Brazil's Other Beach
by Mark Chesnut
Copacabana and Ipanema may be Brazils 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 Rios urban hustle
Located in Rio de Janeiro state, about
two and a half hours by car or bus from the city of
Rio, Cabo Frio wasnt 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 youve gone back in time. This is where the
city was first founded, and its 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 werent
allowed inside the main church.
The region was home to pre-Colombian
people at least 6,000 years ago, but Cabo Frios
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.
SUN, SAND, AND SURF
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 citys 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.
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.
It looks like you don't have flash player
here to go to Adobe download page.
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
With so much attention focused on the
sun and sand, its 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 worlds most daring
Even if youve 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, andoh yeahbikinis. Canvas paintings,
sculptures, leather, ceramics, and woodcrafts are also
good buys here.
Its 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 Itajurus 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 citys 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.