Things to Do in Fortaleza
Just to the west of Fortaleza’s Central Market sits the early 20th-century Art Nouveau-style José de Alencar Theater (Theatro José de Alencar). Construction on the theater began in 1904, but it wasn’t until June of 1910 that it officially opened, named after Fortaleza-born novelist and dramatist José de Alencar.
Besides the 800-seat concert hall, the theater also includes a theater garden designed by Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, an outdoor state and a small annex with another 90-seat theater.
Even after a century, the José de Alencar Theater remains at the cultural center of Fortaleza, with regular performances and artistic activities. So important is the theater to the city of Fortaleza that it was featured on the official poster promoting Fortaleza as a venue for the 2014 World Cup.
Opened in 1932, the Museum of Ceara (Museu do Ceará) was the first public museum in the Brazilian state of the same name. Located in Fortaleza and housed within the former Legislative Assembly in city center, the museum presents the history and culture of the state, including its various indigenous peoples, through its collection of some 12,000 articles and artifacts.
Indigenous artifacts, furniture, coins, medals, paintings, flags, weapons and archaeological relics are divided into thematic exhibitions, like the Friar Tito Memorial, which celebrates the Ceara-born Dominican friar who played a critical role in the struggle for human rights in the mid-20th century. Other highlights include a collection of 75 million-year-old fossils and a stuffed goat named Yoyo who wandered the streets of Fortaleza a century ago.
The history of Nossa Senhora de Assuncao Fort dates back to 1649, when it was built by the Dutch under the direction of Captain Matias Beck as Forte Schoonemborch. Just five years later in 1654, the fort was captured by the Portuguese and renamed after the patron saint of Fortaleza. When Fortaleza was officially founded in 1726, it was named after the fortress.
Since 1942, Nossa Senhora de Assuncao Fort has been a Brazilian army headquarters, but parts of the fort remain open to the public. Two such areas include a museum dedicated to General Antonio de Sampaio, a local Ceara war hero from the nineteenth century War of Paraguay, as well as the cell where the mother of Jose de Alencar, a famous Brazilian novelist from Ceara, was jailed.
Like many northeastern Brazilian cities, Fortaleza is famous for its handicrafts, particularly its embroidered white lace textiles. One of the best places in the city to pick up locally made gifts and souvenirs is at the Fortaleza Central Market (Mercado Central de Fortaleza).
The market got its start as a meat, fruit and vegetable market housed in a small wooden building in 1809. In 1931 the government prohibited the sale of meat and produce within the market, so the industry was forced to shift to crafts. The market as it stands today was built in 1998 to include better facilities and more space for vendors.
The four floor market, located in city center, houses dozens of shops on each floor selling textiles, woven hammocks, paintings, clay sculptures, leather bags, palm baskets, T-shirts and other items. Visitors who want to take home a taste of their travels can also pick up local cashews and bottles of cachaça, the traditional Brazilian spirit made from sugarcane juice.
Designed by French architect George Mounier and allegedly inspired by the grand cathedral in Cologne, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Forteza is the third largest cathedral in Brazil. Construction on the Gothic-Roman style structure began in 1939, but it wouldn’t be fully completed until late in 1978, nearly 40 years later.
Upon entering the Metropolitan Cathedral, built to seat 5,000 worshippers, visitors encounter the Chapel of St. Joseph, the Patron Saint of the Brazilian state of Ceará to the left of the nave. On the right is another small chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, the Patron Saint of Fortaleza. The cathedral’s central alter was brought over from Verona.
One interesting feature that sets the Metropolitan Cathedral apart from other such structures is its crypt. The Crypt of the Adolescents was inaugurated in 1962 with six alters devoted to saints who died in their teenage years, and the depiction of Jesus in the crypt alter shows him as an adolescent as well.
Don’t let the concrete masonry on the cathedral’s exterior turn you off. The stained glass windows on the inside are stunning and well worth the visit.
Housed within the former public jailhouse in downtown Fortaleza, the Ceará Tourism Center (Emcetur) has been fully restored to include art and traditional local craft shops, the Museum of Art and Popular Culture (Museu de Arte e Cultura Popular) and a tourist information center.
For most visitors, the main draw of the Center of Tourism is the shopping, and along with the Central Market (Mercado Central), it represents one of the best places in the city to buy local crafts for gifts or souvenirs. The vendors mostly specialize in textiles, particularly the embroidered white lace Fortaleza is known for. Within the mid-nineteenth century building, vendors set up shop inside old prison cells, making the Center of Tourism an interesting stop for history lovers as well as shoppers.
Surrounded by pink sand dunes, sandstone cliffs, and a winding river, Canoa Quebrada is a laid-back beach town blessed with a stunning natural environment. While the town has grown with the times, it hasn’t lost that mystical feel that earned its reputation as a ‘hippie town’ in the 1970s.
Fortaleza Beach Park is a hugely popular entertainment and leisure complex on the northeastern coast of Brazil. Every year, more than 700,000 people visit the tropical playground’s resort, hotels, restaurants, shops, sailing raft museum, water park—one of the largest in South America—and beach.
Considered Guaramiranga’s star attraction, Parque das Trilhas is a natural reserve set amid 282 acres (114 hectares) of Atlantic Forest. A network of hiking trails, a swimming lake, and activities that range from ziplining to kayaking make it one of Fortaleza’s most popular day trip destinations.
Palm-fringed sand and surf-worthy waves await sunseekers at Futuro Beach (Praia do Futuro), one of Fortaleza’s most popular family beaches. Stretching 5 miles (8 kilometers) along Fortaleza’s east coast, Futuro Beach offers ideal conditions for swimming and surfing, and is lined with lively beach bars (barracas).
More Things to Do in Fortaleza
Half-moon shaped Lagoinha Beach (Praia de Lagoinha) is a stunning beach that was once a favorite hiding place for pirates. It has a reputation as being the most beautiful beach in the state and its good looks are intensified by its tranquility, being far enough away from Fortaleza to escape the crowds.
These days, Lagoinha is home to a small fishing community. Tours by buggy, on horseback or on a jangada (sail boat) can also be arranged here.
Alternatively, sit and take in the beach’s gentle curve, which is dotted with coconut palms and sand dunes. Beyond the palm trees you’ll also find streams and a freshwater lagoon.
Morro Branco’s red colored cliffs are an easy day trip from Fortaleza. While looking strikingly red from a distance (particularly when contrasted with the surrounding white dunes), when explored up close, you can see that the sand cliffs have a number of pink, cream and beige colored hues that together form their distinctive overall color.
The area can be explored via a warren of tracks that flow, maze-like, between the cliffs. Local guides are on hand at the Morro Branco village, to steer you through and point out the most interesting sections. You can also arrange buggy rides along the beach here or walk to the lighthouse.
Morro Branco craftsmen fill small bottles with the sand of varying tones to create a quite unique souvenir. You can buy the colored sand bottles along the beach and in the village.
The Brazilian state of Ceara is famous for its long coastline and numerous beaches. In the city of Fortaleza, Meireles Beach (Praia do Meireles) is one of the busiest stretches of coast, packed with the highest concentration of hotels and seaside restaurants serving up traditional Brazilian food and drink.
Located just east of city center in the middle class Meireles neighborhood, Meireles Beach is a popular spot for morning joggers, and in the evenings, it’s surrounded by the famous Feirinha de Artesanato (Artisan Fair) where vendors sell locally made crafts and textiles. It’s a great place to pick up Fortaleza embroidered lace.
Fortaleza is blessed with many spectacular beaches and Cumbuco Beach is no exception. Just 45 minutes drive from the city and attached to a small fishing village, the beach is distinguished by its rolling white sand dunes and empty stretches of sand lined with coconut trees.
Cumbuco Beach is a popular spot for kite surfing, sand boarding and buggy tours - the latter involving a hair-raising ride over the bumps and inclines that will leave you giddy and white-knuckled and most likely eager for more!
There are more sedate activities available including horse riding and boat rides, although the most popular activity is of course soaking up the sun on the beach.
The beach fills up with locals on weekends but there is little to do in the Cumbuco at night – you’ll need to return to the city if you want to party.