Arraial do Cabo’s Future

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Arraial do Cabo is a sleepy fishing town located a few hours (158km) east of Rio. Along with Búzios and Cabo Frio, Arraial do Cabo forms part of the the ‘Região dos Lagos’, a popular destination for tourists looking to escape the rush of the city. While Búzios prides itself on glamor, Arraial do Cabo has declared itself Rio’s scuba capital.

As middle class Brazilians become increasingly affluent, and Rio cements its status as a world-class tourist destination, the influx of visitors to Arraial do Cabo has boomed in recent years. Considering the current pace of the Brazilian economy, and the World Cup and Olympics on the horizon, this trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

This has put pressure on existing tourism infrastructure in the area, and highlighted the potential for growth. The direction that this growth takes will be of prime importance to Arraial do Cabo’s future. The resort has plenty of character and a stunning natural setting, so Arraial do Cabo could experience a period of healthy and sustainable growth. However, some are concerned that if quick-buck developers move in, and the wheels of progress are oiled by backhanders and shady dealings, the character of the town could be irrevocably damaged.

One element critical to the preservation of Arraial’s character will be the height of new buildings. Until a few years ago, the maximum height of buildings was three stories, but since the restriction was lifted, some eight story apartment blocks have begun to appear on Praia Grande.

These apartment blocks feature many amenities, such as gyms, balconies, shared swimming pools and exclusive penthouses. This apartment, for example, sold through Imobiliária Amorim, includes a communal leisure area, with gym, sauna and hydro-massage, two elevators and three bedroom (two suite) apartments. Prices start at R$520,000.

A second factor crucial to the economic health of the town is the relative proportion of second homes. These holiday retreats will no doubt add to tourism revenues during the high season, but during the low season, essential services may suffer, causing problems for year-round residents.

In the words of one Arraial resident, “For sure short term work opportunities are generated at the time of construction, but it would be interesting to see the 10 year plans and calculations for how these big complexes, that stand empty for the greater part of the year, in prime locations, will contribute to the growth of tourism in Arraial do Cabo.” It is not just the new apartment blocks that are driving growth in the town.

There is also extensive redevelopment of the beachfront, including the calçadão (promenade), which will no doubt boost tourism in coming years. Yet another source of potential growth is the commercial port area, as Arraial do Cabo finds itself next to the new ‘pre-sal’ oil reservoirs.

If profits are big enough, authorities could be tempted to open their doors to oil infrastructure, which could revitalize the local economy, which has suffered since the closure of the local soda ash plant in 2006. However, these developments would conflict with environmentalists and tour operators who value the local marine life.

Overall, Arraial do Cabo finds itself at critical juncture. If development is sympathetic to the natural environment, the town could welcome generations of tourists and divers, while benefiting a diverse local economy. If the mix of industrial and commercial developments is mishandled, the original charms of Arraial do Cabo could be swamped by a tide of hasty progress.