Arraial do Cabo; Brazil’s answer to the Caribbean?
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Known as the Brazilian Caribbean, this fantastic little town is surrounded by white sands and turquoise waters in every direction. Arraial do Cabo beaches are famed for their beauty, and we completely, utterly, unequivocally understand why. We were probably expecting more of a quaint fishing town vibe, so were a bit surprised when we turned up to find a mid-sized town complete with hillside favelas, but it’s still a pretty charming place.
This guide is going to cover where to stay in Arraial do Cabo, the best places to eat, how to get there, things to do and how to get to those famous white-sanded Arraial do Cabo beaches. In short, you’ll have a bloody whale of a time. Check out the video of our time in Arraial do Cabo and its surrounding beaches here:
Arraial do Cabo is just a few hours from Rio de Janeiro, which makes it the perfect city break once the metropolis tires you out! Lots of people also couple this with a stay in nearby Cabo Frío, a beach town that reminded us of a smaller Punta del Este, Uruguay, or Búzios, which is known for its party atmosphere.
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Although a little away from the action of Arraial do Cabo beaches, we highly, highly recommend staying at A Coroa Hostel. In a world full of shite hostels with grim loos, grumpy staff and a lack of social areas, this hostel is a breath of fresh air. Breakfast is pretty snazzy, too!
Some friends of ours also reported a decent stay at Nusa Brasil Surf Republic, which is closer to the action in the centre of town.
If you have a but of cash to splash, the further you get up the hill and towards the actual cape of Arraial do Cabo, the swankier things get. You can find some absolutely stunning villas with views to take your breath away, like Casa Corazul.
Things to do in Arraial do Cabo
Beach around, basically. Here’s a quick run-down of all the beachy things you can do in the Arraial do Cabo area:
1. Take an Arraial do Cabo beaches boat tour
Arraial do Cabo beaches are some of the most beautiful in Brazil. For this reason, the area has of course gained a lot of popularity with both local and international travellers. Fear not, we thought, we’re going on a Monday during low season; it’ll be empty! Ha. Hahahaa. Ha. Mmnope.
The problem with the boat trips from Arraial do Cabo isn’t the number of daily visitors, it’s the fact that all the boats leave from Arraial do Cabo within half an hour of each other, and they follow the same tossing route around each of the bays.
This means that you can be one of the Arraial do Cabo beaches so packed that it looks more like an episode of Where’s Wally, looking across the water at the beach you went to previously that now has absolutely no one on it. Please, boat operators, explain the logic.
There are some tour operators that leave a little earlier or take a different route to the Arraial do Cabo beaches, so if you can find one that starts before 11am we’d say that’s a winner. If you can’t be so flexible, you want the best bargaining chips or you just enjoy the attention, turn up at the port at 10:30am and speak to the vendors who will undoubtedly form a mob around you in the street.
We bought tickets for a boat called Bunita, because it was 35R$ (compared to the 70R$ we had found online) and came with free caipirinhas (we’re only human). We’re not entirely sure Bunita actually exists, because we were then passed onto another boat called Alexandre. The experience was still what we were sold, so we weren’t too bothered.
The setup on most of these boats seems to be that the photographer is also the guide, and in between shots he just tells you when to get on and off the boat in Portuguese and Spanish; English if you get lucky. You are given around 45-60 minutes on each of the Arraial do Cabo beaches – a comprehensive tour will take you to Praia do Farol, Prainhas do Pontal do Atalaia and Praia do Forno, plus some rock formations that look like a gorilla’s head if you squint hard enough.
Praia do Forno was definitely our favourite, mostly because a lot of the other boats skipped this last stop, and also because we’d consumed an awful lot of caipirinhas by then.
If we’re painting this trip in a bad light, we really don’t mean to; it is still an excellent day out from Arraial do Cabo and well worth seeing. We just should have had different expectations for the level of tourism at certain times of the day. The beaches are pristine, and the turquoise water is warmer than you’d expect. If you walk to the furthest ends of these Arraial do Cabo beaches, you are usually able to find some space for yourself to enjoy this slice of paradise.
Reading other blogs, we may have just been unlucky with the day we picked, though it was low season and to our knowledge there were no public holidays in Brazil nor Argentina that day. You really can’t go to Arraial do Cabo without doing the beaches tour by boat, especially as this is the only way that some of them can actually be accessed.
If you don’t want to stay in Arraial do Cabo, you can get the same boat tour from Búzios, but you’ll need to grapple with a 6am start! As mentioned previously, tours area also available from Rio de Janeiro.
2. Get to some of Arraial do Cabo beaches without a boat tour
To see the Arraial do Cabo beaches in your own time, it’s best to hike or drive over in the mornings. Praia do Farol is inaccessible without a boat, but others are perfectly fine to visit by land.
Praia Grande is always easily accessible from the main strip of Arraial do Cabo, as is Praia dos Anjos (pictured), but this one is less popular due to its location next to the port. It’s also the wrong side of the town for sunset, but of an evening you’re able to watch local teams battle it out in games of beach football.
To get the best view of Praia Grande at sunset, take the easy hike the Trilha da Praia Grande, which starts at Orla Flávia Alessandra.
Of the boat trip beaches, Praia do Forno is accessible by a hike from the port, and you can hike to Prainhas do Pontal do Atalaia from a hostel called Pousada Tanto Mar, on the southern edge of Arraial do Cabo. These hikes take 15-20 minutes and an hour respectively.
Just at the edge of town, towards the main road, you can find Prainha (pictured below), and 15 minutes’ drive from there is Praia do Pontal, which takes a little dirt tracking. This is probably the least populated of the beaches of Arraial do Cabo – at least when we went.
For the more adventurous among us, there is a spot that the standard Arraial do Cabo beaches boat trips don’t go to, which requires a short but steep hike from the main town. This is called Praia Brava and it looks like bloody heaven. Don’t attempt the hike during bad weather, and make sure you go at low tide so that the beach actually exists!
The trail from Arraial do Cabo starts near Pousada Tanto Mar, which is the same point that you can pick up the trail to Prainhas do Pontal do Atalaia from. The hike to Praia Brava is not very long, but the 300 steep steps leading down to the beach make it inaccessible for many.
3. Drive an ATV or buggy
Bored of sitting around all day? Head over to one of the many adventure tour agencies in the centre of town and you can hire buggies or ATVs to tear up the roads surrounding Arraial do Cabo. Luckily, there aren’t many people taking this option, so it’s not the eye-rolling disturbance that it can be in more touristy places. Tours will take you around the hills and – you guessed it – to some more Arraial do Cabo beaches.
4. Surf on Arraial do Cabo beaches (and beyond!)
There actually aren’t many Arraial do Cabo beaches that are suitable for surfing. Praia Grande can be done on a good day, however, and if not head over to the nearby(-ish) town of Saquarema, which is the home of Brazilian surfing.
There aren’t many options for renting a surfboard on Praia Grande, so talk to your accommodation about how this can be arranged. Saquarema has a surf school right on the beach, so no problems there!
5. Scuba dive near Arraial do Cabo
There are scuba boats that will take you for fun dives at dive sites around Ilha dos Porcas. There are a fair few corals, with seahorses and turtles common sightings. In the right season, you have the teeniest chance of seeing orcas, but don’t get your hopes up.
There are dives around Arraial do Cabo that are suitable for both PADI-certified divers and beginners. We would recommend Emiliano at AguaViva, who provides 2x 50minute dives and snacks for 330R$ (for PADI-open-water-certified divers). Check out Lozzy’s sister looking fly!
Where to eat in Arraial do Cabo
The top-rated restaurant in Arraial do Cabo on TripAdvisor is Astral Beach, and rightly so. This small venue is packed full of quirky charm, and the staff are incredibly welcoming. The food is a little higher-priced than we’re used to, but an impressive menu of poke bowls, giant burrito-style sushi rolls and burgers seemed to make up for it.
Arraial do Cabo has a particularly good offering of big, juicy burgers, and the best we had were at Churras Burguer. The X-bacon (pronounced cheese-bacon, don’t ask us how) with barbecue sauce is unreal, and the burgers are large enough that you won’t need sides.
Of course, it would be wrong to not mention an option for more traditional Brazilian food in Arraial do Cabo, and for that we recommend Zefa’s, on the far end of the town’s Playa Grande seafront. Their simple 18R$ executive plates are more than enough to fill you with their meaty, rice’n’beany goodness.
How to get to Arraial from Rio de Janeiro
Most people will be getting to Arraial by bus, which is luckily really simple. Pick up a fun-wagon from Rio Rodoviária terminial for around 60R$ ($12usd). The bus from Rio to Arraial do Cabo takes 3 hours, and leaves every 30-60mins all throughout the day with bus company 1001.
Driving from Rio de Janeiro to Arraial do Cabo
Don’t worry, driving from Rio de Janeiro to Arraial do Cabo is really simple. We recommend using Budget or Avis to hire a car from either airport, and then take the route over the bridge to Niteroi across the bay. The road tolls are quite high (up to 20R$ on weekends & public holidays) so have some cash with you – it’s all gravy though, Arraial do Cabo beaches are totes worth it!
Parking in Arraial do Cabo
For those of you getting to the area via car (efficient when there’s more than two of you and when you book throughPriceline), you’ll need to be aware of the parking sitch.
Many of the inland roads are completely free to park in, but as you get closer to the beaches you’ll start to see people who come round to charge you – or worse, no one comes round, and then you have a ticket on your car when you return to it later.
FYI, complete lack of signage or parking warden to let you know that it’s a payment area is not a good enough excuse to get you out of a parking ticket in Brazil, as we found out the hard way in Búzios.
The good news is, Arraial do Cabo beaches all work together to provide one all-day parking ticket that covers you for the whole day at any of the beaches in the vicinity. This costs 15R$.
Where to visit near Arraial do Cabo
Arraial is just down the road from Búzios and Cabo Frio, known for their beach resort vibes and very popular with Argentinians. In fact, expect to speak more Spanish in Búzios than you do Portuguese. If you’ve rented a car and are planning on driving from Rio de Janeiro to Arraial do Cabo, make sure you allow yourself time to give these two a visit. There are also regular buses from Arraial do Cabo to Búzios and Cabo Frio.
If you go to Cabo Frio, make sure you look for the crazy-arse sand formations under the shore.
Another town on the other side of Arraial (an hour or so heading back towards Rio) is Saquarema, which is a GORGEOUS town with insane lake/mountain/beach views and a church that makes you melt a little bit inside. It felt a lot less touristy than some of the neighbouring towns and beaches from what we saw, too.
It’s the surfing capital of Brazil, so if catching waves is what you’re into we 100% recommend you stop by in Saquarema for a short while after your stay in Arraial do Cabo.
How long to stay in Arraial do Cabo: 3 days
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