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Despite the fact that you can swim and kayak with wild dolphins in Pipa (yeeeah you read that right), it isn’t as world famous as we would expect. However, it’s still a very popular holiday town, with a very developed main strip and more accommodation options than you can throw a queijo stick at. The population of the town is said to be 25% ‘actual’ locals, 25% Brazilian from other states, 25% Argentinian and 25% ‘other foreigner’ – namely German and Swiss.
While we usually stay away from resort towns like this, Pipa has such a charm that we couldn’t help but falling in love with it. The beaches are lovely, with something for everyone, and it’s not half as overwhelmed with tourism as the likes of Porto de Galinhas. And did we mention, you can kayak with wild dolphins in Pipa?!?! YES, YOU CAN. Pretty much a life highlight right there. Read on to find out more about how to get there, where to eat & drink, and how to kayak with wild dolphins in Pipa.
Tides in Pipa
First up, the boring safety stuff. A few of the Pipa beaches, such as Praia dos Golfinhos, are separated from each other by rocks and cliffs, which means that they are only accessible at low tide. When you arrive at your accommodation, your host should give you a booklet with the tide times for the days that you’re there, plus as explanation as to how to read them (they only tell you the time of the highest tide, for example, not taking into account that the tide starts to rise some 2 hours before it reaches that point). Take these tide times seriously in Pipa, because you risk getting stuck for hours on a small, cliff-backed beach otherwise. Praia do Madeiro is only accessible at low tide if you’re walking from the town via Praia dos Golfinhos, but luckily there is a case of over 100 steps to walk up to the main road if you get stuck on Madeiro at high tide. Just make sure you take the steps that lead up to the hotel, not the ecological park, as they will charge you 15R$ just to walk through the park to the main road exit. The cheek of it!
Kayak with wild dolphins in Pipa
Is it ethical?
This is one of the few ‘wild’ animal activities we’ve come across in South America that actually seems truly ethical. The dolphins really are completely wild, and they’re not fed to stay there. If they were fed, you’d expect to see them lazy when it comes to the need to hunt, but in fact there were many times we saw a group of them circling a shoal of fish near the shore and then hunting them, with huge fish leaping out of the sea. The dolphins in Pipa don’t appear scared of humans, but they never come close enough to be touched, either. The water isn’t clear enough for anyone to see where the dolphins are going to appear next, and we were heartened to see all tourists being pretty respectful, not attempting to touch or frighten them. On average, we say a dolphin pop up from the water every few minutes of our 4 hours on the beaches of Pipa.
How to see the dolphins in Pipa?
The dolphins’ love of being there isn’t overrun with exploitation by the tourism industry, either. You will see only a handful of small to medium sized boats at any one time, and they sit and wait for the dolphins to come to them rather than chasing. But of course, the best way to experience these wild dolphins up close is to rent a kayak from either Praia dos Golfinhos or Praia do Madeiro. In 2019, kayak rental in Pipa costs 30R$ for 30 minutes or 40R$ for an hour. We love sea kayaking anyway, but being in a kayak and then suddenly seeing a wild dolphin cross your path is the most incredible feeling. You don’t have to paddle out far for them to start appearing around you. To kayak with wild dolphins in Pipa is the most unbelievable experience!
The beaches of Pipa
There are several beaches to choose from (tides permitting), each with a different vibe. Our favourite was probably Praia do Madeiro, with fairly obvious reasons as to why.
Praia do Madeiro – spot #1 to kayak with wild dolphins in Pipa!
This was one of the furthest beaches from Pipa, but is accessible by car and then a big staircase that leads down the cliff. You can also walk 20-30 minutes along other beaches from the centre of town – walk from Praia Central and down past Praia dos Golfinhos. As mentioned above, if you walked there but plan to get the steps back up to the main road when you leave, there are two staircases on the beach. The one to the left actually leads to an ecopark, and they will charge you 15R$ just to walk through their property to the road. The other is behind some of the tents in the centre of the beach, just ask locals for directions if you can’t see it. Praia do Madeiro has plenty to keep you entertained, with a non-overwhelming number of beach chairs and tables, bars & restaurants, surf schools, kayak rentals and non-threatening beach vendors. This is where we kayaked with dolphins – an insane experience!
Praia dos Golfinhos – spot #2 to kayak with wild dolphins in Pipa!
Does what it says on the tin – “Dolphin Beach”. And it didn’t disappoint; we saw dolphins within minutes of being there. There are no stalls or restaurants on this beach, but you will find kayak rentals and beach chairs. The beach here is affected by the tides and gets blocked off twice a day by the sea. You can only access the beach by walking round the cliffs from other beaches (Praia do Madeiro or Praia Central), so make sure you’ve planned your time around the sea levels.
Due to it being the easiest beach to get to from Pipa, Praia Central tends to be a favourite among families. There are natural pools that become visible when the tide is out, so it’s the perfect place for kids to play in the water without getting whisked away by a wave. This beach is almost non-existent when the tide comes in, so you still have to think about tide times, though it’s less of a safety hazard being just a few steps from the town. There is lot of development nearby to grab food, drinks and beach chairs, but you won’t be able to kayak or surf here due to the rocks, and dolphin sightings would be rare on this beach.
Praia do Amor
This is the main surfer beach in Pipa. It’s a little walk from the town (starting from the creatively named Rua Praia do Amor), but nothing too painful. You can drive to a carpark at the entrance and then walk the rest of the slope down to the beach, or many people choose just to stay up on the cliffs and enjoy the views. It’s a beautiful place to chill as the sun starts to come down. A lot of the more luxurious hotels are situated around this area.
Where to eat and drink in Pipa
The town of Pipa itself is essentially just a built-up tourism town. In some ways, it lacks culture, and in others it’s a perfect representation of the modern Brazilian way. Pipa’s main strip, Avenida Baía dos Golfinhos, is lined with a mix of mid-to-high priced restaurants and bars, catering to everyone from an excitable family of 5 to a swanky young couple living the high life (us). The busiest section of this road is pedestrianised at night, so it starts to feel like a proper little holiday bubble. It’s basically a smaller version of Porto de Galinhas or Buzios.
Along the beachfront of Praia Centro is where you’ll find your most upmarket restaurants, though to be honest the sun sets so early in Brazil (5:30pm in Winter) that it hardly seems worth it to pay more to look out onto darkness.
To find the cheaper food and drink in Pipa, you have to head away from the centre (ok, kind of obvious). On the edge of the action, Piparaiso does reasonable, tasty ‘slow food’ with really friendly staff. Definitely check out Kimassa for their excellent chicken lasagne, pizzas and cheap vegan food if that’s your vibe.
And it would be wrong not to try out the self-service açaí bar, now wouldn’t it? Açai da Pipa offers every flavour, topping and sauce you could think of. Great views, too.
We didn’t find too many options for breakfast – perhaps there are too many hotels offering breakfast included to make it worth restaurants’ time, and there isn’t a plethora of cafés, either. What we did find was Santa Clara, that served cheap, real coffee and tasty baked goods from morning ‘til eve.
How to get to Pipa from Natal
There is a Viação Riograndense bus that leaves Natal terminal every 1-2 hours. It will cost around 20R$ for the 2 hour bus ride from Natal to Pipa.
How to get to Pipa from Recife
Unfortunately, to get to Pipa from Recife, you first have to fly or get the bus to Natal, and then continue your journey as above. It’s kinda backwards, but it’s also really characteristic of North-East Brazil to have to go way up to come back down halfway again. Soz, guys. Buses to Natal leave from Recife Rodoviária terminal 7+ times a day with the company Autoviação Progresso. Tickets cost 95 R$ and the bus takes 5 hours to get to Natal.
Driving to Pipa
Alternatively, you can do what we did and hire a car through Priceline for a few days. This allowed us to drive from Recife to Natal and Pipa, exploring at our own pace without forking out too much cash on public transport. There’s a fair bit of free parking and paid guarded car parks in Pipa, though most of the centre is pedestrianised at night and therefore a park-free zone during the day, too. A fair few hostels and hotels offer parking if out of the centre or on a side road.
Where to stay in Pipa
Pipa has all range of accommodation options, from hostels to family hotels to luxury resorts. We stayed at Pousada di Pipa Praia do Amor, which despite a hilly walk to the entrance turned out to be a lovely place to rest our heads, The place is owned and lived in by a husband and wife, who have a friendly Labrador, 3 cats and 1 so-called ‘cat-human’, who likes to do whatever the guests are doing or sneak into your room if you leave the door open. The accommodation was quiet and the tips we got from the owners were really useful. Plus, it was pretty cheap for a private en suite room!
How long to stay in Pipa: 3 days
Enjoy this post on how to get to Pipa, where to stay and how to kayak with wild dolphins in Pipa?