The implementation of the Coastal Highway, a 8 km (4.9 mi) long avenue along the shore, was the true starting point for the beginning of tourist activity in the State in the 1980s. That is where the main hotels and restaurants of the capital city, Natal, are concentrated. Improvements in tourist infrastructure and conservation of the natural heritage, beyond the city's afforestation are some of the actions given priority ever since by the state government. One of the highlights was the creation of the Dune State Park, which aims to preserve the chain of sand dunes that surround the city. And thus, Natal became the entry gate to the beautiful beaches of the State of Rio Grande do Norte. Many of them are still semi-wild, such as Pipa and Pirangi; and others are the liveliest, such as Genipabu and Tibau do Sul.
In accordance with the IPEA (Institute of Applied Economic Research of Brazil), the city is the safest capital of Brazil.
The Augusto Severo International Airport connects Natal with many Brazilian cities and also operates some international flights.
The city is home to the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte.
Known as the "City of Sun" and also as "The City of Dunes" Natal is located in the northeastern tip of Brazil. Lying about 15 degrees south of the equator the sun shines on for more than 3,000 hours every year and the days seem to last forever. The average temperature in Natal is about 27 degrees celsius. During the summer season it normally reaches above 30 degrees celsius with the water at a soothing 26 degrees. The greatst amount of rain falls between March and July.
The northeastern tip of South America, Cabo São Roque, to the north of Natal and the closest point to Europe from Latin America, was first visited by European navigators in 1501, in the 1501-1502 Portuguese expedition led by Amerigo Vespucci, who named the spot after the saint of the day. For decades thereafter, no permanent European settlement was established in the area, inhabited by the Potiguar tribe.
In 1597, after some years during which French pirates, led by Jacques Riffault, established regular commercial activities with the native population, the ninth Portuguese Governor-General of Brazil, Francisco de Sousa, ordered the expulsion of the buccaneers. The successful expedition was led by the Captain-Major of the Captaincy of Pernambuco, Manuel de Mascarenhas Homem, with the assistance of Jerônimo de Albuquerque Maranhão.
Albuquerque Maranhão began on January 6, 1598 the construction of the Fort of the Holy Kings or of the Magi-Kings ("Forte dos Santos Reis" or "Forte dos Reis Magos"), named after the Three Wise Men, honored in the Christian feast of the Epiphany, celebrated on that day.
On December 25, 1599, Natal (whose name means Nativity or Christmas in Portuguese) was established as a village outside the fort. The fort, city, and surrounding areas were occupied by Dutch forces from 1633 to 1654.
The sandy soil of Natal prevented the city from becoming a producer of sugarcane, during the colonial times. For centuries, the economy of the State was based on the raising of cattle in the dry interior lands; the cattle was sent alive to the larger centers, to be used as traction, or was turned into jerked beef, to be used as food; the most typical food of Natal, "carne de sol" (sun meat), has origins in that jerked beef.
Last century, Natal benefited from the growth of the industries of salt (the north of Rio Grande do Norte is the largest producer in Brazil) and petroleum (the largest inland Brazilian reserves are in the State). Natal grew quickly, but in a somewhat planned way (compared to other major Brazilian cities); transit flows smoothly, public services are well distributed, ecologic conscience is visible; violence levels are low. Tourists (first Brazilians, more recently foreigners) discovered the city, which became one of the major tourist destinations in Brazil.
Because of its strategic position (Natal is one of the cities in Brazil nearest to Western Europe and Africa, especially Dakar, Senegal), an American air base was built in a suburb of Natal named Parnamirim during World War II as part of the so-called Operation Rainbow; this base provided support for allied troops combating in the north of Africa. Thousands of American soldiers were sent to Natal, and their presence left traces in the culture of the city.
With its dozens of sandy, white beaches, such as Ponta Negra and its famous Morro do Careca, Tabatinga - the cliff of dolphins, Pirangi, Redinha, and Jenipabú with its famous fixed sand dunes and imported dromedaries, tourism is the most important industry of Natal, attracting Brazilians, Europeans (many from Spain, England, Scandinavia, Germany, Portugal, Italy and France), and Americans alike.
In fact, the largest cashew tree in the world is located near the coast in the neighborhood of Pirangi, south of the city center. This tree has a circumference of 500 metres and occupies an area of 7,300 m², making it 70 times the size of average cashew trees.
The index of basic education in natal is "0,887" which is considered high [cite].
Festa Junina was introduced to Northeastern Brazil by the Portuguese for whom St John's day (also celebrated as Midsummer Day in several European countries), on the 24th of June, is one of the oldest and most popular celebrations of the year. Differently, of course, from what happens on the European Midsummer Day, the festivities in Brazil do not take place during the summer solstice but during the tropical winter solstice. The festivities traditionally begin after the 12th of June, on the eve of St Anthony's day, and last until the 29th, which is Saint Peter's day. During these fifteen days, there are bonfires, fireworks, and folk dancing in the streets. Once exclusively a rural festivity, today, in Brazil, it is largely a city festival during which people joyfully and theatrically mimic peasant stereotypes and clichés, all in good fun and high spirits. Typical refreshments and dishes are served. It should be noted that, as during Carnival, these festivities involve wearing costumes (in this case, peasant costumes), dancing, heavy drinking, and visual spectacles (fireworks display and folk dancing). Similar to what happens on Midsummer and St John's Day in Europe, bonfires are a central part of these festivities in Brazil.
The transit department isolates about 3 km (1.8 mi) of streets, creating a ring, along which the party takes place. During the days of party, a huge truck (called "trio elétrico"), with a band on the top and sound boxes all around, drives slowly along the streets. The crowd follows the trio elétrico singing, dancing, jumping to the sound of the music. To be allowed to follow the truck, you must buy admittance to one of the several "blocos" (block). A bloco is an enterprise which obtains permission to participate in Carnatal, hires the band, sells admitance and controls access.
Considered the second largest urban park in Brazil. It includes 1,172 hectares of land, and allows for observation of several vegetable and animal species, which are typical of the Atlantic Forest. The tour is along a trail, accompanied by trained guides. The park also has a jogging track, and stays open for visitors from Tuesday to Sunday.
Neighborhoods of Natal:
Natal provides visitors and residents with various sport activities.