in Recife. From there, there’s no direct bus to Pipa. Instead, you’ll need to catch a bus to Natal, getting off at the town of Goianinha, from where you’ll then need to catch the local bus to Pipa.
BlaBlaCar is an alternative you might want to consider. It’s an app that connects you to drivers who commute between towns and cities and who can offer you a lift in their vehicle for a fee. We used this service for our transfer from Pipa to Recife at the end of our stay and it worked very well.
Caipirinhas at Praia dos Golphinos
Where to stay
We were lucky enough to keep our costs down by house sitting in Pipa. But we also spent three nights at the lovely Apart-Hotel Flor Da Mata, a short walk up a hill from the town centre. Our room was a modern chalet with a kitchen, overlooking the swimming pool. Because of its location, it was also away from all the noise at night. And the service was excellent. Recommended.
If you’d prefer to splash out on a cliff-top hotel overlooking one of the spectacular beaches we’ve featured, you might want to consider Hotel Ponta do Modeiro. We haven’t stayed there ourselves but we were intrigued by a few of its chalet-style rooms that faced out over the cliff edge as we wandered along one of the more deserted sections of Praia do Modeiro. So if you go, let us know how it went!
Final thoughts on Pipa Brazil
As you’ve probably deduced by now, we were blown away by the sheer quality and variety of beaches surrounding Pipa.
It’s undoubtedly a touristy place, especially around the central beach (Praia de Pipa) and along the main drag (Avenida Baia dos Golphinos) But there are also plenty of wild, empty places to explore, too.
Indeed, if you’re planning to spend 2 weeks in Brazil on a beach holiday, you could easily spend most of your time in Pipa and combine it with a couple of days in, say Olinda (near Recife), before flying back home.
When is the best time to go?
Pipa can be visited any time of the year, although the rainy season runs from March to August. However, the high temperatures are almost constant, and even during the rainy season, the showers are usually heavy but short-lived.
We visited during late-March / early-April and were lucky enough to have calm, sunny weather for most of the time
Is it safe to visit Pipa Brazil?
Although there are undoubtedly potential security issues to consider in the larger cities of Natal and Recife, Pipa is generally considered a safe place to visit. Its small-town hippy vibe makes for a laid-back experience and major crime is rare.
However, as we have reiterated elsewhere, it pays to have a common sense, safety-first approach when travelling anywhere. Be aware of your surroundings, blend in wherever possible and don’t flash expensive personal items in public.
Any other questions?
If there’s anything you’d like to ask about Pipa that we haven’t covered here, there are a few ways to get in touch with us.
Firstly, you can simply ask your question in the Comments section below. You can also get in touch using our contact form. Or, if you’d like to join our community on Facebook, you can ask directly there.
Either way, we’ll do our best to get straight back to you.
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Hi, we're Ian and Nicky, an English couple on a voyage of discovery around the world, and this blog is designed to reflect what we see, think and do. Actually, we'd like to think it also provides information, entertainment and inspiration for other “mature” travellers, too. So please feel free to pour yourself a glass of something suitably chilled and take a look around.