Canoa Quebrada, meaning broken canoe, is a tiny little beach side town in the Northeastern state of Ceará, Brazil. I found it the way I often find random little towns to visit - by zooming in on google maps. I did a little research and decided it would make for a great little stop over between Fortaleza and Natal. It's a fishing village come tourist town and I recommend Canoa Quebrada to anyone already in the north east looking to get off the beaten track and also to kite surfing enthusiasts. The beach is surrounded by pink sand dunes and lined with impressive sandstone cliffs giving views of an eternal turquoise coloured sea. It's not a destination you would come all the way up north just to visit, but it is definitely worth going there if you are up that way. It's a tourist town, sort of, mostly for Brazilian holiday makers and the odd European back packer, but it is still comparatively undeveloped. You will find dirt roads, stray chickens and donkeys and a small population of locals who live a pretty simple life. Tourism in this cute wee town started in the 60s with hippies coming and staying in the homes of the locals, many of whom are of indigenous heritage. For a small town Canoa Quebrada has a fascinating history, including being the birth place of Francisco Jose do Nascimento, one of the first to enter into the fight to end slavery in Brazil. You can read a little more on the history here if it interests you. (Go on, it's concise, fascinating and has cool old photographs)
I spent just over a week here. We had only booked for 4 nights but couldn't drag ourselves away from this pool so soon so we extended our stay. There is one main street in the town centre known as 'Broadway" with all the bars and restaurants you need; a lot of them seemed to be Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. The beach is ideal for kite and wind surfing and, because it's a bit rough and windy, the sea is quite sea-weedy and not amazing for swimming, although certainly doable. However if you take a stroll down the beach southward there are sand bars creating beautiful pools of clear warm water for wading and bathing in. Like any good beach town in Brazil there are several barracas (beach bars of various levels of infrastructure) along the beach where you can snack, drink ice cold beers, enjoy some music and chill on the beach. If you're not one for sitting around on the beach all day then activities include kite surfing as I've already mentioned, horse riding and buggy rides along the beach. You'll see a lot of fishing boats up on the beach and it's possible to go for a little sail if you feel so inclined. If you feel like swimming but find the sea too choppy then you can head to Chega Mais for something uniquely Brazilian. It's essentially a beach front restaurant but it also has a pool and a bunch of hammocks to lie in. It's a family day out and like so many Brazilian places you have to get a token on arrival that works as a tab for any service you want to order/consume (i.e lockers, pool entry, drinks, the buffet or the a la carte restaurant.) You then pay on your way out. This kind of system is ubiquitous in Brazil and although it was strange to me it's good to be able to lock up valuables and deal with paying at the end of the day. I didn't use the pool because I have no desire to be in close proximity to other people's screaming children but we ate here twice and it was pretty good, simple and authentic north-eastern Brazilian fare. It's kind of a cheesy place but I found cheesiness to be a running theme in the north east of Brazil and it's pretty funny to see and enjoy - you might need to go there to get what I mean.
If you want to get away from big city hustle and bustle, Canoa Quebrada is a great place to escape to. Switch off, turn off your gadgets (but keep your camera handy) and enjoy the simple and best things in life: food, beach, and nearly year round sunshine. Some people might speak some English but don't expect everyone to, you will need to brush up on some basic Portuguese - this applies to anywhere in Brazil outside of the main cities in the south (even then you'll have some trouble), but especially so in the North. Luckily I speak Portuguese as I found it be life saving in the north of Brazil, but if you don't speak any just be prepared for some language barriers and keep a sense of humour, even if you can't communicate well, you will figure out 'um jeitinho' to do whatever it is you are trying to do.
We were already in Fortaleza, the capital city of Ceará, which has an international airport, and from there we actually took a shuttle that was part of a day trip tour, only instead of going back to Fortaleza with our group we stayed on in Canoa. This was the easiest and still a cheap option (around R$55 each) for us so I recommend it - just make sure you check they have room in the van for your luggage. This shouldn't be a problem given the Brazilian philosophy to 'dar um jeitinho' which basically means to find a little way around something. Brazilians often apply this to logistics and just make impractical things work. The drive is about 2.5 hours and is really quite beautiful. The north east of Brazil is very poor and it really shows in rural areas, but the drive past mangroves and palm trees is pretty and interesting to see and I found it fascinating to drive through tiny villages in north eastern countryside to see the basic way people are living there. I don't recall the name of the tour group we used however there were plenty to choose from that do a similar trip and you'll find people selling regional day trips all around the tourist friendly area of Praia de Iracema, in Fortaleza. The reason we did this instead of just taking a normal bus is that the buses weren't direct. The bus goes from Fortaleza to Aracati (a town near by), and from there you would need to find another shuttle, bus or taxi to Canoa Quebrada. This is a perfectly viable option and is the way we left 10 days later, but we preferred the ease and comfort of the tour group shuttle taking us direct from our apartment in Fortaleza to our hotel in Canoa. If you want to take the bus it leaves from Fortaleza's rodoviario (central bus station) and takes you to Aracati's rodovario. Taxis should be available from here for the last short leg of the trip. I don't particularly recommend being at bus stations in Brazil late at night if you can avoid it. Most of the time you'll be fine but no need to tempt fate, muggings are a very regular occurrence throughout the country.
Canoa Quebrada has a few hotels and plenty of pousadas to pick from (a pousada is not quite a hotel and not quite (although closer to) a guest house but can vary from being quite simple to being like a 5 star boutique hotel.) We picked a good'n and I highly recommend anyone visiting Canoa Quebrada to stay at Hotel Long Beach. (Pool pictured above, Bungalow pictured below) Our nightly rate varied a little over the 10 days between AUD$45-$70 a night although it is worth noting that this was in the low season. We had a huge room that was a stand alone bungalow with a roof top with hammocks and the rate included a fantastic buffet breakfast that treated us to various uniquely Brazilian foods. (Breakfast is almost always included in the rate in Brazilian hotels) There aren't any super fancy 5 star resorts(that I noticed) in this quaint little town but Hotel Long Beach was really nice and the pool was amazing! Power cuts are not unusual in Canoa regardless of where you stay - just go with it :-). There are certainly cheaper pousadas available to those on a shoestring budget too.