January 1999

of Venice

Recife is large, modern and more difficult to negotiate than most cities in the Northeast. Downtown is a confusing mixture of highrise offices, colonial churches and popular markets. The heart of the city is connected by bridges that join different sections of the town.

Recife is the country's fourth biggest city and the capital of Pernambuco. The `Venice of Brazil' (a rather hopeful comparison), Recife is a city of water and bridges with arrecifes (reefs) offshore. Its sister city of Olinda was once the capital of Brazil and today is a beautiful enclave of colonial buildings filled with artists, students and bohemians.

Amidst all the recent development, Recife retains a rich traditional side, with some of Brazil's best folk art, including painting and sculpture, dance, music and festivals. It takes time to discover this side of the city, but it's well worth the effort.

Recife is the port of entry for many flights from Europe and has recently been trying to broaden its tourist appeal. The main beneficiary of these developments has been Boa Viagem, the Copacabana of Pernambuco. Site of the welltodo nightclubs, restaurants and most of the midpriced to expensive hotels, Boa Viagem has wide beaches which are essential for escaping Recife's muggy heat, although the water is not always very clean. Unless you want to be right on the beach, Olinda has more cheap accommodation and is a more interesting place to stay.


Recife developed in the 17th century as the port for the rich sugar plantations around Olinda. With several rivers and offshore reefs, Recife proved to be an excellent port and began to outgrow Olinda. By the 17th century, Recife and Olinda combined were the most prosperous cities in Brazil, with the possible exception of Salvador (Bahia). The neighboring Indians had been subdued after brutal warfare, and the colonial aristocracy living in Olinda was raking in profits with its many sugar engenhos (mills). Naturally, all the work was done by slaves.

No European country had managed to grab a part of Brazil from the Portuguese until 1621, when the Dutch, who were active in the sugar trade and knew the lands of Brazil well, set up the Dutch West India Company to get their teeth into the Brazilian cake. A large fleet sailed in 1624 and captured Bahia, but a huge SpanishPortuguese militia of 12,000 men recaptured the city the following year. Five years later the Dutch decided to try again, this time in Pernambuco. Recife was abandoned; the Dutch took the city and by 1640 they had control of a great chunk of the Northeast, from Maranhão to the Rio São Francisco.

The Dutch had hoped the sugar planters wouldn't resist their rule, but many Brazilian planters took up arms against the nonCatholic Dutch. In 1654, after a series of battles around Recife, the Dutch finally surrendered. This was the last European challenge to Portuguese Brazil.

Recife prospered after the Dutch were expelled, but in spite of the city's growing economic power, which had eclipsed that of Olinda, political power remained with the sugar planters in Olinda, and they refused to share it. In 1710 fighting began between the filhos da terra (the sugar planters of Olinda) and the mascates (the Portuguese merchants of Recife), the more recent immigrants. The Guerra dos Mascates (War of the Mascates), as it came to be known, was a bloody regional feud between different sections of the ruling class and native Brazilians and immigrants. In the end, with the help of the Portuguese crown and their superior economic resources, the mascates of Recife , gained considerable political clout at the expense of Olinda, which began its long, slow decline.

More dependent on the sugar economy than Rio or São Paulo, Recife was eclipsed by these two centers as the sugar economy floundered throughout the 19th century.


Recife is large, modern and more difficult to negotiate than most cities in the Northeast. The city center is a confusing mixture of highrise offices, colonial churches and popular markets. During the day, traffic and tourists get lost in the maze of winding oneway streets.

The heart of Recife, containing the old section of town, ranges along the waterfront in Boa Vista district, across the Rio Capibaribe to Santo Antônio district and then across to Ilha do Recife. All are connected by bridges.

Olinda is six km to the north over swamps and rivers, while Boa Viagem is six km to the south.


Tourist Office 

The headquarters of Empetur (2412111), the state tourism bureau, is in the monolithic Centro de Convenções (Complexo Rodoviária de Salgadinho), between the city center and Olinda. To get there from the center, take the `Rio Doce/Conde da Boa Vista' bus. Smaller information booths are in the Casa da Cultura de Recife and the rodoviária (good, but with no literature). The information desk at the airport has maps and can book hotels.

Useful publications available from tourist offices include the Pernambuco Tourist Guide, which has a map of the beaches around Recife, Itinerário (a monthly mini-guide for Recife) and Brazil Travel News—Pernambuco, a glossy brochure about the state's main attractions. Diário de Pernambuco, one of the local newspapers, has cultural listings (museums, art galleries, cinemas, etc) in its daily Diversões (amusements) section.


There are several bookstalls along Rua do Infante Dom Henrique. The airport bookshop and the Livro 7 de Setembro are the best bets if you're looking for foreignlanguage books.

Museums & Galleries

With such a long and important history, it's not surprising that Recife is loaded with churches and museums, but few of them are mustsees.

The best museum, Museu do Homem do Nordeste (Museum of the Northeast), is east of the city center along Avenida 17 de Agosto. Catch the `Dois Irmãos' bus from Parque 13 de Maio (in the city center) and ask the driver to let you off at the right spot. The museum is divided into three sections: an anthropology section about the people of the Northeast; a popularart section with some superb ceramic figurines; and a pharmacy exhibit about the region's herbal/indigenous medicine. Opening hours are 11 am to 5 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, 8 am to 5 pm on Thursday, and 1 to 5 pm on Saturday, Sunday and public holidays.

The Horto Zoobotânico, with a zoo and botanical garden (both renovated in 1990), is in the same neighborhood. Opening hours are 8 am to 5 pm Tuesday to Sunday.

Train fetishists may like to visit the Museu do Trem (Train Museum), which is adjacent to Recife Metro Station—formerly known as Estação Central (Central Train Station).

For a look at some paintings by renowned artists of Pernambuco you can visit Galeria de Arte Metropolitana, at Rua da Aurora 265. It's open Tuesday to Saturday from noon to 6 pm.

Archaeology buffs will want to browse around in the Museu Archeológico, at Rua do Hospício, 130. It's open Tuesday and Wednesday from 2 to 6 pm.

Old City

To see the old city, start over at Praça da República, where you'll see the Teatro Santa Isabel (1850) and the Palácio do Governo (1841). Take a look at Igreja de Santo Antônio (1753) in Praça da Independência, and then visit Catedral de São Pedro dos Clérigos, on Pátio de São Pedro, an artists' hangout. There are many intimate restaurants, shops and bars here, all with interesting local characters. On weekends there's often good music.

Walk down Rua Vidal de Negreiros to the Forte das Cinco Pontas, which was built by the Dutch in 1630, then rebuilt in 1677. Inside there's the Museu da Cidade, which displays maps and photos of the city. Opening hours are 10 am to 6 pm Tuesday to Friday and from 1 to 6 pm on Saturday and Sunday.

Nearby, at Praça Dom Vital, is the daily Mercado de São José (market) and the Basílica de Nossa Senhora da Penha. The market used to be a major center for food and crafts from throughout Pernambuco, but now you'll find mostly manufactured goods here.

Casa da Cultura de Recife

The Casa da Cultura de Recife, across the street from Recife Metro Station, once served as a huge, colonialstyle prison, but was decommissioned, renovated and redecorated in 1975. It's now home to many craft and souvenir shops. Good traditional music and dance shows are often performed outside the building, and the complex contains tourist information and telephone offices. It's open from Monday to Saturday 9 am to 7 pm and on Sunday from 2 to 7 pm.

Olaria de Brennand

The Olaria, a ceramics factory and exhibition hall, is set in thickly forested surroundings, a rare landscape for suburban Recife and an even rarer chance for travelers in the Northeast to see what the Mata Atlântica looked like several centuries ago. The buildings and exhibits in Olaria de Brennand are perhaps the most bizarre highlight of the Northeast—they are highly recommended.

History—The Irish forbears of the present owner, Francisco Brennand, arrived in Brazil in 1823 to work as peasant farmers. The unmarried daughter of a sugar magnate took a liking to Brennand's father, who was employed by her father. She later inherited her father's property and, when she died, willed her entire estate and immense wealth to Brennand Senior.

The house in which Francisco Brennand was born, in 1927, was imported from England in prefabricated form. Brennand's father founded a brickworks in 1917 and continued this business until 1945. Francisco left for France, where he studied art and was influenced by Picasso, Miró, Léger and Gaudi. The property in Recife remained abandoned from 1945 until 1971, when Brennand returned from France and set about restoring the dilapidated buildings.

The Gallery/Museum—This contains a permanent exhibition of around 2000 pieces, which are not for sale. Wander around sculptured collages of cubes, spheres and rectangles absorbed into animal shapes: worms with balaclava hats; bluntheaded lizards bursting out of parapets; cuboid geckos straddling paths; geese with flying helmets; birds of prey hatching from halfshells lodged in the walls; pigs formed from giant nails; and vistas of busts, buttocks, breasts, and phalluses...meanwhile, black swans glide over shoals of goldfish in ponds dotted with vulvas shaped like tortoises. Kooky, but fun!

The gallery/museum is open Monday to Thursday from 8 am to 5 pm, and from 8 am to 4 pm on Friday. For information, contact Oficina Cerâmica Francisco Brennand (2714814), s/a, Propriedade Santos Cosme e Damião s/n (no number), Várzea, CEP 50741 Recife PE.

Olaria Brennand produces superb ceramics, which are sold in its shop (3250025), at Avenida Conselheiro Aguiar 2966, loja 4, Galeria Vila Real, in Boa Viagem.

Getting There & Away—From the center of Recife, take the bus marked `Caxangá' for the 11km long ride to the Caxangá bus terminal. Continue walking about 100 meters away from the city and over the bridge. Then take the first road on the left—easily recognized by the roadside statue of Padre Cícero. Walk about two km, past a couple of stray hotels, until you reach a gaudy housing development. Take the road to the left at the T-junction and continue for about three km through dense forest to the office. Shady characters hang out in the area, so it's best if you are in a group. The walk takes about 1¼ hours.

Otherwise, you can take a taxi from the bus terminal or the bridge to the Olaria—and walk back after your visit. Tour companies and taxi companies will also do the trip from the center of Recife or Olinda, but it's expensive unless you can form a small group to share the costs.


The RecifeOlinda combination may be the best Carnaval in Brazil, but even if you decide to carnaval in Rio or Salvador, Recife starts celebrating so early that you can enjoy festivities there and then go somewhere else for Carnaval proper. Two months before the start of Carnaval, there are bailes (dances) in the clubs and Carnaval blocos practicing on the streets, with frevo dancing everywhere. Galo da Madrugada, Recife's largest bloco, has been known to bring 20,000 people in costume onto the beaches at Boa Viagem to dance.

There are supposedly 500 different Carnaval blocos in the Recife area, and they come in all `shakes' and colors. There are the traditional and well organized, the modern and anarchical. There are samba schools there are afoxés, Indian tribes and maracatus (African processions accompanied by percussion musicians), but the main dance of Carnaval in Pernambuco is the frenetic frevo. The Fundação da Cultura do Recife, which runs Carnaval, has on occasion organized public frevo lessons for the uninitiated at the Pátio de São Pedro.

Along Boa Viagem beach, Carnaval groups practice on weekends, and as Carnaval approaches they add trios elétricos to the tomfoolery. The week before Carnaval Sunday, the unofficial Carnaval really starts. Several groups march through the city center each day and at least one baile kicks off each evening—time to practice that frevo.

Bigtime Carnaval takes place from Saturday to Tuesday, nonstop. The big Carnaval groups parade in wonderful costumes, singing and dancing. For the parade route and schedule, check the local papers or the tourism office. Along Avenida Guararapes there's a popular frevo dance that starts on Friday night and goes on and on.


For reviews and listings of the latest bars, dance spots, and cultural events in Recife, pick up a copy of Veja. There is usually live music in the center around Pátio de São Pedro in the evening on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The major nightlife center for Recife is Graças district, which is a short taxi ride northwest of the city center and is packed with bars and nightclubs. Some of the options in Graças include Overpoint, at Rua Graças 261, a popular meeting place and dance club; Cravo e Canela, at Rua das Creoulas 260, a suave and relaxed bar; New Hits, at Rua Gervásio Fioravante 111, a very active dance club; Depois do Escuro, at Rua da Amizade 178, and Canto das Águas, at Rua das Pernambucanas (at the end of the street, beside the river), which are divided into separate sections with enough space allotted for quiet drinkers and frenetic dancers.

Things to Buy

Recife is a good place to look for Pernambuco's traditional handicrafts, such as clay figurines, wood sculptures, leather goods and articles made from woven straw. Check out the shops and stalls in Casa da Cultura de Recife, Pátio de São Pedro, and markets such as Mercado de São José or the Feira de Arte e Artesanato, which is a market held in Boa Viagem during the late afternoon and evening on Saturday and Sunday.


This is excellent beach territory protected by coral reefs. The sea is calm, the waters are crystal clear and the beaches are lined with coconut palms and white sand dunes. The coastal PE060 road doesn't hug the ocean like the road in northern Alagoas, so you have to drive a dozen or so km on an access road to see what each beach is like. There are frequent bus services to all these beach towns from Recife. Many of the towns have one or two simple hotels and, away from Recife, all have excellent camping.

São José da Coroa Grande

The first beach town you reach after crossing into Pernambuco from Alagoas is São José da Coroa Grande. It's 120 km from Recife on the PE060 coastal road. This fishing town is receiving attention from property developers, mostly for construction of weekend homes. There are a few restaurants and bars and two hotels: the Hotel Valeiro on the beach, or the more comfortable Hotel do Francês, under French management, 200 meters back from the main beach.


The next access road north of São José da Coroa Grande goes 10 km to the beach at Tamandaré. There is a small fishing village here with a few restaurants and a couple of cheap hotels. The beach is idyllic and you can see the old 17thcentury Forte Santo Inácio.

Other Beaches

The road going north along the coast Tamandaré will take you to the beach Ponta dos Manguinhos, Guadalupe, Camela and then heads to Barra de Sirinhaém where there is a 10km access road back to the main road.

The only lodging in these towns is with the local fisherfolk. During the week the beaches are practically deserted. Off the coast is the Ilha de Santo Aleixo.

Porto de Galinhas

Seventy km south of Recife is Porto de Galinhas (Port of Chickens). The name came as a result of the slave trade, which secretly continued after abolition. Upon hearing that the chickens from Angola had arrived the masters of Recife knew to expect another load of slaves.

Porto de Galinhas has one of Pernambuco's most famous beaches, which curves along a pretty bay lined with coconut palms, mangroves and cashew trees. Unfortunately, there are some new housing estates creeping towards the town of Porto de Galinhas. Most of the beach, three km from town, is sheltered by a reef, but there are some waves for surfers. The water is warm and clear—you can see the colorful fish playing around your feet. There are plenty of jangadas for rent, but they're not cheap ($3.5 per person per hour). Other boats can take you out to Ilha de Santo Alexio for $15 per person.

Should you tire of Praia de Porto de Galinhas, head for Praia de Maracaípe, a more secluded beach three km away, which also has accommodation.

Gaibu & Cabo de Santo Agostinho

Although Gaibu is the larger town further up the coast, beach bums should head only as far as Cabo de Santo Agostinho, one of the state's finest beaches There are facilities for snorkeling and spearfishing. Take a walk to the ruins of the Forte Castelo do Mar, which is next to the church.

On a hill between Gaibu and Calhetas (you have to ask around for directions) there's a small, freshwater stream that's used for nude bathing.

Suape & Ilha do Paiva

Suape has been developed as an industrial port. Heading north again, Ilha do Paiva, nicknamed the island of lovers, is popular for its nude beaches. Take a boat from Barra das Jangadas—it's worth a visit.

The mainland beaches here—Candeias, Venda Grande, Piedade—are semiurban beaches with many barracas, hotels, and crowds on weekends. But they are still good beaches, with clean water and sometimes strong surf.

(To be continued.)

Excerpts from Brazil - A Travel Survival Kit, 3rd edition, by Andrew Draffen, Chris McAsey, Leonardo Pinheiro,  and Robyn Jones. For more information call Lonely Planet: (800) 275-8555. Copyright 1996 Lonely Planet Publications. Used by permission.

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Brazil - A Travel Survival Kit

by Andrew Draffen, Chris McAsey,
Leonardo Pinheiro, Robyn Jones,
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