Top Things to Do in Arraial do Cabo, Brazil

Pristine Arraial do Cabo
Pristine Arraial do Cabo | © bordallopaula / Pixabay
Photo of Alex Robinson
3 August 2021

When you first see Rio de Janeiro, you’ll be so wowed by its nature, beaches and nightlife around every corner, you’ll never think people living here ever want to leave. Well, the grass is always greener elsewhere. So, where do the Cariocas go for a break? Usually to Arraial do Cabo, a small stronghold of winding streets that all seem to end at a beach. Here are the best things to see and do in this coastal town.

Visit Prainhas do Pontal do Atalaia

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© Foto Arena LTDA / Alamy Stock Photo
As soon as you can, head out to check out the local beaches – after all, you came to Arraial do Cabo mainly for their beauty. They say “save the best for last”, but life is short. As you turn the corner to the back of the peninsula on which Arraial sits, your jaw will hit the floor: take in that view of blinding white sand and little vessels at their moorings in the bay, on water so clear they cast shadows on the ocean floor.

Take a boat tour

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Boat anchoring near Pontal do Atalaia | Arraial do Cabo | Brazil
©  Oliver Wintzen / Alamy Stock Photo
The seascapes around Arraial are sumptuous: fish flit through water as clear as Evian, beaches have the color and consistency of caster sugar, and cave-riddled islands seem to float on the turquoise horizon. The best way to maximize what you see is to sign up for a day-trip odyssey. Many of the vessels are overcrowded and bawdy, but those run by Primeira Classe are the perfect blend of relaxed and comfortable – with sun-bathing space on an upper deck and a shady lower lounge area. Hot or cool, however you like it, you’ll find it.

Drink cocktails at Ortonova

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Overlooking a broad white-sand beach and a vodka-clear bay where yachts rock gently, this popular cocktail bar terrace is a plum spot for a sundowner. The drinks are as good as it gets in Arraial – with a huge range of standards, from gins and martinis to mojitos and margaritas, as well as local caipirinhas made with exotic Brazilian fruits like tangy pitanga and juicy açaí. There’s food, too – from petisco bar snacks to full meals. Settle in, as you may be here some time.

Go scuba diving

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Recreational scuba divers at Arraial do Cabo, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil. Image shot 2011. Exact date unknown.
| © Leo Francini / Alamy Stock Photo
Arraial’s scuba diving options rank among Brazil’s finest – the reefs may not be as extensive as in the Caribbean, but the seafloor is littered with shipwrecks to explore, and the waters teem with turtles, a protected species in this country. What’s more, a convergence of currents produces a proliferation of marine life. You can reach most dive sites in half an hour from shore and take your boat to to sheltered island coves or rocky stacks. A smattering of Portuguese will pay dividends, as English is not widely spoken here, but there are plenty of dive outfits to help you take the plunge, whatever your level.

Dine at Astral Beach Food

Restaurant, Brazilian, $$$
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This simple kerbside bar is a popular pit-stop for locals on their way to or from the beach. It’s decked out like a surfer-dude beach shack, with bamboo facing at the bar, surfboards on the walls and giant fish mobiles hanging from the ceiling. Just a few blocks from the sea, it turns out food that’s snacky but sizzlingly fresh – from prawn tempura, sushi wraps and pokes to spicy salads and a huge range of burgers made with prime cut beef.

Visit Praia do Farol

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Tourists visiting the Gruta do Lago Azul [grotto of the blue lake] at Bonito - Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil
©  Fernando Stankuns / Alamy Stock Photo
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. It 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.

Book a dune-buggy tour

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Brazilians have been bombing along the beaches and down the dunes around Arraial in souped-up VW buggies since the 1960s, so you won’t have trouble finding a set-up to take you out. The best rides are away from the sea, in the extensive rolling stretches of wind-blown sand behind Praia do Foguete and Praia de Monte Alto. The formula is simple: drive to the top of a sand ridge and then down again – fast and with lots of screaming. Then, take a swim, and repeat.

Visit Cabo Frio

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Praia do Farol at Ilha do Cabo Frio I Arraial do Cabo I Brazil. Image shot 2015. Exact date unknown.
© Oliver Wintzen / Alamy Stock Photo
It’s just a beach walk away from Arraial – and what a beach. Praia da Foguete extends in a glorious 10km (6mi) carpet of bone-white sand, from the outskirts of Arraial to a ruined fort in Cabo Frio. It’s particularly beautiful to set off at dawn, as the sun is rising over the ocean, where surfers are riding. Or you can catch a cab and then a boat trip from Cabo Frio around the rocky cape, fragrant with wild-grown maquis and dotted with tiny coves and rugged offshore islands.

Will Lees contributed additional reporting to this article.

These recommendations were updated on August 3, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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