Renting a car in Natal
car rentals can be cheap in Natal; - the biggest advantage in renting a car is the possibility to go wherever and whenever you go. Driving within Natal is easy, once you get used to the main thorougfares. Several beaches near Natal (Pirangi, Redinha, Pipa) are under 50 km away, and a car makes it much easier to visit these places.
Reasons to NOT rent a car:
- the technology of Brazilian cars is way behind American and European ones
- Check out how many tours are included in your package; some packages are so comprehensive that there is little time left to even drive a car. - Some beaches are best visited by tours (for example: the dunes of Jenipabu can only be visited by buggies driven by authorized drivers; the Parrachos of Maracajau are best visited by contracting an all-inclusive tour), and these usually include transportation, which makes useless to have a rented car. - However easy the traffic in Natal is, it takes a while to get used to it. - Even though parking isn't a problem in most of Natal, the Ponta Negra strip is an exception; very often you won't find a place to park, and will have to leave the car somewhere up the hill.
Of course, buses are the cheapest way go move aroung Natal; tickets vary from around US$ 0.40 (most of lines) to US$ 0.80 (the line going from Natal to the airport). It's possible to get passes or magnetic cards to pay before hand, but usually it's easiest to pay to the conductor.
Buses are not comfortable at all; take a look at what buses look like. There are big buses, micro buses and vans, all driving along the same streets, all charging the same prices.
All the main touristic spots within Natal are well served by buses. You may expect to travel standing up on the big buses (not so with micros and vans), but very rarely will they be so overcrowded that you have physical contact with other people (in other Brazilian cities, a bus during peak hours reminds much a sardines tin). Tipical waiting time is 15 min during the peak hours, and up to one hour. The drivers are supposed to follow a time schedule, but the time table is not released to the public (unless you ask) and changes often, meaning: don't count on any bus showing up on time.
Some bus routes of interest:
#66: from Ponta Negra, along all av. Eng. Roberto Freire, inside the campus of the University, beside Machadao, to the bus terminal and back.
#40: from the bus terminal, along the main avenues towards Praia do Meio and back.
There are plenty of taxis in Natal. Taxis are white cars and have a red plate. Fares are the same, regardless of how new and comfortable the car is.
Fares are regulated by the government. As of today, normal prices are: US$ 2 to start metering, US$ 1 per km and US$ 5 per waiting hour. The only exception to these prices are the so called 'special' taxis at the airport; read the tips in the arriving in Natal section.
From 10pm to 6am at weekdays, and all hours at weekends (and, depending on a decree by the mayor, all times during the month of December), there is a 20% increase in the above prices; this is indicated by a number 2 showing in the fare meter. The majored fares only apply during those specified times; beware of taxi drivers who 'forget' to set the meter correctly.
There are several tele-taxis companies in Natal; the fare meter starts to run only after you get on the car. Unless you speak Portuguese, language will likely be a problem if you call the companies; probably the reception of your hotel will be willing to help you.
Tip: some taxi drivers are knowledgeable and reliable; if you come across one of them, or if someone can refer one to you, you may consider getting his mobile phone number and call him when needed or even hire him by the day.