This is a guest post by our friend Ernesto. He first came to Pernambuco in March of 2007 as a tourist. In January of 2008 he returned and since then has been living in Olinda. He keeps two blogs: a personal one and another that focuses solely on Olinda. His email is nyenye03 at hotmail dot com. Thanks for your valuable contribution, Ernesto.
Most people who land in Recife seek two things: Carnaval and Porto de Galinhas. Carnaval only takes place for a few days each year and Porto de Galinhas, although considered by many one of the best beaches in Brazil, does not belong (geographically nor politically) of Recife.
Which yields the question: what does the Greater Recife area offer for tourists?
Recife and neighboring towns are not exactly organized, clean or safe. Greater Recife has one of the highest crime rates in the country. Recife itself is called the “Brazilian Venice” because of its rivers and channels, but the truth is that most are polluted and obstructed. The beaches have enormous signs that warn against the threat of sharks. Besides, it’s fairly obvious that urban beaches are, in general, not attractive, whether they are in Recife or in any other state capital in Brazil.
The negative reputation would indicate that tourists need to avoid Recife at all costs.
But behind all that, there are some attractions that are worth mentioning. With flights from Brazilian, European and North American cities, Recife has the chance to become a tourist magnet year round, even though Carnaval will continue to be “high season.”
If you find yourself in Recife, I have four recommendations for you:
- The southern coast. Ok, so this is not technically a part of Recife. Porto de Galinhas is the most well known of the beaches south of Recife, but there are other (less busy) beaches where you could stop. Maracaipe has hosts surfing contests every year and lies immediately south of Porto de Galinhas. It has a less developed infrastructure, but enough to receive tourists properly. On its southern end lies the Pontal, though you should avoid the seahorse tour.
Farther south there are more beaches, best explored via dune buggy. The most well known is, without a doubt, Praia dos Carneiros. There are reefs and natural pools, but what most impresses me is the estuary formed by the river and the sea, the dune banks and the neighboring beach of Guadalupe. The restaurants are not cheap, and Tamandaré (just south) might offer some cheaper lodging and food.
Porto de Galinhas is known for its natural pools, though some tourists are put off by the overdevelopment of what once was a small fisherman’s village. You can visit the reefs swimming or walking; there absolutely no need for a jangada. For young and/or independent travelers, there are some budget accommodations and food in town, though north of the village center there are resorts and more expensive hotels.
Three days are enough to explore Porto de Galinhas, Praia dos Carneiros and Maracaipe, although I don’t recommend visiting these during a weekend.
The bus that connects Recife to Porto de Galinhas stops at the Recife airport. From the TIP (Recife’s main bus station), you can take the Metro to the center of Recife, where the bus leaves for Porto de Galinhas.
- Itamaracá. This island, north of Recife, has three main attractions: Corõa do Avião, Centro Peixe Boi and Forte Orange. Corõa do Avião is a small island, a sand bank, famous for its near tropical waters. To reach it you’ll have to hire a boat from the Forte Orange beach. Since you are there already, visit the old Dutch fort. Nearby you’ll find the Centro Peixe Boi, where Brazilian scientists research and care after the sea cow.
Besides the tours offered by agencies or taxi drivers, you can reach Itamaracá by bus, first taking a bus to the Igarassú terminal, and from there a bus to Forte Orange. Leave early.
- Recife. The city is really just that: a city. It has museums, historic buildings, theater and everything else a big city can offer. A traveler can take in a few, essential sights in one day. Start at the Mercado São José, the largest public market in the city, where you’ll find a bit of everything. Also in Recife’s center you’ll find the Casa da Cultura, a former prison that now hosts artisans and vendors. If you’re not into shopping, perhaps the Forte das Cinco Pontas will interest you, a former Dutch and Portuguese fort that allows you to learn about the city’s history.
Much, much farther from the center you’ll find a family that deserves two visits. The Instituto Brennand (open 1pm to 5pm) and the Oficina Brennand (open 8am to 5pm) are different in content but similar in magnificence. The first is located in the neighborhood called Varzea, and it hosts a huge, private collection of armor, paintings, sculptures and weapons. His cousin, Francisco Brennand, owns his own collection of sculpture and paintings, all made by himself, and housed in a former tile factory. They are both on the outskirts of Recife, near the rural university and the zoo, at the end of Caxangá Avenue. Take any bus that goes along Caxangá, get off at the last stop on this avenue, and hop on a taxi for the rest of the ride.
Finally, if you are in Recife on a Sunday, check out Recife Antigo, where there is an art fair with live music, maracatú and forró. There are plenty of bars and restaurants in the area as well.
- Olinda. The hills, the churches, the restaurants, museums and ateliers in Olinda are all packed into a small historic center, where walking is the recommended method of transportation. After a day walking around Olinda, you can carry on with a variety of cultural activities. The Bodega de Veio is a small bar on Rua do Ampara which is a famous meeting place on Tuesdays and weekends. On Fridays catch the serenade, which strolls the streets singing songs your grandparents would sing (if they were Brazilian). On Saturdays visit the Alto da Sé for Afro Brazilian music at the Preto Velho. Finally, every first Saturday of the month there is a famous street party at the Largo de Guadalupe, where you can learn how to dance samba de coco.
If you still have time and energy (and can arrange transportation), visit the Casa da Rabeca do Brasil, in the neighborhood of Cidade Tabajara, on the outskirts of Olinda. Every Saturday there is a traditional forró party. Also on Saturdays, Lia de Itamaracá hosts a ciranda (circle dance) party on the Jaguaribe beach in Itamaracá.
For someone planning a trip to various Brazilian cities, a week in Recife should be enough. If you are planning longer holidays, it’s easy to include Recife in your plans due to the many transportation options leaving Recife.
Of course, there are many more attractions in Greater Recife, most importantly the culture. In Recife and Olinda there are many foreigners who are enamored with the culture. There is a universe to discover: maracatú, samba de coco, cavalo marinho and much more. Don’t hesitate to contact me if your visit is cultural in nature and you want more detailed information.