By Hakan Almerfors, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – With a population of around 25,000, Arraial is one of the more popular tourist destinations in the state of Rio de Janeiro. It is the crystal clear waters, excellent diving and a tranquil atmosphere that attracts most people to this small town located about 170 km east of Rio de Janeiro.
The first humans to inhabit the region were Indians, in particular from the Tupinambá tribes. The Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci set foot on Praia dos Anjos in 1503 – it quickly became important because of the Brazil Tree which grew abundantly in the region. It was the Brazil Tree that also gave the name to the country and was highly valued for its red pigment used for textiles. Soon, like all over Brazil, the tree became almost extinct.
In the beginning of the 17th century the exploitation of Brazil led to rapid colonization. Arraial’s big brother city Cabo Frio, 30 km to the north, quickly developed just like many other cities around the country. As a result, Arraial do Cabo became a side note and the few inhabitants that lived there supported themselves from fishing and foresting.
Whaling was another major industry throughout the Brazilian coastline and especially in the state of Rio de Janeiro, where the migration of several species of whales annually passed by close to the shore. In the 18th century large American whaling ships killed off the abundant whale population in Rio de Janeiro in just 30 years.
When Alkalis, a national state owned salt refinery company was founded there in the early 1950’s.Thousands of jobs were created and it attracted workers from all over Brazil. Salt and soda ash were produced in vast quantities (especially the latter). The company was privatized in 1992 and closed in 2006 due to foreign competition. Today, parts of Alkalis factory still operate as a dockyard for various ships and oil rigs. The remains of the salt refinery can be seen all over Arraial do Cabo.
There are beautiful beaches here though. The immense Praia Grande with cold crystal clear water and a surfable wave. Prainha has calm and warm waters, a perfect family beach. Praia do Forno is located a short hike from the port – the waters here are warm, clear and good for snorkling. Prainhas (little beaches) are only reachable by car, a 45 minute hike or by boat. It is one of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil because of the transcending color the water and the sand along with surrounding green hills. Praia do Farol is located on an island and only reachable by boat.
Diving The diving in Arraial is famous around Brazil. More than 10 operators can offer great marine life, shipwrecks and beautiful caves. It´s a good place to get a baptizing dive. Here are some good operators:
- PL Divers Rua Nilo Peçanha 57, Praia dos Anjos, tel +55 22 9818-0650 www.pldivers.com.br
- Mr Diver Rua D. Pedro 1, Centro, tel +55 22 2622-1164 www.mrdiver.com.br
- Sand´Mar Rua Epitácio Pessoa 21, Praia Grande tel +55 22 7836-0444 www.sandmar.com.br
Boat Trips are also really nice and affordable. You go beach hopping and visit a big cave. Most of these stop at a floating restaurant where you can have really tasty seafood.
Dimitri P Albert, a Belgian who came here 5 years ago to start his dive school P L Divers on Rua Nilo Peçanha 57 has witnessed Arraial’s considerable growth and hopes for increased environmental consciousness. His business partner, Brazilian Paulo Lopez, is now the director for a project for preserving the nature in Arraial involving among other Ibama (Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Resources).
Dimitri comments on the environment; “What is needed to make it better is a new mindset, during my 5 years here it has already started to change.”
What’s next for Arraial? Dimitri would like to see; “The beaches nice at night – Build nice beach front establishments where you can have a nice meal, listen to music and watch the sunset.”
Hakan Almerfors is Swedish and has been living in Rio de Janeiro since 2003. He has been working with tourists ever since, in 2007 he created the Rio travel information site Gringo-Rio.com