Planning a Trip
By Plane -- Varig (tel. 4003-7000), Gol (tel. 0300/115-2121), and TAM (tel. 4002-5700) all have flights to Recife. Visitors fly into Recife's Aeroporto Internacional dos Guararapes, Praça Ministro Salgado Filho s/n, Boa Viagem (tel. 081/3464-4188), about 12km (7 1/2 miles) south of the city center and just a few kilometers from the beachside hotels in Boa Viagem. A taxi to Boa Viagem costs R$14 to R$22 (US$7-US$11/£3.75-£6) and to Olinda, R$45 to R$60 (US$23-US$30/£12-£16). You'll find a queue for Taxi Coopseta Aeroporto (tel. 081/3464-4153) on the arrivals level. For visitors staying in Boa Viagem, the regular airport bus, no. 33 or 42, leaves every 15 minutes and passes within 1 block of most hotels along the beach; the fare is R$1.50 (US75¢/£.40).
By Bus -- Buses arrive at Recife's Terminal Integrado de Passageiros (TIP), Rodovia BR-232, Km 15, Curado (tel. 081/3452-1999), 14km (8 1/2 miles) west of downtown. A Metrô connects the bus station to downtown Recife's station, Estação Central. Note: Buses from Recife to Olinda or to Porto de Galinhas leave from downtown and Boa Viagem, not from this station.
Recife's airport has a tourist information booth at the arrivals level that's open daily from 8am to 6pm (tel. 081/3462-4960). The best information booth is at Praça Boa Viagem, open daily from 8am to 8pm (tel. 081/3463-3621). The staff is helpful and will provide an excellent free map of Recife.
In Olinda, the tourist information office is located near the Largo do Amparo on Rua do Bonsucesso 183 (tel. 081/3439-9434), open daily from 9am to 6pm. There is also a kiosk at the Praça do Carmo, where the buses from Recife arrive.
Recife's layout of downtown can be a little confusing as it is made up of various islands that are connected by several bridges. Downtown Recife consists of three main areas: Bairro do Recife (often called Recife Antigo, or Old Recife), Santo Antônio, and Boa Vista/Santo Amaro. Recife Antigo is the oldest part of the city, founded by the Dutch in the 1630s. Ongoing renovations are reviving and revitalizing this area, a la Pelourinho in Salvador. An area of at least 15 city blocks centered on the Rua da Bom Jesus has been restored to its former glory. The best time to experience this area is during the weekends when it is at its liveliest.
Three bridges connect Old Recife with Santo Antônio. It's one of Recife's main commercial areas, and the home of many of its most interesting sights. Narrow streets packed with shops and vendors surround beautiful baroque churches and plazas. On weekdays this part of downtown just hops, particularly the narrow and twisting streets around the Patio de São Pedro. The principal street in Santo Antônio is Avenida Dantas Barreto, a wide boulevard that runs down the spine of the island. Buses to and from downtown leave from this street, either from Praça da Independencia, where Dantas Barreto meets Rua Primeiro de Março, or from farther up opposite N.S. de Carmo Basilica.
West of Santo Antônio on the mainland lie the modern and not very interesting office districts of Boa Vista and Santo Amaro.
The main beach and residential area of Recife starts just south of downtown and carries on uninterrupted for many miles. The first stretch, where Avenida Boa Viagem begins, is called Pina. The area around Polo Pina is a popular nightlife spot with some bars and restaurants. Farther along the beach the neighborhood name changes to Boa Viagem. This is the city's main hotel area. The beach itself is pleasant and clean but unfortunately the area has the highest number of shark attacks in all of Brazil. At low tide the reefs that lie just off the coast are easily visible in the perfectly clear blue water.
Stay Alert for Sharks -- BATHERS IN THIS AREA ARE AT A GREATER RISK OF SHARK ATTACK reads a sign on Boa Viagem beach. But greater than what, exactly? Those who don't go in the water? The first recorded shark attack occurred on Boa Viagem beach 14 years ago. Since then there have been numerous others, some of them fatal. Locals say the new port built just south of Recife forced the sharks out of their usual habitat and moved them up the coast. Attacks have decreased lately due to more public awareness, but caution is still required on Pina, Boa Viagem, and Piedade beaches. Follow the directions of lifeguards and don't go beyond the reefs.
Olinda lies atop a hill, 7km (4 1/4 miles) north of downtown. Regular buses make the trip in about 30 minutes. You'll arrive at the Praça do Carmo bus station at the foot of Olinda. From there it's all uphill. The town is small enough that directions aren't really necessary. Keep strolling and you'll see everything.
By Bus -- From Boa Viagem, regular buses run along Avenida Domingos Ferreira into downtown, about a 20-minute trip. Those marked CONDE DA BOA VISTA will loop through Boa Vista and into Santo Antônio via the Duarte Coelho Bridge, stopping at Praça da Independencia. Some of these buses continue across the Mauricio de Nassau bridge into Old Recife (ask the ticket seller). If not, it's only a 10-minute walk. Once downtown, all sights are easily reachable on foot.
From Boa Viagem, two regular buses travel directly to and from Olinda's Praça do Carmo bus station: SETUBAL-PRINCIPE and SETUBAL-CONDE DA BOA VISTA. The trip takes about 50 minutes.
From Olinda, all buses depart from the bus station on Praça do Carmo. Buses marked RIO DOCE go to Santo Antônio, stopping on Avenida Nossa Senhora do Carmo. Buses marked JARDIM ATLANTICO also go to Santo Antônio but stop in front of the post office on Rua Siqueira Campos. The trip takes about 30 minutes. All buses cost R$2.30 (US$1.30/£.60).
By Taxi -- Taxis are quick and reliable and can be hailed anywhere or booked by phone. Your hotel will usually hail a more expensive radio taxi; to catch a regular one just grab one on the street. Coopseta Aeroporto (tel. 081/3464-4153) specializes in airport service. Both Ligue-taxi (tel. 081/3428-6830) and Tele-Taxi (tel. 081/3429-4242) can be booked ahead of time.
By Metrô -- There's a Metrô in Recife, but it's not useful to tourists. The stations are too far from Boa Viagem to walk, and given the time required to take a bus to the Metrô station, you might as well take the bus straight into downtown.