Things to Do in Northeast Brazil - page 2
This tropical paradise ranks high among the most popular destinations in and around Salvador. Located in the traditional fishing village of Jandaira, the sandy shores of this rural spot became famous after a Brazilian soap-opera was filmed here. Today, travelers flock to Mangue Seco, where fewer than 300 residents have been known to warmly welcome visitors from across the globe. Pristine beaches, rolling sand dunes and an off-the-beaten-path vibe make this a perfect stop for visitors to the state of Bahia. The boat trip from the mainland offers picturesque views and travelers are greeted by towering coconut trees that line stretches of untouched beach. While a trip to Mangue Seco will definitely lighten tourists’ pocketbooks, visitors agree that it’s one of the best places in Brazil to experience unspoiled tropical wonder.
Like many northeastern Brazilian cities, Fortaleza is famous for its handicrafts, particularly its embroidered white lace textiles. One of the best places in the city to pick up locally made gifts and souvenirs is at the Fortaleza Central Market (Mercado Central de Fortaleza).
The market got its start as a meat, fruit and vegetable market housed in a small wooden building in 1809. In 1931 the government prohibited the sale of meat and produce within the market, so the industry was forced to shift to crafts. The market as it stands today was built in 1998 to include better facilities and more space for vendors.
The four floor market, located in city center, houses dozens of shops on each floor selling textiles, woven hammocks, paintings, clay sculptures, leather bags, palm baskets, T-shirts and other items. Visitors who want to take home a taste of their travels can also pick up local cashews and bottles of cachaça, the traditional Brazilian spirit made from sugarcane juice.
With its vast, deserted beaches, towering sand dunes and pellucid waters, Brazil’s Costa Branca or "White Coast" is one of the country’s most enchanting regions, and its best-kept secret is the historic fishing village of Galinhos, a popular day trip from nearby Natal. Encircled by water and reachable only by boat, the sandy peninsula is a pocket of serenity, with horse carts in lieu of taxis and the landscape dotted with salt flats, mangrove swamps and rolling dunes.
If you’re looking to head off-the-beaten-track this is the perfect destination, but Galinhos isn’t completely void of life – in-the-know locals have long frequented the spot for kite surfing and wind surfing, while other activities include snorkeling and dune buggy rides.
Opened in 2013, this massive stadium, which seats some 55,000 sports fans, was built by German architects and played host to World Cup excitement in 2014. Teams from Spain, Nigeria, Switzerland and the Netherlands have all graced the green of this iconic field. And in 2016, Fonte Nova Stadium again posed as a global soccer stage during the Summer Olympics.
Travelers agree that the impressive sports structure is worth checking out. A positive police presence has increased security, making it relatively safe and easy to move around the sports Mecca. While there are few places of interest beyond the gates of Fonte Nova, guided tours—which include a behind-the-scenes look at the locker rooms and playing field where some of the world’s top soccer players have already stepped foot—make it worth a visit for soccer fans and sports fanatics alike.
Designed by French architect George Mounier and allegedly inspired by the grand cathedral in Cologne, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Forteza is the third largest cathedral in Brazil. Construction on the Gothic-Roman style structure began in 1939, but it wouldn’t be fully completed until late in 1978, nearly 40 years later.
Upon entering the Metropolitan Cathedral, built to seat 5,000 worshippers, visitors encounter the Chapel of St. Joseph, the Patron Saint of the Brazilian state of Ceará to the left of the nave. On the right is another small chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, the Patron Saint of Fortaleza. The cathedral’s central alter was brought over from Verona.
One interesting feature that sets the Metropolitan Cathedral apart from other such structures is its crypt. The Crypt of the Adolescents was inaugurated in 1962 with six alters devoted to saints who died in their teenage years, and the depiction of Jesus in the crypt alter shows him as an adolescent as well.
Don’t let the concrete masonry on the cathedral’s exterior turn you off. The stained glass windows on the inside are stunning and well worth the visit.
A small colonial town set on the banks of the Paraguaçu river, Cachoeira is both the capital of Reconcavo and an important vestige of Brazil’s colonial past, and makes a popular day trip from nearby Salvador. Cachoeira’s colorful colonial buildings remain its most charming asset and the central Praça da Aclamação square is the obvious starting point for a walking tour, home to striking landmarks like the 17th-century City Hall and the baroque-style Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora do Rosário church.
Additional highlights of a visit to Cachoeira include taking a boat trip along the Rio Paraguaçu; crossing the bridge to neighboring São Félix where it’s possible to tour the Dannamann Cigar Factory, one of Brazil’s most popular tobacco brands; and discovering the region’s rich Afro-Brazilian heritage by watching a live candomblé show.
An important cultural landmark in an unexpected place – the House of Culture (Casa da Cultura de Pernambuco) in Recife is a prison turned artisanal crafts market located in the city’s center. Built on the waterfront in 1850s, the three-wing prison maintained it’s original structure when it was repurposed into a cultural center and craft fair in the 1970s.
Today, the former prison cells have been converted into small shops selling colorful crafts that are typical in the region. The interior is donned with traditional northeastern folkloric art and decorations, and the region’s favorite musical genres, like frevo and forró, ring through the halls. The grounds outside have been converted to host concerts, as well as a space for food vendors, who sell northeastern treats like bolo de rolo (guava-swirl cake) and stuffed tapioca pancakes.
The House of Culture is not only one of the best places to get one-of-a-kind souvenirs in Recife, but is also a taste of Northeastern traditions. The colorful, unique culture of the tropical northeast is distinctive from the rest of Brazil – this is manifested in the art, music, food and crafts that visitors will find at the House of Culture.
One of the most important cultural centers in Recife, the Francisco Brennand Ceramic Workshop (Oficina Ceramica Francisco Brennand) attracts tourists, locals, artists and amateurs alike. This impressive sculpture gallery and garden honors the works one of Brazil’s renowned ceramic artists, Francisco Brennand. Founded by the artist himself, Brennand created the workshop on a large piece of land located within the bustling city of Recife to showcase his life’s work, as well as create a workshop for sculpture and ceramic artists.
The expansive grounds are dotted with galleries, outdoor sculptures, and ponds amid a tropical landscape. Visitors can roam freely on the winding paths, in and out of the breezy buildings and workspaces and admire Brennand’s famously exotic, sensual and mysterious sculptures. Highlights include an ornate ceramic gazebo, intricate ceramic tiles, a sundial and sculptures incorporated into fountains and ponds.
With its white sands, palm-studded dunes, and coral reef, Maracajau Beach makes a picturesque alternative to nearby Natal. Sip caipirinhas at a beach bar or snorkel amid schools of tropical fish in what’s dubbed the Brazilian Caribbean.
South of the city, Ponta Negra Beach (Praia de Ponta Negra) is one of Natal’s most accessible beaches and fills up with locals on the weekends.
It’s a popular spot year-round and has seen a fair amount of development along its 3km (1.8mi) stretch. Its northern end has a pedestrian-only boardwalk and a few large resorts and tends to be a lot less lively than the rest of the beach, which is chock-full of restaurants, bars, pousadas, surfers and travelers.
Apart from taking its fair share of the natural beauty that seems to be a given along Natal’s coastline, Ponta Negra’s most impressive natural attraction is an enormous sand dune - the Morro da Careca - whose 120m (390ft) slopes sheer directly into the sea. These days, its sandy slopes can only be appreciated from the beach due to increased erosion and damage to the surrounding rainforest.
More Things to Do in Northeast Brazil
This large sand dune located in the center of the city of Natal has become the main symbol of the city and the state of Rio Grande do Norte. Pictures of Morro do Careca grace the front of most all Natal postcards.
Covered in part by lush green vegetation, it rises 120 meters from the ground below at the southern end of Ponta Negra beach—one of Natal’s most popular. Its combination of rich Atlantic forest and smooth sand surface gives it its name, due to a visual likeness to a bald head. Once a popular recreation spot for skibunda (sand boarding,) it is now prohibited to climb the hill for the natural preservation of the forest and for erosion prevention. Colorful Brazilian fishing boats called jangadas dot the coastline beneath it. Morro de Careca remains a iconic place for beach-goers and photos.
Fortaleza Beach Park is a hugely popular entertainment and leisure complex on the northeastern coast of Brazil. Every year, more than 700,000 people visit the tropical playground’s resort, hotels, restaurants, shops, sailing raft museum, water park—one of the largest in South America—and beach.
At the northern tip of Tinharé Island, idyllic Morro de São Paulo is reachable only by boat or plane. Flanked by sandy shores and coconut palms, the car-free island town is a thriving resort, with jungle hikes, festive nightlife, and some of Bahia’s most gorgeous beaches.
This long, white sand beach outside of Natal is divided into two parts by the Pirangi river, creating the areas Pirangi do Norte and Pirangi do Su. Its calm, turquoise waters make it popular for swimming and water sports like surfing and diving, so competitions often take place on the beach.
There are also clear natural pools located 500 meters from the coast. Boat trips to the swimming pools, as well as coral reefs and other beaches, run frequently, and it's best to visit the swimming pools at low tide. There is a long boardwalk that makes it fun and easy to explore the shoreline, while a side trip to the massive Pirangi Cashew Tree — the largest of its kind in the world — is a main draw to this area, so don’t miss it!
At first glance, it seems as if you’re looking at an intricate forest— but this massive network of branches is actually just one cashew tree whose circumference measures 500 yards, producing over 60,000 nuts per year. It holds the Guinness Book of World Records spot for the biggest cashew tree in the world.
Covering an area of nearly 8,000 square meters and roughly the size of 70 normal-sized cashew trees, it can be difficult to distinguish between the original tree trunk and the rest of the tree. The massive branches extend sideways and eventually also take root and continue to grow across the land around it. Though its exact origins are unknown, it is believed to have grown due to a genetic abnormality and is over 1,000 years old. If accompanied by a tour guide, visitors are allowed to pick cashews right from the tree. There is also a large observation deck 10 meters high that allows for a panoramic view of the tree.
With waterslides, jungle ziplines, and palm-fringed swimming pools, the Arraial d'Ajuda Eco Park is one of Brazil’s most popular water parks. Just moments from Bahia’s white-sand beaches, the adventure park has both water and land activities suitable for the whole family.
The star-shaped Fort of the Magi (Forte dos Reis Magos) predates the founding of Natal by nearly two years. The Portuguese began building the fort on January 6, 1598, the same day they celebrated Epiphany, hence the name and shape of the fort.
Natal, named after the Portuguese word for ‘Christmas’, was founded 23 months later on December 25, 1599.
Religious considerations aside, the decision to build the fort at the mouth of the Potengi River was purely a strategic one. Located on a sand bar that is covered at high-tide and positioned at Brazil’s easternmost point, Forte de Reis Magos was ideally placed to defend the continent from European and African advances.
The whitewashed and turreted fort walls were built to last and inside you’ll find a chapel, a well, cannons and soldiers' quarters. If you don’t come for the history, come for the views – its prime location at the tip of the peninsula affords fantastic vistas across the city to the south and the surrounding sand dunes.
Half-moon shaped Lagoinha Beach (Praia de Lagoinha) is a stunning beach that was once a favorite hiding place for pirates. It has a reputation as being the most beautiful beach in the state and its good looks are intensified by its tranquility, being far enough away from Fortaleza to escape the crowds.
These days, Lagoinha is home to a small fishing community. Tours by buggy, on horseback or on a jangada (sail boat) can also be arranged here.
Alternatively, sit and take in the beach’s gentle curve, which is dotted with coconut palms and sand dunes. Beyond the palm trees you’ll also find streams and a freshwater lagoon.
This tropical island, which once played host to the Sul America Tennis Open, is home to some 40 kilometers of white sandy beaches, thick green forests and stunning ocean views. Travelers used to the typical Caribbean beach scene will find that Itaparica Island (Ilha de Itaparica) offers a more rural escape, where tiny villages, scenic waterfronts and old school churches take the place of colorful beach umbrellas, pushy vendors and tourist-filled stretches of sand.
The tropical town of Mar Grande is home to bustling markets, shopping and plenty of restaurants—though visitors agree the food on Itaparica is not much to write home about. Those looking for a more traditional island getaway should head to the north coast, where the beaches are scenic and the ocean views are beautiful.
The Natal Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana de Natal) was recently restored and is decidedly modern, making for an interesting stop in the city and an architectural landmark worth seeing. Its jagged shape and use of stained glass and light are departures from traditional cathedral design. Three interlocking crosses stand at the front entrance.
It is dedicated to the Lady of Presentation, the patron saint for which the city of Natal gets its name. Natal translates to Christmas in Portuguese and the city is was founded on Christmas Day in 1599, so there is a statue of the Virgin Mary in the cathedral designating this fact. The cathedral was famously visited by Pope John Paul II, and the site's small chapel has several beautiful paintings to see. Mass takes place daily, and a small basement shop sells souvenirs.
The Museo Afro-Brasileiro is one of the few museums of its type in Brazil exclusively dedicated to African cultural heritage and its influence on contemporary Brazilian culture.
The museum’s collection of African artifacts ranges from maps (depicting the original slave trade routes), masks, jewelry and clothing to musical instruments, traditional games and pottery.
The candomblé exhibit is particularly fascinating as it explains the roots, icons and rituals of this colorful religion. Don’t miss the impressive wooden tablets sculpted by noted Bahian artist Carybé that depict the candomblé orixás of Bahia with their weapons and liturgical animal. Make sure you ask for an English translation booklet at the entrance.
The Brazilian state of Ceara is famous for its long coastline and numerous beaches. In the city of Fortaleza, Meireles Beach (Praia do Meireles) is one of the busiest stretches of coast, packed with the highest concentration of hotels and seaside restaurants serving up traditional Brazilian food and drink.
Located just east of city center in the middle class Meireles neighborhood, Meireles Beach is a popular spot for morning joggers, and in the evenings, it’s surrounded by the famous Feirinha de Artesanato (Artisan Fair) where vendors sell locally made crafts and textiles. It’s a great place to pick up Fortaleza embroidered lace.
Perched proudly at the end of the Barra peninsula and housed inside an ancient Portuguese fort, Barra Lighthouse (Farol da Barra) is a prime spot to view the spectacular sunsets and views across All Saints Bay (Todos os Santos).
Explore inside the lighthouse and you’ll find a small museum filled with maps, charts and artifacts – many of which were recovered from sunken European galleons that plied the seas transporting goods and slaves during the colonial days.
Admire the splendid fort (Forte de Santo Antônio da Barra), built in 1534 to defend the capital from indigenous and Dutch advances, then lie back against its old stone walls to take in the sunset over the bay.
Dunas Park or Parque das Dunas is the second largest urban park in all of Brazil, offering a retreat into nature from the hustle and bustle of city life for both locals and visitors. Its scenic mixture of lush rainforest and tall, golden sand dunes creates a unique landscape to experience. It’s a chance to see some of the region’s natural environment.
Walking and aerobic exercise are popular activities in the park, and a stroll along one of the many trails allows for sighting of the area’s trees and plant life. There are over fifty types of native trees alone, many of which are located in the popular Bosque Valentine. Guided tours are given daily to help visitors spot the different native plant species. The entrance to the park through the Bosque dos Namorados has information about activities and orientation for the area, along with various recreational facilities.
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