East of Fortaleza: Exploring Aquiraz, Beberibe, and Canoa Quebrada

Dune buggy tracks line a flat, white sand beach.

Praia das Fontes. Photo © Rodrigo Sampaio Teixeira, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Fortaleza’s urban beaches look good and are certainly fun to stroll, loll, or snooze on. When it comes to actually going swimming, however, it’s better to head beyond the urban sprawl. The coastline running east of Fortaleza—from the town of Aquiraz to Ceará’s frontier with Rio Grande do Norte—is known as the Costa do Sol Nascente (Coast of the Rising Sun). Its beachscapes are composed of white dunes, red cliffs, and fishing jangadas that set off long before sunrise to bring in the daily catch. If you’re looking for peace and tranquility, with only an occasional dose of urban excitement, consider basing yourself at one of the beaches along this coast.

Linked to Fortaleza by well-paved CE-040, the coastal highway, these beaches can be easily visited in a day trip by car or organized excursion. Buses operated by São Benedito (tel. 85/3452-1999) depart regularly from the Rodoviária.

Aquiraz

The Costa do Sol Nascente begins with the unspoiled beaches of Porto das Dunas and Prainha, located in the pretty historic town of Aquiraz, some 30 kilometers (20 miles) from Fortaleza. Founded in the early 1700s by Jesuit priests, Aquiraz served as Ceará’s first capital.

Sights in Aquiraz

Sights here include a lovely old church and an intriguing 19th-century meat market. The town is particularly known for the intricately detailed embroidery and lacework made by local rendeiras. Porto das Dunas is the famous home of Beach Park (Rua Porto das Dunas 2734, tel. 85/4012-3000, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. daily summer, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Thurs.–Mon. off-season, R$110). This much-hyped Disneyesque theme park will thrill kids. Included among the 18 water rides are giant slides to “river” pools with simulated currents, and “ocean” pools with simulated waves. If they don’t want to join in the fun, adults can veg out at the megabarraca on the beach, which serves succulent crab.

Food in Aquiraz

On Prainha beach, a classic seafood stop is at the 20-year-old Barraca da Dona Diva (tel. 85/3361-5306, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, R$20–30), where you can savor charcoal-grilled shrimp or lobster served with manioc fries.

Getting To Aquiraz

Departing from Domingo Olympio bus terminal at the corner of Av. Domingos Olympio and Av. Aquanambi, São Benedito bus No. 367 goes directly to Porto das Dunas and Beach Park, while No. 129 goes 3 kilometers (2 miles) farther to Aquiraz. Buses to Aquiraz depart every 20 minutes; the fare is R$3.80.


Beberibe

The town of Beberibe, 85 kilometers (53 miles) from Fortaleza, is known for the spectacular Praia de Morro Branco. Aside from its great beach, Morro Branco is famed for the Labirinto das Falesias, a series of “labyrinths” formed by fissures in the dune-shaped cliffs behind the beach. For a contribution of R$5, local guides will lead you through the maze, although you can do it on your own. You’ll be duly astonished by the colored sands that range from creamy whites and fleshy pinks to oranges, yellows, russets, and purples. The wide array of tonalities inspires the local production of glass bottles containing scenes “painted” with colored sand. These can be kitschy but quite fascinating. Try to avoid weekends, when tour buses arrive en masse. While Morro Branco is a sophisticated hub, replete with bars and restaurants, the nearby beach of Praia das Fontes is much more tranquil. The fontes in its name refer to the freshwater springs that bubble up from the red rock cliffs on the beach. Popular activities on both beaches include dune buggy rides, jangada trips, and kite surfing.

Accommodations and Food in Beberibe

For lunch, tuck into grilled lobster, peixada cearense, or carne-de-sol at the restaurant belonging to the Hotel das Falésias (Av. Assis Moreira 314, Praia das Fontes, tel. 85/3327-3052, R$20–30). Perched on the edge of a cliff, it offers stunning views. Should you want to spend the night, the spacious though fairly basic double rooms cost R$120.

Getting To Beberibe

São Benedito offers 10 daily bus departures from Fortaleza’s Rodoviária (2 hours, R$7). By car, follow CE-040, the coastal highway.


Canoa Quebrada

Three hours east of Fortaleza (160 kilometers/100 miles), the poetically named Canoa Quebrada (Broken Canoe) is one of Ceará’s most popular beach getaways. A former fishing village that became a 1970s hippie haven and is now (sadly) transitioning from hip to hysterically mobbed, Canoa Quebrada possesses a youthful yet cosmopolitan vibe that draws an international crew of sun and sand worshippers. By day, all the action takes place on the pinkish dunes, where buggies zoom around like roller coasters, and on the turquoise waters, which are dotted with kite surfers and triangle-sailed jangadas. But at night, the bars on Broadway (yes, Canoa has a Great White Way) start pulsing with tanned bodies intent on dancing until the sun comes up. You can visit Canoa Quebrada in a day trip from Fortaleza. However, to take advantage of its laid-back ambiance, you need to give yourself some time to unwind. Be warned: If you favor tranquility over a party scene, make sure to come during the week and during the off-season.

Beaches in Canoa Quebrada

The main beach of Praia da Canoa Quebrada is quite dramatic with its rusty cliffs, soft white-sand beach, and warm reef-protected waters. However, it is also quite busy. On foot, you can (and should) go east or take a buggy toward the more tranquil beaches of Majorlândia, Quixaba, and Lagoa da Mata. The most popular trip is a three-hour journey that takes you to the splendid Praia da Ponta Grossa, 54 kilometers (34 miles) away, with stops at other beaches along the way. This halfday outing costs around R$220 for up to four people. It’s best undertaken in the afternoon, when it’s not as hot and you can stop to watch the sunset from the dunes of Ponta Grossa. Although you’ll be approached by buggy drivers on the beach, for safety’s sake, book a licensed bugueiro through a hotel. You can also contact the Associação dos Bugueiros de Canoa Quebrada (Rua Dragão do Mar, tel. 88/3421-7175).

Nightlife in Canoa Quebrada

Canoa Quebrada’s nightlife sizzles on a stretch of Rua Dragão do Mar known as Broadway. If you’re looking for action, you’ll find it at places such as Bar do Reggae, which reels in the Bob Marley groupies, and Bar Meu Xodó, which attracts aficionados of forró. Dancing fiends can whip themselves into a frenzy at No Name, which plays a variety of tunes. During the height of the summer, the festivities take to the beach, where various barracas sponsor luaus (sans roasted pig and leis) in the sand.

Accommodations and Food in Canoe Quebrada

Canoa’s pousadas are mostly basic and fairly affordable (eco-chic has yet to arrive). If you come during off-season, you can easily find a room for under R$100. Pousada Lua Estrela (Rua Nascer do Sol 106, tel. 88/3421-7030, R$90–110 d) is an appealingly rustic, family-run pousada. Recently renovated, but with its original hippie charms intact, all guest rooms have air-conditioning, Wi-Fi, and cable TV, though not all have sea views. There is a small pool for cooling off, and the panoramic views of red tiled roofs, palms, and the beach beyond are splendid. Pousada Aruanã (Rua dos Bugueiros, tel. 88/3421-7154, R$120–160 d) boasts an attractive setting; two-story bungalows are set amid a palmy garden with a pool. Both standard and superior rooms (with air-conditioning) are tastefully furnished with lots of wood, organic fibers, and soft lighting. All have verandas, most of which look out over the sea. The bonus (or drawback) is the distance from the center of town (a 10-minute walk). Pousada La Dolce Vita (Rua Descida da Praia, tel. 88/3421-7213, R$130–160 d) is a relaxing place with friendly staff, attractive grounds, and a great pool. The chalet accommodations, each named after a Fellini film, are warm and nicely decorated (with vintage film posters, of course). The restaurant serves tasty Italian fare.

Like its hotels, Canoa’s restaurants are laidback and light on the pocketbook. For lunch, you’re best off digging into a plate of shrimp, lobster, or fresh fish served at the beach barracas. Avoid the megabarracas closest to town. The more atmospherically primitive ones farther east such as Freedom Bar, Lazy Days, and Caffé Della Praia all have good nibbles. For dinner, Natural Bistrô (Rua Dragão do Mar 52, tel. 88/3421-7162, 6:30 p.m.–midnight daily, R$15–25) is one of the prettiest of Canoa’s restaurants with rustic decor and soft, amber lighting. The menu offers an assortment of healthy seafood dishes such as fresh fish prepared with yogurt, and shrimp with pale green chuchu (chayote) in orange sauce. Also recommended is the attractive Spanish-run Costa Brava (Rua Dragão do Mar, tel. 88/3421-7088, 5 p.m.–midnight Mon.–Sat., R$20–30), where you can feast on paella or the more unusual fideoa, a Catalonian version of paella with angel-hair spaghetti substituting for rice. Carnivores can dig into an Argentinean picanha (rump steak).

Information and Services in Canoa Quebrada

Check out the informative and multilingual (in theory) website www.portalcanoaquebrada.com.br. The closest banks are located 15 kilometers (9 miles) away in Aracati, although there’s a 24-hour ATM machine on Broadway.

Getting to Canoa Quebrada

São Benedito (tel. 85/3452-1999) offers six direct daily departures to Canoa from Fortaleza’s Rodoviária (4 hours, R$15). If you’re driving, follow CE-040 to Aracati and follow the turnoff to Canoa.


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Brazil.


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