Attractions in Recife, Brazil: What to do and where to go
Recife is one of the largest urban areas in the northeast of Brazil. Its location is defined by the intersection of the Beberibe and Capibaribe Rivers, which flow out to the Atlantic Ocean. There are three islands: Recife, Santo Domingo and Boa Vista, divided by a total of six rivers and connected by more than 50 bridges of varying lengths. This particular combination, subtly similar to canals and bridges of Venice and Amsterdam, makes this one of the main distinctive features of this city. The natural surroundings of Recife, formed by beautiful beaches, enormous rivers, lakes, wetlands and tropical forests, offer a larger wealth in scenic backdrops in comparison to other Brazilian cities. The coral reefs in particular (which protect a large part of the coast) play a significant part in the identity of the city and it is for this reason that it was named Recife ("reef" in English). There are few places in the world where you can experience such distinct emotions all in one day. Water sports, cultural attractions, artistic expressions, a wealth of nature, colonial architecture, Carnaval and excellent weather are some of the marvels that are offered in Recife.
Located seven kilometers from Recife, Olinda is a small picturesque city that is extremely important to Brazil, both culturally and historically speaking. The colorful streets of the downtown area can be admired for the diversity of the well-preserved colonial buildings that has earned Recife the title of World Heritage Site. Olinda is filled with charm that permeates the churches, handicraft markets, museums and art shops, creating an interesting contrast with the modernity of the neighboring city. It is difficult to distinguish the official boundaries between the two cities, due to the fact that they share history and charisma, typical of the state. In 2006, it was named culture capital of Brazil.
The main beaches of Recife are Boa Viagem, Pina and Brasilia Teimosa. They all offer splendid landscapes and good fun, which is why Brazil's premier fun spots are also located here. The reefs off the coast form sections of calm waters with lapping waves, an excellent option for swimming. The long stretches of beach also invite you to take a relaxing walk under the sun. In particular, Boa Viagem is one of the most visited beaches in the area. It offers an interesting combination between beautiful natural landscapes and impressive skyscrapers that dot the length of the coast. The abundant palm trees line nearly all of the 4.5 miles of beach, while the reefs calm the waves and allow you to enjoy a nice swim. It is important remember that you should not swim outside of the reefs, in order to avoid possible shark attacks and the typical dangers of open waters.
The island of Recife Antiguo is where the Dutch founded the city in 1637. The architecture is one to be admired, having withstood constant restorations. It is a dynamic financial district and at the same time, a great place where locals meet and hang out on the weekends. Rua Bom Jesus is the main street where the majority of the cafes, restaurants and stores are. Sundays feature a handicrafts market. You can also find the oldest synagogue in the Americas, the Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue, which dates back to the 17th century. Other important sites to discover are the Sao Jose Market, the Apolo Theater, the Observatorio Cultural Torre Malakoff, the Placa do Arsenal and the Marco Zero.
The Carnaval of Brazil can be felt and experienced differently, from place to place. In Recife and Olinda, Carnaval is characterized by music and the traditional dances of frevo and maracatu whereas in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the dance of choice is the samba. The costumes are also distinct: in Olinda, dolls or large "bonecos" parade through with their colorful suits and masks of famous people. There are also clowns of different types, jesters and harlequins. The impressive floats and the attractive decor fill the streets with life and color. El Patio de Sao Pedro, the Praca do Arsenal, the Avenida Guararapes and the Marco Zero all vibrate to the rhythm of the bands and orchestras. The Galo da Madrugada Parade is a Saturday event that attracts millions of followers. Another prominent event is the Noite dos Tambores Silenciosos (the Night of the Silent Drums), which is a representation of the traditions of Candomble (afro-Brazilian religion) with Maracatu dances. So whatever way you look at it, the upbeat Carnaval of Recife and Olinda is a true show of folklore in Pernambuco. We recommend arriving beforehand (with more or less a week's worth of anticipation) to catch all the Carnaval action prior to the official start (in February and March).
Art and Culture
Recife is one of the most valuable cultural sites in Brazil and is home to well known musicians, writers and artists. In all the area, there are about 40 art galleries, 25 museums and 15 theaters, as well as an opera house and two concert halls. The most representative musical expressions of Recife are the lively rhythms typical of Carnaval, called Frevo and Manguebeat. Some of the most important exhibitions of artistic expression are:
Casa da Cultura. This is an art market which is located in an old colonial prison and now offers concerts. Instituto Ricardo Brennand. There is a collection of objects from the time of Dutch rule, as well as a section of heavy armor and weapons.Oficina Ceramica Francisco Brennand. Here you can find a large garden where the work of this sculpture artist from the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, Francisco Brennand, one of the most important contemporary artists in Brazil. Torre Malakoff. This is an old Tunisian style observatory that is now a culture center and a popular meeting point. Because it is conveniently located, Recife is the site of many international events, among which are the International Music Festival of Pernambuco, the International Music Showcase of Olinda, the Brazil Music Fair and of course, Carnaval in Recife and Olinda. There are also many conventions that specialize in scientific as well as other types of specialty-theme shows so take advantage of the incredible business and hotel infrastructure.
Museums and Historical Monuments
Museu do Estado de Pernambuco – Located in an impressive 19th century house called the Forte das Cinco Pontas. Here you can find over 12,000 works of art from different eras, from colonial times to present day. Museu do Homem do Nordeste – This museum has a vast collection of objects that are part of the traditions and customs of the people of Pernambuco, including items that are used for sugar cane processing. Fundacao Gilberto Freyre – The old residence of local writer Gilberto Freyre, where you can find his work, various collections of books and some of his personal effects. Praca da Republica – This is an architectural complex that is located in Santo Antonio, made up of the Palacio do Campo das Princesas, the Palacio da Justica, the Liceu de Artes e Oficios and the Teatro Santa Isabel. There are also 23,000 square meters of beautiful gardens.
The churches of Recife give a special identity to the city. Located in different areas, they feature a very similar Baroque style, with gorgeous facades and incredible altars, as well as the beautiful paintings on the ceiling and finely made wooden pulpits. They were built in the 17th and 18th centuries. Capela Dourada. This is a fine example of Baroque in Recife. Next to the Santo Antonio Church and the Museu de Arte Sacra make up the Architectural Complex of the Franciscan Convent.
Basilica e Convento de Nossa Senhora do Carmo. The altar has gold engraved into it and crowns with precious stones. A section is covered with Portuguese glazed tiles. Catedral de Sao Pedro dos Clerigos. This is an amazing cathedral that is surrounded by beautiful colonial houses, bars and restaurants. In the cafes that surround Patio de Sao Pedro, people come to chat the afternoon away. Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosários dos Homens Pretos. This church has a beautiful wooden altar with gold details.
In Olinda, the Catedral Metropolitana Sao Salvador do Mundo (Catedral da Se) and the Basilica Abacial do Mosteiro de Sao Bento can also be found here.
On the Outskirts
Porto de Galinhas is one of the most famous destinations of the Pernambuco coastline. It is located about 43 miles from Recife, in the Ipujuca region. There are spectacular beaches like Maracaipe and Muro Alto, which have been listed as among some of the best in all of Brazil. It is worth spending a day or two to visit Porto so go surfing or snorkeling among the beautiful reefs. Fernando de Noronha is an archipelago that was declared a National Marine Park and a part of the Natural World Heritage, located some 310 miles from Recife. It is an incredibly beautiful place, formed by idyllic beaches and bays, rocky mountains and lush vegetation. This is a fantastic destination to surf (from December to February) and go diving (August to November). It is important to point out that only from Recife and Natal can you catch a direct flight (takes about an hour) to the island. You can also take a cruise from Recife and other cities. In order to visit these islands, which form a part of this natural reserve, it is necessary to ask for official permission from the Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renovaveis (IBAMA; the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Natural Renewable Resources). Start the paperwork three months prior to your trip.
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