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Recife, the capital of Pernambuco, is one of the largest and most important cities on the northeastern coast of Brazil. This lively capital, originally founded by Dutch colonizers, is brimming with a vibrant culture, an interesting old town and some nice beaches and LOTS of sharks.
Recife's modern Guararapes-Gilberto Freyre International Airport (REC) is efficient, user-friendly and close to the city.
From the airport
MetroRec Subway has an Aeroporto stop on its southern line which will take you directly downtown.
Bus 033 (Aeroporto) goes every 20 minutes to Boa Viagem (15 min) and to the coty center. You can also take the Aeroporto opcional which is a little bit faster. Stop in front of the airport building.
Bus 152 (Jordao Baixo) via Boa Viagem, Bus 153 (Jordao Alto), Bus 161 (Brigadeiro Ivo Borges) and Bus 163 (Cajueiro Seco) also go to the city center. Stop on the other side of the street opposite the airport building.
You can arrive in cruise ships at the Port of Recife. Cruises may come from other Brazilian states, from other countries in South America and the Caribbean, or from Europe. Cruises from Recife to the Fernando de Noronha archipelago are also available.
The city can be roughly divided in four major areas:
The Center is composed of the neighborhoods of Old Recife, Santo Antônio, São José, Santo Amaro and Boa Vista, which are scattered through a couple of islands and part of the mainland. The Centro contains most of the historic and government buildings in the city. The port, located in Recife Antigo, was once the most active in all of the Americas.
South Zone is the most modern and touristic part of the city, as it was built around the beautiful natural reef beaches that gave the city its name. This area has a great many hotels, restaurants, and bars, as well as the airport and the largest shopping mall. Its most important neighborhood is Boa Viagem, set along the beautiful Boa Viagem beach. Because of the beach and the skyline Boa Viagem is also called the Copacabana of the North East.
West Zone is by far the greenest part of the city. It contains remnants of the Atlantic Forest that once covered most of the Brazilian eastern coast. It contains two famous museums.
North Zone is mostly a residential area. Throughout the centuries, the neighborhoods along the Capibaribe River were home to the local aristocracy. It contains the city's best schools and hospitals, and is also famous for its parks and bars.
Buses are the most useful form of mass transportation. The Sistema Estrutural Integrado (Integrated Structural System), known as SEI, has 119 bus lines which are integrated with the subway system at 13 points through out the metropolitan area.
MetroRec, Recife's subway system, is the third largest in Brazil, although it still covers only limited areas of the city. 13 of the 28 stations have connections to the SEI metro bus system and, depending on your destination, it may be possible to purchase a single combination subway/bus ticket. MetroRec has three basic lines:
Two Central lines run together from downtown to the west, where they split after Coqueiral station and go to Jaboatão dos Guararapes and Camaragibe respectively. It does provide a useful link between the city center and the TIP Bus Station in the outskirts, at the penultimate stop on the Camaragibe (Centro 1) line.
A new South line provides direct access to the airport and Shopping Center Recife on its way to Cajueiro Seco.
What to see
Recife is known for its amazing beaches.
Boa Viagem Beach - Probably one of the world's best urban beaches, with pristine white sands. If you want a tan, you came to the right place. The beach road has a wide walkway attached and this is dotted with huts selling food and drink. The beach is somewhat protected by a coral reef wall visible at low tide, there has been many shark attacks and deaths so stick your feet in the water but you might want to consider another place to swim.
Brasilia Teimosa Beach - A smaller and less frequented beach near the port.
Pina Beach - A well-developed and popular beach north of Boa Viagem Beach. It's a little more relaxed, with weak waves.
Parque 13 de Maio, Praça Dr.Adolfo Cirne - Boa Vista. The largest green area in central Recife, with playground equipment, a petting zoo, and illuminated fountains.
Parque Dois Irmãos, Praça Farias Neves, no number - Dois Irmãos. A zoo and botanical garden park, with 387 hectares of Atlantic Forest and 14 hectares of botanical gardens. The zoo has around 800 types of animals. The grounds also hold the Natural Science Museum and a number of ecological trails.
Parque da Jaqueira, Av. Rui Barbosa - Jaqueira. This park is popular for jogging. It also has bicycle trails, plus live music on Sundays.
What to do
Catamaran Rides in the Capibaribe River , Avenida Sul, São José.
Agenda de Eventos do Recife. Daily, 4PM and 8PM. Tour last 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Scuba-diving at shipwreck park off the coast of Recife. Recife is known as Brazil's shipwreck capital: more than 100 ships have sunk in the coast around the city, 15 of which are accessible to tourists. Together with the natural coral reefs, they make the coast of Recife a perfect spot for scuba-diving.
Volleyball and footvolley at Boa Viagem beach. The latter was first developed into a sport in the sands of Recife, Salvador and Rio de Janeiro in the 1970s.
Recife's Carnaval is one of the country's busiest. Very different from its carioca counterpart, in Recife street shows and parades play contagious rhythms like frevo and maracatu, attracting more than 1.6 million people to celebrate and dance on the streets every year. Apart from frevo and maracatu, two other cultural manifestations that are typical of Pernambucan Carnaval include bumba-meu-boi and caboclinho.
Abril Pro Rock. Every April. Two-day rock music festival.
Festival de São João. June. Yearly celebration of nordestino culture, with loads of traditional music and food.
Pernambuco has a multicultural gastronomy with African and indigenous influences, among others. The national dish Feijoada (a stew of beans, pork and beef, served with rice and Farofa) is not very popular in Recife.
Recife is the birthplace of two traditional and delicious cakes Bolo de Rolo and Bolo Sousa Leão.
Do try the snacks on offer from beach vendors---little chicken and beef kebabs, oysters, prawns, and grilled cheese. Just be aware that some of the vendors may have been carrying them around for hours--if it doesn't look fresh, it probably isn't.
A must try is Caldinho: a soup served all over the place (restaurants, dedicated carts and people with flasks selling it on the beach). Comes in a variety of flavors from black bean to shrimp.