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Recife is a bustling seaside town in the northeast of Brazil. Most people visit the city to enjoy the sun, sea and beach, but Recife has more to offer, especially in the old center. The city is named after the magnificent coral reefs off the coast ('recife' is Portuguese for 'reef').
Still, we start with Recife's main attraction: its beaches. They are located in the so-called Zona Sul, a modern and tourist part of the city with hotels, restaurants, discotheques and nightclubs. There are several beaches but, according to many, the most beautiful beach is Boa Viagem with dazzling white sand. Along the promenade are stalls with food and drinks and on the beach vendors walk around selling all sorts of things: T-shirts, sun hats, sunglasses, watches, snacks, etc. These vendors can be quite persistent, but with a straight 'no' (não in Portuguese) you can usually get rid of them.
The old city is built on islands (Recife Antigo, San Antonio, Boa Vista and São José) that are connected by bridges. That old part of the city is full of churches. One of the nicest is the Golden Chapel in the Franciscan Convent (Convento Franciscano de Santo Antônio). Its interior sparkles as it is completely covered by gold. This Baroque church also has impressive ceiling frescos and beautifully tiled panels. The St Peter of Clerics Cathedral (São Pedro dos Clérigos) also has a beautiful ceiling, although here it's not painted but it's a wooden ceiling sculpted with images of the Twelve Apostles.
For a very short period during the seventeenth century, Recife belonged to the Dutch. Maurice of Nassau built a palace here of which only one tower remains. Nowadays it is the bell tower of the Carmelite Church (Nossa Senhora do Carmo). The Dutch fortress, on the contrary, was preserved. This Forte das Cinco Pontas houses the Recife City Museum.
In the north of the city you'll find a fantastic museum about the traditions and artistic expressions of the different communities in the northeast of Brazil. This Museu do Homem do Nordeste also has a section dedicated to the sugar plantations where the Portuguese put to work the slaves. Slavery is the central theme of the Museu da Abolição (Abolition Museum). It is located in a former plantation house, which used to be the residence of João Alfredo, leader of the abolitionist movement in the nineteenth century.
Zona Oeste is the greenest part of Recife and it also houses two of the city's most important museums. The Instituto Ricardo Brennand holds a fine collection of art objects from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century, both from Europe and Brazil. The emphasis lies on the (short) time of Dutch occupation in the northeastern part of Brazil. Ricardo Brennand's cousin, Francisco Brennand, is one of Brazil's most famous artists. The Oficina Brennand, his studio, has over 2000 of his creations on display. You can also see sculptures by Francisco Brennand at the Parque das Esculturas near Recife's port. It includes a more than 30-meter-high object, some kind of totem pole.
Recife's carnival is not as famous as the one in Rio de Janeiro, but it's a very colorful event here as well. Recife's carnival is different though: the large black community has an influence on the rhythms that are played. The infectious frevo and maracatu affects every single spectator. You can also listen to this music outside the carnival season, when the music bands are practicing. The oldest maracatu group, Leão Coroado, has been around since 1863!
North of Recife lies a swamp, with behind it on a hill the city of Olinda. The city has supposedly received its name from the first Portuguese governor Duarte Coelho who at first sight of the city would have called out: "Oh linda!" (Oh how beautiful!). The historic city center is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Dutch have by the way caused tremendous havoc in the city; during their retreat from Brazil, they set fire to Olinda. The Baroque merchant houses date back to the seventeenth and eighteenth century and are painted in cheerful colors. There are also many churches and monasteries, including the São João Batista dos Militares.
At the time when the Dutch built Fort Orange, it was called Fortaleza de Santa Cruz. The fortress is located on the Itamaracá Island off the coast, which is linked to the mainland by a bridge. Here the Dutch imprisoned Portuguese who refused to convert to Protestantism. You can take a guided tour, but Itamaracá's main attraction is, again, its beautiful beaches. There are also some remainders of Atlantic woods and stranded sea cows are taken care of at the Centro de Preservação de Peixe-Boi. The coast near Recife was notorious in the maritime sector. There are about a hundred shipwrecks at the bottom of the sea. There are also many coral reefs, which make the region very popular among scuba divers.
Finding a parking space in the center of Recife is not always easy. We recommend parking your rental car in one of the parking garages, of which the locations are signposted. A rental car is an ideal means of transport to visit the beaches north and south of Recife.
Recife Guararapes International Airport (also known as: Gilberto Freyre International Airport) is located four kilometers south of the city center in the Zona Sul. You can easily reach the airport by rental car. From the southern suburbs, the Avenida Mascarenhas de Morais runs directly to the airport. The terminal can also be reached via de Avenida Recife western beltway.