If blue lagoons, calm seas and huge dunes paired with unpretentious restaurants along sandy streets with live bossa nova musics from under the mangroves sounds like your kind of vacation destination than look no further than Jericoacoara in Ceará in the northeastern part of Brazil.
Until rather recently “Jeri”, as it is colloquially called, was a small fishing village in the state of Ceará without much contact with the outer modern world. Electricity was generated by diesel generators and street lighting was still dependent on the moon and the stars. Then the Washington post selected Jericoacoara beach as one of the Top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world and became a very popular destination mostly for Brazilians and or die hard kite surfers.
Although electricity arrived in 1998, streets still rely on the moon and stars as electrical street lighting is prohibited by local law. This also means that some of the most spectacular stargazing can be done on Jericoacoara beach lying supine on the dunes.
The name Jericoacoara originates from the indigenous language of Tupi and means “lair of the turtles“. (In a similar manner as Araraquara means “lair of the macaws”). Unfortunately these Tupi names derive from times long gone when the turtles and macaws actually did live there. Nowadays they are scarce in both Jericoacoara and Araraquara. (In fact; maybe they should be renamed “Lair of the kite surfers” and “Lair of the mosquitos”)
Getting to Jeri
Getting there is not so easy from where we live. Araraquara being our starting point, our trip had 3 legs.
Leg 1: Araraquara – São Paulo
We left Araraquara, driving our own car, in the morning to catch a midday flight from São Paulo Guarulhos (GRU) airport to Fortaleza (FOR). There are other airports close to us (1h instead of 3,5h) but they usually require a transfer in São Paulo anyway and are therefore more expensive than driving ourselves to GRU, especially as a family.
Until 2017 Fortaleza (FOR) was the closest airport for paradise seekers but now Jeri has its own airport. The upside of this is you can avoid the 5 hours in a car once you land in Fortaleza. However you will have to pay dearly for that privilege. Jericoacoara Cruz (JJD) is a small airport which means less frequent flights and more expensive tickets. GRU only has one flight a day (and not even every day of the week) to Jeri while it has several flights a day to Fortaleza. The difference in price is sometimes several thousand SEK per person. Of course this depends on the season and how far in advance you make the reservation. Our trip was booked a month in advance in midseason when a ticket to Jericoacoara JDD cost R$3000 (7500SEK) while the same date to Fortaleza FOR cost R$680 (1700SEK). Sooooo……Fortaleza it was.
When we arrived at the airport we parked the car at ESTAÇIONAMENTO ECONÔMICO. It is a gated short- or longterm parking lot with surveillance, however it does not have protection from the elements i.e a roof. But it does offer a great alternative to taxi because of the price. The cost is R$20 a day. So for our 6 day vacation we only had to pay R$120 which is about 300SEK. A shuttle leaves every 20 minutes from the booth in the corner to the terminals. On our return journey the shuttles picked up at the same stop at the terminal and shuttled back to the parking lot. Super easy!
Terminal 2 is for domestic flights. The security for domestic travel in Brazil is really simple. They don’t require liquids in 1L bags or that computers and tablets be taken out of your bag. So in hindsight I could have brought more sunscreen and bug spray (but these things are easily bought in Jeri as well). Even filled water bottles passed through security.
The flight takes 3 hours and 20 min. We flew with LATAM which does not offer any meals onboard. Beverage and a few cookies were offered. They do however have free wifi while using their LATAM App. In their app they have movies and tv series (anything that is usually offered on the individual screen on cross Atlantic flights). So the kids were pretty happy even after we had played cards and they’d coloured all their books.
Leg 3: Fortaleza airport – Jericoacoara
There are lots of transfer options between Fortaleza and Jeri. The cheapest option is taking the bus which costs under R$100 but takes 7-8 hours. If you are going alone or as a couple you can get tickets for R$150 for a seat in a Hilux pick up. This takes about 4,5 hours. As a family we rented a whole Hilux pickup truck for R$990 round trip with a company called TopJeri. I decided to secure our transfer back while I was at it and got a discount. We payed 25% by bank transfer and then the rest was payed in cash when we arrived in Jeri. Another option we looked into was renting a car and driving ourselves but we decided against it as you have to return the car near the airport and then get a transfer to Jeri.
When we arrived in Fortaleza a driver from TopJeri, holding a sign with our name, was waiting at arrivals. As we exited the Fortaleza airport we were hit by the same warm air as at home but this air is more humid, obviously closer to the ocean. Finally.
We hoisted our bags upon the tailgate and got in the air-conditioned Toyota Hilux for the final leg of our journey to Jeri. Peter got shotgun while I sat in the middle seat between the kids. By then we had been traveling for nearly 10 hours. I was counting on them sleeping the final leg. I began having doubts about this as soon as we left the city.
To be blunt, the ride to Jeri was a ride in hell if hell is full of potholes, riveted sand dunes, chicken races and motorcycles without lights in the pitch black night. The distance between Fortaleza and Jeri is 300km. According to google maps it takes 5 hours and 42min to drive the stretch. The transfer companies advertise the trip taking 4-5 hours. Our driver got us there in 4,5 hours.
By the time the time the sun set we had left the city and ventured into the “wild”. The next 3,5 hours were, in a few phrases; break-neck, jerky and careening etc. But he seemed to know every turn and pothole beforehand. I asked how often he drives this stretch and he said once a day. So I guess he knows it better than the back of his hand (obviously since I’m not sure his hands were even on the steering wheel so he could get to know them…).
The last 30min were the coolest, and the most uncomfortable. Between Préa and Jeri the main road is on the riveted sand dunes of the beach right along the breaking waves.
Peter and I both agreed that we wouldn’t have liked driving this stretch ourselves in a rental. Partly because it would have taken us much longer but also because the drive is mainly out in the wild. There is nothing there should something happen on the way. We passed a few towns but they were few and far between. No, the Hilux option was definitely the way to go.
Upon entering the town you are expected to pay R$5 per person/day for sustaining the village. Children are admitted for free. This receipt has to be presented when you exit the town; nobody told us this. This was one of those times Peter is grateful for a hoarding wife….
When I booked the hotel I wasn’t sure of the distances. Hotel Casalô seemed rather far from the beach but it looked like a really nice hotel. Turns out nothing is far from anything in this town. It is tiny. I am glad that the hotel is not in the center as it gets really busy at night.
Casalô Hotel is situated in the beginning after you enter Jeri on a quiet street. The style is neat, clean and simple with a color palett in shades of white and beige with wooden furniture throughout. The only other color is green from all the plants growing in the courtyard, around the pool and outside the apartments. We stayed in an apartment with two rooms with ensuite bathrooms; one for the kids and one for us. A spacious living space with TV, dining area and kitchen. Breakfast was served every morning in our apartment. I loved this setup. At a time of our choosing they came up to our apartment with trays of juices, coffee, breads, cake and eggs of our choice or pancakes. There were always leftovers so we put them in the fridge and had them for teatime or as a snack in the afternoon. The apartment had its own balcony in the front for relaxing and reading. In the back was a smaller balcony and a rack to hang wet bathing suits and towels.
For this trip we didn’t want to check luggage on the flight so we packed light; one carry on per person. Jeri is a kite surfer paradise and has that surfer vibe that makes you want to spend all day in a bikini and saltwater wavy hair. You really don’t need very much. Days are spent in the sun, sand and water. Nights are warm and dinner casual. So, swimwear (multiple options of course), a couple coverups, flipflops, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses and a few outfits (summer casual) for dinner out. A pair of sneakers for working out or running on the dunes (don’t plan on doing either then don’t bother with sneakers). A good book (or better; a kindle), a deck of cards and you are set. Less really is more in Jeri. Don’t even think about anything like nice sandals or heels. The streets are beach streets with heavy-to-walk-in sand while dry and my guess is really messy in the rainy season. Flipflops period.
There are no ATM machines in Jeri so come with cash. We brought R$2000 to cover the Hilux transfer and anything else we might need it for.
Beach buggy tour
While roaming the sandy streets on Sunday we browsed the many beach buggy tour companies offering tours of the dunes and lagoons and booked our monday activity. André, our “bugeiro”, picked us up at our hotel at 9 am and we set off out over the dunes. Driving in this landscape is strange and in many ways reminiscent of work as it is very similar to our military training fields. Peter even said it reminded him of Afghanistan. The kids thought it was like driving on the moon.
Pedra Furada is a rock formation on the beach and means “holed rock”. It is usually included in the beach buggy tour but we wanted to do it walking ourselves. It is located just 30min by foot from Jeri over the hill. It was quite a walk as the winds are really strong but well worth the effort. After a long steady climb you reach the top. The view is breathtaking so after taking it in you then have to descend to the beach. A cool quite rocky, barren but for cacti plants, steep hill all the way down to the rocks.
There were some people there already standing in line to get that particular selfie in front of the rock. We all agreed that the rock looked like a dragon laying down his head to drink from the ocean. We went exploring the shoreline instead for seashells and crabs before making the climb back up to the top of the hill and then down to the village, this time with the wind in our backs. So if anyone wants to see a picture of Pedra Furada, google it. There are millions of pictures on the internet with posing Brazilians in front of it.
Having spent the first two days exploring we decided to spend the rest of our vacation relaxing. After breakfast we packed our beach bag and walked to the beach. The beach is long and wide. To the left is the famous white dune that continues as far as the eye can see along the coast. From here people swarm to watch the sunset. We did this once. We saw how windy it was up on top of the dune which looked like a sand mound covered in ants though it was a huge sand dune covered with people come up to see the sunset. They were completely sandblasted so we went down on the beach in front of the dune and played while waiting for the sun to set. It wasn’t spectacular as the sun disappeared before it reached the ocean.
Choosing a hotel with a nice pool area was a good move as it was a nice change of scenery from the windy beach and offered more protection. Jeri is a windy place. Just look at the weather forecast and you will only see the wind symbol. The sand will even sandblast your legs at times making it feel like a thousand needles.
Nights in the village
The town centre has lots of little alleys with cute shops and restaurants. The restaurants serve great seafood. I especially like the local fish stews and soup served with rice. They are always a sure thing. The Moqueca is a must. Is it a local fish/seafood stew/soup with coconut milk served with rice. Absolutely delicious. There are as many versions and varieties as there are pots in Brazil but originates from the northern and easter costal states like Ceará and Bahia among others. The Moqueca is thought to have begun with a portuguese stew brought over from Portugal to which the slaves, shipped over from Africa, added their own ingredients, typical of their cuisine, making it the famous Moqueca it is today.
Shops are open until midnight and you will find swimwear, beachwear, flip flops and surfing gear. Everything you need really. There are also several drugstores where you will find sunscreen. We were dead set on bulking up on bugspray but during our whole stay we didn’t see a single mosquito. I don’t know if its the season or the strong winds, but it was great!
Cashew nuts and Donkeys
As you move about in town or taking a ride in the national park you will see a lot of two things; cashew nut trees and donkeys. They are not really related but have this in common; they are wild and thrive in and around Jericoacoara.
The cashew nut grows on a fruit called Caju. The fruit itself is used to make juice and is very popular among brazilians. One fruit yields only one nut. I was amazed the first time I was enlightened. I usually buy whole bags of cashews and just gobble them up as a good snack unaware of the process behind filling that bag. Every nut is picked off the fruit and roasted and then cracked to reveal the actual edible cashew nut inside. There is a factory in the area and apparently this is done by machine but there are many countries where women still squat on the floor, cracking the nuts with stones and painstakingly sort through the harvest to separate the whole ones from the half ones (the half ones sell for less). There was recently an article about this in the Guardian about women in India paying the price of increased demand for cashew nuts as vegan diets increase in popularity.
While on our beach buggy tour I asked our driver to stop so I could pick some Caju fruit and show the kids where cashew nuts come from. I twisted the nut off the fruit and started to crack the nut with my teeth when the driver stopped me and said that the layers of shell contain anacardic acid (say what?) that burns the skin. For the next hour I took surreptitious swigs of water and sloshed it around my mouth imagining a slight burn on my tongue. The state of Ceará exports a lot of cashew nuts all over brazil as well as coconuts and coconut water.
The donkeys’ reasons for roaming the village is another story. In Jericoacoara’s pre-motor days the donkey was the main mode of transportation due to the heavy sand. Eventually as beach buggies, 4×4 cars and trucks started being used the donkey found itself replaced. The owner of a brand new all terrain vehicle simply set his trusted and stubborn steed free to roam as he wished and so he did. The donkeys can be found everywhere; up on the hills, on the streets or grazing on the grass in the village square free as can be without a care which mirrors quite well the feeling of being on vacation in Jeri.
We absolutely loved this vacation. It was relaxed, sunny and fun. Just what we needed before jetting back to reality beginning with a gymnastics competition the day after we landed in São Paulo. Instead of driving back and forth we stayed the night in SP and drove straight to the competition. But that is another post.