The Northeast

We’ve compiled the best of the best in The Northeast - browse our top choices for the top things to see or do during your stay.

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  • 1. Alto da Sé


    This is the most scenic spot for soaking up Olinda's views of Recife and the ocean, particularly during sunset. It's also a good place to see some historic churches as well as to sample Bahia-style acarajé (black-eyed pea fritters served with dried prawns) and Pernambuco's famous tapioca cakes. Make sure you try the cartola, a heavenly combination of fried cheese, banana, cinammon, and condensed milk. Have a seat at one of the outdoor tables here, or browse in the shops that sell handicrafts—including lace—and paintings. Don't miss a trip up the restored elevator inside the renovated Caixa d'Água (Water Tower) for stunning 360-degree vistas. To get here, just walk up on Ladeira da Sé.

    Ladeira da Sé, Olinda, Pernambuco, 53120-101, Brazil
  • 2. Baía do Sancho

    Surrounded by cliffs draped in lush green vegetation, Baía do Sancho is breathtakingly beautiful. Its crystal clear waters shift in tonality from sparkling blue to emerald green, while the coral reefs make it a prime spot for snorkeling. Be prepared for a lengthy descent down a natural stairway to reach the shore, although those with mobility problems can access the beach by boat trip. Amenities: none. Best for: solitude; snorkeling; swimming.

    Fernando de Noronha, Pernambuco, 53.990-000, Brazil
  • 3. Baía dos Porcos

    The best showcase for the island's stunning natural beauty, the "Bay of Pigs" is a literal paradise tucked away on the north ridge of the island. Strict conservation laws ensure that its crystalline waters are rarely crowded. Grab a mask and dive into the natural swimming pools here to glimpse starfish, sea urchins, and even the occasional turtle or stingray. The view over the rugged rocks in the bay is awe-inspiring. Buggy drivers (bugueiros) are the local means of transportation for accessing the different beaches here. Amenities: none. Best for: solitude; snorkeling; swimming.

    Fernando de Noronha, Pernambuco, 53.990-000, Brazil
  • 4. Basílica de São Bento


    The main chapel of the Basílica de São Bento, a Benedictine monastery, is Olinda's richest church and considered to be one of Brazil's most beautiful. Brilliant gold covers the elaborately carved wooden altar and frames the sumptously furnished private balconies that overlook it, providing a dramatic contrast with the white walls and frescoed ceilings. Sunday's 10 am Mass features Gregorian chants.

    Rua de São Bento s/n, Olinda, Pernambuco, 53020-080, Brazil

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Daily 8:30–11:45 and 2–6:30
  • 5. Centro Dragão do Mar de Arte e Cultura

    Praia de Iracema

    Not far from the Mercado Central, this majestic cultural complex is an eccentric mix of curves, straight lines, and angular and flat roofs. What's inside is as diverse as the exterior. There's a planetarium and contemporary theater, as well as art museums with permanent exhibitions of Ceará's two most famous artists, Raimundo Cela and Antônio Bandeira. Another museum presents Ceará's cultural history, with exhibits of embroidery, paintings, prints, pottery, puppets, and musical instruments. When you need a break, head for the center's romantic Santa Clara Café Orgânico, which serves a variety of cocktails made with coffee as well as little meat or vegetarian pies. There are also some great bars installed in the converted colonial houses that surround the complex. The center's bookstore has English-language titles as well as souvenirs and cards.

    Rua Dragão do Mar 81, Fortaleza, Ceará, 60060-390, Brazil

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Museums R$2, planetarium R$8, Tues.–Fri. 8 am–9:30 pm, weekends 2–9:30
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  • 6. Flecheiras

    The ocean is always calm at this beach, which is surrounded by coconut trees, lagoons, and sand dunes. During low tide the reefs surface, and you can see small fish and shells in the rocks. When the tide comes in and the natural pools form, you can grab your mask and go snorkeling. In a 5-km (3-mile) stretch between Flexeiras and Mundaú—another almost-deserted beach—there are several fishing villages and a working lighthouse. A river joins the ocean at Mundaú, forming a large S on the sand; on one side is a line of coconut trees and on the other, fishermen with their jangadas—the scene conveys the very essence of Ceará. Flexeiras is about a 90-minute drive from Fortaleza. You can take the Rendenção bus or arrange a trip here with a tour operator. As yet there are no luxury resorts here, but there are several simple, clean pousadas. Amenities: food and drink; parking; toilets. Best for: snorkeling; solitude; swimming.

    CE 085, Fortaleza, Ceará, 62690-000, Brazil
  • 7. Genipabu

    Massive dunes have made this one of the best-known beaches in the country. The area is most commonly explored on thrilling day-trips across the dune by buggy, stopping off at three lakes and two parks along the way. You have two choices: com emocão (literally, "with emotion"), which rivals any roller coaster, or sem emocão (without emotion), a little calmer but still fairly hair-raising. Buggy operators, who usually find you before you find them, charge around R$100 per person, although it is recommended to book in advance through a reputable operator. You can also explore the dunes on camels imported from southern Spain. Other activities include half-hour boat rides and skyboarding (also called skysurfing)—which is basically snowboarding down the dunes. The beach is attractive, although it gets crowded during high season. Because Genipabu is close to Natal, it's primarily a day-trip destination. There are a few small pousadas and restaurants near the beach, but the town shuts down at night. Buses leave from the Rodoviário Velho every half hour or so for the 45-minute trip. Amenities: food and drink; toilets. Best for: walking.

    Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, 59575-000, Brazil
  • 8. Instituto Ricardo Brennand

    The impressive private archive of Pernambucan collector Ricardo Brennand is displayed in a fairy-tale castle approximately 15 km (9 miles) north of Boa Viagem and surrounded by 77 hectares of forest. While the paintings and artifacts range in origin from the 15th and 21st centuries and hail from all corners of the globe, the focus is on pieces that illuminate what life was like in Recife during the Dutch imperial rule (1600–1700).

    Alameda Antônio Brennand, Recife, Pernambuco, 50741-904, Brazil

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: R$20, Tues.–Sat. 1–5
  • 9. Museu Cais do Sertão

    This modern, interactive musuem is one of the new hot spots on Recife's cultural map. Regular live shows and cultural workshops add extra flavor to the top-class permanent exhibition that explores the key pillars of northeastern culture. Highlights include a film that portrays the challenges of life in the Sertão (interior drylands), interactive interviews with famous nordestino figures, and exhibitions on Recife's vibrant culture and artisan traditions. The building itself is beautifully designed and guides speak English. Check the website for their cultural agenda.

    Av. Alfredo Lisboa s/n, Recife, Pernambuco, 50030-010, Brazil

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: R$8, Tues. 9–9, Wed.–Fri. 9–5, Sat. 1–7, Sun. 11–7
  • 10. Paço de Frevo

    This new cultural space celebrates and showcases all things related to Frevo, the infectious music and dance that governs Pernambucan culture and Carnival. Information in this small museum is in English, and the displays and videos full of color. Regular shows take place on the third floor of the reformed townhouse, where you can also sign up for dance classes.

    Praça Do Arsenal Da Marinha, Recife, Pernambuco, 50030-360, Brazil

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: R$6, Tues.–Wed. and Fri 9–6, Thurs. 9–9, weekends noon–7
  • 11. Passeio Público

    Also called the Praça dos Mártires, this landmark square dates from the 19th century. In 1824 many soldiers were executed here in the war for independence from the Portuguese crown. It has a central fountain and is full of century-old trees and statues of Greek deities. Look for the ancient baobab tree. Small stalls sell snacks and handicrafts and there is occasional live music.

    Fortaleza, Ceará, 60030-000, Brazil
  • 12. Praia da Paiva

    One of the secret refuges of Recife, this long stretch of golden shore has the feel of a private beach, yet is open to the public via the pay-toll and small bridge on the road to Barra de Jangada-Gaibu (cars cost R$3.50 on weekdays and R$5.50 at weekends). The only refreshments available come from passing beach vendors, but you can stop for lunch at Marina Pôr do Sol, a decent restaurant on the water to the right of the pay-toll. From Boa Viagem, you can access Praia da Paiva by several connecting buses, although the easiest way to get there is by taxi or rental car. Amenities: parking (free). Best for: solitude; surfing; walking.

    Jaboatão dos Guararapes, Pernambuco, 54500-001, Brazil
  • 13. Praia das Minas

    Walk 30 minutes north of Pipa's main street via a terra-cotta dirt road or along the beach (depending on the tide) and you will arrive at the deserted, rugged beauty of Praia das Minas. Luxury eco-hotel Toca da Coruja now runs the sole beach bar and restaurant, serving delicious fresh fish and caipirinhas as a reward for your efforts. Big waves and strong currents make the water best for paddling. Amenities: food and drink; shower; toilets. Best for: solitude; sunrise; walking.

    Praia da Pipa, Rio Grande do Norte, 59179-000, Brazil
  • 14. Praia de Cumbuco

    Thirty-seven km (23 miles) west of Fortaleza, this former fisherman's colony is one of the best options for a relaxing day-trip from Fortaleza. The long stretch of tranquil golden sands is framed in immense dunes and coconut palms. The reliable winds make it a favorite among kitesurfers, while adventure lovers can bounce around the dunes by buggy, ride horses along the beach, or take a trip out to sea in one of the traditional jangadas.Amenities: food and drink; parking; toilets. Best for: solitude; swimming; walking; windsurfing.

    Fortaleza, Ceará, 61619-115, Brazil
  • 15. Praia de Jericoacoara

    Jericoacoara's main beach encircles the small village of this former fisherman's colony and is the heart of the action, from sunrise horseback riding to sunset capoiera displays. Waters are usually calm and clean, good for surfing and swimming, but conditions can vary depending on the wind. It can get busy with beach buggies and fishing boats. Don't miss watching the legendary sunset from the dunes that frame the sands. Amenities: food and drink; toilets. Best for: partiers; solitude; sunset; surfing; walking.

    Jericoacoara, Ceará, 62595-000, Brazil
  • 16. Praia do Patacho

    Almost always deserted, this long stretch of white sand is the Coral Coast's most beautiful beach, with warm waters calm enough for even small kids to feel like they are taking a bath. The landscape changes signficantly between high and low tide, when the water retreats from the coconut-lined shore up to 500 meters, leaving an iridescent layer of water that reflects the sunlight. Amenities: none. Best for: snorkeling; solitude; sunrise; swimming; walking.

    Porto de Pedras, Alagoas, 57495-000, Brazil
  • 17. Praia dos Golfinhos

    One of the Northeast's most magical spots, this local favorite is accessible only during low tide and the most likely place to swim with wild dolphins outside Fernando do Noronha. There is no access point down from the salmon-pink cliffs that frame the long slip of sand, which means that aside from a lone water seller who makes the trek daily, the beach's pristine beauty is preserved. To get there, consult the tide chart and head northwest from Pipa's central beach. Amenities: food and drink. Best for: solitude; swimming; walking.

    Praia da Pipa, Rio Grande do Norte, 59178-000, Brazil
  • 18. Recife Antigo

    Recife Antigo

    Most of Old Recife's colonial-era public buildings and houses have been restored. The area between Rua do Bom Jesus and Rua do Apolo is full of shops, cafés, and bars, making it the hub of downtown life both day and night. On weekends there's live maracatu music and dancing, and a handicrafts fair is held Sunday from 2 to 8 on Rua do Bom Jesus.

    Recife, Pernambuco, 50010-040, Brazil
  • 19. Saõ Miguel dos Milagres

    This fisherman's village is surrounded by some of the region's most charming independent pousadas, most of which face directly onto the sand and are focused on preserving the natural surroundings. The beaches along this part of the coast form one long trail of coconut palms, perfect for long walks and soaking up the natural beauty, while the sea itself is protected by a fringe of coral that keeps conditions continously calm. One thing not to miss is the Sea-Cow Sanctuary, which rehabilitates wounded manatees and is one of the best places in Brazil to get close to these endangered animals. Look for signs on the main road that point toward the workshops of local artisans, where you can find furniture and handicrafts carved from local materials.

    São Miguel dos Milagres, Alagoas, 57940000, Brazil
  • 20. Tamandaré

    Situated 109 km (68 miles) south of Recife, this beach region shares the same calm, warm waters and natural pools as Porto das Galinhas, yet lacks the crowds. The postcard-perfect Praia dos Carneiros has brilliantly clear emerald waters that are home to shoals of tropical fish. The beach huts there serve fresh coconut water and seafood snacks. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (fee); toilets. Best for: snorkeling; solitude; sunrise; swimming.

    Recife, Pernambuco, 55578-000, Brazil

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