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The Natal-to-Fortaleza Buggy Adventure

If you can't get enough of the coast, consider the 800km (500-mile) adventure trip from Natal north along the beach to Fortaleza. On the way you'll visit 85 beaches and countless dunes, some of them massive monsters seemingly transplanted from the Sahara. You'll pass through petrified forests and pocket deserts, float your buggy across dozens of little estuaries on rafts, and visit little fishing towns that rarely, if ever, see tourists.

Buggy & Cia, Rua Guilherme Tinoco 1274 (tel. 084/9982-3162; www.buggyecia.com.br), specializes in this trip. The expedition takes 4 days, usually starting from Natal. Cost is R$2,500 total for two people, including accommodations and breakfast plus buggy and driver. The owner, Kadmo Donato, speaks English. The website has a map of the route and some excellent photos showing what's in store on the trip. Note that with Buggy & Cia, a driver does the driving. Some find this a disappointment, but it actually allows you to spend your time drinking in the views from the prime buggy spot -- above the roll-bars on the back of the buggy's chassis. The only company that allows guests to drive is the Paris-based firm Brésil Aventure (www.bresil-aventure.com). Brésil Aventure's Natal-to-Fortaleza trips take 2 weeks, and their guides speak French only.

Heading Inland -- The hot, dry interior of the Northeast hides some outstanding natural beauty: indigenous petroglyphs, rock formations as odd and impressive as many in Utah, and fossilized dinosaur footprints 120 million years old. Based in Natal, Cariri Ecotours (tel. 084/9928-0198; www.caririecotours.com.br) specializes in trips into this Brazilian outback. The 4-day, 3-night Valley of the Dinosaurs package strikes inland for the far west of Paraiba state. Here, 120 million years ago, dozens of species of dinosaurs lived at the edge of a great shallow lake. The tracks they left in the mud of this lake filled with sediment and became fossilized; hundreds of tracks in this area remain clearly visible to this day. The tour then swings back toward the Cariri region, to the vast and magic rock formations at Lajedo do Pai Mateus and Saca de Lã. The expedition finishes up with a visit to one of Brazil's most significant archaeological sites, a stone wall inscribed with the symbols and artwork of a now-vanished prehistoric people. Trips can be made by either air-conditioned Land Rover or comfortable air-conditioned Fiat Duplo. Cost per person for groups of two to four people is R$2,600 by Fiat, R$2,955 by Land Rover. Meals are included, and accommodations are at some of the finer pousadas of the interior.

Praia da Pipa

Located 80km (50 miles) south of Natal by road (or a mere 55km/34 miles if you go by beach buggy), Praia da Pipa is one of the most picturesque beaches in all of Brazil's Northeast. This former fishing village was discovered by surfers back in the 1970s, and developed in the decades since, without yet overdeveloping. Though the town does fill up on weekends and holidays, Pipa's pousadas and hotels remain manageable and small-scale. The village of Pipa is well known for its nighttime activity, and for the cafes and restaurants lining its cobblestone streets. Down on the long crescent beach are natural pools and reefs for snorkeling. Traveling south from Pipa one finds a string of beaches -- Praia do Amor, Praia do Moleque -- snuggling at the foot of tall coastal cliffs. The cliff-top drive from Pipa to Praia do Cunhaú is spectacular.

Pipa does not lack for places to stay. Two that stand out are Toca de Coruja, Av. Baía dos Golfinhos 464 (tel. 084/3246-2226; www.tocadacoruja.com.br), a Roteiro de Charme property that features luxurious self-contained chalets with private outdoor Jacuzzis, all in a large private garden; and Sombra e Agua Fresca, Rua Praia do Amor 1000 (tel. 084/3246-2144; www.sombraeaguafresca.com.br), located on the cliff overlooking the bay, which offers large rooms and two pools with terrific views.

Excellent restaurants in Pipa include the seafood-oriented Cruzeiro do Pescador, Rua da Gameleira s/n (tel. 084/3246-2026; www.cruzeirodopescador.com.br; daily 7-11:30pm), and for more varied fare, Agua na Boca, Av. Baía dos Golfinhos 687 (tel. 084/3246-2641; Mon-Sat 6pm-midnight).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.