Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Fortaleza
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.
Morro Branco’s seaside cliffs appear strikingly red from a distance, but 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. These eroded cliffs, known as the Labyrinth, have served as a filming location in several productions.
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).
Fortaleza is blessed with many spectacular beaches, and Cumbuco Beach--on the Sunset Coastline--ranks among the best. A popular spot for kitesurfing, sand boarding and buggy tours, Cumbuco (both the beach and neighboring fishing village is distinguished by its rolling dunes and long expanses of white sand lined with coconut trees.
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.
The Brazilian state of Ceara is famous for its long coastline and numerous beaches. In the city of Fortaleza, Meireles Beach is one of the busiest stretches of the coast, packed with the highest concentration of hotels, barracas (beer stalls, and seaside restaurants serving up traditional Brazilian food and drink.
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 souvenirs is Mercado Central. The 3-floor market houses dozens of shops selling woven hammocks, clay sculptures, and other hand-crafted items.
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.
Half-moon-shaped Lagoinha Beach was once a favorite hiding place for French pirates. These days, Lagoinha is home to a small fishing community and has a reputation as one of the most beautiful beaches in the state. Its good looks are intensified by its tranquility—and it’s far enough away from Fortaleza to escape the crowds.
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.
More Things to Do in Fortaleza
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.
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.
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.
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.