When I first visited Jericoacoara in 2002, hotel development and international tourism were just starting to boom. The Brazilian government had recently designated the surrounding landscape as a national park, protected from development and limited in use.
Located about 200 miles from the city of Fortaleza on the northeast coast of Brazil, Jericoacoara was originally a tiny village of fishermen and their families living in a small cluster of simple brick buildings situated in a breathtaking natural setting. The Atlantic Ocean embraces the town on two sides, with a sandy half moon beach soaring from town for over ten miles. Behind the beach and the town lie gigantic sand dunes interspersed with lagoons and mangroves, filled with birds, fish, and crustaceans, plus the occasional roaming donkey or dune buggy packed with visitors. All of the ways into town involve driving several miles over sand.
I concluded back in 2002 that the natural environment would be sufficiently protected by the status as a national park, but that the original inhabitants of the fishing village would be driven out by high land prices, since the national park boundary limits the area of land in the town that can be developed. I believed that in the not-too-distant future, the only residents of Jericoacoara would be North Americans and Europeans, both as owners of, workers in, and visitors to the new hotels and restaurants.
I recently returned to Jericoacoara and discovered, happily, that my conclusions of ten years ago were wrong. The original residents of Jericoacoara and the surrounding fishing villages, as well as Brazilians from around the country, have found ample opportunity to work in and own businesses, capitalizing on the influx of foreign and domestic visitors. In addition to the hotels and guest houses that line the beach and fill the center of town, there is a new neighborhood full of Brazilian families, who all appear to have a quality of life that would be the envy of millions of residents of Brazil’s biggest cities.
The resort development and environmental preservation in Jericoacoara over the past fifteen years have created pareto optimal results. The unique landscape is protected as a national park, so development cannot destroy the scenic beauty that fuels the town’s tourist industry; the economy of the town has expanded exponentially, creating economic opportunity for locals that were unimaginable a generation ago; international hotel developers have the opportunity to build state-of-the-art hotels in a fantastic location; and tourists can visit a majestic place, stay in comfort, and support a vibrant part of the local, national, and international economy.