Rio Grande Do Norte
Pure air, sun, fine beaches and sand dunes symbolize this small state in Brazil's northeast corner. Rio Grande do Norte has one of the country's most spectacular coastlines, some 500km of beautiful beach after beautiful beach, many of them fronted by reefs with natural pools and backed by tall dunes or cliffs.
Rio Grande do Norte's capital is a clean, bright and rather bland city that has swelled as a hub for coastal package tourism, much of it catering to Brazilian families. Its main attractions are touristic beaches, buggy rides and other organized excursions, restaurants and nightlife – it won't appeal too much if you seek museums, theater or wild empty strands.
Picturesque Olinda, set around a tree-covered hill 6km north of Recife, is the artsy, colonial counterpart to the big city's hubbub. It’s an artist colony full of creative types and brimming with galleries, artisans’ workshops, museums, lovely colonial churches and music in the streets.
The coastal city of João Pessoa is the capital of Paraíba and the third-oldest city in Brazil. It claims to have more trees than any other capital city, including an Atlantic rainforest preserve, and has a reputation for being friendly and safe. It's an increasingly popular holiday destination for Brazilian families.
Beaches South of Recife
South of the big city, the sea is calm, the waters are clear and the beaches are lined with coconut palms. Porto de Galinhas, 70km from Recife, has mushroomed into one of the most popular beach resorts in the Northeast. Further south, the Tamandaré area is much less frenetic.
North of Natal
The nearly 400km of coastline between Natal and the Ceará state border (during which the coast veers from east-facing to north-facing) is a growing playground for weekenders and day-trippers from Natal, but there are still dozens of lovely beaches. The further from Natal you go, the more isolated and empty they become.