Bask in a blend of colonial history and natural beauty as you travel through riverside towns and rugged landscapes in this state along Brazil's northeast coastline.
The small state of Pernambuco runs from the country’s glorious northeast coast through an interior swathed in hilly countryside and sugarcane plantations. First inhabited by Tupi-Guarani people, Pernambuco was settled in the 1500s by Europeans who turned it into an important cotton and sugar trading center. Today, it is home to some of Brazil’s finest beach towns, idyllic islands and picturesque cities.
Recife, the state capital, is a great place to begin your Pernambuco travels. Admire the Dutch-built landmarks that grace the Old Recife and Santo Antonio island districts. Find bars, restaurants, shopping malls and water sports centers strewn along Boa Viagem Beach. North of the city is Olinda, a UNESCO-protected city with a treasure trove of 16th-century Baroque architecture built by the Portuguese.
The state’s palm-fringed coastline stretches for some 116 miles (187 kilometers) along the Atlantic Ocean. Its numerous towns and villages are havens for beach lovers, surfers and wildlife enthusiasts. Go to Ilha de Itamaracá, an island getaway. Fly from Recife to the island of Fernando de Noronha, a paradise for snorkelers and scuba divers.
A 1-hour drive south from Recife is Cabo de Santo Agostinho (Cape of Saint Augustine), where there are isolated coves and resort hotels. Discover white-sand beaches, tidal pools and mangrove forests at the beaches of Porto de Galinhas. Hang out with surfers at Maracaipe Beach and spot nesting seahorses on Maracaipe River. Tamandaré is home to the postcard-perfect Carneiros Beach.
Travel inland to Fazenda Nova to find the unique theater Nova Jerusalem. See colonial-era relics in Petrolina, set on the banks of the São Francisco River. Hike to waterfalls amid the rocky terrain of Vale do Catimbau National Park.
Recife International Airport is the main transport hub for Pernambuco, with flights arriving from Brazilian, European and U.S. cities. A fun time to visit is in February (or March), when parades take over the streets of Recife and Olinda as part of the annual carnival celebrations.