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Rio Grande do Norte

State Flag of Rio Grande do Norte
  1. Introduction
  2. Beaches
  3. Capital: Natal
  4. Data Table for Rio Grande do Norte


Three hundred and sixty five days of sunshine and an average annual temperature of 26º C make Rio Grande do Norte a highly privileged state. This is not only on account of its natural features such as beautiful beaches and dunes along its 400 kilometre coastline, but also because its air is the purest in the whole of Latin America, according to reports by NASA and the National Space Research Institute (INPE) from investigations completed in 1992.

Despite its many attractions, tourism only really developed in Rio Grande do Norte during the 1980s, with the construction in the state capital, Natal, of the Via Costeira, an eight kilometre avenue running along the coast where the city's main hotels and restaurants are situated. Since then the Government has been investing in the tourist industry, improving the infrastructure and conserving the natural heritage. One of the main steps was the establishing of the Dunes State Park for the preservation of the series of sand dunes that surround the capital. Natal is the gateway to the state's beaches, many of which are semi wild, such as Pipa and Pirangi, whilst others, such as Genipabu, are more commercialized.

The region was cleared by the French between 1535 and 1598 and it was not long before the Portuguese and Dutch began to dispute ownership of the area. As a result, settlement was slow and only really started in 1633 when the territory came under the control of the Dutch who started to develop the production of salt, sugar-cane and beef cattle. Thanks to this, the state now accounts for 87% of the total production of Brazil's sea salt, with an installed capacity of around 5 million tons, only 42% of the production potential, calculated as being 12 million tons.


In Rio Grande do Norte, oil production is also important. Extracting a daily average of 100,000 barrels, the state is in second place nationally in terms of marine extraction, losing only to the town of Campos in Rio de Janeiro. The majority of oil wells and the largest salt-pans are situated in the state's second largest city, Mossoró, about 80 kilometres from Natal.

Mossoró is also the capital of the irrigated fruit-growing industry, supplying more than 70% of the national market for melons. The state is also nationally famous for its plantations of other tropical fruits such as mango and cashew.

It was a cashew tree that enabled the state to feature in the Guinness Book of Records. The 92 year-old tree is to be found on the beach at Pirangi do Norte, 24 kilometres from Natal, and is the world's largest cashew tree with a circumference of 500 metres, occupying an area of 7,300 m2. Its branches are equivalent to 70 cashew trees yet it is just one single tree.

Pirangi do Norte is situated in Parnamirim, a city on which artisan lace production is centred. With great patience and speed, the lace-makers interweave fine cotton threads to produce tablecloths, bedspreads and clothing. As well as this, the visitor to Parnamirim cannot miss the Barreira do Inferno, the first rocket-launching base in Latin America.

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There is no such thing as the best season in which to visit Rio Grande do Norte because it is summertime all year round. Going south from Natal beaches soon appear one after the other. The first one is Pium, 18 kilometres from the capital. A little further on is Cotovelo where the locals tell tales of mysterious apparitions. Grottoes and labyrinths inspire superstitions involving the ghosts of princes and princesses that roam about at night pleading for help. Three kilometres further on are the beaches of Pirangi do Sul and Pirangi do Norte, the site of the world's largest cashew tree.

Continuing along an old and narrow road 80 kilometres from the capital is the beach of Pipa, the wildest of all the beaches that still retains a natural charm that attracts those who want to get away from big city bustle. Here there are communities of "ex stressed-out" city-dwellers consisting of Germans, Argentinians and Brazilians, amongst others.

Travelling towards the north, separated from Natal by the River Potengi, the town of Extremoz and its beaches are like the main picture postcards of the state rolled into one. Here the beaches of Redinha and Genipabu with their shifting dunes, warm, clear water, lakes and coconut groves attract both Brazilian and foreign tourists all year round.

Buggy rides along the vast white sands are the highlight of the beaches at Extremoz. At Genipabu there is even a right and a wrong side so as to avoid accidents on the dunes. Safety is guaranteed by the drivers who are all registered with the Empresa de Promoção de Turismo do Rio Grande do Norte (Emproturn), the local tourism promoter.

The dunes that are scattered over kilometres of beach are also suitable for sand-skiing using a type of skate (without wheels) so that it is possible to have an exhilarating slide down the dunes.

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Capital: Natal


Known as the sun capital, Natal is the gateway to some of Brazil's most beautiful beaches, such as those of the Fernando de Noronha archipelago, in the state of Pernambuco, and a succession of beaches that stretch north and south of the capital of the state of Rio Grande do Norte. But that is not all. Founded in 1599, the historical district of the city has preserved buildings that date from the time of its colonization. Washed by the River Potengi and the Atlantic Ocean, it formed a strategic bridge for the invasion of Brazil by the French, Portuguese and Dutch. More recently, during the Second World War, it served as a base for American troops and was also known as the "Trampoline of Victory". That aspect is also reflected in the city of Natal.

Before going out in search of the sun on the beaches, dunes and coconut groves that stretch the length of the coastline of Rio Grande do Norte, it is well worth visiting a few monuments in order to get a better understanding of this region that was so fiercely fought over by the Europeans. The point of departure could be the Fortaleza dos Reis Magos (Three Kings' Fortress) where the city had its origins. Surrounded by a star-shaped wall, it was built by the Portuguese between 1598 and 1628 to defend Natal from the Dutch invasion. Another construction dating from that period is the ancient Metropolitan Cathedral that was inaugurated in 1599 and recently restored. The Albert Maranhão Theatre built in 1898 and registered by the state Historical Heritage, is an example of architecture from the colonial era, together with the church of St. Anthony, built in the eighteenth century.

As well as historical tours, Natal offers the visitor walks along its beaches, some of which are extremely popular, especially amongst surfers. The main beaches are Forte, Meio, Artistas and Areia Preta. At the southern end of the Via Costeira, built to promote tourism in the state, is the beach of Ponta Negra from which may be glimpsed the hill of Careca, an enormous sand dune that rises almost vertically. Climbing it by digging ones feet into the soft sand, can be an enjoyable pastime.

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Data Table for Rio Grande do Norte

Capital Natal
Area 53,306.8 km2
Towns 167
Location North-east of the North-East Region
Population 2,771,538 inhabitants (2000)
Population in the Capital 750,000 inhabitants
Climate Tropical, semi-arid
Mean Annual Temperature (capital) 27º C
Time in Relation to Brasília The same
Density of Population 52.2 inhabitants/km2
Urbanization Index 73.3% (2000)
Infant Mortality 47.9 per thousand live-born (2000)
Illiteracy Rate 25.5% (2000)
Contribution to GDP 0.9%
Representation at National Congress 11 Members of Parliament
Vegetation Swamps along the coast and a strip of tropical rain forest and savanna to the west


  • IBGE 2000 and Projections for 2002
  • Abril Almanac
  • Gabeira, Gabriel Luiz - "Synthesis of the Brazilian Economy", Rio de Janeiro, National Trade Confederation (CNC), 1999