South of Recife: Porto de Galinhas
Easily the most sought-after destination on the coast of Pernambuco, Porto de Galinhas has grown into a high-volume tourist village with dozens of hotels, resorts, restaurants and, of course, beaches to explore. During the summer months, weekends in the village can get pretty crowded. In fact, it’s best to avoid weekends altogether, as Galinhas is also popular year-round with the locals, who come to spend a day at the beach with a minimum of expenditure. The town limits the number of busses that enter the village, which helps keep the ugly masses to a minimum.
If you happen to be in town on a sunny weekend or in peak season, there are numerous remote beaches for avoiding crowds. Just catch a buggy and head on out. The farther you go away from the village, the more tranquil and deserted the beach will be. Some local favorites are Muro Alto to the north and Maracaípe to the south, both offering water sports; clear and warm water for swimming and beach kiosks for relaxing with a cold one. These beaches are still fairly close to the village and can get crowded during peak season and weekends. Farther out are the beaches of Calhetas to the north and Carneiros to the south, which will be much less crowded. They make excellent day trips. At night most of the locals have gone home and the village belongs to the tourists once again. Of course, on weekdays, everything is more calm and easy going.
You can easily spend 3–4 days getting to know Porto de Galinhas and the surrounding areas. You might even think about spending a night in Tamandaré, so you can really check out the beaches and islands on the south coast.
Porto de Galinhas Village
While it has grown significantly over the past five years, the village of Porto de Galinhas retains its charm and character. One of the most popular activities is to walk up and down the streets of the village, looking in the various shops and perhaps stopping for coffee or juice along the way. There are numerous shopping galerias around town and about 20 praças where you can sit and rest in the shade (the praças are numbered 1–20). There are many boutique shops in town that offer specialty items, arts, and crafts from the local area. You can even find shops with simple offerings and modest prices if you look around. Another shopping village is at the far end of Maracaípe Beach with more rustic, hand-made crafts from local artisans.
At night, another walk around the village is in order, as the atmosphere changes after dark. Restaurants begin to fill with people, the streets are illuminated with colored lights from the shops and the energy of a night on the town is in the air. Choosing a restaurant or bar is a great goal to have as you walk around town and get to know the establishments. There is something for every taste, both in the way of food and atmosphere.
Snorkeling at Ipojuca Beach
If you walk on the main road directly through the village to the ocean, you will drop onto Ipojuca Beach. The center of activity in Porto de Galinhas (in the daytime), Ipojuca Beach is filled with things to do. Beach bars line up along the shore above the sand and offer all kinds of drinks and seafood lunch plates. Some have live music playing. Others have tables and chairs on the sand, so you can stay as close to the water as possible. The water on the left side of Ipojuca is warm and shallow and there is a sand bar that extends into the water some fifty feet, making it look like you’re standing up in the middle of the ocean. As you walk to the left side of Ipojuca, waiters at the beach bars will try to lure you into their chairs with a cold drink and a menu of lunch choices. Remember that while seated at a beach table, you are free to order from anyone passing by with cold coconut water or other delight. But be careful of salesmen who come close to your table to make a sale. Some have been known to slip-on your sandals (sitting under the table, perhaps?) while demonstrating their wares. Anything on top of the table is in a perilous position. Don’t leave anything on the table unattended, even for a minute.
To the right side of Ipojuca sit the main tide pools. Boats wait out in the water during low tide to take passengers out to see them. They are about 100 feet off shore and make up one of Brazil’s most popular parrachos, or rocky reefs. Second only to the reefs at Maracajaú in Natal, the Ipojuca formation is so extensive that it’s more like an underwater rock garden, spanning some three square kilometers of shoreline. The pools are like natural, salt-water aquariums the size of football fields and snorkeling among them is an experience you should take with you when you go. For those uncomfortable in the water, there are pools so shallow during low tide that a person can stand up on the sandy bottom, stick his snorkel-clad face in the water and watch the show standing up. Another popular approach is to swim normally around the pools with only the aid of small, underwater goggles. This leaves you very free and unfettered.
The pools are not far from shore and good swimmers can actually swim out to them in about ten minutes. However, taking a jangada out to the pools has many advantages, including having somewhere to put your mask when you want to take it off for a few minutes. The jangada drivers charge about R$12 to take you out and back–a total of two hours.
The thrill of the pools at Ipojuca (and elsewhere in the area) comes at low tide. When you arrive in town, ask at your hotel or at the beach for a basic timetable. And remember that the tide comes in an hour earlier or later every day, depending on whether the moon is waxing or waning. The best time to go out is early in the morning (the first low tide of the day) when the fish are hungry and the waters are undisturbed.