This is a resource for Canadians planning a trip to Brazil, or even just those interested in learning more about Brazil. We have travel dos and don’ts, we address commonly held misconceptions, we give other useful travel tips, and we show off a number of potential destinations that might be of interests. You can also follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/acanadianinbrazil/
If you already know you want to go to Brazil, then check out my article on Crossing The Border.
If you are still deciding about whether to vacation in Brazil, or have concerns about going there, you might be interested in my article on Misconceptions about Brazil.
If you are just interested in looking at some beautiful pictures of a Brazil, then check out the Gallery.
Porto de Galinhas started out being known as Porto Rico, which means port of riches. However, when slavery was outlawed in Brazil, Porto De Galinhas continued to allow the importation of “chickens” (read: slaves) through the city, and the name stuck. Unlike many cities with not-so-glamorous histories, Porto De Galinhas acknowledges its history and has taken it back. The chicken is now a symbol of cultural significance and pride in the city.
After playing spot the chicken for about ten minutes, we realized that it would have been easier to try to find places without chickens, they were everywhere.
Porto de Galinhas has a thriving downtown, but oddly, the downtown is only busy from about 2 p.m. until 9 p.m. I’m not sure what there really is to do in the city outside of those seven hours. The first day Minha Noiva (my fiancee) and I went, we got there a bit late (around 8 p.m.), and while there were still many people there, by the time we had walked the length of downtown it was clear the crowd was slowly dispersing. I do wonder if it might be busier on a weekend (we were there Monday-Tuesday), but other cities (like Pippa) are busy regardless. When we went there the next morning around 1 p.m., entire streets were empty with the stores not opening until 2, although there were a few restaurants open to accommodate the guests of the many cute hotels right in the heart of downtown.
However, Porto de Galinhas is very much centred on tourism, and you will find lots of signs in English, and all the restaurants had english-language menus (although I personally try not to use them too much, so that I can continue to improve my Portuguese). Porto de Galinhas is also a less expensive city, with good deals on shopping, and inexpensive food.
Outside of downtown Porto de Galinhas, however, there are many resorts and beautiful homes. We stayed in a resort named Viva, which I would highly recommend, although there were many others to fit all sorts of vacations. At ours, it was something called “half-board”, which meant ours breakfasts and dinners were included, but lunch (which is the main meal in Brazil) we were on our own. I liked this style, as it allowed us to try different foods throughout the trip, but also we could also be lazy and just walk in to the restaurant first thing in the morning, and at the end of the day. There is a lovely little bike path that connects all of the resorts to downtown, so you don’t have to worry about getting around. The hotel was clearly aimed at both families and couples, having a bunch of stuff for kids to do, but also having locations where couples could have romantic meals alone.
One of my favourite locations next to Porto de Galinhas was the Praia de Carneiros (Sheep Beach), which is located on a beach of an ocean inlet, and has a lovely church on the beach. The church is so close to the ocean, that at high tide ten steps should take you from the front door of the church to the water below. The water is not deep near the church though, with people able to walk more than halfway out towards the other side of the inlet before switching to swimming. The church is a common stop for all of the boat tours of the area (which are surprisingly expensive), and there are even horse buggies that take you back and forth from the church to various resorts along the beach.
So, this past trip I went to Recife again, in hopes that I would learn to appreciate the city Meu Cunhado (my brother-in-law) calls home. Long and short, I still don’t like the city, but I found some gorgeous parts.
Now, one important thing you will notice in Recife is the heat – unlike many coastal towns in Brazil, Recife grew too big too quickly, with large apartment buildings all being built right along the coast. While this is nice for those who live in those buildings, this is poor city planning. The large apartment buildings block the ocean winds, and the entire city suffers from higher temperatures as a result.
However, the city has tried some other ways to actually improve the gentrification and prevent the poor from being pushed out of their homes. Basically, they have attempted to prevent there to be as many designated favelas (read: ghettos) as compared with the affluent areas. Instead, even right across the street from a very expensive apartment building, there will be some housing that looks as though it is falling apart. However, I don’t think this has created the intended effect, as you can easily see that the decrepit houses still have volvos and other expensive cars parked in their driveways – simply disallowing the building of new, expensive housing doesn’t prevent the rich from pushing out the poor.
This is also true of businesses, where right next to expensive looking bars, that would not seem out of place in Manhattan, there will be very run-down bars that won’t generally feel safe. Even the tourist areas are not well separated, and while Recife has a booming tourist culture due to Carnival, I got the impression the rest of the year it does not get many visitors and isn’t as safe. My guess is that it is similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, where the city changes completely for a few days every year. I also don’t know how it manages anything during Carnival, as the traffic was bad enough without an additional couple hundred thousand tourists. Although, from the pictures I’ve seen, I doubt many people drive during Carnival.
Oddly, attached to the City of Recife (similar to how Kitchener and Waterloo are attached), is the much smaller city of Olinda, which was absolutely gorgeous. The streets there looked beautiful, and were reminiscent of Dutch streets, with little bars and cafes that looked beautiful, and even the poorer looking houses seemed pretty nice. Olinda’s downtown has actually been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and this seemed like a perfectly wonderful place to stay – even not during Carnival. If I was going to Recife for Carnival, I would stay in Olinda, and go to the parties there.
Downtown Recife does have some absolutely gorgeous churches and locations that are worth exploring during the day, although parking can be an issue. As is common in many places of Brazil, the free parking is controlled by individuals who charge money to watch over your car – they will ask for 10 reals, but it can be negotiated down to 5 fairly easily (although sometimes you have to say no and get back into your car before they reduce their price). While the parking is free, you really need to pay this money or your car might get broken into – I don’t like it, but such is the downtown of Recife. There is some convenience though, as they will help you find a spot (sometimes moving their own car to give you a space), as well they will help you get out of your spot despite the bad traffic – so, its annoying, but not horrible.
The Golden Church in downtown Recife
In traditional baroque style, the gold encrusted portions tell religious stories, which is contrasted with porcelain or marble sections which tell stories of science and natural events.
We went into another church that was attached to the Golden church, which had a completely different style (it seems common in Brazil that old churches were often connected to one another), and it was filled with some (creepy) statues recreating scenes, but far more interesting was the contrast here in materials. The marble/porcelain stone they had placed in the wall here had actually been imported from Portugal, with exact stonework being removed from the walls to place the marble, and it told the biblical stories instead of being used to show the distinction from science.
Day six in Brazil, Minha Namorada (My girlfriend) and I had to go to Recife for Meu Cunhado (My brother in law) to attend a Concurso.
Now, as a first thing, Minha Namorada and I are not yet married (although we are engaged, so sometimes you will see me refer to her as Minha Noiva – my fiancee). So, it may seem a bit odd for me to refer to her brother as Meu Cunhado. However, it is common in Brazilian Culture to refer to the significant other of a family member, even if not married, as if they were married. Accordingly, Minha Namorada’s parents refer to me as Genro, and I refer to them as Sogro (father in law), Sogra (mother in law), and Cunhado (brother in law). Some Canadians may be a bit scared by this, especially those who are afraid of commitment, but I found it very wonderful – from first meeting them, I had a place in their family. I guess that’s more of a reflection of how I already felt about Minha Namorada than anything else, but it also felt so welcoming.
Now, a Concurso is a public competition for a job. Think of it like any Canadian Federal Government job – usually there is a test involved, and a few interviews, and you are ranked against a number of other candidates with the top candidates getting the job. These also tend to be the best jobs in Brazil, so it was important that Minha Namorada and I support Meu Cunhado in attending his Concurso. This threw a wrench in our plans for the week, but as I told Minha Namorada, this was clearly important, and all I really cared about was spending time together, so I didn’t mind at all.
We drove out early, dropped off Meu Cunhado, and then we decided to spend the day at the mall while we waited to him, not knowing how long it was take. The mall was very pretty, with very similar stores to what you’d find in Yorkdale or any other Canadian Mall). Being tired though, I thought it would be a great time to explore Brazilian Coffee.
The first thing I noticed was that almost no store in the mall served brewed coffee or Americanos. Even dedicated coffee shops almost exclusively served espresso. I found this frustrating, but I realized it does make sense. In a hot climate, you don’t want something warm to sip on for awhile – you want something that will get you the same effect but smaller so it won’t warm you up, hence the reason for the espresso.
The other thing I realized is that coffee was surprisingly expensive in the mall. After seeing how inexpensive I could find beer in places, I was surprised at how expensive coffee was relatively speaking.
Eventually I decided that the Canadian in me wouldn’t be satisfied with an espresso, so I elected to go to McDonald’s for a brewed coffee – banking on that McDonald’s is basically the same all around the world. However, this turned into an adventure in itself, as Minha Namorada and I experienced a very hostile employee.
First we were told they didn’t serve coffee, despite it being on the menu. Luckily, the manager was walking behind the employee, overheard, and corrected the employee.
Then we ordered, and the employee wouldn’t take credit card, because he said the internet was down. We didn’t have enough cash, so had to leave and come back (the bank being a 10-15 minute walk to the other side of the mall).
Then when we came back, we tried to order the coffee (along with other breakfast items), and we were told they didn’t have change to give us from the bill. We were paying with a $100 note (about $40 Canadian), for a meal of about $28 (about $10 Canadian), nothing unreasonable.
Afterwards, we decided to directly approach the manager, who was clearly upset at his employee, who then said he had lots of change. We finally got our order (which had two wrong items the manager fixed for us), and left.
Now, I could have very easily been turned off by this experience. The employee gave me many dirty looks, and it was clear he gave us trouble because I wasn’t Brazilian. In fact, he even explained his actions to his manager that Minha Namorada just hadn’t understood him – presumably, not realizing that Minha Namorada is Brazilian. However, this was a complete one-off situation. I met countless other Brazilians on my trip who were excited to practice their English with me, or had large amounts of patience as I attempted to speak to them in Portuguese. I just felt bad that this guy must have had a bad experience some other time by a foreigner to make him dislike me, and it just increased my resolve to show good manners as a guest in Brazil.
Surprisingly, Meu Cunhado finished his concurso shortly after we had our delayed breakfast/lunch, and we headed off to pick him up. We went out to celebrate him finishing the Concurso (it is important to celebrate finishing BEFORE you know the results – so everyone can celebrate, that’s what Chartered Financial Analyst’s do in Canada). I won’t tell you the results of the Concurso, because that is Meu Cunhado’s story to tell, but I will tell you that the restaurant we went made a giant Risotto for us, and between the four of us (Meu Sogro, Meu Cunhado, Minha Namorada and myself), we ate enough “servings” for six, of which I probably ate half. The food is just sogood in Brazil.
On my next day in Brazil, Minha Namorada (my girlfriend) and I went to a bunch of tourist locations.
Now, Tourists in Brazil are generally not American, or English speaking. I only met one group of English-speaking people the entire time I was in Brazil, and it was on this day. They overheard Minha Namorada and I speaking, so came over to talk, and upon noticing my hat (at that time, a Toronto Blue Jays baseball cap) they recognized that I must be Canadian (I guess there aren’t that many American fans of Canadian teams). I assume they had the same experience with few English-speakers, otherwise they wouldn’t have struck up a conversation.
In fact, most of the tourists that I saw were from Argentina, which makes sense, as it is a very large Spanish speaking country that borders Brazil. I also found out that day just how similar Portuguese and Spanish are, as Minha Namorada gave directions and spoke briefly with some Argentinians who were lost, and later explained to me that she just spoke Portuguese to them, and they spoke Spanish, and they understood each other. I had previously believed that they were similar in the way that German and English are similar – singular words can often be understood in context, but I didn’t realize they were fairly mutually intelligible. In fact, since then, Minha Namorada has even watched an entire Columbian telenovela (soap opera) in Spanish without any difficulty, so clearly the languages are much more similar than I ever realized.
The architecture of downtown João Pessoa was very fascinating, which I only understood later when I remembered the fact that Northeastern Brazil used to be a dutch colony – which is very much reflected in the buildings. This is a very important part of the culture in Northeastern Brazil, with many Dutch Brazilians and the war helping to shape the country. Much like Canada was shaped by the battles between France and Britain, Brazil was shaped by the old world empires as well.
You can really see the dutch influences in parts of downtown, like Antenor Navarro Square:
We also went to some cultural parks, and a science centre, but they were sadly all closed. It meant we got to walk around for free and see the large permanent exhibits that aren’t removed regularly, but I would have rather seen the full sites.
One important thing I realized though, is even if you are walking on sidewalks in Brazil, you need to wear bug repellent. I got bit by an ant in Brazil, and it actually made me stop walking it hurt so much. It felt like a painful cramp all of a sudden in my leg, and I had to ask Minha Namorada if we could cut the tour short and head back to the car… luckily, it only hurt for about 15-30 minutes, but I’ve never had an ant bite hurt that much before.
In my opinion, Pão de Queijo is one of the best foods Brazil has to offer.
Pão de Queijo translates simply as “bread of cheese”, but it is so much more. Imagine the rolls from Red Lobster (TM), but more moist, and with a soft exterior.
Pão de Queijo is very common in the region of Minas Gerais in Brazil, but can be found anywhere. It is not made with wheat, as its history comes from a time and place where wheat was in short supply. Instead, it is made with a base mostly of Cassava and Tapioca – both staple crops in Brazil. The actual cheese used varies from place to place, but brand name stores, such as the Casa de Pão de Queijo (TM) will be the same across locations.
Pão de Queijo used to be more difficult to make in Canada due to the difficulty in finding Tapioca or Cassava Flour, but the increasing number of individuals with gluten sensitivity (celiac disease or otherwise) has created more of a market for wheat flour alternatives, so tapioca flour can now be found at places like Walmart.
500 g of Tapioca Flour or Sour Cassava Flour
250 ml of water
250 ml of milk
125 ml of oil
100 g grated Parmesan cheese
salt (as desired)
1. In a pan, boil the water and add the milk, oil and salt.
2. Add the flour, mix well and remove from the heat. This is also a good time to begin to preheat the oven to 350 F.
3. Begin to knead the dough.
4. While the dough is warm, add the parmesan cheese, the eggs and mix well.
5. Using your hands, create small balls of approximately 2 cm in diameter.
6. Place the balls on a non-stick baking dish, leaving a small amount of space between them.
7. Bake in the oven (at 350 F) for about 40 minutes.