Start out by visiting some of the beaches in the area, as that is likely one of the main reasons you are visiting Arraial do Cabo. They say save the best for last, but life is short. As you turn the corner over the back side of the peninsula on which Arraial sits, you will be rendered speechless as you are greeted with a view of blinding white sand and a bunch of boats bobbing in the bay, on water so clear they cast shadows on the ocean floor.
Across from the main prainha on Pontal do Atalaia, you will see almost a mirror image of the beach on which you stand, but this one is more secluded. That is largely because it is a separate island not attached to the mainland, and is only accessible by boat, but it has a terrific beach, a coastal cave called Gruta Azul, and some trails through the dense bush that lead you up to the highest point of the island for a spectacular panoramic view.
Whoever named the beaches in Brazil was less than creative, as another Praia Grande rears its head in Arraial do Cabo; but if you decide to walk up or down the beach, you will soon see why it bears the name, as it is simply enormous. Two beaches run down both the east and west sides of the town and Praia Grande occupies the whole west side just a five-minute walk from the center of the town.
This is one of the more happening, crowded beaches in the area as it is directly accessible from the town, but it is a great place if an open beach bores you and you would like to be entertained with some beach activities. They have two nets for beach soccer, restaurants and cafés close by, sand dunes, and dozens of boats floating in the harbor.
A short stroll from Praia dos Anjos will give you a terrific view looking back at Arraial do Cabo, and as you continue on a little farther and the hill starts to slope in your favour, you will be exposed to another gorgeous view – this time of the secluded Praia Forno, or “Ovens Beach.” A horseshoe bay is protected on all sides by jungle-covered hills, and the warm blue water laps up against a thin strip of beach lined with basic restaurants and bars where you can get a bite or a beverage.
Walking through the streets, and most certainly at Praia dos Anjos, you will spot guys in vibrant shirts that say “Passeio de Barco” as they chase down cars of arriving tourists to try to sell them their boat tours. Hook up with a couple of these guys, get some prices, and pick a boat tour that appeals to you. They are all quite similar and will carry you around the open seas, visiting some of the more secluded spots around Arraial do Cabo that are only accessible by boat.
Come into Cabo Frio for a change of pace, as this little city has more going on than Arraial do Cabo, and you can find some great deals on things you might need to buy, such as cheap but suave sunglasses, or discounted yet stylish shoes. You can also vsit the historic quarter and pay a local fisherman to take you over to Ilha Japonesa, a deserted little island in the inlet.
This is a town with such an elegant appearance it could teach Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro a thing or two. Walk from Praia dos Osso along the belt along the water that is lined with restaurants and bars on one side and the open ocean, islands, and bobbing fishing boats on the other, and you will end up in the historic yet trendy center of the town, where even the McDonald’s has had such a stylish makeover that it fits right in.
Go under the surface and enjoy the crystal-clear water with a certified dive instructor if it is your first time, or visit one of the dive hostels that you can stay at to take classes and practical dive exams, if you’d like to get your certifications.
One of the accepted ways of getting around here is in open-roof dune buggies, and you can rent them at very reasonable prices to explore the peninsula and neighboring towns and beaches. They usually are charged in two-hour time slots, with every two hours costing around US$20 per person, so you might as well all rent your own ride rather than playing co-pilot.