PORTO de GALINHAS, BRAZIL
You notice the water first – a blue so piercing that only PhotoShop could approximate its intensity. Farther from shore, the color shifts to a luminous aquamarine. And while the sun is brilliant, blindingly so, a cool ocean breeze tames the heat. The scene is familiar. I’ve seen these iconic images before, towering palms, white sands, and tufts of clouds overhead.
Yet I feel a sense of reverence here. In a country known for beautiful beaches, Porto de Galinhas is the most beautiful of all.
Like most of Pernambuco, Porto de Galinhas is a secret treasure. It is located about 40 miles south of Recife in the city of Ipojuca, which boasts one of the highest per capita incomes in Brazil. The population swells by half a million tourists each year, primarily from other parts of the country, Europe and Canada. Travelers from the United States make up only about 10% of the tourist trade, and that’s a pity.
Porto de Galinhas offers the ultimate tropical beach experience, complete with an attraction unique to its marine biology: tide pools. Coral reefs line the coast, and at low tide, they form natural pockets of shallow, crystal-clear water. To visit the pools, we don swimwear and board jagandas, narrow boats with wooden benches, and brightly colored sails. A strapping young jangadeiro is at the helm, and we’re soon gliding out to sea.
Within 10 minutes, we disembark gingerly onto the uneven, slippery surface of a coral reef. I wear flip-flops that live up to their name, slipping off my feet several times as I plod along. Our jangadeiro firmly takes my arm to help keep me upright.
I marvel that I’m in the middle of the ocean, seemingly walking on water. I step down into the warmth of a pool, about three feet deep, and join a crowd that’s feeding lunch (nuggets provided by the jangadeiros) to the fish swimming around our legs. We laugh and splash around for about half an hour.
A visit to the reef is a nice complement to time lazing on the beach. And similar outings are available nearby.
At one point in our trip, I find myself perched on top of the back seat of a speeding dune buggy. My right hand is in a death grip on the crossbar as my left tries to keep a baseball cap from flying off my head. We’re zooming down a sandy road toward our next adventure, a visit to a seahorse preservation sanctuary.
The road runs out, we jump from the buggies and trek through thick vegetation to a beach at low tide. Fringed by palm trees, this bay leads to the Maracaipe River just a few miles south of Porto de Galinhas. A queue of jagandas float just offshore like taxis lined up at the airport.
I’m itching to climb aboard, and I go plopping into the ankle-high water before another brawny jangadeiro politely takes my arm to help me aboard. He ensures we’re all seated, then stands near the rear and uses a long pole to launch us from shore. His strong, clean strokes propel us to the other side of the bay.
After helping us onto the sand, this jack-of-all-trades grabs a huge jar and dons a snorkeling mask. He disappears beneath the murky water for several minutes, then re-surfaces with the jar full of water. We look inside, and there are the seahorses, creatures we’d only seen before in aquariums and on the Internet.
Later that day, my group explores the main district of Ipojuca. An outdoor mall right on the beach features nice restaurants and shops selling the usual touristy merchandise, including clothing, jewelry, souvenirs, handcrafts, and surfboards.
And chickens are everywhere. Not live feathered fowl, but images and art. Porto de Galinhas means “Port of the Chickens,” a moniker that harkens back to the slave trade. After slavery was abolished in Brazil, some slave traders continued importing Africans and hid them aboard the ships that typically brought chickens into the local port.
Today, chicken statues decorate public spaces, t-shirts feature chicken cartons, and the gift shops brim with ceramic chickens. Even some of the phone booths are made in the image of a chicken. It’s a fanciful mascot, albeit one with a dark past.
My 48 hours in Ipojuca fly by. I spend my last night in Brazil doing what Brazilians love most – burning up the dance floor. The place is Santeria Bar Latino, a popular nightclub packed with several hundred partiers.
A live band is jamming Forro, its heavily syncopated Latin rhythm reminding me of salsa with a much faster beat. The young and beautiful are paired up and twirling around like contestants on “Dancing with the Stars.” If you don’t know the steps, you can pay a Forro instructor to give you a lesson on the spot.
We head back to the hotel at 2 a.m. After grabbing a few hours of sleep, I drag myself out of bed in hopes of catching what’s been described as an indescribable sunrise. But by the time I jog down to the private beach of our resort, Pontal de Ocapora, the sun’s orange glow is already warming the sky.
I am completely alone, standing at the water’s edge as frothy waves lap my pink manicured toes. In this solitude, I’m reminded of a Portuguese word that has no literal translation in any other language – saudage. Its closest meaning in English is “to long for” or “to miss very much.” But saudage is a yearning so acute that it touches the deepest part of your soul.
I know that it’s the perfect description of how I’ll feel about Brazil once I’ve left its sun-kissed shores. The restaurants to consider when planning a visit to Porto de Galinhas include:
This breezy new restaurant sits on a second floor that overlooks Porto de Galinhas beach. The prime location affords magnificent views of sand and surf. With the rattan décor and the strong sun shining through large windows, I felt as if I was in a treehouse. As one would expect, the Brazilian cuisine was superb – I had a shrimp salad – but I was most impressed by the Strawberry Daiquiri. It was sweet, refreshing, and topped with the classic miniature umbrella.
Rua das Piscinas Naturais, s/nº Lojas 10 e 12
Galeria Verde Mar
Porto de Galinhas – Ipojuca PE
Phone: 55-81-3552-2321 or 55-81-9303-1080
Solar Porto de Galinhas, Best Western
We indulge in yet another buffet here, but the highlight of this hotel is the evening floor show. Held outside under the stars, the performance features two lively clowns, one of whom engages in non-stop banter with the audience. In a spectacular homage to the culture, a high-spirited dance troupe shows us the best in Brazilian dance – including Forro, Frevo, Xaxado, and the Coco Dance – donning the appropriate traditional dress with each change in routine. Near the end, the brave among us take to the floor and learn to dance the Ciranda, a variation of the Electric Slide with everyone holding hands in a circle.
Km 07, Porto de Galinhas, Ipojuca/PE
Prax Restaurant in Nannai Beach Resort
Honeymooners will revel in this exclusive resort known for its romantic atmosphere. Prax restaurant ensures that you will have memorable meals in its tropical setting.
Km 3, Ipojuca/PE