Lisa Bonner

Girl On The Fly

A Tale of Two Beach Towns: Brazil's Hidden Getaways

The coastline of Buzios

A two-hour drive east of Rio, you will find a pair of magnificent beach towns — Cabo Frio and Buzios. Untapped by most Americans, this is where Brazilians go to “summer” or spend their weekends resting, relaxing, and rejuvenating. The warm climate, powdery white sand, crystal blue water, and abundance of vacation rentals and hotels make for an ideal vacation for non-Brazilians, too.

But the best part of these undiscovered jewels is the authentic, local vibe. If you’re looking for a respite from Rio, you definitely won’t regret spending a few days — or your entire vacation — here. I promise, you will thank me later.

Here, I’ve got the scoop on both towns.

CABO FRIO

An aerial view of Cabo Frio (Photo: Thinkstock)

Cabo Frio, or Cold Cape, gets its name from the South Pole jet stream, and the resulting winds have sculpted sand dunes from the pure white sand. Don’t let the name fool you — the water temperature is warm, and the wind, while sometimes strong, provides a nice reprieve from the warm sun.

The Main Street

Gamboa Street is Cabo Frio’s main drag, where you will find bars, restaurants, and nightlife. But most importantly, at the end of Gamboa Street, you will find Bikini Row. Call me superficial, but any town that has an entire shopping area dedicated solely to beachwear is my kind of place. Here, you’ll find over 200 bikini and specialty beachwear shops specializing in swimsuits, cover-ups, Havianas, and beach attire. No one does swimwear like Brazilans, and the amiable shop ladies are happy to help you find the perfect fit. I walked away with several well-made, colorful Brazilian bikinis and cover-ups for less than a price of one overpriced, imported swimsuit that I would have bought back home.

Related: Armchair Traveler: 5 Must-Read Books that Define Brazil

Beaches 

The most famous beach is Praio do Forte (or Forte Beach), where you can lounge all day on the sand with your own blanket or rent a chaise for about $5. Beach vendors sell everything from fresh coconut water in ginormous coconuts to grilled corn and water floats. Beach sports are common, so grab your chair to watch the gorgeous Brazilian men playing Foot Volley.

Where to Eat and Sleep

For dinner, head to Picolino Restaurant, a long-standing favorite among the locals for its fresh seafood. Pousada Maria is a charming hotel located close to Praio do Forte, where you can chill at the rooftop pool. If you have a few people in your party, rent a villa on the water along Canal de Ogiva — you’ll get a better deal and more luxury for your money. As with Rio, English is spoken to a degree, but not proficiently in all places, so I’d recommend using an agent like New Personal Tour to muddle through choosing a villa, hotel, or even securing a yacht rental.

Diving

With over 30 dive sites and visibility of up to 100 feet in some areas, Cabo Frio is a haven for divers. Ilha Compridha, one of Cabo Frio’s largest diving areas, has several sites, with each offering something a bit different for the underwater explorer. Here you will find a variety of fish, marine life, and rock formations. If you want to do a night dive, head to the North Face, where you might get a close-up with a giant barracuda. Ilha do Papagaio, with its calm turquoise waters, is perfect for novices. It, too, is rich in marine life and has a picturesque rock formation with beautiful coral reefs. Many of the dive sites are inlets, so if water conditions permit, you can snorkel or spearfish and catch some local fish for dinner. Over Sea Dive Center can help you choose your dive and destination.

Related: Check Out Brazil’s Trippiest Buildings

Water Sports

If diving isn’t your thing, Cabo Frio also has an abundance of water sports. The wind and swells makes this an ideal destination for surfing, windsurfing, kayaking, jet skiing, kiting, boating. You can find an abundance of kiosks directly on the beach and boardwalk, renting out equipment at reasonable prices. Sailing is another great option and the boats are affordable. We hired a small yacht for the day and sailed around to the local beaches. My favorite: Fisherman’s Beach, which has some of the most impressive rock formations and caves in Brazil.

BUZIOS

Roughly 15 miles from its lesser known sister town of Cabo Frio, Buzios is another must-see beach destination. This was once a sleepy beach town, relatively undiscovered by foreigners, until Brigitte Bardot visited in the 60’s with her Brazilian beau and put Buzios on the map. With over 20 different beaches, yachts in marinas, and sophisticated eateries, Buzios has more of a Mediterranean, flashy feel than Cabo Frio’s beachy laid-back vibe. But similar to Cabo Frio, you’ll have plenty of shopping, surfing, and water sports to choose from. 

The Main Street

Start your visit by strolling up and down Buzios’ main pedestrian cobblestone thoroughfare of Rua das Pedras, with its elegant shops, trendy bars, art galleries, and bustling nightlife. Stop in one of the various shops, such as Brazilian clothing shop Knix or my favorite shoe source Melissa. After you’ve browsed the infinite shops, continue walking down Orla Bardot; in the pedestrian square you’ll come face to face with Brigitte Bardot’s bronzed sculpture, gazing longingly over Armação Beach. Don’t be shy, this is your chance to get cozy with Brigitte herself… join in the fun and hop on her lap for a great photo op.

Related: Búzios, Brazil: Where the Cool People Eat, Stay, and Play

Where to Eat and Sleep

After a long day at the beach, head up the hill and grab dinner at Café Atlantico, overlooking Armação Bay. The restaurant is located in the gorgeous Casa Brancas hotel, where you can also book a room (a perfect spot if you’ve had a few too many caipirinhas). If you’ve still got the energy, dip into one of the many ice cream stores dotting the boardwalk. Mil Frutas is native to Brazil and famous for its homemade flavors.

Beaches

Buzios has over 30 beaches; there is one to fit every personality. Gerbia Beach is popular with surfers and it’s also one of the busiest in Buzios. Conversely, Ferradurinha Beach is located in a quiet cove with white sand and calm waters. 

Tiffany Smith