South Recife - Boa Viagem
Boa Viagem ('Good Journey') beach is synonymous with any visit to Recife and where most of the top hotels are situated. Recife's International airport is conveniently situated just 1.5km inland from Boa Viagem beach, hence access is quick and convenient.
Until the 1970's, Boa Viagem was mostly where the Recife elite kept their summer holiday houses and access was limited. Nowadays, it is one of the prime areas of the city for residential tower blocks and business and commerce. This is also why the beach is better during the morning: the high rises block the setting sun in the afternoon.
The beach is a 7 km strip of white sand lined just a few metres offshore by an intermittent rocky reef, which at low tide create shallow natural pools sheltered from the waves and the water heats up under the strong tropical sun. It is known as one of the cleanest urban beaches in Brazil, although it gets really packed during weekends and holidays, as it is a favourite destination for locals. Besides going in the water, you can also play volleyball or tennis in one of the several fields set up along the coast, plus walk or jog along the promenade (boardwalk or "calçadão").
Normally there is no need to bring your own chair or parasol to the beach: you'll get it offered to you by the "barraqueiros" (vendors from the booths), who will also hand you a menu of the local treats: fish and seafood in general, appetizers, coconut water, drinks and so forth. Keep in mind that nearly all of them will require you to order something while you're there, otherwise you'll pay a minimum fee for using their chairs. Assorted vendors also tread the beach back and forth offering all sorts of snacks, fruits, seafood, souvenirs and trinkets.
On the Beach - Reefs and Safety:
These reefs caused the Portuguese settlers to give Recife its name, as the reefs continuing north from Boa Viagem beach create a natural harbour where the city was founded and through which it prospered for centuries with sugar and other trading with the world.
These reefs also act as a safety barrier between the human and the marine environments. Enjoy the natural pools beach-side, which are delicious at low tide for the children (and adults!). The other side of the reefs are the Atlantic ocean, strong tides and large sea creatures including sharks (which do occasionally attack foolish people that stray into their environment).
One of the most traditional places to see in Boa Viagem is the artcraft fair, locally known as the "Feirinha de Boa Viagem". It is set around a tiny church, on a square facing the beach. In the many stands, you'll find a good variety of items: clothing for children and adults, jewellery (both cheap and expensive), hammocks, embroidery from several regions of the state, handcraft and other pieces of local art. Weekends is when the most stands are set up: about 200 of them to choose from.
The prices in the Feirinha remain quite fair in comparison to more touristy places, since the fair, though visited by many foreigners, is still popular among locals and a part of the neighbourhood's routine. Bargaining skills can also come in handy when you buy bulk. Normally, residents will gather on the square in the warm evenings for a snack from one of the stands. Tapiocas, acarajé, cakes, pastry, "espetinho" (barbecued beef or chicken on a skewer) and other fabulously greasy and deep-fried treats (of the sort you'll only find in street fairs) are on the menu. If, however, you feel more like sitting down and enjoying a fuller meal, a restaurant with local specialities is also available on the square and a per kilo one nearby. Click here to see all options nearby.
Parque Dona Lindu is a recent addition to the neighbourhood which quickly became a part of the city's life. It was named after "Dona Lindu", the mother of former Brazilian president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. The project was designed by the renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer, the "poet of the concrete" who gave Brasília its unique look. If you've visited the nation's capital, you'll find echoes of its architecture in here: smooth surfaces, sparkling white and sensuous curves on both buildings that make up the site.
In the Luiz Mendonça Theatre, shows, concerts and plays are regularly held. The fun part, though, is that the stage can actually be rotated to face outside the theatre. This is often done for the biggest attractions, which makes it possible to see the whole spectacle from outdoors and for free. The second building in the complex is the Janete Costa art gallery, which holds exhibitions and displays. A Tourist information office is housed between the two structures. The rear section of the park also has playgrounds for children, a skateboard bowl and grassed areas for picnics.
Dona Lindu has quickly become a prime destination for all sorts of attractions: musicians, artists, orchestras, fairs, and so on. Even better: most of them, especially those that take place on holidays or special occasions, are free and open to the public. During the rest of the time, the park is frequented by young people who appreciate the smoothly-paved floor for skateboarding and other activities. Check out the latest events here.
If you've come to Boa Viagem on a rainy day, the chances of enjoying the beach, parks or fairs are slim. Or perhaps you need those last minute gifts and souvenirs for friends and family. Luckily, this area also contains two of the largest shopping centres in the country.
The Shopping Center Recife is located in the heart of the Boa Viagem neighbourhood, just over a kilometre away from the beach. It has approximately 450 stores, well over 20 restaurants, cinemas and an array of other facilities for visitors, such as a post office, banks, money exchange offices and travel agencies.
The recently opened RioMar Shopping is located in the neighbouring district of Pina and also has much to offer. Approximately 410 stores, 12 restaurants, cinemas, 10-pin bowling, theatre and the aforementioned facilities, with the benefit that it was built right on the edge of the Pina Basin, giving visitors a beautiful view of the river as it runs to the sea.
In Recife (as in Brazil in general), shopping centres are the only places where you'll find articles from famous brands (both national and international) for sale, since it is unusual for them to open up stores on the high street.
Restaurants and Bars
Boa Viagem and Pina are neighbourhoods that receive plenty of tourists, and are also residential areas for the city's elite. Due to this fortunate conjunction, it is today a fertile ground for bars, restaurants and nightlife options in general. Click here and here to see just how many options are available.
* Photos by Evaldo Parreira, SETUR, Albertina França