From a sand-swept jewel in Ceará state to a one-lane village south of Salvador with five stunning coves, here are Brazil's best-kept-secret strands, where turtles outnumber sunbathers and deserted islands emerge from the crystalline sea.
Blink, and Jericoacoara—a four-hour drive west from the northeastern city of Fortaleza—could be mistaken for a Saharan desertscape. But the first glimpse of the cerulean waters beyond the Pôr do Sol, Jeri's near-100-foot-high Sunset Dune, is anything but a mirage. Sand hills tower as high as buildings and the breeze can reach gale force from September to November. As a result, it's a haven for sand boarders and windsurfers, who also relish the Jacuzzi-like waters (average year-round temperature: 80 degrees). And with seas to the east and west, it's one of the few spots in continental Brazil for miraculous views of both sunrise and sunset.
WHERE TO STAY A liberal use of carnauba, a local wood, helps the bungalows and elevated huts at Vila Kalango (30 Rua das Dunas; 55-88/3669-2290; www.vilakalango.com.br; doubles from $141) blend in among the property's palms and cashew trees. Inside, everything from the towel racks to the wardrobes is made from sand-colored lumber. At the Mosquito Blue Hotel (Rua Ismael 55-88/3669-2203; www.mosquitoblue.com.br; doubles from $121), whitewashed exteriors are distinctly Mediterranean, while the 44 rooms are spare and simply furnished, with white bed linens and modern wall sconces from Fortaleza.
WHERE TO EAT Uniquely Brazilian sandwiches like pernil (a popular pork cut), pineapple, and cheese make Café Brasil (65 Beco do Guaxélo; 55-88/3669-2272; lunch for two $9) the top spot for lunch. Pair the dish with a siriguela juice, made from a grainy tropical fruit that tastes like a cross between an apple and a pear. At Chocolate (214 Rua do Forró; 55-88/3669-2190; dinner for two $36), a collection of hanging lanterns sets the mood in the eight-table alfresco risotteria with 20 versions of the Italian rice.
Related: Brazil Travel Guide
Fernando de Noronha, Pernambuco
There are more spinner dolphins and sea turtles than people on Fernando de Noronha—ibama (the Brazilian Environmental Protection Agency) limits visitors to this mountainous archipelago and national marine park 340 miles off the coast of Recife to an average of 700 a day. The result: its 16 immaculate beaches, set between craggy sea cliffs and the volcanic rock formations emerging from the translucent waters, are virtually deserted. Nearly everything and everyone (including unesco) on the seven-square-mile main island is geared toward preserving Noronha's abundant marine life and endemic land species.
WHERE TO STAY The unusual emerald waters of the horseshoe-shaped Baía do Sueste and the isle of Cabeluda form one of the most idyllic backdrops in the Americas, all of it on view from the bungalows and common areas at Pousada Maravilha (55-81/3619-0028; www.pousadamaravilha.com.br; doubles from $525). Whether guests here sink into outdoor ofuro (Japanese baths) on their private decks or onto the impossibly comfortable lobby furniture from top Brazilian design firm Artefacto, heaven is one word that immediately comes to mind. The 12 eucalyptus- and ipe-wood bungalows at the new Pousada Teju-Açu (Estrada da Alamoa, Boldró; 55-81/3619-1277; www.pousadateju-acu.com.br; doubles from $344) resemble upscale tree houses—ones filled with examples of northeastern Brazilian design, such as onion-skin lamp shades and finger paintings of hometown street scenes from Recife Artist Zé Som.
WHERE TO EAT Environmental laws limit fishing in these waters, leading to a shortage of fresh seafood on the island, so the long lines for tables at Ecologiku's (Estrada Velha do Sueste; 55-81/3619-1807; dinner for two $64) are justified. Sizable local lobsters are served whole or thrown into fiery capixabas (a version of Bahia's moquecas, or seafood stews).
Raia da Pipa, Rio Grande Do Norte
In the seventies, surfers began migrating northeast from Rio and eventually discovered this primitive fishing village one hour south of Natal. Once roads were completed, in 1994, and widespread phone service was installed, in 1999, an upsurge in tourism followed, and Pipa began its makeover from bohemian to bourgeois. Praia Principal is packed with bathers and bars, but it's a different story just around the corner at Baía dos Golfinhos. This dolphin and sea turtle sanctuary is Pipa's claim to fame: an immaculate 1.2-mile stretch of postcard-perfect sands backed up against steep cliffs of oxidized clay. Above the bluffs sits Pipa's cobblestoned main drag, Avenida Baía dos Golﬁnhos, a mile-long thoroughfare that draws an international crowd.
WHERE TO STAY Most rooms at the small inn Sombra e Água Fresca (Rua Praia do Amor; 55-84/3246-2144; www.sombraeaguafresca.com.br; doubles from $123) hug a sharp incline overlooking Chapadão (a flat red-clay plateau, the defining landmark of the area) and the Atlantic beyond. The rustic chalets at Toca da Coruja (464 Avda. Baía dos Golfinhos; 55-84/3246-2226; www.tocadacoruja.com.br; doubles from $206) are furnished with 19th-century vanities and wardrobes, rescued from Brazilian farms, and ceramics by sculptor Francisco Brennard.
WHERE TO EAT Part Willy Wonka oddity, part gastronomic adventure, the eccentric culinary sideshow at Camamo (Fazenda Pernambuquinho; 55-84/3246-4195; dinner for two $132)—10 minutes from Baía dos Golfinhos by car, in Tibau do Sul—is not to be missed. Chef Tadeu Lubambo only welcomes eight people per night to his little farmhouse stuffed with indigenous art, childhood toys, and other oddities. His self-proclaimed "exotic gastronomic ritual" is a six-course prix fixe introduction to nouveau Brazilian cuisine, featuring dishes like grilled lobster with thyme and cinnamon-laced mangos.
Morro de São Paulo, Bahia
A two-hour boat ride south from the Bahian capital of Salvador makes Morro de São Paulo, the main village on the 232-square-mile Ilha de Tinharé, an easy weekend jaunt for Salvadorans. Even so, until only a few years ago the town was rough around the edges, with run-down guesthouses the only places to stay. Now the sandy one-lane strip spills over with an interesting mix of modern hotels and colonial relics (a ruined 17th-century stone fortress greets visitors at the dock) before giving way to five consecutive beaches. Creatively named First through Fourth (except for the nonconforming Praia do Encanto), the white sands beneﬁt from a tropical Bahian climate that hovers around 77 degrees all year. The Patricinhas and Mauricinhos—as Brazilians call the Beautiful People—eat on the First Beach, drink on the Second, and sleep on the tranquil Praia do Encanto.
WHERE TO STAY It's a bumpy 30-minute ride over cratered dirt roads from Morro to the Ánima Hotel (55-75/3652-2077; www.animahotel.com; doubles from $94), which just opened among the pink bromeliads and coconut trees on Praia do Encanto. Its nine bungalows are the model for Morro's upgrade, each done with graceful touches such as bamboo towel racks, Kiri Indian maracas from Porto Seguro, and ceramic lamps from Maragojipinho. In the kitchen, cheerful Bahianas cook wonderful breakfasts like grilled beiju, a tapioca pancake. The shabby-chic lobby at Villa Dos Corais (3rd and 4th Praias; 55-75/3652-1560; www.villadoscorais.com.br; doubles from $179) makes a startling contrast to the 40 brightly colored yellow, orange, and green villas that straddle the property between the Third and Fourth beaches (rooms 43 and 44 have the best ocean views).
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK French-trained Brazilian chef Silvana da Matta Machado melds Brazilian and Thai traditions at the Ánima Hotel (dinner for two $41), the most refined dining destination on the island. Joe Moutinho's pioneering barraca (tent), Caipifruta da Joe (Praça Aureliana Lima; 55-75/3652-1108), has been serving the masses for 19 years. A Bahian atabaque drum squad provides the sound track as Joe artfully turns kiwi, guava, graviola, and passion fruits into cachaça-laden cocktails.
Cambury, São Paolo
An ongoing battle between wealthy vacation homeowners and the local government over updating the road system has kept outward appearances in Cambury, two hours north of São Paulo, deceptively primitive. The affluent believe pristine boulevards will bring the masses and thus far, theyve won: driving through the small beach town is a teeth-rattling affair. But behind the pothole-ridden streets and dilapidated-building walls that characterize this stretch of the Costa dos Alcatrazes, lie sophisticated pousadas and restaurants. Every weekend, polished Paulistas spend their days camped out on the golden sands of Cambury Beach, a 1,900-yard crescent just off the villages main street. Evenings in town are devoted to wining and dining at some of the best regional restaurants in Brazil.
Where to Stay
Located on an otherwise nondescript residential street, the 22-suite Villa Bebek Hotel (Rua Zezito, 251; 55-12/3865-3320; www.villabebek.com.br; doubles from $130) looks anything but typical. Bungalow shacks outfitted in bright colors and filled with funky accents surround a pool that snakes through the property like an Amazon tributary. Housed in a yellow Mediterranean-style mansion, the romantic Villa Paradiso Pousada (Estrada do Camburi, 1510; 55-12/3865-2557; www.pousadavillaparadiso.cjb.net; doubles from $95, including breakfast) is just a block from the beach. All 12 rooms at this adults-only boutique hotel are awash in pastel hues, and several have private verandas overlooking the small pool and gardens.
Where to Eat
Chef Edinho Engel started the Cambury dining revolution 18 years ago when he opened Restaurante Manacá (Rua Manacá, 102; 55-12/3865-1566; dinner for two $100) in the rain forest at the end of a 50-foot boardwalk. His specialty is seafood, and signature dishes like caper-shrimp-and-bananastuffed pargo (snapper) fish en papillote are some of the best to be found outside the big cities. Open-air Acqua (Estrada do Camburi, 2000; 55-12/3865-1866; dinner for two $90), which sits high above Cambury Beach on a forested hillside, is the current hot spot; Brazilian-accented Italian cuisine (conchiglia del mar—a cheesy, creamy seafood casserole baked in a seashell) fuels the chic diners, who spend the rest of the evening sipping on caipirinhas.