Carnival and Festivals of Pernambuco

Main Popular Festivals in Recife and Pernambuco

Pernambuco holds something for visitors to do all year long. Carnival, naturally, is the biggest and best known commemoration, but the local's taste for parties and festivals stretches well beyond those four days in February. Check out our list with the main attractions of the State, so that you know just what is expecting you during your stay.

Janeiro dos Grandes Espetáculos

Also called International Festival of Performing Arts in Pernambuco, the "Janeiro dos Grandes Espetáculos" is a month-long celebration of theatre. Over 100 sessions are foreseen each edition, with presentations ranging from musicals, to street theatre, debates, international plays, workshops and much more. The shows take place in Recife and Olinda (and recently in cities of the Agreste too) in theatres and also public spaces, all modestly priced if not free.

When: January

Where: Theatres and public spaces in Recife, Olinda, Caruaru, Goiana and Arcoverde. 

Preview Parties in Olinda (Pre-Carnival 2014)

The Heritage City is linked to carnival. On Sundays it’s common to see maracatu, frevo and capoeira presentations on the streets. At the sound of frevo orchestras, the revelers go up and down the slopes following the giant dolls. People from all over the world arrive to help with the City´s annual festival. 

When: January - February 2014.

Where: In Olinda.

Summer Festival of Cabo de Santo Agostinho 

The best way to start your summer! The program of 2014 is really exploding with activities for fans and people who is just getting closer to this musical genre. This year, the festival will take place at the Itapuama beach. With several national and local bands, this greatest event aims to boost the local economy and tourism in the region. The expectation is to gather approximately 50 thousand people. The festival is open to everybody and is sponsored by the municipal government. The great attraction of the first night is the banda Garota Safada. Check the complete schedule.

When: January 30 - February 2nd 2014

Where: Itapuama Beach (46 km from Recife)

Carnival 2014 

It is a month of parties. The Carnival in Pernambuco is not like any other in Brazil. Free and open to all, it is a street party to which everyone is invited to jump in. In Recife and Olinda, activities normally are grouped in different "pólos" (poles) downtown, based on music style and type of attractions, so that it is easier and more convenient for you to find which party you'd like to join. The "Galo da Madrugada" is the first and biggest commemoration in Recife, while the "Bonecos Gigantes" are the main attraction in the steep hills of Olinda, along with hundreds of thousands of people in their outrageous costumes. In Bezerros, the "papangus" and other masked characters bring colour to the celebration. Though Carnival itself is only in February, rehearsals and pre-parties take place since January.

When: 28 February - 4 March 2014.

Where: All over Pernambuco, but mainly in Recife, Olinda and Bezerros.

Garanhuns Jazz Festival

In case Carnival is not really your thing, the good news is that Garanhuns hosts a jazz festival every year on the same period. The "Garanhuns Jazz Festival" brings free concerts, master classes (for adults and children) and other attractions, including international performers. But of course, since this is Brazil and not Montreux, later on the party you're liable to hear pretty much every rhythm the crowd asks for.

When: February 28th – March 4th

Where: Garanhuns (230 km from Recife)  

Paixão de Cristo

The "Paixão de Cristo" (Passion of the Christ) is an open-air theatrical show performed every Passover, depicting the last moments of Jesus Christ on Earth. This play has become famous all over the country because of its stage: a 100,000 m² replica of biblical Jerusalem right in the midst of Pernambuco's hinterlands, rightly entitled "Nova Jerusalém" (New Jerusalem). The show is run by the leading TV and entertainment group in Brazil (Rede Globo), which means famous actors and outstanding special effects. If you can't make the distance, the version performed downtown Recife (in the Marco Zero) is also traditional and moving (not to mention free).

When: 2014: April 13rd  to April 20 

Where: Noiva Jerusalém (180 km from Recife) and in Marco Zero (Recife Old Town)

Cine PE

In recent years, Pernambuco has ascended in national importance as a venue for filmmaking and film festivals. The Cine PE is the most famous and important film festival in the State, gathering up to 20 thousand spectators in a week. Far from being a club for cinema connoisseurs alone, the Cine PE has become a program for everyone who enjoys motion pictures. Feature and short films from all over the country compete for both the "Calunga" award. Film-related workshops are also offered during the event.

When: April 26th - May 2nd

Where: Centro de Convenções - Teatro Guararapes (Olinda)

São João

While the rest of Brazil is not very moved by this party, the whole Northeast gets dressed up for the "São João" in the months of May and June. In Pernambuco, all cities celebrate it by sporting the season's traditions: "quadrilha" dance, forró music and other rhythms, corn-based foods, bonfires and countryside costumes. So no matter where you are in the State, there will be something different in the air (besides the smell of gunpowder from all the fireworks). But if you want to be in the epicentre of "São João", then go to Caruaru, the "capital of forró", which receives every year over 1 million people in the month-long commemoration.

When: May to June

Where: All over the State, but especially in Caruaru.

Festival de Inverno de Garanhuns

July, when the cities in the hills of the Agreste get chilly, by local standards at least, is when the "Festival de Inverno de Garanhuns" (or "FIG") takes place. Created over 20 years ago, the FIG is famous all across the country and has an ever-growing list of free attractions: concerts, literature, fashion, theatre, circus and more. As many as 300 shows take place, with music genres ranging from classic to popular, besides hundreds of other cultural attractions spread across town, making this one of the biggest cultural events in Pernambuco's calendar. Garanhuns, the host city, is an attraction in itself, with its flowers and cherished mountain climate.

When: July

Where: Garanhuns (230 km from Recife)

Missa do Vaqueiro

Think of a Mass and replace the dim-lit chapel with the blazing sun of the drylands, the Gregorian choral with troubadours, and the old ladies on benches with riders on their horses. Place that mix in the far end of Pernambuco, and you'll have the "Missa do Vaqueiro" (Herdsmans' Mass). Ever since 1971, this mass has been held yearly on the third Sunday of July, being an occasion for countrymen to give thanks to God for blessings received. It takes place in the town of Serrita (530 km from Recife), whence a cortege of hundreds of riders leave to arrive at the park where the mass is held. The "Festa do Vaqueiro" takes place on the preceding week in town, which is a great opportunity to see displays of the "vaqueiro" culture: forró, xaxado, baião and other rhythms, and also the "repentistas", troubadours which duel one another for making the fastest, wittiest rimes.

When: Third Sunday of July

Where: Serrita (530 km from Recife)

Photo credits: Pernambuco Tourism Secretariat - SETUR-PE, Beto Figueiroa and Evaldo Parreira.