The rapidly changing city of Fortaleza is the capital of Ceará, one of the Brazilian states that makes up the region of the north-east, known for its dune landscapes, its beaches and the Bahia carnival. Those who were lucky enough to visit it around thirty years ago will remember (and probably with some nostalgia!) the myriad of typical little colourful and romantic houses of this city devoted to fishing. However, the expansion work that turned this modest city into a metropolis, home to approximately two million inhabitants, began in the seventies and eighties. That was when the pretty little low-rise constructions began to be destroyed, notably along the coast, only to be replaced with huge, rather unsightly buildings which the inhabitants are proud of, seeing them as the embodiment of progress. Fortaleza, seen clearly from the aeroplane upon landing, presents itself as a city with two separate identities, each one on its own distinctive path and whose visual aspects are entirely different from the other. On the one side we have the suburbs and the centre, which are still essentially composed of low-rise buildings, and on the other we have a row of skyscrapers next to the coast, acting as a symbol of the immense changes here led by the Leftist government, and proud of its new status as a metropolis. Nevertheless, as in most large cities in Latin America, the general contrasts are still very great. Modernity here is more impetuous than it is luxurious, it rises up to the sky while casting shadows over the beach (especially since the state of Ceará decided not to adopt the legal time and so the sun sets at 5 pm, even in summer). In order to make the most of the hours of sunlight, it's best to get up very early in the morning. It's very easy; just don't adapt to the new time zone. If you are used to getting up at 8am to go to work, you can simply let yourself sleep in an extra hour and set your alarm for 6am (in summer, in the southern hemisphere, Fortaleza is three hours behind the UK). It's better than attempting to go back to bed after having woken up in the early hours of the morning. Moreover, Fortaleza is also a lively city in the evening, with its restaurants, nightclubs and the Forro (the traditional music). The city mostly welcomes Brazilian tourists but it does also receive its fair share of foreign holidaymakers who come here in search of the year round sun. In fact, the capital of Cearà is famous for its long golden beaches, which are far from the busier central districts like Praia da Iracema, Meireles and Mucuripe where you won't find many beachgoers. It's best to go to Praia do Futuro, or to take a trip (why not for several days?) to the various other beautiful towns and villages along the coast: to the west we recommend Cumbuco, a kite-surfing paradise only 30 minutes from Fortalexa, and Jericocoara, an incredibly beautiful location. To the east, don't miss out on a trip to Morro Branco and Coanoa Quebrada.
According to tradition, nights out in Fortaleza abide to a very strict calendar which remains exactly the same every week. That not only means that the city's youth go to nightclubs on Saturday evenings and for drinks on the beach on Wednesdays, but also that pretty much all of the population here gathers in the same place at the same time, either in the same establishment or on the same beach. These unusual habits continue to rule nights out in the city and so it might be interesting for tourists to take note of these permanent events.
In Fortaleza for example, a normal Monday entails a night out in Pirata Bar, the most famous and popular nightclub among locals, but also visitors to the city. Its motto: "A segunda-feira mais louca do mundo!!" (The craziest Monday in the world!). One incredible fact is that this bar, almost fully outdoors and dominated by a pirate boat with a sail decorated with a pirate symbol, has only opened on Mondays since 1986, for an evening which starts at 8 pm and can carry on right throughout the night. The Pirata Bar is an authentic address offering music (mostly Forro) and dance, all accompanied by a cerveja or a good caïpirinha (in moderation, however, since the establishment is open to the whole family). If you arrive early, you can enjoy the calm at the beginning of the evening and have a bite to eat before the dancing begins, with live music in the background, or even dancers who appear around 10 pm.
Alternatively, on Thursdays, head for Praia do Futuro so you don't miss the "noite dos caranguejos" (the sea crab night), cooked as part of a feast for the customers in baracas on the beach.
In the daytime, what could be a better activity in Fortaleza than making the most of the sun? Not many people go to the coast that runs alongside Avenida Beira Mar. It's better to venture to Praia do Futuro, located a couple of miles from the centre but easily accessible by bus: take the bus heading in the direction of 'Caça e pesca'.
If not, you could always take a trip to one of the beaches outside of the city, or even to one of the towns or villages on the Ceará coast. There are plenty of bus routes that will take you to the surrounding villages of Cumbuco, Jericocoara, Morro Branco and Canoa Quebrada, where you can practice water sports, including windsurfing and kite-surfing. Sport enthusiasts from around the world come to this region because the wind is constant, making this spot for these kinds of activities. Cumbuco, 30 minutes from Fortaleza, is world-renowned for its kite-surfing. But that's not all: in this little village, you can reserve a paseo (ride) in a boogie, a type of small jeep used to drive in the sand: accompanied by a professional guide, you can take a trip lasting between several hours up to several days, and even travel all the way to Jericocoara (a three days' drive away) for an unforgettable experience.
One tip: don't miss out on the biggest water park in Latin America (or that's what they claim in the region, at least), especially if you're travelling with children. Called Beach Park, this water park is located around twenty minutes from Fortaleza in the city of Aquiraz, on Porto das Dunas beach.
Fortaleza isn't exactly the best place to visit if you're searching for a culture-filled trip. Nevertheless, if you find yourself bored of the beach and the nighttime entertainment options, know that there are plenty of opportunities to visit historical or artistic destinations. Leave the districts of the movida behind and head for the centre. Here you'll find the main attractions, each one not far from the next and easily accessible on foot. Among the most significant are José de Alencar Theatre. The oldest building in Ceará, built in 1920, it was extended in 1975 with an exterior garden and finally renovated in 1991. Every week, from Tuesday to Sunday, it plays host to music, theatre and dance shows. To find out more about the history and the architecture of this beautiful building, you can go on a guided tour (beginning on the hour, every hour between 8am and 4pm on weekdays, apart from Mondays and at midday, and from 1pm to 4pm on the weekend). It is located at 525 Rua Barroso.
Past Praça do Ferreira and Praça Clóvis Beviláqua is Igreja da Sé, the city's Gothic cathedral.
After having admired the biggest historical monuments in Fortaleza, and getting lost in the narrow streets lined with the typical, colourful little houses like those in Fortaleza's old town, you'll arrive at the modern building of Dragão do Mar, the city's government funded main artistic and cultural centre. It holds two cinemas, a theatre, a planetarium, and several temporary exhibitions. The construction of a spectacular aquarium is set to begin in the near future.
Closer to the sea, you can enjoy a romantic walk to Ponte dos Ingleses, a very long landing stage that stretches out into the sea. Construction on this landing stage began in 1902 on the orders of the English (thus explaining its name), under the administration of Campos Sales. The bridge was built with metal and wood imported directly from London and it served as a port for twenty years. Today it represents one of the city's main attractions and welcomes around a hundred visiting families every day.
Surface area : 3,287,612 sq mi km2
Population : 190,732,694 inhabitants
The state of Ceará has chosen not to adopt the legal time, meaning the sun sets very early in summer and it starts to get dark around 5pm. Consequently, if you plan on spending your days catching some rays, we advise you to get up very early in the morning in order to make the most of the beach for as long as possible.
The sun is damaging no matter the season, so don't forget to wear a suntan lotion with a high protection factor!
In Fortaleza, everyone will advise you to avoid the bus and to opt for taking a taxi instead, which is safer but also more expensive. It's a good piece of advice for the airpport, as the public transport is not very practical for reaching Meireles and Praça da Iracema, where most of the hotels in the area are located. The two taxi companies that make the trip from the airport to the city centre offer fixed prices of around 30 to 40 reais (approximately 13 to 18 pounds), depending on the district to which you are travelling. On the other hand, for getting around in the city, the bus isn't the worst solution, as it isn't really as dangerous as people say it is. You do, of course, have to be careful not to have your valuables on display. Carry only the bare minimum, only take out your camera to take photos and then put it back in your bag, and always be careful of ladrões, which means pickpockets, especially in the evening and in very busy districts. Avoid Parque Ecológico do Cocó (Cocó Park), a rather unadvisable place to spend time.
For eating out on a budget, stop off at one of the many little bars on the beachfront. After a before-dinner drink of cerveja or caïpirinha (the Brazilian cocktail made from lime, crushed ice and cachaça) accompanied with cheese or fish bolinhas and 'salsa rosa', order a dish with meat or fish served with rice, green beans and salad, the helpings of which are usually enough to feed two!
If you're just looking for a snack, there are plenty of vendors selling sweetcorn and other treats beside the beach. You'll also see the Bahia women in their traditional dress selling all kinds of sandwiches filled with homemade sauces, shrimp, and vegetables from large pots.
If you'd like to eat in a traditional restaurant, we advise you to give churrascaria a try at least once; this restaurant is particularly suited to those with a hearty appetite. For a fixed price you can choose from a buffet packed with vegetables, hors d'oeuvres, rice, beans and various garnishes, or alternatively, main courses can be served directly at your table. The waiters and waitresses bring over meat skewers (of chicken, pork and beef cooked in various different ways) and serve those who are interested: you can take some or wait for the next serving, but whatever the case may be, you'll have no problem eating until you are full to the brim. Only try this if you're really hungry! In general, drinks and desserts are not included in the price.
If you're looking for souvenirs to bring home, take a quick trip to the Beira Mar market, located towards the middle of the avenue of the same name. Every evening between 4pm and 10pm there is market featuring many stalls where you can find typical products and local arts and crafts. Hammocks aren't a bad idea for a souvenir; they're nice and a lot cheaper to buy here than back in Europe.
If you'd prefer to buy clothes, you should head for the Avenida Monsenhor Tabosa, the shopping street mostly popular with locals.