Pre or post Olympics, or for an exciting and exotic vacation getaway next winter, look into Porto Galinhas, Brazil, on the south Atlantic coast north of Rio for your next adventure.
Forget the Caribbean, the golden sands of Brazil’s east coast face the south Atlantic with long palm fringed beaches, good food and an exotic Portuguese Latin setting.
The spectacular South Atlantic coast of Brazil
Anyone seeking fun in the sun short-changes themselves if they fail to look into the Brazilian east coast, that part of this immense country that bulges out toward Africa. Lining South America’s northeast coast are some of the world’s finest beaches, luxury resorts, colonial towns and a year-round temperate climate.
Recife, the capital of the State of Pernambuco, is the closest airport to one of the nicest sections of these beaches, the area surrounding the village of Porto de Galinhas. It’s name – port of chickens — derives from it history as a slave port. In addition to their human cargo, slavers also brought chickens from the African coast. When the slave trade was made illegal the word was used as a code for slaves when “chicken” deliveries were to be made. Slavery was not outlawed until 1888.
Sunning, swimming and cool capirinhas
But this history does not detract from the town today. A small village on the edge of the sea, it is a busy hive of small businesses in single and two-story buildings that line narrow streets. Shops selling all sorts of local handcrafts, from wood carvings to jewelry with local precious and semi-precious stones stand next to restaurants serving local fare and friendly bars serving cooling drinks like capirinhas, a Brazilian sugar cane liquor with crushed limes over ice.
The real heart of the place, however, is on the town’s waterfront, where palm shaded bars and restaurants overlook a crowded scene of commerce and fun seekers. Vendors selling everything from bikini bathing suits (a Brazilian invention associated with The Girl from Ipanema), to bottles of cold water and bird-like kites in several variations line the beach. Just a few feet off shore lies a barrier reef, which at low tide creates a series of shallow pools filled with colorful tropical fish.
Playing among tropical fish
Pulled up along the shore are a dozen or more shallow-draft wooden boats sporting lanteen sails and a sweep oar in the rear. Dozens more are out over the reef. A mere three feet wide and twelve feet long, they sport three bench seats for passengers and a small deck for the oarsman. Called jagandas, for a mere 8 Reales (about $4.00) they shuttle passengers out to the reef pools.
This is a place for a bathing suit, or at least clothes that can get wet. Once over the reef, passengers step off the jagandas into shallow pools of warm water while schools of six-inch fish in stripes and bright colors swim by. Hands full of feed supplied by the boatman draw them close by as they fight for a snack but just try to catch one and it is gone in a flash. Most visible are the fish with bright yellow stripes set off against black but the most beautiful are the more shy iridescent blue fish that hang back at the edge of the school.
Porto de Galinhas is a town to kick back in, a place to get up close and personal with bright-colored fish, to drink coconut milk from a coconut freshly opened for you, to fly your own kite over golden sands, pick up a memento and to enjoy a friendly drink as the sun goes down.
How to get there
The Brazilian coast is easily reached from most American cities. American Airlines has direct service to Recife and San Salvador de Bahia from Miami with good connections to most US major airports. Air time from Miami is approximately 7.5 to 8 hours.