It had been nearly six years since I'd been to Recife, where I visited on my first trip to Brazil. At the time, everything was so new and exciting that I was fascinated by every single place I went, so after living and traveling in Brazil and going back, I was curious to see how'd I feel about the city. I didn't have very much time, but I think I actually liked it even more.
The mixture of the stunning coastline, the incredibly rich history, the beautiful colonial architecture, the food, and the urban center all together gives the city a feel that is somehow distinct from Rio or other historic coastal cities in Brazil. It actually reminded me much more of the Caribbean this time; wandering through the outdoor markets in Centro, I felt I could have been in Santo Domingo. On the other hand, other parts of the city feel more like Miami, with rows and rows of high rises. It's a weird mix, but it works.
I also think that while Rio has had a renaissance in the last few years, you can feel Brazil's growth and development much more acutely in Recife. Not only is the sense of optimism strong, but the signs of construction, new businesses, and the growing middle class are nearly everywhere you look. That's not to say there's no longer poverty; you can see the favelas as you fly in, and there are still people living on the streets. But based on what I've read, this trend of exploding development is all over the northeast. So for those looking to see change and development in Brazil, it's a good idea to head north.
That said, the cult of Lula is strong here, since he is originally from Pernambuco. Dona Lindu Park, named after the former president's mother, was built on the waterfront a few years ago, and now has a theater and leisure area. There park also has this statue of Dona Lindu and all of her children.
The other thing I noticed this time was the Pernambuco accent. It used to sound strange to my ears, even to the point of being a little irritating, but this time for some reason, I got used to it, and even grew fond of it.
Recife doesn't seem to be an obvious destination for American tourists; many of the foreign tourists I saw were European. But beyond Rio and Salvador, for example, Recife is the perfect mix of beaches, culture, and history, with plenty to explore outside the city and along the coast. There's so much to see.
But one of the problems is getting there. I had to fly through São Paulo, three hours in the wrong direction when flying from the U.S. There are direct flights from Miami, but I did quite a few searches using different dates, and only came across them occasionally. Now, tourism officials are in talks to establish a direct flight from Recife to New York, which would be pretty great.
So I guess what I'm saying is that if you've already seen Rio and São Paulo, it's time to head north. It's well worth it.