Fortaleza

Seashore of Fortaleza

Fortaleza is a major city on Brazil's northeast coast, and the capital of Ceará state. It is one of the largest cities in Brazil and certainly one of the most vibrant. The city is perhaps the most popular domestic package tour destination, and Europeans are following suit. Despite being quite a party town, the carnival in Fortaleza is rather feeble, though growing bigger by the year, with the largest parades being maracatu-style. There are 2.55 million inhabitants in the city, and 3.5 million in the metropolitan area.

Understand

History

The official history of Fortaleza as a permanent settlement dates back to the 17th century, when the Dutch had a brief dispute with the Portuguese over the territory. The first settlement was known as Fort Schoonenborch and it was founded by the Dutch West Indian Company in 1649. During Portuguese and Brazilian rule, the city has had several names, always beginning with Fortaleza (fortress in Portuguese).

However some local historians fiercely defend the thesis that the very first European to land in South America — allegedly the Spaniard Vicente Yáñez Pinzón — did so where the city's port is situated today, in January 1500, i.e. a few months before the Portuguese Pedro Alvares Cabral's much celebrated arrival in Porto Seguro.

Probably the most proudly remembered occasion of local history was the abolition of slavery in 1884, four years ahead of Brazil as a whole. The mulatto Dragão do Mar, native of Aracati, reached a near-mythical status for his role in the boycott of slave ships starting in 1881, and is still widely recognized.

Culture

The author José de Alencar is so important for the identity of the city of Fortaleza (and also the state), that its inhabitants are nicknamed Alencarinos. He eagerly discussed the origins of the people, languages and geographical names of the region. Most important in this context is the novel Iracema, with its renowned main character lending her name to several neighborhoods and inspiring statues around town.

Maracatu performance in central Fortaleza

In Brazil, Fortaleza is famous for the forró music and dance, and its crop of comedians. Cearenses (people born in Ceará) are also famous for their ease and fondness for a good verbal joke, from which derives a colorful and hilarious local vocabulary (e. g. a very ugly person is "a dog sucking mangoes"). Travellers with any degree of fluency in Portuguese are likely to be amazed.

Traditional folklore, a fusion of European, African and native traditions, is manifested through dances and songs unique to this region:

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 30.5 30.1 29.7 29.7 29.9 29.6 29.5 29.9 30.2 30.5 30.7 30.7
Nightly lows (°C) 24.4 24.0 23.6 23.4 23.3 22.8 22.4 22.7 23.4 24.1 24.4 24.6
Precipitation (mm) 119.1 204.6 323.1 356.1 255.6 141.8 94.7 21.8 22.7 13.0 11.8 44.1

Fortaleza is in the tropics and therefore, the weather is always warm but never extremely hot. Temperatures range from +23-31°C with rare exceptions. There is usually a breeze blowing from the east softening the temperature and forming the sand dunes. The relative humidity is usually between 55-75%. July - November has virtually no rain. February - May can have its share, but mostly at night.

Districts

These districts are probably the most interesting for visitors:

Tourist office

Several municipal tourist information offices around, the most convenient being at the airport, the Central Market and Beira Mar (halfway between McDonald's and the fish market).

Get in

By plane

Inside Fortaleza Airport

Fortaleza is served by   Pinto Martins International Airport (Telephone +55 85 3392-1234). The current terminal was opened in 1998 and extended in 2014 for the FIFA World Cup. Services here include federal police, post office, health authorities, Internet cafe, tourist information and travel agencies. The airport is located in the Serrinha district, just 7km from downtown Fortaleza.

There are flights from almost every major city in Brazil and internationally from Bogotá (Avianca Brasil), Buenos Aires (Gol), Frankfurt (Condor), Lisbon (TAP), Miami (TAM), Milan (Meridiana) and Praia (TACV). Statuses of flights can be checked online.

Allow at least an hour for immigration control if you fly in from abroad. Double it if there is another international flight shortly before yours.

From the airport to the city

There is an urban bus 404 Aeroporto/Benfica which runs frequently between the airport and the center, where you can find buses to virtually anywhere in Fortaleza (Not recommended at night). This bus also stops at the main bus station. Going to the urban beaches can either be done this way, or by crossing the parking lot(keep slightly to the right) and the highway (somewhat on your left) and catch the 027 Siqueira Papicu/Aeroporto, which will take you pretty straight to Praça Portugal/Shopping Aldeota in 25 minutes, traffic allowing. (Not recommended at night) From here you can either walk some 7 blocks along Avenida Desembargador Moreira to the beach of Meireles, or you can wait for Circular 1 which passes within a block of most hotels in Meireles and Praia Iracema. Reverse this process (Start with Circular 2) to get to the airport, which is slightly easier as the bus then stops right in front of the terminal, and not on the highway.

There are two types of taxis, follow the signs: Airport taxis are more expensive, and have fixed prices. Most tourist areas fall within the most expensive zone, charging R$ 32,40 (R$ 48,60 on rate 2). Regular taxis offer just about the same comfort, and run on the meter, stopping at about R$ 25 (R$ 40 rate 2) to Praia de Iracema or Meireles. Bargaining is tough out here, but fairly easy in the opposite direction.

By bus

Antonio Bezerra bus terminal

The main bus station   Rodoviária João Tomé (Telephone +55 85 3230-1111) has buses to most all of the country, often via connections. Expresso Guanabara has the most extensive network from here, and also sells tickets near Beira Mar: Loc Autos, Av. Abolição 1840 and Bem Estar Tur, Rua Tabajaras 580. Note that most lines within the state of Ceará have their last coach leaving around 6-7PM. Buses to neighbouring towns, within some 100 km, often leave from the train station in the centre. Tucked into a corner of the terminal are the booths of the "cooperativas alternativas", which operate vans to many nearby destinations, including Canoa Quebrada. They may be slightly faster and cheaper than the regular buses, but also less spacious and no advance bookings accepted.

Taxi to Beira Mar is about R$ 15 and 15–20 minutes. The bus 099 Siqueira - Mucuripe / Barão de Studart (on Sundays this line is substituted by 078 Siqueira - Mucuripe, bus stop around the corner) will take you the same place in around 30 minutes,right from the doorstep of the bus station! If you are heading for Praia de Iracema (or anywhere else west of Av. Barão de Studart), take two lefts from the bus station's main entrance, then cross the street, and take the bus 073 Siqueira - Praia de Iracema. The bus 404 Aeroporto - Benfica takes you to the airport in less than 15 minutes.

A second, smaller bus station   Rodoviária Antônio Bezerra is in the western suburb of Antonio Bezerra(1,2 km down the road from the urban bus terminal with the same name). Most all lines here are en route between the main bus station and western Ceará (such as Jeri or Sobral. Access from Av. Desembargador Moreira by bus 076 Conjunto Ceará / Aldeota in about 40 minutes.

A third bus station,   Rodoviária de Messejena is in the southern suburb of Messejana (next to the urban bus terminal with the same name), and has lines by the companies São Benedito (for Canoa), Fretcar and Expresso Guanabara mostly en route between the main bus terminal and the southern and eastern parts of Ceará.

By car

Fortaleza is connected to the rest of Brazil by Federal Highways BR-116, BR-222, BR-020 and BR-304 plus State Highways CE-040 and CE-085. Driving in Fortaleza itself is not recommended, as the streets are mostly in a very bad shape.

Get around


Orientation

Most tourists will not go more than 5 blocks from the sea, except for the airport and bus station, and perhaps a shopping mall. The following main streets will take you from the city centre to the fish market, by way of Dragão do Mar and the beaches Iracema and Meireles, totalling some 6 km: Avenida Almirante Barroso, Av. Beira Mar (until Rua Ildefonso Albano, where it's cut off by an artificial beach -the aterro.), Av. Historiador Raimundo Girão, Av. Beira Mar (from Av. Rui Barbosa). This last three km section of Beira Mar (literally Sea Side) is by far the most attractive part of the city, with police stands and patrols making it fairly safe around the clock, although rather deserted from midnight to dawn. The Avenida Beira Mar with its broad pavement stops at the fish market. From here to the beach of Praia do Futuro is the port area, backed by a refinery and slums. Walking here at daytime can be risky; at night, it's asking for trouble.

By subway

Metrofor network map

The Metrofor network consists as of January 2015 of two operational lines; the South line and the West line. Three other lines are in construction or planning. A single ticket costs R$1, for students half the price.

By bus

Like any major Brazilian city, Fortaleza can be done almost entirely by bus. Ticket price is R$ 2,40 (Sundays and a few holidays R$ 1,80), and if you get off at a terminal (there are nine such bus terminals in Fortaleza) you can change lines without paying again. But if you change buses somewhere else, you will need to buy a new ticket. Most lines run 7 days a week 0500-2300, give or take. The lines listed here, deemed most useful for tourists, will run roughly every 10 minutes daytime weekdays, frequencies perhaps halved nighttime and weekends, and down to once an hour after midnight. Only the most useful parts of the routes are described. Some lines have the number 1 or 2 after their names, only to indicate direction, others don't. I.e. the very same bus with the same number and name could be running either from A to B, or from B to A. Ask!

By taxi

Average bargained prices to out-of-town-destinations:

  • Cumbuco R$ 80 return same day.
  • Canoa Quebrada R$ 150.

All 4000-odd taxis in town run on the same meter system, except the special cabs at the airport. Start price is R$ 4, then R$ 2 per km on rate 1 and R$ 3/km on rate 2. The latter is charged every day from 20:00 to 06:00, Saturdays also from 13:00 to 20:00 and all Sunday, public holidays, and the whole month of December. Waiting is charged R$ 20 per hour.

It is mandatory for taxis to display the fare system on one of the rear side windows. Do not take a cab without such a posting.

Cab drivers in Fortaleza are fairly honest, although a few will put the meter on rate 2 too often. The meter should always run unless you have fixed a price before getting into the car. Most trips that would exceed R$ 10 on the meter are negotiable, and when you pass R$ 30 on the meter a discount of up to 50% could be obtained if you bargain well. Taxi stands are abundant, but it can often prove easier to negotiate the fare if you hail one off the street.

Taxi companies

By moto taxi

Fortaleza seen from Santos Dumont Tower

Moto taxis, ie. motorcycles that function as taxis, can be picked up at their own stands, ask locals if you cannot find one. Depending on the traffic flow, this can be a rather scary experience. In general about half the price of a cab, starting at R$ 4 for runs up to ten blocks or so. Fares depend on company and distance.

Moto taxi companies

Rental car

Brazilian city traffic makes this option a bit frustrating for anyone who honks less than once a minute while driving back home. The city is best covered by bus and cab, but a car can make many daytrips to outlying beaches. Rental shops are virtually everywhere, and they have motorcycles for rent too. Despite huge signs claiming low prices, you will hardly end up paying less than R$ 60 for the most basic car, plus fuel. Beach buggies start at R$ 100.

See

Theatro José de Alencar
Metropolitan Cathedral of Fortaleza
Statue of Iracema, after a novel by famous Fortaleza born author José de Alencar. This one stands in the Messejana lake.

Quite an effort has been put into restoring colonial architecture over the last years. Still there is no area that is completely "clean", but the stretch from the beachfront of Praia de Iracema, via Dragão do Mar and to Praça do Ferreira is steadily improving and worth a walk.

One thing worth seeing is the sunset, either from Ponte Metalica, Praia Iracema, or the beach by the fish market, Mucuripe.

Architecture and statues

Several architectural styles are represented in Fortaleza contemporary (Centro Cultural Dragão do Mar), modern (Mausoleum of Castelo Branco), classical (Museu do Ceará), neo-classical (central railway station), art deco (Cine São Luis), art noveau (Theatro José de Alencar) and neo Gothic (cathedral).

Squares and parks

Parque do Coco

Museums

The Planetarium at Dragão do Mar

Do

The monthly listing Olheiro can befound in he receptions of most large hotels, or downloaded as .pdf.

Beaches

Beach Worries

Don't buy anything from beach (or street) vendors. Their food is a potential hazard to your health, and most anything they sell can be had from the beach shacks at a similar price. Souvenirs and clothing is cheaper and more varied at the Feirinha or Mercado Central. Many of them will distract you and steal your belongings. And, please, don't feel sorry for the kids: The more money they can make on the street/beach, the more colleagues they will attract, and their income goes either straight to their parents or to drug dealers. The city of Fortaleza provides food and shelter for homeless kids: note the people with the high-visibility vests strolling Beira Mar. If you are sitting at a table, and really need something from a vendor — say, cigarettes — ask the waiter to do the shopping on the pavement. This will be appreciated by everyone around you.

There are a couple of locals (although they will sometimes tell you otherwise) that speak some English who approach tourists on the beaches being very helpful. In the end they are not. They want your money. Watch out!

There are two nice city beaches,   Praia de Iracema and   Meireles. Some people discourage bathing here, although they are mostly rated green by authorities. Iracema is often the place for large events and gatherings, in particular the new years celebrations. The whole stretch from the Ponte Metálica (aka Ponte Inglesa) pier to the fish market is paralleled by the Avenida Beira Mar, very nice for an evening stroll. A string of shacks line the beachfront, mostly good for drinking and people watching. Some of these, particularly when serving in the sand, have up to three different menus with varying prices. Sunbeds can be charged up to R$ 30 a day, although the real price is R$ 3-5. Unless otherwise stated, cross the street for food. The busiest strip (with the most expensive beer), including the bulk of beggars, prostitutes and vendors, is right in front of McDonald's, to avoid these go east of the market. A selection listed from west (Praia de Iracema) to east (Fish market):

Praia do Futuro

The most attractive urban beach is   Praia do Futuro, about 5 km (unsafe to walk) from Meireles. Windy, with rather strong currents and undertows, swimming can be a challenge, but for a dip it's fine. Some 150(!) beach shacks, here a selection from north (closest to Beira Mar) to south, with their special features:

Be aware, that the slums (favelas) of the city are located next to Praia do Futuro, and that the beach may not be safe even in daytime. Nevertheless, as tourism business has grown bigger at the beach, also police presence has increased. At the very end of Praia do Futuro its name changes to   Caça e Pesca. Freshwater swimming in a strong current where the river Cocó meets the ocean.

On water

Kitesurfing on Praia do Futuro

On land

Beach Park

Cinemas

Oba has the full programme for the city's cinemas.

Events

Every Sunday tents are built up in Parque de Cocó offering entertainment and activities from gymnastics courses to ziplining. Ziplining is particularly popular so you should be standing in line already at 7AM. These activities and events are free of charge.

Learn

There are a few private lesson on offer for foreigners who want to learn Portuguese. These typically cost around R$ 20 per hour.

Buy

The state of Ceará has a large textile industry, and arguably the cheapest clothing in Brazil. Also the capital of hammocks, varieties of which can be found ranging from less than R$ 10 to more than R$ 100. Best place to buy is the range of small shops opposite the cathedral, city centre.

Changing cash EUR or USD into BRL is done close to interbank rates, meaning that it's better value than cash advances on credit or debit cards. Many travel agencies exchange money,you mostly get slightly better rates moving away from Beira Mar.

Shopping centers

Inside the Iguatemi mall

Handicraft and markets

Mercado Central

There are handicraft shops all around the city, but the best places to go are the Feirinha da Beira Mar (Beach front fair, daily about 4PM - 10PM) and the Mercado Central (near the cathedral). These places have a large number of stalls and shops, and competition drives prices down. On Monsenhor Tabosa street there's a street market with all kinds of goods, however beware that pirated stuff is pretty common here.

Eat

Sorbet, anyone?

A popular vacation destination, there is a wide variety of restaurants from steak houses (churrascarias) to pizzerias and fast food restaurants. The best concentration of restaurants in town is found in the Varjota neighbourhood, especially along Rua Frederico Borges and its side streets, starting some five blocks inland from Beira Mar.

Fortaleza is a fishing port, so fresh seafood is readily available in the restaurants. If you are a bit more courageous, buy your shrimp/lobster/squid/whatever, straight from the fish market stalls, and hit one of the nearby shacks to fry it for you. One kilo of mid-sized shrimps is about R$ 15; R$ 3 for frying; then plenty of beers! Thursday is crab day in Fortaleza, especially in the many shacks at Praia do Futuro. If you prefer beef, there are options for a rodízio (grilled meats en masse with a big buffet of salads and side dishes; but watch out for expensive drinks and desserts in these establishments).

Northeast (Brazil)#Eat and Brazil#Eat present some regional and national specialties worth trying. In addition to this, as you're in the topics it's easy to find:

If your accommodation has bad or no breakfast, most large hotels let you take part in theirs for about R$ 10-12.

Budget

Sorbet

There is bad, watery, plastic flavoured ice cream galore in Fortaleza, as elsewhere in Brazil. Try these for some good sorbet — sorvete in Portuguese:

Mid-range

Praça do Ferreira

Splurge

Drink

Pubs in Praia de Iracema

Fortaleza is a forró-stronghold. Virtually any day of the week you can find a party with live music and this traditional dance, sometimes in quite modern variations (often referred to as forró universitário). On weekends you can choose from literally dozens of places. For a more genuine, tourist-free happening, you must move towards the outskirts of the city, paying up to R$ 30 by cab.

Traditionally, Fortaleza nightspots have their dedicated day of the week, like Pirata (below) on Mondays. So, when asking around for a place to go, always be specific on when.

For daytime drinking, which can be quite a party, specially on weekends, see the Beaches-section above. For a non-alcoholic refreshment; grab a chilled coconut from a stall at Beira Mar, starting at R$ 2,00!

Centro

The downtown (Centro) area is surprisingly scarce on waterholes, which would be more than welcome after a hot afternoon's walking. An even more surprising exception is found in the recently (2010) refurbished park Passeio Público (officially Praça dos Mártires): A small kiosk with outdoor seating serving lunch and cold drinks. Daily until 5PM.

Praia de Iracema

The largest concentration of watering holes, very practical if you want to hit and miss and don't have a car, is at Dragão do Mar, Praia de Iracema. This area features refurbished colonial buildings, loads of open air seating, live music (sometimes charged), and happy hour beer. Fridays and Saturdays the party is everywhere:

A smaller version of this can be found along Rua Norvinda Pires, and the neighbouring part of Rua Desembargador Leite Albuquerque, centering on the rock-bar Maria Bonita, pagode-neighbour Bebedouro and the more mixed style Fafi, plus a few more. Cobblestones calls for flat shoes! Thursday to Sunday.

Another area of interest is Varjota, inland from Mucuripe. Plenty of bars and restaurants. Take Rua Frei Mansueto from Beira Mar, 5-10 blocks.

Praia do Futuro

Many of the shacks at Praia do Futuro host parties nighttime Thursday - Sunday.

South

The surroundings of the university in the south of Fortaleza hosts some popular bars:

Sleep

This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget Under R$50
Mid-range R$ 50-150
Splurge Over R$150

Reservations are essential in January, when Brazilian holidaymakers pack in. September–November and March–May have room for bargaining at most posted prices. Many hotels will immediately give you 30% off.

Most hotels are on the strip Praia Iracema - Meireles - Mucuripe, parallel to Avenida Beira Mar, and up to about 4 blocks inland. Categories are spread about, but Praia Iracema has most budget options. Many cheap deals can be struck at Praia do Futuro, but beware of transport costs and lack of security at night.

Budget

Praia de Iracema by night

In the tourist zone, Praia Iracema has the cheapest hotels. A number of cheap options in the city centre, but the area goes seedy and unsafe at night. Unless you have a car, and can stay at Praia do Futuro, your best cost/benefit is probably along Avenida Dom Manuel, between Av. Monsenhor Tabosa and Av. Santos Dumont -just inland from Dragão do Mar. Stick to the main street after dark! Charging up to R$ 40 for a dorm bed, hostels are sometimes outpriced by cheap single rooms in the same area.

Mid-range

Splurge

Apartments

A typical modern two bedroom 65 m2 flat, fully furnished and equipped 2 blocks from Beira Mar will cost around R$ 70 a day in low season, double in high. Monthly rates are about R$ 1200 low season, R$ 2000 or more peak. Mostly you have to pay electricity on top of this. Be aware that an air conditioner can set you back R$ 20 a day if you leave it running. Dozens of agencies.

Many hotels put "flat" or "residence" in their name. This mostly means that you can buy an apartment there,typically 40-50 m2 with one bedroom and a tiny kitchen. Many of the owners will rent these out for a price substantially less than the one posted in the reception, particularly for longer terms. Monthly deals can come close to the R$ 1000 mark in low season, including linen change and cleaning. Ask the receptionsts for owners' phone numbers:

If you go for a furnished room with a bathroom (often no fridge or a/c), referred to as a kitchenette (often spelled "Kitnet", or anything in between), you will typically be charged R$ 3-400 a month in high season. Praia Iracema has most of these.

Connect

Stay safe

Street view in a favela (slum) of Fortaleza

Even though the police are working hard to make Fortaleza safer and the city is less dangerous than it used to be, you're still in Brazil. Avoid showing valuable items in public, carrying huge bags (a plastic bag from a local supermarket can be a good substitute) and showing that you're a tourist. The tourist zone around Beira Mar is relatively safe, thanks to a constant police presence.

Prostitution

Like it or not, Fortaleza has grown into the Brazilian gringo prostitution capital. (At least by reputation. Rio arguably wins in absolute figures.) Many foreigners, especially Europeans, fly in on charters with this as the main attraction. Unfortunately, this affects other travelers, particularly single men. Many Brazilians, including otherwise sympathetic girls, will assume you are there for "business". The main concentration is at "Happy Street" (Rua dos Tremembés), Praia de Iracema, where the clubs Forró Mambo (R$ 20), Café del Mar (R$ 15) and their immediate neighbors serve overpriced drinks. A small group of young females sitting alone at a table along Beira Mar are more than likely to be pros. Any drinking spot that attracts foreigners is bound to attract working girls; therefore, some of them try to filter the entrants, meaning that a foreign man can have trouble getting in with his Brazilian girl.

Stay healthy

If you travel west from Fortaleza, into the states of Maranhão, Pará or further, Brazilian authorities recommend that you get a yellow fever vaccination. An International Certificate of Vaccination can be issued if you have the shot taken at the airport or in the city center. If you already have your booklet, and only need a new shot and the corresponding entry, this is best done at the medical center at Avenida Antônio Justa, one block from Pão de Açúcar, weekdays 7AM to 4:30PM, free of charge.

Cope

There are plenty of laundries around. Those which charge per kg (mostly R$ 6-10) are somewhat cheaper than those which charge per garment. Your clothes are normally ready next day. There is one single self-service laundry:

For visa extensions and any other issue between a foreigner and the Polícia Federal, head to their office at Rua Paula Rodrigues 304, Bairro de Fátima, near the main bus station. Open Monday - Friday, 8AM - 6PM. Bus 099 Siqueira - Mucuripe / Barão de Studart to/from Avenida Abolição.

Go next

Out-of-town beaches

Canoa Quebrada

Any tour agency, and a number of pushers along Beira Mar, can offer you daytrips, and longer packages, to outlying beaches. The one thing they have in common is the price – it's fixed in between them, and it's far too expensive. Oceanview is old in the game and has a site with prices. If you are a group of 3-4 persons, a taxi can mostly be negotiated for less.

Routes through Fortaleza

END  N  S  Governador Valadares Rio de Janeiro


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