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Brazil: There’s Talk of Revamping Fortaleza for the World Cup. I’m Not Betting on That

Praia do FuturoWhen I interviewed the late Julio Trindade (owner of the iconic Pirata Bar), he mentioned that Fortaleza had become what he called a ‘dormitory city.’ Quoting that interview (which ran both on The Brasilians and Brazzil.com), he explained that “tourists simply sleep in town and book a van to visit far-away beaches in Canoa Quebrada, Lagoinha or Cumbuco.”

He added that “These days, in Fortaleza, there are no resorts or beachfront hotels that are worthy of international tourists.”

That was not true a decade ago when I lived in Fortaleza. Back then, there were many visitors to the city who enjoyed its various attractions, reveled in its nightlife, shopped in the city and frequented its beaches.

Today, there is very little left of that scene. Sure, you can have a nice stewed crab at Praia do Futuro, spend some time at Centro Dragão do Mar’s excellent restaurants or shop for artisans’ works at Beira-Mar avenue, but when you walk by the seafront hotels, you don’t see the crowds you used to. Sure, the hotels are all booked, but first thing in the morning tour buses will be picking visitors up for ‘beach tours.’

Most of the blame can be laid on the recent administrators of Fortaleza, who have done very little to encourage tourists to stay in the city. Of course, there was a reason for that. During the late 90s and early 2000s, sexual tourism became quite rampant there, and many popular areas like Praia de Iracema or Mirante (a gorgeous hill where you can see striking views of the city) deteriorated. The result was that the restaurants and clubs fled to safer areas where local patrons could enjoy their cuisine and musical attractions.

Today, you cannot walk around Praia de Iracema anymore without noticing how things have changed. The elevated sidewalks built in the mid-80s are in horrible disrepair. The Ponte dos Ingleses (Englishmen’s Bridge), a pier where young folks congregated to watch the sun go down is now nicknamed ‘Ponte dos Assaltos’ (Mugger’s Bridge) due to the large number of muggings there.

Mirante is now abandoned, and Avenida Beira-Mar is empty at night save for a few caipirinha vendors (excellent there for a great price), tour agents selling packages to attractions out of town and random locals looking for a cheap drink.

Representative Artur Bruno (Workers Party, Ceará state) writes on his website that “Fortaleza should receive an average of 370,000 visitors during the July school recess season.” What he neglects to say is that few of them will actually stay in the city and move its economy.

There is talk of rehabilitating some of the abandoned tourist attractions with the influx of foreign visitors during the 2014 World Cup (Fortaleza will be hosting some of the games), but I don’t think I can take them seriously.

Let me tell you that I do NOT want to give Fortaleza a bad image. It is after all one of the few places in the world I can call home, and I love it when I get a chance to visit. But I am tired of looking at the places I knew before and seeing them as a mere memory.

Ernest Barteldes is a freelance writer based on Staten Island, New York. He can be reached at ebarteldes@yahoo.com.

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  • Nivek

    Not that safe!
    I have been living in Fortaleza for 1 1/2 years now and I don’t find it safe as I was mugged by gun point at 10am on the beira mar and no one help me. I don’ feel safe at all in this city and can’t wait to move back to Canada.

  • hanna

    new aquarium
    Also, on Iracema Beach is being built a new aquarium (the biggest in Latin America).
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcUWtLIZaiY
    It will be more than amazing!

  • Ernest Barteldes

    About my last visit
    I walked around during a weeknight – early, around 6-7… it still looked a bit abandoned. But next time I visit Fortaleza I will be sure to take a look and report my findings… in the meantime, look at my blog http://www.ebarteldes.wordpress.com for the report of the full visit

  • Daniel Neves

    I just came from there
    BTW i just wrote this after coming back from Iracema beach. I go skating there everynight after work to burn some calories n then have some soup right next to Pirata and get them back. 😉
    It’s really starting to look nice…
    Were u there after dark during your recent visit? With all the little kids renting skates n families hanging out? 2 years ago there were only drunken tourists and no locals to be seen. A really sad sight for those who saw Iracema in its golden years…
    But the change already started. The locals are back. The city bought 19 properties along the boardwalk to make the new boardwalk even wider than before.
    And since the local wealthy in entrepeneurs started investing heavily over there. We can be sure this trend of improvement will continue… As u all know, the rich locals are in bed with the govt. And if they are feeling confident enought to inest their money there, they must be 120% sure it’s all going to continue. Didnt u see a brand new, superexpensive french restaurant thayt just opened up just a block from the english bridge? And the new Cais Bar? There isnt one single propety for sale in that whole area and that should tell u something….

  • Daniel Neves

    I saw it all going up and down and now its up again
    I agree with Emma. Your view seems outdated. But u said u have just been here. So ur view is just too narrow to see anything that disagrees with your opinion. Sorry. Dont mean to b unpleasant but u have to be crazy to say that ponte dos ingleses and iracema beach are abandoned. During your visit here that bridge was already closed for renovation, the entire new boardwalk of iracema was almost finished, the old abandoned customs building and the estoril had both been renewed and were open and even the new aquarium was being built (a nice change from that old DNOCS building) and that’s only to mention Iracema beach.
    I agree thungs are still far from Ideal but what do u expect? The US govt is corrupt and works slow, most of european countries too do u really expect dilligent work fr Brazilian govt??? R u serious?
    Yes the speed of progress is a joke but all the known sex tourism places in Iracema beach have been closed and fined. Some reopened but under serious watch now. The idea is bring the old Iracema beach back in 2-3 years… Yes it takes time but most of us who live here are confident because we see progress everyday. All who love Fortaleza are very hopeful that our govt will continue on its good path. A lot has been hapening over the last decade or so. This space is too little to name them all but I think u need to visit with new eyes. Or perhaps new chaperrone. The iracema from the 90’s is coming back and mosy other parts of the city are MUCH better than they were in the 90’s… U really need to see. Im sure u will feel proud since u feel like Fortaleza is your home too. I was born n raised here and im a realtor but please do not publish my emai becuase i dont wabt u to think im writing this for personal gain. I really love this city and since i work with foreign investors i am constantly reading all news and keeping track of the progress of infrastructure n general upgrades. So i really know what im talking about.
    Please forgive if I was rude or anything. English is not my first language and i cant really feel the weight of words. If u do decide to come and visit agai. Anytime soon send me an email and Ill promise u u will be happy with what your “home town” has been doing….

  • Ernest B

    I was just there
    I was in Fortaleza from Sept 23 to Oct 8 this year… so this info is quite updated. Things have gotten better, I agree, but it is a far cry from ideal….

  • larry green

    Hello Ernest:
    I read your post and found it interesting. My fiancee lives in Salvador and Forteleza is one of several towns on the Northeast I intend ot visit. Lately, though, I’ve been seeing a lot of adverts from real estate agents pushing condos and land in and around Forteleza. Maybe it’s on the upswing.

  • Emma

    Fortaleza esta vivendo ainda!
    Interesting to read your post. I am here at the moment with my family of which are from Fortaleza. Since my last visit 2 years ago so much has changed for the better. Especially the area of Praia de Iracema. Its cleaner safer and the community are putting a force behind a better and healthier way of life. You can see where the government have already invested money and where they starting to invest. Of course they could be investing more and moving quicker, but it is certainly heading in the right direction. Compared to 2 years ago Fortaleza is a much safer place.

    I think it might be time for a trip back home to see how Fortaleza is changing for the better. 🙂

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