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By Sarah Coursey, Editor

Praia de Itaúna, photo by Luiz Carlos Chaves.
Praia de Itaúna, photo by Luiz Carlos Chaves.

RIO DE JANEIRO – Before the slightest sliver of beach can be spotted, a brightly colored banner announces Saquarema as Brazil’s capital of surf. This sleepy, tourist town just 100 kilometers from Rio has been catching the country’s biggest waves, and the surfers around the world who ride them, all in a charmingly unassuming package.

First discovered by Dom João III, King of Portugal, frustrated that his system of ‘excursions’ to guard the Brazilian coastline had proved unfruitful, the town was originally populated by the native peoples known as Tamoios. They were known to be excellent canoers and stunned the Europeans with their ability to row better with their feet than most do with their hands.

Unfortunately, the Portuguese killed off the Tamoios in vengeance of their alliances with the French, but not before leaving the town with its namesake. Saquarema was originally called ‘“SOCÓ-REMA”’, meaning a flock of herons, for the birds who used to populate the town’s largest lake.

Praia de Massambaba, photo by Ivan Mattos.
Praia de Massambaba, photo by Ivan Mattos.

Both Gringo tourists and middle class Brazilian tourists call Saquarema a weekend home, while others come for the sporting events or colorful religious festivals that take place throughout the year. Unlike more glitzy places such as Búzios and Cabo Frio, the town has a more subdued, family-friendly tone and does not have any night clubs. Most of the action is on the beach and in the main square, which hosts a night flea market.

The town’s geography has drawn sporty types from all over the country. The city was chosen by the Brazilian Volleyball team for volleyball training and the main center for athletes of the Brazilian Volley Confederation. Paragliding and hang gliding are popular as well. Those of the fishing sort appreciate the lake Lagoa de Saquarema, which has shallow waters and a wonderful, nameless and hidden restaurant serving gorgeous fried fish.

The best beaches are Praia de Itaúna and Praia de Massambaba. Itaúna is known as the Templo Sagrado do Surf (Sacred Temple of Surf), known for its world-class waves. All the major surf competitions are held here. Massambabaúna is a nature preserve, and attracts eco-tourists.

Aerial view of Saquarema, photo by Fernando Mendes.
Aerial view of Saquarema, photo by Fernando Mendes.

Situated in the lake region, the town boasts the picturesque still waters of Lagoa de Saquarema, Lagoa de Jaconé and Lagoa Vermelha. The largest, Saquarema, borders the ocean and is separated by a canal which acts as a breakwater for the fresh and salt waters.

Its only beach, Boca da Barra, is next to the canal and more of a stopping place for fisherman than a sunbathing destination. Jaconé has typical swamp vegetation and emerald green waters. Lastly, Vermelha is composed of three small lakes linked by a canal, surrounded by stunning floral greenery, including bromélias.

The religious festivals constitute an important attraction for local and national tourism. The most popular are the patron saint’s festival day, Nossa Senhora de Nazareth (Our Lady of Nazareth), the same saint for which the town’s famous church, Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora de Nazareth, is named. The event takes place between August 30 and September 8. In the Brazilian autumn, the grand festival Festa do Divino Espírito Santo (Pentecost) takes place, always fifty days after Easter.

Saquarema has a lot to offer, from sports to beautiful nature and colorful festivals. Its main square, Praça Antenor de Oliveira, gathers residents and tourists alike with a collection of food stalls and jewelery and souvenir sellers, all with a down-home, neighborhood feel. What happens here happens by day, though, and after a hard day of exercise you might just want to grab a delicious cocada (coconut sweet) flavored with passion fruit, a hot dog topped with quail eggs or a bit of savory tapioca and hit the hay.

Tomorrow is another day, and in Saquarema the sun is probably shining.

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