Jericoacoara, Brazil

Tucked away in Brazil’s north-east is this gay-friendly, cosmopolitan paradise, where the streets are paved with sand, the waters are crystal clear and it’s warm all year round

I’m perched on top of the aptly named ‘sunset dune’ gazing out to sea. To my right, a cluster of restaurants and bars shaded by palm trees; to my left, a vast expanse of sand dunes stretches to the horizon. The sun is about to sink into the ocean, and the townspeople have climbed the dune to watch, as they do every day. Some entrepreneurial young boys have pushed a cart to the top and are making caipirinhas for the crowd. People are drumming and laughing, others are doing backflips and capoeira. A donkey casually meanders along, oblivious to the view. Welcome to Jericoacoara – that’s jeddy-kwa-kwa-da.

Located in Brazil’s north-east, Jericoacoara, or Jeri as it’s otherwise known, sits almost exactly on the equator, on the most northern tip of the state of Ceará. It boasts ocean views facing both east and west, which means you watch the sun both rise and set over the sea.

Once a modest fishing village, this now cosmopolitan oasis is one of Brazil’s best kept secrets. Here, all the streets are paved with sand, which means virtually no traffic and no need for shoes. There is actually a law against street lights, leaving you to bask in the light from the moon, stars and the occasional vagalume – flying glowing insects. The village is unreachable by car, yet life here is comfortable and sophisticated, with vibrant bars, restaurants and boutique hotels. Look one way and you’re in the Sahara Desert, look the other way and it’s a tropical island.

 
Sandy street in Jericoacoara with ocean

The road less travelled

One of keys to Jericoacoara’s success is also one of its drawbacks – this isn’t the easiest place to get to. Jeri is a five hour trip from the nearest major city of Fortaleza. After a four hour bus trip, travellers change vehicles in the sleepy town of Jijoca before driving a further hour off-road in a bumpy, open-air bus called a jardineira. One upside to this journey is that only a certain type of traveller ends up here. There might not be a gay scene in Jeri, but there is gay visibility, open-minded travellers and a general sense of ‘live and let live’ from the locals.

The rugged journey to Jeri is an exciting one. Suspense builds as you pass by basic mud-brick houses with families and satellite dishes parked outside, before reaching the ramshackle village of Prea. Suddenly, the buildings seem to fall away, and you’re left speeding along miles of golden, empty coastline, with the wind in your hair and Jeri in the distance.

Sand, wind and water

These are three things that Jeri has in abundance, so it’s no surprise that most activities involve at least one. Jeeps or four-wheeled motorbikes are two of the most thrilling ways to explore the Jeri’s shifting sands. A full day on a dune buggy with a driver will cost about R$30 (£10) per person between 4 passengers. There are a number of large freshwater lagoons you can swim in as well. Lagoa Azul and Tatajuba are two of the most popular, the latter of which was reconstructed some decades ago, after the original location was swallowed up by a persistent wandering dune.

A spectacular way to experience the landscape is on horseback. Their hooves are surprisingly efficient at negotiating the soft sand, and the absence of engine noise leaves you feeling on top of the world.

Jericoacoara’s wind conditions are considered some of the world’s best, which makes it ideal for kitesurfing and windsurfing. Windsare steady and constant from June through to February, with the strongest being from September until November. Kite Brazil offers lessons and equipment for novices and experts alike.

Jeri Dunes
 

A feast for the senses

Sometimes it feels like Jeri’s inhabitants have perfected the art of doing nothing. This relaxed pace can take some getting used to, although a chilled caipirinha usually helps. While the heat of the day can be fierce, the evenings are often warm and breezy, perfect for long, relaxed meals by candlelight. There are plenty of options to choose from. You could stay for weeks and never eat in the same place twice.

Sabor da Terra serves simple, traditional Brazilian fare – think rice, beans and grilled meats. Most meals are big enough for two and will only set you back about R$15 (£5). Araxá and Pizza Banana serve the best woodfired pizza in town (from £7 per person). The modern, varied menu at Pimenta Verde keeps this little corner-restaurant humming (from £9 per person). Tamarindo, like many bars and restaurants in Jeri, blurs the line between inside and outside, with an outdoor kitchen, sandy floors and tables under the stars – all nestled beneath a giant tamarind tree (from £7 per person).

Where to stay?

Most people who come to Jeri stay in bed and breakfasts called pousadas. The town is full of them, and most have well-maintained gardens, pools and an intimate, boutique feel.

One such place is Vila Bela Vista. This 13 room pousada literally has the famous sunset dune in its backyard and has been operating since 2003. It offers horseriding tours, outdoor yoga and dance classes, a shaded pool and an outdoor dining room. Their hearty breakfasts are a perfect start to the day, and a late night soak in the jacuzzi is a decadent nightcap.

It’s a short walk to the centre of town, but if it’s too hot, the friendly staff will take you on their horse-drawn chariot. Some staff speak English, which certainly makes life easier, as this is not the norm.

Rooms are simple and spacious. There’s no TV, which is part of the charm. Some rooms come with kitchen facilities and separate bedrooms. Air-conditioning, as well as heavy timber window shutters, will keep you cool and every room has a hammock for you to retreat to.

Jeri My Blue Hotel breakfast
If you’re seeking total luxury, My Blue Hotel is difficult to beat. Built in 2005, this 81 room complex is built around fragrant, manicured gardens, and all suites have large windows, air-conditioning, free wi-fi and flat screen TVs. Upon arrival, guests rooms are adorned with fresh flowers, painstakingly arranged. There’s a health club with a sauna and steam room, a day spa, a generously sized outdoor jacuzzi and two giant swimming pools. There’s also a bar and restaurant, and complimentary breakfast is served daily on the beach.
Jeri is booming, but thankfully its status as a national park and building limitations are helping to maintain a balance between commercialisation and the village’s traditional way of life. Proposals to build an airport nearby are making some of Jeri’s most ardent fans nervous, but for now, this cosy village remains a beguiling treasure.

Handy hints:

There are no cash machines in Jeri, so take plenty of cash. Most bars and restaurants take credit card and the general store offers cashback with transactions.

The rainy season is from Feb – May, but don’t be put off: showers are short, everything is cheaper and less busy.

Getting there:

GT travelled with British Airways and TAP Airlines and stayed at Vila Bela Vista and My Blue Hotel.
British Airways fly daily to Lisbon, Portugal from approx. £175 return. TAP fly daily to Fortaleza from approx. £700 return. Fretcar buses operate daily from Praiano Palace Hotel in Fortaleza for R$55 per person each way (£17). Bus tickets can also be purchased at Fortaleza airport.
Vila Bela Vista: double rooms start at £43 per night, vilabelavista.com
My Blue Hotel: double rooms start at £119 per night, mybluehotel.net
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