Fortaleza: The Beaches
What you are likely to see of the city of Fortaleza are the beaches and coastal roads that span the nearly 40 kilometers of urban coastline. This coastline is divided into two parts: east and west of the lighthouse. The east side is where you find most of the hotels, the active boardwalk of Meireles and the restaurant-filled area of Iracema. This side is also home to the city’s museums, culture centers, and craft markets. The water here is blue and beautiful. Unfortunately, it’s also polluted and not appropriate for swimming.
You’ll see large industrial ships docking around the lighthouse area, which is not a good area to explore on your own due to risk of assault. Instead, jump over to the west side of the lighthouse to Praia do Futuro, where so many people spend their daylight hours among the numerous beach bars and kiosks. Although the water here is a bit rough, it is clear and clean and good for cooling off. Other highlights in the city of Fortaleza include the outrageous nightlife in Iracema and the active boardwalk scene in Meireles Beach, especially in the afternoon.
Iracema Beach, Fortaleza
The Iracema beach is not so much for daytime use, but for its over-the-top night scene. During the day, you can walk along the sandy beach and admire the ocean (blue and vast). A few beach bars at the entrance to the main area (as you enter Iracema from Meireles Beach) serve cold beer and lunch with a view of the ocean, both day and night. There are some interesting stores and surf shops in this area, and you can walk out to the pier for a great view of Fortaleza, so it’s not all bad during the day. Don’t get wet, however, because here the ocean is polluted and not appropriate for swimming (as are all the beaches on this side of the lighthouse).
Around sunset is when Iracema opens its arms (at the least) to visitors. Many people watch the sunset from the pier before choosing a restaurant for dinner. Around the pier area is a feast of restaurants and bars with a number of dance clubs thrown in to boot. There are crowds every night, sampling the diverse cuisine, which runs the spectrum from pizza and beer (mostly around the pier), to sushi to Brazilian chorrosco, or barbecue. Just walking around the area to choose a restaurant is an experience to remember. On the streets you’ll find artists, performers, and a lot of people trying to lure you into their restaurant.
For singles, the Iracema scene presents a wide variety of options–from bars to dance clubs. But be warned; prostitution is the norm in clubs here. Ladies of the evening enter clubs early to avoid cover charges, then spend hours hanging around the windows, to tempt single tourists inside. You’ll see bars and clubs with nothing but single women inside until around 11p.m. when men start entering.
Finally, Iracema is where most of the economic hotel options are located, including the city’s youth hostels. Some of these options are not half bad.
Meireles Beach Boardwalk, Fortaleza
The main boardwalk area in Fortaleza is essentially the 3.5-kilometer span of Meireles Beach. One side of the avenue, called Avenida Beira Mar, is lined with mid-range hotels and the other side (the beach side) is lined with beach bars, restaurants, small kiosks, shady areas for sitting, and artists selling their wares. Here, you’ll see lots of people swimming in the ocean, but authorities say the water here is polluted.
If you partake of a cold drink at one of the beach kiosks, you’ll see the flow of locals hawking everything from sunglasses to lobsters. Every night, the Feira de Artesanato, which is in the main praça on the Meireles boardwalk, presents dozens of local craftspeople selling their hand-made clothes and jewelry. Prices are good and you won’t be bombarded with salesman as you walk around (not as much as on the beach anyway). Starting around 5p.m., the city’s tour guides line up on the street by the Feira de Artesanato to present their excursion options. Locals from the area make a practice of jogging and walking up and down the boardwalk in the afternoon, making the area even more active.
Mucuripe Beach, Fortaleza
Mucuripe Beach is separated from Meireles by rocky tide pools that are interesting to explore (with shoes). The boardwalk activity from Meireles extends into this area, which otherwise, has fewer beach bars and kiosks and is, therefore, slightly calmer. Most of Fortaleza’s luxury hotels are along this stretch of Avenida Beira Mar. The ocean here is not appropriate for swimming.
Praia do Futuro, Fortaleza
The principal attractions on these eight kilometers of wide sandy beach, are the numerous barracas (beach kiosks), lined one after the other–over 50 of them–spread over most of the eight kilometers. Amazingly, each barraca manages to create its own style, from the kind of beach furniture it uses to the surrounding trees (or lack thereof). Most of these establishments are permanent structures with kitchen facilities in which they cook their seafood marvels, featuring those small Brazilian crabs (only about R$3 each). The most popular of these barracas are Chico do Caranguejo and Tropicália, which pack-in the beach goers and provide food and cold beer, live music, fashion shows, and massages. These also provide table safes for storing your valuables while you dip in the water (the only unpolluted beach in the city, it is said). Shady umbrellas, tables and chairs are a given all along this beach.
The ocean here is blue and beautiful, but unfortunately, a bit too rough for any real swimming or water sports. But the water is warm, so don’t be afraid to go in up to your waist or thereabouts. The festivities go until around 3:30p.m. when, tanned and stuffed with crab, the crowd makes its way back to Meireles and Iracema. Thursdays, the main kiosks go on until late evening with live music productions. Grab a cool, outdoor shower at one of the beach bars and get ready for round two.
One warning: Do not walk all the way to the east end of the beach (toward the lighthouse) past the last of the kiosks as this part can be dangerous due to risk of assault. Just inland from this area is a fairly large slum. You can walk as far as your legs will take you in the other direction.
You can get to Praia do Futuro by taxi (about R$25 from Iracema) or bus (catch one along Av. Abolição). Look for the Top Bus line Centro/Praia do Futuro. It seems like there should be more options for getting between Praia do Futuro and Meireles, but transportation options are somewhat limited in Fortaleza.