Reasons you should visit North East in Brazil + Guide to Aracaju
Of course you heard about Rio de Janeiro, Bahia and São Paulo. But did you ever heard about Aracaju? The city is the capital of Sergipe state, just up to Bahia and down to Alagoas. The state has more than you think to offer, like paradisiac beaches, boat trips, local food and very friendly people. This is why you should escape from the touristic traps and try something completely new.
I’m not saying you should skip Rio or São Paulo, because both are the biggest and most well know cities not only in Brazil, but in the whole South America. But if you already went there and have some days off in your vacation, why not Sergipe? It’s quite hard to choose where to go since Brazil, as I always say, it’s a continent not only a country. If you really want to see a lot, you should AT LEAST stay for a month and I think one month is very short time.
Aracaju has 641 523 habitants (33% of the state population) and Sergipe is famous for be many novelas scenario. Back in the past Sergipe had a “rebellion” group called Cangaço, which was the banditism phenomenon of Northeast Brazil in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who Lampião led a band of up to 100 cangaçeiros, who occasionally took over small towns and who fought a number of successful actions against paramilitary police when heavily outnumbered. Lampião's exploits and reputation turned him into a 'folk hero'. Pretty much like Robin Hood.
The food up north is just amazing (if you are a big fan of rice and beans) since every dish include both of them. Every Brazilian (or most of them) includes both and I used to say if the food comes without rice n’ beans then people can get really upset with the “missing” something. In Aracaju most of the dishes includes sea food, as it’s their speciality. You should try the famous Moqueca de Peixe (fish) or Moqueca de Camarão (shrimp), both is very local and even in São Paulo you can find northeast (nordeste) restaurants with these dishes.
Tapioca is a thin “panqueque” (a starchy substance in the form of hard white grains, obtained from cassava and used in cooking puddings and other dishes). The cassava plant is native to Brazil, where it is known as "mandioca" and its starch is referred to as "tapioca". Cultivation of the cassava plant has spread throughout South America and Africa, while the culinary use of tapioca has become popular throughout the world. You can mix with everything you want, like cheese and ham, just butter or sweets like condensed milk, fruits or even with Nutella. And believe tapioca could fit in anytime of your day, like hotels serves it for breakfast or it can also be a option of snack between lunch and dinner.
Cuscuz it’s not the couscous find in Europe, it’s a yellow “puree” eating for breakfast. You can add milk and butter if you like. Some people eat it with chicken or meat and you can easily find in street food markets in Atalaia just by the Orla do Atalaia (beach main street).
And please, you can not leave Aracaju without try out crab! It’s their especiallity!
Aracaju offer plenty of unique day trips if you want to see different beaches and my opinion it’s these trip are what it makes the city so special. My favourite is called Crôa do Goré, it’s an island just 20 minutes by car or bus to Atalaia and 10 minutes by boat. You can just get there with Catarama (big boat for apron 200 people) and people says it’s cooler with these big boats because they have traditional Brazilian music (Forro) on board and a bar, where you can drink and enjoy the boat trip. The price is R$25,00 reais to go and R$25,00 to come back. I took the option of a small private boat, which it’s completely negotiable, the sealers fight between who gonna take the client so they make it even cheaper if you say you want to cross with them. But watch it out, they can promise million stuff just to make you choose them. Anyhow it was R$25,00 both ways. You cross and they wait you there until you want to go back to Aracaju. Don’t forget to ask their number, just in case, if they leave you can reach them.
It’s just amazing the fact of when the sea level is low (during morning) you can sit in the island, try out stand paddle or water bikes, swim or just laid down in the sun. It has just one bar/restaurant there, so if you are hungry or pretend to eat there, just ask what you want as soon you get there because it could take a time to come.
This is why I liked Sergipe, you gonna learn to wait. The service is very slow, which is not necessary bad, they just take time for everything they do, as this slow temps from someone who live in a beach city. It’s a trip to relax and learn to enjoy.
After 16pm the water level goes up and the whole island just disappear. Yes, exactly like this, the water comes and you gonna realize you are sitting in a chair and the water is up to your knees. And this is why the island it’s so cool. People dance, take pictures and enjoy the fact of the whole island is gone. This happen every single day and the restaurant opens everyday. The boats to cross you can find by Orla Pôr do Sol.
A good way to find yourself in places is to use Uber, it’s incredible cheap. As a ride from the airport to Atalaia costs no more than R$10,00. You can also find options to rent a car, which it could be cheaper to do all the day trips options, but believe, even if it’s bit expensive to go on private tours with tourism companies it’s just easier. Because you don’t need to get worried with anything else or to find the roads, it can be really difficult, so if you need an advice take the option with a company. And if I can recommend one I would recommend Aju Receptivo Tour, it’s the company from the hostel I stayed, called Aju Hostel. They are very friendly and they speak english (at least the owner) as people don’t speak too much english not only in Aracaju, but I would say the whole Brazil. Anyway everybody is very helpful and they will make their best to make you understand and to see you satisfied.
Take an accommodation option with a pool could make your experience better, since it’s so hot it’s just so good to have a option to refresh or to just stay in the pool if you are not feeling going to the beach.
We stayed at Aju Hostel, a really nice hostel in Atalaia. The owner and his wife are very receptive, always there to help when you needed them. I really liked the decoration there, it made me feel really relaxed with truly beach feelings. The arts on the walls was made by one volunteer who came and exchanged the decoration for accommodation. The hostel is also part of Hosteling International (HI) so if you have the member card you can probably have a discount there. They also will give you free entrance at Oceanário TAMAR in Aracaju. Which at my point it’s not a reaaaally worth it of a visit. I have been to many projects Tamar in Brazil (Tamar it’s a Brazilian conservation project that has revolutionised the struggle for the preservation of species threatened with extinction. It acts in the search for the preservation of endangered sea turtles) - of course you should go if you got a free entrance but you shouldn’t put it as first in your to-do-list.
The biggest day tour Sergipe offers is the tour at Cânion do Xingó, by São Francisco Lake and almost in Alagoas. Sadly we had to skipped it for this time, as the tour takes 3 hours and a half to go and 3 hours and a half to go back. If you are staying for a long time I recommend to take the option where you sleep in Alagoas and come back to Aracaju day after. It’s just easier. I didn’t want to be half of the day on a car or bus, so maybe next time. Even tho I was a bit regret as my friends said it’s a unique once in life experience.
So you definitely should put in your list. Pictures looks just amazing.
(Pictures from PartiuPeloMundo)
Interesting fact: a famous brazilian actor died swimming by São Francisco lake, his name was Domingos Montagner, he was there recording a famous brazilian novel for TV Globo, the biggest brazilian TV Channel. In the morning, before start filming he went for a swim and he never came back. It was news in the whole country, but don’t worry, the tour is completely safe and you just have access to see and swim in the touristic areas, and this is why you need to find a tourism company to help you out.
Tieta do Agreste was also an important novel for brazilians, written by the Brazilian author Jorge Amado, published on August 17, 1977. Set in the 1970s, it narrates the return of Tieta to the remote village of Santana do Agreste, 26 years after being beaten and expelled by her father in front of all the town's people. Some parts of the novel was recorded in Mangue Seco (Bahia) which is just the other side of the beach of Praia do Saco, 1 hour from Aracaju.
Because of the novel, Mangue Seco, is a famous tourist destination as people want to see where the novel was record. And as many people know, Latin America culture has a strong influence of novels and TV. People really stop their lives to follow every episode, as many of novels take about 10 months (up to a year), some of them stay forever on people's mind.
Praia do Saco it’s a nice beach if you are planning to get out to a crowded place. You can go by uber (costs around R$90,00) I don’t really recommend Uber unless you can book with the guy to pick you back, it could be extremely hard, or even impossible, to call a Uber from there to go home. If you rent a car, watch out the GPS, the roads are not very clear and there is no signs saying where is the beach. But if you just book it with a company, there is nothing to be worried about.
If you never tried to ride a Bungee on a sand dunes, try it! I did many times in different cities and I will never forget the adrenaline of be on the top of a dune and go down with these small cars. It’s just amazing. It can make your trip unforgettable! They also will give you nice view from the top.
People in Aracaju was so friendly, as they get really excited to see people are interested in their city, they are always there to help you with locations, directions or just to small talk. Even tho they don’t speak very much English (the whole Brazil don’t speak too much english) so this is could also be a very good opportunity to you increase your Portuguese. Why not?
This and other travel guides are available on my blog @diasdeluana.