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Brazil’s north-eastern coast is known for its stunning weather, beautiful beaches and unique culture. Individually, many of the region’s cities are excellent tourist destinations in themselves, but a great way to see them all is by taking a long road trip from Maranhão all the way down to Bahia.
The journey starts in the city of São Luis, with its beautiful colonial architecture and lively reggae scene, before working your way east through two of Brazil’s most beautiful spots: the gorgeous dunes and lagoons of Lençóis Maranhenses and the amazing secluded beach town of Jericoacoara.
Lençóis Maranhenses gets its name from the vast, sweeping dunes that cover the park, which are often said to look like bed sheets (lençóis, in Portuguese). The rainy season causes pristine lagoons to form in between the dunes, meaning you can trek over desert-like hills of sand before taking a dip in the gorgeous natural pools below.
The journey on to Jericoacoara is by far the most complex stretch of this route, requiring a vehicle with a bit of off-road capability. From Barreirinhas, the entry point to Lençóis Maranhenses, you’ll need to take some sand tracks east to the beach town of Paulino Neves, only then will you return to properly paved roads as you journey through the towns of Tutoia, Parnaiba and Camocim, before reaching Jericoacoara.
The sleepy fishing village of Jericoacoara, or Jeri, as the locals call it, is a truly fairytale destination for any visitor to Brazil. With its beautiful beaches and slow, relaxed pace of life, it is the perfect place to relax while soaking up the sun and stunning scenery. One of the main attractions is the Duna do Pôr do Sol (Sunset Dune), where crowds gather to lay back and see one of the world’s greatest sunsets, as the sun drops into the Atlantic horizon, often creating the famous Green Flash phenomenon.
The route then takes you through a number of the region’s state capitals: Fortaleza, Natal, João Pessoa, Recife, Maceió and Aracaju, as you begin to snake south towards your final destination, the amazing city of Salvador.
Often overlooked by foreign travellers, Fortaleza is one of the country’s biggest cities and is made absolutely gorgeous by its idyllic beaches and party atmosphere. Head for a walk around Ponte dos Ingleses and Praia do Iracema, or for an excellent city beach check out Praia do Futuro and its excellent sands.
The pretty José de Alencar theatre is well worth seeing, with its Art Nouveau décor dating back to the 1910s. To top off your time in Fortaleza, have a night out around Praia do Iracema, which becomes one of the north-east’s most happening spots once the sun goes down.
The next major stop will be Natal, located on Brazil’s north-eastern tip and the capital city of the state of Rio Grande do Norte. The city itself doesn’t have much going for it, but the surrounding region makes Natal a must on any north-east road trip.
Before making it into the city itself, you will pass the lovely coastal locations of Galinhos, São Miguel do Gostoso and Genipabu, all of which are worth a stop. In Natal, spend some time in the hip southern beach neighborhood of Ponta Negra and then head further south to Praia da Pipa.
With life moving along at a similar pace to Jericoacoara, Pipa is a gorgeous little town with great beaches and a hip, relaxed atmosphere. It is a good spot for surfing, and you can also swim with dolphins at the fittingly named Baía dos Golfinhos (Dolphin Bay).
The route then starts to turn south and takes us to the chaotic yet charming city of Recife and its stunningly beautiful neighbor Olinda. While most of the towns and cities on the journey so far have an overwhelmingly relaxed and chilled-out atmosphere, Recife is decidedly more urban and as such has great character and culture.
The suburb of Boa Viagem is the most popular spot for tourists in Recife, with its excellent nightlife and restaurants. Just don’t go into the water, as Boa Viagem’s beaches are notorious for shark attacks.
On the outskirts of Recife is the quaint town of Olinda, with its gorgeous museums and beautifully preserved colonial architecture. It may be a good idea to find a charming B&B in Olinda during your stay, from where you can explore the town and take quick trips into Recife.
The last stop on the journey is Salvador, the capital of the state of Bahia. Once being a key city of Brazil’s slave trade, Salvador today is arguably the most African city outside of Africa, and is a rare example of a South American city where the culture of black slaves has been so well preserved and celebrated.
If after all that, you’re still looking to go a bit further, the towns of Ilheus and Porto Seguro, in the southern parts of Bahia state, are also worth a visit. The entire trip involves around 40 hours of driving, so give yourself plenty of time to enjoy your stopovers.