5 reasons to visit Recife, Brazil
Have you ever heard of Recife? If you go to Wikipedia, you’ll see that it’s the fifth-largest metropolitan area in Brazil and the capital and largest city of the state of Pernambuco. You’ll also find out that its 1.5 million inhabitants are called ‘recifenses’ and that it’s located here, around the part of the world puzzle that would fit into Africa:
(Pra os brasileiros: este post é uma adaptação do texto “5 razões para amar o Recife”, que escrevi em português).
But is that enough to get you curious about this city? What’s probably more relevant to you is why, of all the places in the world, should you come all the way from wherever you are to pay us a visit.
A friend of mine recently came from England to spend a month working here and was taken completely by surprise from what she found – all good stuff, of course ;) That’s because she had no idea of the following reasons that, for me, are part of what makes this city fascinating:
1. Recife Antigo
I’m lucky to work at the heart of the most charming part of town: the island of Recife Antigo, which means Old Recife and, as you can tell from its name, is full of history. Although quite small, it holds many attractions for tourists and locals alike, and walking around its cobbled streets and looking up to its beautiful buildings is already worth your while.
In “Antigo”, as we usually call it, Recife saw the birth of the first big bridge in Brazil and the first synagogue in the Americas, besides many other important stuff. But the best part is that the point of origin of the city never stops reinventing itself as time goes by. Besides from being an important harbor and a historic and tourist area, the neighborhood is also one of Brazil’s largest and most important IT hubs and one of Pernambuco’s major leisure and cultural centers, and has recently been renovated.
So enjoy the neighborhood! Pay a visit to Marco Zero (Ground Zero) and watch the sunset at one of the city’s most famous landscapes, shop for local souvenirs at the Pernambuco Crafts Centre or at Bom Jesus’s street fair (every Sunday afternoon) and visit the beautiful museums Paço do Frevo and Cais do Sertão and the synagogue Kahal Zur Israel.
Between one thing and another, you can try a traditional “maltado” (like a milkshake) at As Galerias, have a cold beer or a caipirinha in one of the many cool bars around the area or go to the restaurant at the top floor of the TRF (Tribunal Regional Federal, a federal court) to enjoy the view. Not to speak of the fun activities promoted by the city on Sundays all around the neighborhood, such as human foosball, dancing, music and food stands. I dare say that you’ll fall in love with the mix of influences that you see in this special part of the city ^^
2. The rivers and the ocean
Ok, I’ll start this one with a downside, but keep reading and it will get better ;) Yes, Recife is by the seaside. No, one cannot really enjoy the ocean in most of the urban area (i.e.: bathe in it without worries) ever since a bunch of sharks decided to swim North, and are now part of our diverse community. But let’s not jump to conclusions. There are three things you should know first: 1. It’s actually our fault they are there, since we built a port where they lived, breaking the food chain and driving them here; 2. That got us a character at the X Men comics and she shares my last name, and I think that’s kind of cool; 3. The beach is still quite lovely anyway, and one can take a quick dip when the tide is down.
So yes, come to Recife, go to the beach, relax by the sea and eat some of the many snacks that are sold there. And of course: at Avenida Boa Viagem, by the sea, you’ll find cool bars and restaurants, some of them with balconies from where you can feel the salty breeze ;)
Now, if you’d like a good swim, a one or two hour drive will take you to some of the most beautiful beaches on the Brazilian coast, such as Porto de Galinhas, Tamandaré, Carneiros and Maragogi.
Besides that, there’s plenty of water to please those who like rivers as much as I do. The Capibaribe and the Beberibe rivers that crisscross the city, with its many charming bridges, gave Recife its most widely known nickname (corny but cute) – “The Brazilian Venice”. They pass around the small islands that hold the city center, as well as many other areas. The Capibaribe (“River of capybaras” in Tupi, an indigenous language) played a very significant role in Pernambuco’s history and served as inspiration for many poets and singers :)
A few decades ago, people could still bathe and play in the river, but unfortunately this isn’t possible nowadays. Some projects have been trying to change our relationship with its waters, but for now, what you can do – and I highly recommend it – is take a short ride on small boats which depart from Marco Zero (Ground Zero) and cross over to Brennand’s Sculptures Park or to a nice sea food restaurant called Casa de Banhos. Just go to Marco Zero, alongside the river banks, and look for the guys with boats ;)
You can also take a catamaran trip with the company Catamaran Tours and enjoy some views of the city from another angle. Don’t forget to make a wish as you pass underneath each bridge!
3. The food
Do you like to get to know a place and culture through its food? Then you’ll be very happy in Recife. The food from Pernambuco is wonderful and Recife has become an important gastronomic center, mixing international influences with a lot of tasty local stuff. It’s hard to describe food, so you should simply come and try a macaxeira (manioc) with queijo coalho (curd cheese) and carne de sol (corned beef) or a escondidinho de charque (dried meat covered with mashed potatoes or mashed manioc) or a arrumadinho (beef, vinaigrette, green beans and manioc flour). And the list goes on with mussels, galinha de cabidela, goat stew, different kinds of beans, tapioca, fried fish, crabs…
Not to mention the caldinhos (small “soups” made out of black beans, fish, shrimp or other seafood) that you find at the beach and in most of the bars. And there are the desserts, of course: bolo de rolo (roll cake) is a local classic, as well as other cakes such as pé-de-moleque and Souza Leão, not to mention the traditional cartola (fried bananas covered with cheese, sugar and cinnamon).
To eat all that and more, you can stop by Parraxaxá (which serves very typical food by the kilo – its decoration is inspired in the countryside of Pernambuco), Empório Sertanejo (which stays open until the morning and gets very busy at the weekends), Mercado da Boa Vista and Mercado da Madalena (two of the many public markets in the city), Bar do Tonhão, Bar da Geralda, or one of the many “botecos” (simple bars) around the city – the simpler the better.
4. The music
I suppose every Brazilian who’s into music is aware of the significance of Pernambuco for the national music scene. Around 20 different rhythms were created here and can easily be heard around Recife, as well as adaptations of other kinds of music that were born elsewhere. Mangue beat, maracatu, forró, frevo, coco and ciranda are just a few examples of such a broad universe.
As for naming specific groups and artists, I could spend a few hours here working on a veeeery long list, but the fact is that there’s a bunch of people who were born in Pernambuco and have played a special role in Brazilian music. Alceu Valença, Nação Zumbi, Mombojó, Naná Vasconcelos, Mundo Livre S/A, Geraldo Azevedo, Silvério Pessoa, Siba, Lenine, Otto, SpokFrevo Orquestra, Lira, Academia da Berlinda, Eddie and Orquestra Contemporânea de Olinda are some of the people/bands that you should check out.
There are, of course, many other talented people that mix local references, experimental sounds, pop, rock and whatever suits them best. And the best part is: it’s quite easy to see these artists playing live around here, sometimes even for free :)
5. The events
I can’t help but starting this last bit with the most famous of all Brazilian parties: Carnival. After all, this is the time of the year when Pernambuco expats suffer the most. And when you get to know the party in loco, that makes complete sense. If you’re not from here, take a look at this post to learn more about Carnival in Recife and Olinda, which is, I promise, even better than Rio’s famous ‘shows’ ;)
In addition to these most wonderful days of the year, there are also quite a few events related to our culture that are worth checking out. The political, cultural and religious event Terça Negra brings to the Pátio de São Pedro every Tuesday great presentations of coco de roda and afoxé, highlighting some traits of the local black culture.
Film festivals such as Cine PE and Janela Internacional de Cinema, music festivals like Coquetel Molotov and frequent parties that happen in places such as Iraq, Estelita and Vapor 48 are also worth checking out, especially if you’re young and want to get away from clubs that look a lot like what you find anywhere else in the world. Some of the highlights are the parties called Brega Naite, Odara, Neon Rocks, Maledita, Sem Loção, Fritz and Refresh, where LGBT people are very welcome. The Cuban nights at the Clube Bela Vista and other parties focused on cumbia, salsa and the likes are also great for those who like to dance :)
I could go on and on, but I hope that is enough to give you a little insight into Recife. To wrap it up with the cliché that says that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, here’s a cool time-lapse that will give you a glimpse of some of the treasures of Recife and Olinda.
Let me know if you’re passing by my hometown <3