By: Gaspar Victoria
Photos: Javier Pinzón
Everything was going splendidly on our buggy ride through the Canoa Quebrada dunes. We ascended an enormous dune to take a look at the landscape: to one side, we could see the endless sandy formations that reach up to four miles inland and give the region its name: Porto das Dunas; to the other side were the outposts of greenery planted by humans to fight back the desert. In the distance, kite surfers appear and disappear behind the sandy ridges that separate the dunes from the beach and the extremely blue Atlantic Ocean.
Our buggy continued on toward another part of the cliffs, where we were supposed to enjoy another view, until the vehicle that preceded us suddenly disappeared. I had a few seconds to guess what was about to happen, but it wasn’t enough to preserve my decorum as the buggy I was traveling in plunged down the steep, sandy slope. I screamed as I had never screamed in my life, like someone aware that there is absolutely no way to avoid what is about to happen. I had barely enough time to pull myself together before the next drop, only this time my screams were peppered with the coarsest, most florid expressions in my vocabulary.
In Canoa Quebrada, on the Brazilian coast of Ceará, beaches with changeable sands, pristine waters, and unique ecosystems abound, making it an ideal playground for adventurers. Or, in my case, for the not so adventurous. Luckily, nature has endowed the region with challenges of varying intensity, suitable for a variety of physical and emotional states.
Porto das Dunas is one of the beaches closest to Fortaleza, the state capital, 12 miles from the metropolitan center. The ancient village, once shared by fishermen and indigenous communities, became a hippie haunt during the 1960s and 70s. The construction of weekend condominiums, however, has changed the character of the once sleepy hamlet with cobbled streets and tiled roof houses in faded colors, especially at night. The absolute quiet that once reigned has been replaced by a relaxed atmosphere seasoned with seafood, beer, and the rhythmic, catchy beats emanating from bars and hostels. It’s always the weekend here, and the dress code is shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops.
But back to the dune buggy: after the second drop, the adrenaline metamorphized into an obscene level of endorphins in my blood. By the third and fourth drop I’m laughing like Vincent Price in Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. Maybe that’s why the tour organizers make a small stop at Barraca Oasis. Barraca Oasis is a great place to rest, have a cold beer, and take a refreshing swim in a lagoon surrounded by palm trees, like an oasis in the middle of the dunes. And because the waters in this region are always between 71 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit, you needn’t worry about a thermal shock if you decide to dive right into the lagoon.
Water temperatures at the nearby beaches are equally as reliable and it’s almost like being in a jacuzzi, with the small fish that inhabit the lagoon occasionally stirring up the waters.
I could spend the rest of the afternoon here, under the shady porch cooled by the breeze, a drink in hand, lulled by the music and the soft Northeastern accent spoken here, but there are still other adventures to experience. I discover that, after the morning’s shock therapy, I have no qualms about anything. Back in our buggies, we ride to another larger lagoon with one of the longest zip lines in the state, covering a distance of nearly 330 yards.
The zip line has several ropes, each leading to a different destination. On the adjacent platform, a group of Irish boys cracks jokes before gliding and falling, one by one, into the middle of the lagoon at the foot of the dune. My zip ends on the opposite shore. I have a mind prone to filmic drama and, while descending, I imagine Luke Skywalker in The Return of the Jedi, hanging from the sand skiff while struggling to keep from being eaten by the evil sarlacc beast that takes a thousand years to digest its prey. Finally, back in reality, I am not met by the sharp teeth of the sarlacc, but instead glide into the arms of a guide who unties the harness and sends me back to the top of the dune.
I try one more descent. Then, while I wait for my fellow travelers to do the same, I entertain myself by watching the vendors selling sandwiches and drinks near the zip lines. In addition to the usual packets of salty chips and soft drinks, there is a beverage made from cachaça (traditional Brazilian spirit), claiming to be a natural aphrodisiac for men and women, coconut water straight from the fruit, and a candy made from cashews that is common throughout the region.
The sun has begun to drop and our guide has saved the best for last: a flight on a paraglider. Most flights leave from the end of a street in Porto das Dunas with the auspicious name of Broadway, perhaps because it is home to most of the bars and restaurants that liven up the small-town night. Although takeoffs begin just after noon, a ride at sunset guarantees spectacular views and a kinder sun. There is no better way to end a day full of adventure than to watch the Canoa Quebrada dunes turn red in the setting sun.
When we board our van to return to Fortaleza, the flaming red sunset has turned to flashes of purple and lead gray. Night falls as they drive us back to our hotel, and the emotional peaks that kept us on the verge of euphoria all day give way to a pleasant stupor. I hardly have the strength to meet my friends for dinner in the hotel restaurant. We relive our experiences and recall the activities we saw other tourists enjoying during the day. Several of us still want to take kitesurfing lessons, others want to try sandboarding, and one remembers seeing some boys practicing capoeira… By the end of dinner, we’ve decided: we have to return to Canoa Quebrada.
How to Get There
Copa Airlines offers two flights weekly to Fortaleza, the capital of Ceará, Brazil, from North, Central, South America and the Caribbean through the Hub of the Americas in Panama City. More information at
It is safer to contract this type of excursion through the Asociación de Bugueiros de Canoa Quebrada (ABCQ, for its initials in Portuguese). You may be offered excursions at lower prices, but they don’t take the security measures needed for this type of activity. Address: Rua Dragão do Mar, s/nº, Centro 60060-390. Tel. (88) 3421 7175. More information available at www.portalcanoaquebrada.com.br and in www.setur.ce.gov.br