Recife, capital of the state of Pernambuco, shares with São Luis the distinction of not having been founded by the Portuguese: when they arrived in the 1530s, they settled just to the north, building the beautiful colonial town of Olinda and turning most of the surrounding land over to sugar. A century later, the Dutch, under Maurice of Nassau, burned Olinda down, choosing to build a new capital, Recife, on swampy land to the south, where there was the fine natural harbour that Olinda had lacked. The Dutch, playing to their strengths, drained and reclaimed the low-lying land, and the main evidence of the Dutch presence today is not so much their few surviving churches and forts dotted up and down the coast, as the very land on which the core of Recife is built. The Portuguese first developed the coastline as far north of Recife as the island of Itamaracá, growing sugar cane on every available inch. This erstwhile fishing village still retains its Dutch fort, built to protect the new colonial power’s acquisitions, but these days it’s a fairly blighted weekenders’ resort. Best is the coastal route south, where a succession of small towns and villages interrupts a glorious stretch of palm-fringed beach.

Head inland and the scenery changes quickly to the hot, dry and rocky landscape of the sertão. Caruaru is the obvious target, home of the largest market in the Northeast, and close by is Alto do Moura, centre of the highly rated Pernambucan pottery industry. If you plan to go any further inland than this, you’ll need to prepare well for any kind of extended sertão journey, though it’s straightforward enough to reach the twin river-towns of Petrolina and Juazeiro.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Brazil features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

The best aerial views in the world

The best aerial views in the world

Got a head for heights? If you're craving a new perspective on your travels, the best thing to do is get up high. From mountain-top panoramas to cityscapes, her…

17 Oct 2017 • Olivia Rawes camera_alt Gallery
Amazing new aerial images show uncontacted tribe in Brazil

Amazing new aerial images show uncontacted tribe in Brazil

Incredible aerial images of one of the Amazon rainforest's uncontacted tribes have been released by Survival International. The pictures, taken by photographer …

18 Nov 2016 • Lottie Gross insert_drive_file Article
A sex-themed amusement park is set to open in Brazil

A sex-themed amusement park is set to open in Brazil

Forget about virtual-reality roller coasters, the future of theme parks just got a whole lot raunchier. Developers in Brazil are planning to build an adults…

13 May 2016 • Eleanor Aldridge insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook