Recife

Paradise Beach

A summertime dream you can experience any time of year, with 116 miles of fine sand, warm waters, and golden sunsets.

Text: CLÁUDIA VASCONCELOS @claudiavasc  |  photos: RAFAEL MEDEIROS
       

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It’s always hot in Recife, but the people are the warmest part of the state of Pernambuco. People who take pride in their roots and do everything they can to share their culture. “You haven’t heard frevo? What about maracatu?” they’ll ask. “You have to try tapioca,” they’ll tell you (and no, it’s not a dessert). That’s just how the people of Pernambuco are: we love our home and want everyone else to love it just as much.

And why wouldn’t they? Year after year, beaches like Porto de Galinhas and Carneiros appear on lists of the best that Brazil has to offer. With its wealth of natural pools, white sands, and warm, clear waters, not to mention the wonderful, fresh seafood, Pernambuco will leave you convinced that leisure, relaxation, and contemplation aren’t indulgent but essential.

 

Awash in History

Our gateway to all the beaches of Pernambuco is its capital, Recife, a city of 1.5 million inhabitants that owes its name and history to the sea. It began life as a port for Portuguese merchants and was named in honor of its natural rocky barrier (recife means “reef” in Portuguese). The reef lends a certain sense of safety to those bathing along the four miles of Praia de Boa Viagem. Far from shore, more than 20 ships wrecked by nature (or man) attract divers from around the world.

 

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On Praça Rio Branco, highlights include the Rosa dos Ventos, a huge wind rose by Cicero Días.

 

Recife’s old quarter straddles two islands between the Rio Capibaribe and the Atlantic Ocean. After crossing the bridges, you’ll see houses with a European influence, which were restored in the early 20th century. Rua do Bom Jesus is home to the first synagogue in the Americas, the Kahal zur Israel, founded during the Dutch occupation in the first half of the 17th century. A few steps away, Praça Rio Branco (aka Marco Zero) provides a hub for gatherings and celebrations. From there, you can take a boat to the Parque das Esculturas, with works by ceramic artist Francisco Brennand. The area has been revitalized by an esplanade filled with bars, restaurants, folk-art shops, and the Cais do Sertão museum, an ode to music and provincial life in honor of singer-songwriter Luiz Gonzaga.

Without leaving Old Recife, you’ll understand Pernambuco’s passion for carnaval with a visit to the Paço do Frevo museum. Cross another bridge, and you’ll reach the Mercado de São José, housed in an iron structure built in 1875 and offering a selection ranging from folk art to fresh fish. It’s next to the recently restored Basílica Nossa Senhora da Penha, the only Corinthian-style church in Recife.

 

Recife vista desde los cerros de Olinda.

The Marco Zero is a great starting point for exploring Recife.

 

To take in everything from on high, head to the hills of Olinda. Just four miles away, Recife’s sister-city offers breathtaking views, and the old quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Recharge your batteries with tapioca (a type of crêpe made with manioc flour, filled with coconut, cheese, or other tasty ingredients) on the street or savor shrimp in mango sauce at one of the city’s restaurants.

Back in Recife, sample some regional dishes, like the carne-de-sol (pieces of salted beef, grilled and covered in a white cheese called queijo coalho).

Hitting the Highway

On the coast of Pernambuco, the thermometer usually doesn’t dip below 77ºF, the sun shines brightly from September to April, and the sea shifts from emerald green to various hues of blue. Although hotels offer tours, renting a car with a GPS gives you the freedom to plan your own itinerary to the “natural pools” in Porto de Galinhas, a true gem of local tourism. The crystalline waters reveal shoals of colorful fish hiding in the coral before you even don your snorkel.

 

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Near Porto, 41 miles from the capital, the sea comes alive on Praia de Maracaípe, with waves that attract avid surfers. You’ll find more tranquility in Pontal, where the river meets the sea. An excursion in a jangada (a small, flat boat) costs less than US$5 per person and gets you up close and personal with seahorses. As the afternoon ends, it’s time to contemplate the sunset from behind the coconut trees. The spectacle begins at 5:00 p.m., when the sky spreads out into an expansive and evolving range of golden hues.

Back on the highway, we head south to another version of paradise. The first sight in Carneiros (61 miles from Recife) is an 18th-century chapel by the sea; the beach is a natural setting for weddings. At low tide, you can reach pools in the reefs filled with local marine life. Explore the area in a catamaran or simply to settle in at one of the beachside bars and order a caipirinha de maracuyá.

If you want something out of the ordinary, the southern coast is home to a small, heart-shaped beach in the middle of the Mata Atlântica, Brazil’s coastal jungle. The fishing boats that dot the horizon create an impression of tranquility, but Calhetas is home to a restless stretch of sea.

 

Wild & Tropical

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The less-famous northern coast of Pernambuco also stores its share of wild secrets. The view from the highest point on the island of Itamaracá has remained almost unchanged from the time of the town’s founding in 1526. Simple and beautiful, there is nothing more than jungle and sea.

This place attracted the attention of the Dutch, who built a fort nearby in 1631. Today, the so-called Forte Orange also lends its name to Itamaracá’s best-known beach, the gateway to an islet that is tiny yet impressive: Coroa do Avião.

No one lives on this little slice of heaven just 600 yards long and 90 yards wide. Situated at the mouth of the Rio Timbó, Coroa do Avião only connects to the mainland via jangadas.

Kayaks and jet skis announce that the sea is calm, perfect for water sports. On land, you’ll find white sands, beachside bars, and coconut trees. In the air, migratory birds make this bank of sand their personal sanctuary.

At the end of your journey, you’ll understand the overwhelming enthusiasm that the people of Pernambuco have for their home, thanks to the dazzling sun, the warm waters, and the glorious sunsets. in

 

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