Recently I have found myself answering more emails about Fortaleza and Brazil in general than the Brazilian tourist board (secretly I think they are referring people to me). I am always happy to answer reader’s queries and hope this FAQ won’t replace the emails, but I think it would be nice to have a place where you can hopefully find the answers to your initial problems – just in case I am out on an adventure somewhere and can’t reply straight away. I would like to encourage anyone who has things to add to this to email them to me for inclusion in the next update.
1. How long realistically should I plan to stay in Fortaleza?
Well, depending on which leg of your trip you arrive here you could comfortably spend about four days here without getting too bored. Of course, if you have been travelling hard for some time, or just arrived in South America, you may want to spent more time here laying on the beach relaxing.
A nice 4-day trip might be something like this:
Day 1: arrival, brief historical city tour and dinner in a nice restaurant.
Day 2: take the bus to Praia Futuro (about 20 minutes), spend some time there in the many bars along the beach, eat some local fish and swim in the strong surf. Spend the night in the Cultural Centre, at one of the many bars.
Day 3: take a bus to Cumbuco where you can rush around the dunes on a buggy like Indiana Jones, eat lobster on the beach and still make it back in time for tea and a wild night of partying at one of the bars along Beira Mar – I seem to gravitate towards Cais Bar.
Day 4, spend some time shopping at the tourist market, which used to be a prison, then at the Mercado Central for all your souvenir needs, perhaps finish off your trip with a visit to our lively night market on Biera Mar.
2. Is Fortaleza Safe?
Withstanding a few self-induced hangovers, Fortaleza is no more dangerous than most cities in the world. Of course, there are rules to be followed: don’t flash cash about, don’t wear expensive watches and do try to dress down a little (I have had to start dressing up a bit more as people kept stopping me on the street and giving me change).
Of course, you will hear horror stories, but generally if you are aware of your surroundings you are going to be ok. After the sun sets the streets are generally less busy so care needs to be taken. Taxis are always cruising around and will often follow you down the street beeping their horns to let you know they are there – use them if you wander into a dark and deserted area.
3. Where can I lay my head?
Most people who have come here have enjoyed their stay in the Marina Praia Hotel (085 242 7734). This is a small hotel almost on the beachfront. It’s close enough to all the bus stops to make going out less of an adventure. It also offers a fantastic breakfast. I recommend this above all the others as it’s the only one I have had consistently good reports from. The last time I stayed there it was certainly very pleasant. There is a Youth hostel in town, which seems no better or worse then any other hostel. During Fortal and holidays it can get booked out quickly despite not taking bookings.
4. Can I drink the water?
No, and there really should be no need to as the city is awash with bars. Although the water will not kill you here, unless you have a cast-iron stomach it may upset you a little.
Most places sell bottled water and almost every house or shop you go into will offer you water. It is important to remember that in the tropics a person requires about four litres of water a day. Ice is more or less always made from mineral water and I have never had any trouble with salads, fruits or other things. Fruit juices are made with either water or milk and are almost 100% reliable – beware that the Brazilians like them with about three tonnes of sugar and you may find them a little sweet for the first few weeks.
Beer, however, is another story, and I have had many problems with that – my hangovers here are legendary! However, if you have a sensitive tummy then allow yourself a few days to adjust and take it easy on the alcohol.
5. Is Brazil Expensive?
Yes, it can be. Unfortunately raging inflation and some pretty dodgy governmental decisions have pushed the prices up recently and compared to the rest of South America Brazil can be a little expensive. Of course, this is all relative.
For example, a night in a pousada can vary from 7R$ to about 50R$- though 30 – 40 is about average for a good tourist place. A good evening meal for two people will set you back about 15 R$. A 600 ml bottle of beer costs 1.50R$, a coke 1R$, a bus trip to Natal (8 hours) costs about 25R$, the bus fare anywhere in the city cost 0.90R$, a taxi downtown from the airport is a fixed 21R$ and a newspaper costs 1R$. For me, working on Brazilian wages, this is expensive.
6. Am I going to get ill?
Generally the two biggest dangers are from dehydration and sunstroke. However, there are sometimes outbreaks of Dengue fever. There is no way to avoid this, but I have never heard of any short-term visitor getting this. I have had a mild dose (after a weekend away on someone’s farm), which was good for a week off work, but little more than that. My apartment seems to be a breeding ground for mosquitoes; however, I haven’t developed malaria or dengue again yet. My bottom, however, does look like a pin cushion. It is wise to make sure your tetanus, polio, hepatitis and meningitis jabs are all up to date.
7. I am going to the Amazon and don’t want to take malaria tablets – will I die?
Of course everyone has to make their own choices in this respect but it is really worth considering the consequences of not taking any anti-malaria tablets. The tablets themselves are not 100% effective but will ensure that if you do get malaria you will get a much smaller dose and be less sick. I have also been told by certain insurance companies that if you get malaria and need to be brought home rapidly for treatment, and have not been taking your medication, they will take a dim view on this and it may in fact invalidate your insurance.
I have also spoken to a lot of travellers who practice any number of home remedies against malaria such as eating industrial doses of garlic, taking vitamin B1 and many other weird and wonderful remedies. NONE OF THESE HAVE BEEN MEDICALLY PROVEN. According to the Centre For Tropical Diseases (London), the only way to avoid malaria is cover up with long sleeves and pants after dark, use coils in rooms, sleep under mosquito nets and take some form of oral medication – the type of which will depend on the region you are travelling through.
It is best to consult your doctor about 8-10 weeks before travel to see what the latest news is. It is a good idea to find a young doctor with some experience in tropical medicine or travelling, as they are more likely to be up-to-date. If any medical doctors would like to update this information then I would love to hear from you: email@example.com
8. Where can I go shopping in Fortaleza?
There are several large shopping centres that have as good a selection of shops as one could ever hope for. The main one is at Iguatimi (20 minutes by bus from the beach) and is open from Monday – Saturday, 10am – 10pm and on Sunday from 2-10pm. There are lots of fast food places, six (I think) cinemas and a 24 hour supermarket which sells just about everything.
For tourist items, such as hammocks, cashew nuts and lace tablecloths you can head towards the Mercardo Central (10 minutes from the beach by bus), two blocks from this to the north is the Tourist Market – which is situated in an old prison (this has lots of handicrafts), the nightly Market on Beira Mar is the best place for shopping – but remember to bargain. A good hammock will set you back about 40-60R$.
9. Jerri – how do I get there, is it worth it?
Jericoacoara can be reached in about 7 hours from Fortaleza (bus tel: 256-2728) and there are two buses a day – one at 9am and one at 9pm. Many people rate this beach very highly, but I can never decide. I have been there a couple of times, the first was horrific and I couldn’t wait to leave whilst the second was much calmer, the place was deserted and it was very beautiful and a lot of fun. One thing is for certain Jerri is a pretty lively place and there is always something going on. My article about this can be found here.
If you do decide to go then three days is probably enough – this gives you time for a day buggy tour and a couple of days doing nothing. Many places in Fortaleza sell packages to Jerri but its not really necessary to buy one as you can get there easily by bus and the owners of the pousadas will meet the bus and offer you rooms – about 20R$ a night.
10. Where else is worth seeing around Fortaleza?
There are, of course, hundreds of beaches. Lagionha is lovely (124km away, 3hrs 20 mins by bus – 5 buses daily). There isn’t much there but good surf, a few small restaurants and a single hotel.
Beach Park has one of the biggest water parks in South America – I have never been there but it gets rave reviews.
Canoa Quebrada is a lively funky little beach town with a good night life, some nice places to eat and lots of crazy buggy drivers. There are five buses per day which go there – journey time about 3-4 hours. This place continues to get some rave reviews from my Brazilian friends.
Cumbuco (5 buses daily – 1hour) is another popular beach that is famous for its impressive dunes, easy living and calm seas. It is just beginning to open up to tourism.
If the heat of the town gets a little bit much for you then you may consider an escape to the cool mountains of Guaramiranga. This is a lovely place to visit, a little cooler than the coast and gives you a good chance to see another side of Brazil. There are 6 buses a day and the journey time is about 4 hours.
11. I have a bit more time – where else can I go?
With a few more days to spare and if you don’t mind travelling overnight on buses you can see a little bit more of Brazil. Of course, if you have an air pass, you can see a lot more. For starters you could head down to Natal, which is about 8 hours, by bus. If you don’t mind travelling a bit further then 12 hours takes you to Recife and Olinda (a great place for carnival). Both cities, which I hope to be writing about soon, are filled with colonial charm and are well worth seeing.
Eight hours away from Fortaleza is Ubajara which is getting some consistently rave reviews from travellers. It’s a wonderful national park with some nice walking trails and a cable car leading down to some caves. I hope to have more details on this in the not too distant future.
Twenty-four to twenty eight hours of travelling opens up the possibility of Salvador and Belem. Both of these are interesting cities where you can easily spend a few days. Salvador maintains much of its African heritage whilst Belem is one of the gateways into the Amazon.
12. I want to do an Amazon cruise – how do I start?
The first question you have to ask yourself is why do I want to go to the Amazon. If you want to go to see wildlife and bare breasted women, then you will be very disappointed. If you want to see wildlife you are better off going to the Pantanal – if anyone knows where the best place to see bare breasted women (apart from at carnival is) is I would be willing to go there and check it out.
However, if you are a romantic or just a plain river nut (like myself) the Amazon can be an exciting trip. I have made a number of trips over the last four years, both as a tourist and later as a journalist. I found that the most enjoyable trips were between Belem and Macapa on a small cargo boat. The idea of sleeping in hammocks and mucking in with the locals may not appeal to everyone, especially if you don’t speak Portuguese, but it can be extremely rewarding. I arranged all these trips just by turning up at the docks and talking to the captain – there are touts at Belem bus station who will, for a small fee, help you do this and take you to the boat. Most boats let you sleep on board the night before you sail.
The alternative is to take a tourist trip – which is a little more structured. I recommend the Ariau Tower which is a few hours out of Manaus. I stayed there a few years back and had an excellent time. Their packages are well thought out, reasonably priced and you will get to see some wildlife.
13. Who writes this stuff?
The Fortaleza pages are a collaborative effort. Most of the main text is written by Philip Blazdell and additional pictures and details are provided by the dedicated band of travellers and locals who either live in Brazil or have travelled there recently.
Philip has been living in Brazil for a year now and has travelled extensively. He is a regular contributor to various magazines and runs an independent tour service. When not away travelling he can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.