The Northeast is one of Brazil’s poorest areas, but has perhaps the most stunning coastline in South America. Despite its thriving beach scene, the area, divided politically into eight separate states, has not been spoilt by tourism. There are major cities along the coast: some, such as Recife, Olinda, São Luís and Fortaleza, have deep colonial heritage; others, such as Maceió and Natal, have developed mostly in recent decades. All have their own city beaches plus more idyllic and deserted resorts hidden up and down the coast (though generally accessible by bus or taxi). The Ilha de Fernando de Noronha, hundreds of kilometres off the coast from Natal, is one of the finest oceanic wildlife reserves in the world, an expensive destination but idyllic for ecotourism.
The semi-arid region inland, with sparse leafy vegetation but abundant cacti, is known as the sertão. It suffers periods of intense drought yet in the wet season is transformed for a few glorious months to a verdant green. Few people traverse the interior, except perhaps en route to Belém at the mouth of the Amazon; but if you do visit the region, there are a number of quite isolated and windswept market towns – such as Campina Grande in Paraíba state – that are worth stopping off at. Piauí boasts more than one stunningly beautiful national park, while the coast of Maranhão is known for its reggae, blisteringly hot beaches and superb cuisine.