The South Coast
Some of the most famous beaches in Brazil are on the south coast from Recife. We have provided our local insights below to the most popular as well as for some less well known spots.
The beaches listed are 40-90 minutes drive from Recife in normal weekday traffic (though this journey time increases in high season or at holiday weekends).
Located in the municipality of Ipojuca (70km from Recife), Porto de Galinhas (literally Chicken Port) has been chosen nine consecutive times as the best beach in Brazil by a leading Brazilian tourism magazine. The title, visitors will find, is well deserved: the clear waters, natural pools, sand banks and abundance of high quality options for leisure and accommodation are trademarks which make Porto de Galinhas a favourite for foreigners and locals.
One of the most memorable rides which will make visitors want to return often to Porto is the ferry tour to the natural pools and mangrove. Ferrymen on the beach will take you across the waves to the natural pools few minutes away from the shore, where you can swim in crystal clear waters, right next to hundreds of colourful fish and other sealife. The next stop are the mangrove swamps, an important part of the tropical marine environment, where yet another striking natural scenery is on display.
You'll also find in Porto de Galinhas several diving stores which will let you see the reefs and sealife underwater, during both day and night. And if you're still looking for more adrenaline, the beach of Maracaípe is a prime destination for kite surf and surf. Its strong waves make it a rewarding destination for surfers, which is why Maracaípe hosts local and international surf championships regularly.
Muro Alto, just a few kilometres north from Porto, is another popular beach among enthusiasts of water sports such as water skiing, wakeboard and jet-skiing. Feel like visiting all beaches at once? One of the many buggy rides offered on the beach can make that possible for up to four passengers at a time. This beach is where many top resorts have been built in recent times.
For those who look for comfort over adventure, Porto de Galinhas also has plenty to offer. Porto's town is a large, pedestrian-only strip filled with inns, handcraft stores, restaurants and bars of all sorts. Throughout the promenade, here and there you'll find human-sized sculptures of the local mascot: the chicken (galinha), from which the beach gets its name from the thankfully long-gone centuries of slave trading from West Africa.
Restaurants will give you varied options and prices: from world-class seafood menus to fairly priced barbecues and regional dishes, and also more economic choices of pizza, crepes and snacks.
The handcraft and souvenir shops also vary in quality and price. The traditional purchases are embroidery, hammocks, clothing, artcraft and gifts in general.
In summer months, the otherwise slow-paced town becomes full of life with the appearance of itinerant clubs and parties.
Many well-off Recife families have beach houses along this stretch of coast, being off the beaten track and until recently with poor road access - keeping out weekend trippers.
Beaches such as Serrambi, Toquinho and Sirinhaem are much calmer than Porto de Galinhas or Tamandare and the hotels and resorts are more oriented to families. Another good option could be to rent a house for your stay.
Among the beaches on the South coast of Pernambuco, Tamandaré and Carneiros are notably less crowded, being slightly further from Recife (110 km), but they are no less spectacular and still a well-kept secret. Many of the luckier locals from Recife and other larger regional towns have weekend/summer houses here.
The scenery includes a calm and clear sea, natural pools formed by reefs, white and clean sand and coconut trees and river estuaries. The local establishments offer pleasant options for further enjoying the location, such as horse and boat rides. Boat tours traditionally leave from Tamandaré, though the course might change according to the season of the year or the tides. In summer, the most popular are the ones which head towards Carneiros (immediately to the north of town) or Ilha do Coqueiro (a tiny island off Porto beach to the south famous for its solitary coconut palm).
Carneiros is accessible by road (10 km, five of them dirt road) or by walking (a brisk thirty minutes walk on the beach). It is completely rustic, a memorable site for those looking for a quiet getaway, especially off season or mid-week when the crowds and weekenders have left. The site is Eden-like, with its green-water river that meets with the ocean during high tides and the tiny white church dedicated to St Benedict surrounded by coconut trees.
For now, people going to Carneiros by car can only reach it through the dirt roads (where the most famous bars in the region also are located). A new bridge access is nearing completion which cuts 30 minutes (20 km) off the trip from Recife which will certainly speed the development and bring more people to this idyllic beach - come quick!!
Maragogi is one of the most famous beaches in the State of Alagoas, close to the Pernambuco border to the south, and a base for the region's turquoise-blue seas and unspoilt white sand beaches. Since it is only 125km away from Recife (a 2 hour drive), it is a site worth visiting if you've landed there.
Maragogi is one of several beach towns which form what is known as the "Costa dos Corais" (Coral Coast). This 130km-long coral reef stretching from Pernambuco to Alagoas protects the coast from strong tides and waves. It also provides a perfect environment for divers to observe underwater sealife.
By boat, it is possible to reach the "Galés", which are natural pools 6km away from the shore. In these aquariums sculpted by nature, visitors can see colourful fish and other sealife (even swim right next to them) in tours best taken early in the morning. Taocas and Barra Grande, farther north, are alternative areas which also have natural pools.
Some local companies also offer some in-land adventure with trekking in the Atlantic Rain Forest, waterfall baths, river kayaking and then some.
Maragogi is one beach surrounded, both by North and South, by other equally astounding locations which might be worth the visit if you have time for extra stops: Bugalhau, São Bento, Barra Grande and Peroba are neighbouring beaches which can also provide a pleasant experience. The pace of life here is notably slower, where the hectic modern lifestyle has yet to arrive, so it's best to give in, lie back and relax.
* Photos by Ministério do Turismo (EMPETUR).