There’s a reason why this vibrant metropolis, the capital of Ceara, is one of Brazil’s favorite places to vacation and relax. The balmy climate, beautiful warm-water beaches and outstanding nightlife make this a top spot for both Brazilians and international tourists in the northeastern part of the country.
You’re here to enjoy the glorious beaches and relaxed atmosphere, and there are plenty of hotels that can cater to your every whim and budget. Whether you’re looking for a modern all-inclusive, charming boutique property, or cheap hotel, you’ll find Fortaleza much better value here than southern cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo.
Architecture lovers and culture buffs won’t come away from this classic leisure destination feeling shortchanged, however. This city of more than three million was founded over 500 years ago, albeit as a fortress (fortaleza) beset by Dutch and Spanish pirates. By the 1800s, the city was growing into a wealthy agricultural hub, thanks to cotton and rubber, despite simmering revolutionary turmoil so far from the government seat in the far-off south of the country.
Today, the city has repackaged its history to cater to this new crowd of visitors. For instance, the 1649 Fortaleza de Nossa Senhora de Assuncao, called Fort Schoonenborch by the pesky Dutch privateers who briefly occupied this precious stretch of coastline, is still in use by the Brazilian military, but partially open to tourists. The old city jail—a surprisingly pretty example of Portuguese colonial architecture—is now the Centro de Turismo do Ceara, with a small museum, art gallery, visitors center and more, most of it free. Dragon of the Sea Cultural Center, convenient to popular Iracema Beach, offers the chance to take a break from working on your tan in order to explore the state history museum. The gothic-Roman 1939 Fortaleza Cathedral is the third largest church in Brazil.
Though the city sprawls, you can explore most of the sites on foot, in between visits to several of Fortaleza’s attractive municipal beaches and the fabulous Central Market. Or, book a city tour, and let an English speaking guide explain the historical significance of the sites while enjoying air conditioned transportation.
Fortaleza also makes a comfortable base for visiting the beaches up and down the coast. Public buses are fairly easy to navigate, or book a tour to Cumbuco, a laid-back fishing village that caters to active travelers with everything from wind and kite surfing to horseback riding to jet skiing; Lagoinha Beach, a bit farther but worth the trip for its almost unspoiled tropical setting and calm lagoon; Canoa Quebrada, famed for its rolling pink sand dunes; and Morro Branco set atop all white cliffs that form what locals call “the labyrinth,” which you can tour.
You could spend up to two weeks in Fortaleza just enjoying it, and some people do.