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There are two ways to arrive in Natal: by plane and by bus.
Natal has a pier, but only for cargo ships. There are few railroads in Brazil, none in Natal.

Arriving by plane
If flying in, you will arrive at International Airport Augusto Severo.
The airport is far from the Natal. Actually, the airport is located in another city, called Parnamirim, conurbed with Natal. Getting to and from the airport is nor easy nor cheap, so make sure you fix all you have to before leaving the airport; pay special attention if you are going to rent a car: prefer those companies which allow you to pick up the car at the airport and return it at the city, or vice-versa.
If you are entering the country - currently, this only happens with charter flights -, the Federal Police will check out your passport (separate queues for Brazilians and foreigners) and the Customs will check out your luggage; Police and Customs staffs are usually very friendly. If you are coming from other states in Brazil, your papers and luggage won't be checked again.
The airport is new and modern, it was refurbished and reinaugurated in 2001. Before 2001, passengers had to walk across the runway; now, planes stop at fingers.
The airport is clearly oversized for its current level of business (designers say that a big grow in traffic is expected, and this was factored in the size of the airport). There's no accumulation of people or luggage chariots; the place is spacious and well ventilated. There are some basic services (restaurants, coffee shops, news stands), but it's far from being a good place to past time.
There's a tourist office at the airport. Staff speaks English there, get as much info as you can, ask all free material they have.
Unlike other bigger Brazilian airports, there is no free shop in Natal. Brazilian free shops are not very attractive, anyway; last I checked, electronic appliances were obsolete, perfumes were overpriced, tobacco and spirit were not much cheaper to justify facing the extra bureaucracy of buying at the free shops.
Getting from airport to Natal
Depending on where you are staying in Natal, you could have to drive between 15 and 25 km to get to your hotel. If you are in a package tour, make sure there will be a bus to pick you up.
Unlike most other major airports in Brazil, there's not a cheap shuttle service between the airport and the city (this has been asked by passengers since long ago, but it looks like some lobbies convince the government that it's not necessary). Taxis are expensive (for Brazilian standards): to Ponta Negra, a special taxi (which is supposed to have air conditioner and turn it on) goes for about R$40 (try to bargain down this price); a normal taxi, about R$30 (according to the fare meter). Prices depend on whereabouts in the city you go.
If you have little luggage, speak a little Portuguese and want to save some money, take the bus which runs by just in front of the airport; ticket is R$2; make sure that the bus is going to Natal, not the opposite direction. Get off at Natal Shopping Center and take another bus from there; if you are going to Ponta Negra, walk across the street and take bus #66.

Arriving by bus
If you arrive by bus, the final stop is Rodoviaria Cidade do Sol.
The bus station is depart point for buses to several cities in Rio Grande do Norte and several states in Brazil. All kind of travellers are found here, from Brazilian and foreigner tourists going to near capitals (some travel times: Recife: 4 1/2 hours; Joao Pessoa: 3 hours; Fortaleza: 8 hours), to people going to visit their relatives in small cities, to entire families moving (and bringing all their few belongings) to the big cities in the South.
Not many basic services: there are several snack bars, only one restaurant (far from luxury), news stands, a left luggage, a VISA - Banco do Brasil post; there are toilets, but the cleanest; there is a tourist office, the staff tries to be helpful, but their English is far from perfect, and their stock of maps seem to be very short lasting.
Just outside the main gate, there are a queue of taxis and a bus stop; avoid walking much further from the bus stop, specially at night. A taxi to Ponta Negra goes for about R$20, and to Via Costeira about R$35.
Buses: to go to Ponta Negra, take bus #66 and it will take you to very close of the hotels; to go to Praia do Meio and Via Costeira, take bus #40 and get off at Praia do Meio, from which you can either walk to your hotel (if you're staying in Praia dos Artistas or Praia do meio), or take one of the buses which drive along Via Costeira.
Buses to/from Fortaleza are run by this company: Viacao Nordeste There are about seven buses per day; because the trip takes about 8 hours, there is a couch bus (bigger seats, more space) which travels overnight.
For buses to/from Recife (buses every two hours, from about 6am to about 11pm), try this company: Viacao Progresso.
Another site you may want to check is Expresso Guanabara; this company runs buses across many states in NorthEast.

See also: Leaving Natal

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