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Brazil's Other Beach
by Mark Chesnut

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Copacabana and Ipanema may be Brazil’s best-known beaches, but they are far from the only beautiful stretches of sand in this massive South American nation. Travelers looking to go beyond “Brazil 101” are increasingly checking out destinations like Cabo Frio, where a sun-soaked coastline and growing gay community have made this an ideal, low-key alternative to Rio’s urban hustle and bustle.

Located in Rio de Janeiro state, about two and a half hours by car or bus from the city of Rio, Cabo Frio wasn’t always known for its beaches. One of the oldest cities in this part of Brazil, Cabo Frio was founded in 1615 (before Rio city), and soon became an important hub for shipping, fishing, and the salt trade, all of which contributed to a growing wealth that peaked in the 19th century. The city experienced an economic downturn in later years, but was saved when oil was discovered nearby about 20 years ago.

The sun and sand also helped save Cabo Frio. Today, this city of 120,000 attracts more than one million vacationers during the summer months (which, remember, take place during our winter season). Recently improved highways make getting here easier than ever, and the new Cabo Frio international airport, which opened in October 2007, now makes it possible to connect directly to Cabo Frio via São Paulo, the largest gateway for international flights in Brazil. This city by the sea is still largely undiscovered by foreign tourists. Vacationers from Rio de Janeiro as well as Florianopolis, Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, and other nearby cities, are the most common visitors.

Strolling the narrow streets and the shady square of the Passagem district, you just might convince yourself that you’ve gone back in time. This is where the city was first founded, and it’s graced with landmarks including São Benedito church, built in 1761 to honor the “black saint,” who represents the suffering of black people in Brazil. This was where slaves once went to celebrate Mass, since they weren’t allowed inside the main church.

The region was home to pre-Colombian people at least 6,000 years ago, but Cabo Frio’s historic attractions are all from the Colonial and post-Colonial era. One of the most iconic images is Forte São Mateus, a fort built between 1616 and 1620; the house where the soldiers lived now features craft exhibitions, and the fort offers beautiful views of the seashore. At the base of Guide Hill, next to the Feliciano Sodré Bridge, is the Convento de Nossa Senhora dos Anjos (Our Lady of Angels Convent), which was built in 1696. This historic landmark features a church, chapel, convent, and monks’ cemetery. The convent houses the Museum of Religious and Traditional Art, which features work dating from the Baroque period of the 16th and 17th centuries. Day tours of the city hit all the main tourist sites, and boat rides offer a scenic view of the coast. Rio-based gay tour operators, including G Brazil Turismo, offer package deals and guided tours that include round trip transportation between Rio de Janeiro and Cabo Frio.

The rather stark salt flats that I pass upon arriving at Cabo Frio belie the beauty that awaits along its coastline. The city center itself is not lush or pretty, but five-story luxury condos pop up as I approach the broad, white-sand beach along the coast. Following the sun-drenched waterfront boulevard, I pass the historic part of town as well as an attractive waterfront area with plenty of restaurants and nightlife.

Sun and sand are, of course, the big draw in Cabo Frio. There are nine impressive beaches; the most popular for gay and lesbian sun worshippers is Praia do Forte, which has silky white sand and a nice view of the city’s historic fortress. Praia do Forte also has its own gay kiosk, Quiosque Navegantes, which is the perfect place to get a drink and a snack, or enjoy live music on weekends.



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Each beach has its own special allure in Cabo Frio. Adjacent to Praia do Forte is Dunas Beach, named for its giant sand dunes. Foguete Beach, on the other side of Dunas Beach, stretches more than a mile and is a good place for surfing, windsurfing, kite surfing, and fishing. Peró Beach, which runs for more than four and a half miles, is an unspoiled area with sand dunes and ideal waves for windsurfing and surfing. The crescent-shaped Conchas Beach, which measures nearly half a mile in length, is good for swimming, fishing, jet-skiing, and snorkeling, and several tour and dive operators are based here. At its right side, rocky cliffs create natural swimming pools.

Cabo Frio is a good spot to plan dives, with more than 30 dive points around the area. At Papagaios Island, the most isolated of the dive spots, you can dive by day or night. Dois Irmãos Island, Comprida Island, Pargos Island, and Breu Island are also good spots for divers. Companies including Over Sea Dive Center offer guided dive excursions. Surf enthusiasts will have fun at the Museu do Surf Cabo Frio (Cabo Frio Surf Museum), which exhibits more than 300 surfboards, 210 trophies, and plenty of magazines.

With so much attention focused on the sun and sand, it’s no surprise that beachwear is also an important element of life in Cabo Frio. The city has hosted clothing-focused events including Cabo Frio Fashion Beach, as well as a parade called 60 anos do Biquíni, which in 2007 celebrated the 60th anniversary of the world’s most daring swimwear.

Even if you’ve missed the most recent bikini-themed events, you can still celebrate. Take a stroll down Rua dos Bikinis (literally, Bikini Street), where more than 70 stores sell accessories, clothing, and—oh yeah—bikinis. Canvas paintings, sculptures, leather, ceramics, and woodcrafts are also good buys here.

It’s also possible to enjoy the water without getting wet. Cabo Frio is graced with a canal, Canal do Itajuru, which makes for lovely strolling and is lined with restaurants along the Boulevard Canal. In Itajuru’s waters lies Japonês Island, where visitors find calm waves, a saltwater swimming pool, and kiosks that rent boats. A trail from here leads to Brava Beach, the city’s quarter-mile-long nude beach. This isolated stretch of yellow sand is marked with rocky crags and cacti. The Feliciano Sodré Bridge, built in 1926, sits at one end of the canal (Rua dos Bikinis is just across the bridge), and a sculpture of a fallen angel, which dates to 1907, is another scenic point. Itajuru canal connects the Atlantic Ocean with Araruama Lagoon, where visitors can hike, fish, sunbathe, and go sailing.

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Very nice site!
- Pharmb878 , USA

Very good article, Anyone visiting this area would find this article very informative. Gay or straight you will love Cabo Frio
- eric k , Rio De Janeiro Brasil

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