By Camil Frois
Photos: Tom Alves
1. Beauty to Spare
Alagoas, one of the smallest states in Brazil, boasts an absolutely dizzying wealth of natural attractions. Our tour begins on 150-miles of coastline bordering a turquoise sea, continues through canyons sculpted millions of years ago in the interior of the state, passes through Alagoas, which turns golden under the setting sun, and ends where the legendary San Francisco River meets the Atlantic.
The capital city serves as a gateway. The main coves of Pijucara, Ponta Verde, and Jatiúca are outlined by nearly four miles of coastline in this immense bay protected by coral reefs. There are opportunities for sailing, biking, walking along the beach, kayaking, paddleboarding, or your first taste of diving.
3. Coral Reefs
In the northeast, low tide uncovers several miles of beach and leaves behind small pools of crystalline water. Some are accessible on foot and others can be reached by an exciting mile-long trip by kayak, paddleboard, or sailing raft. These natural warm water aquariums offer an excellent view of the city with the added bonus of drinks at a jangadas bar (canoes that serves as floating bars).
4. Free Fall over Maceió
Parachuting down from 10,000 feet creates the most interesting angle from which to admire the color gradient of the Maceió coast. You not only reach a speed of 124 miles per hour while free falling, but you also get to enjoy a most radical perspective on the city. Visitors staying for several days can take a skydiving course and make solo jumps.
Scuba diving reveals a universe of new colors, shapes, and textures, not to mention animals like barracuda, turtles, sponges, and rays that keep you company as you silently glide through the capital’s waters. The water is a pleasantly warm 80°F, with visibility reaching 130 feet, making this one of the best places in the country for diving, even for newbies looking for their “baptism,” i.e. their first dive.
6. Deeper into Maceió
The city offers diving courses that prepare visitors for diving adventures anywhere in the world. However, the best of Maceió’s underwater world is for experienced divers: shipwrecks such as the Draguinha host myriad species of rays, barracudas, and turtles.
A board, an oar, a sunny day, and a calm sea are enough to get you started. At Ponta Verde, one of the best places to spend a day at low tide, you can paddle to Pedra Virada and do some snorkeling in the natural pools, while Barra de San Miguel beach offers sun-gilded lagoons for paddleboarding.
8. Paradise in the North
The northern part of the city features the sunniest beaches, complemented by Atlantic forest, silence, fresh water streams, and tranquility. Northern beaches such as Pratagy, Riacho Doce, Guaxuma, Garça Torta, and Ipioca draw lovers of surfing and free diving. There are also rustic bars frequented by locals and a handful of chic restaurants serving fresh fish and seafood near the natural pools.
9. Off-Road in Gunga
Playa del Gunga is located twenty minutes from Playa del Francés. This lovely intersection of cliff, sea, and lagoon is well worth a visit. The main attraction is dune buggy rides to the colorful sandy rocks sculpted by nature long ago. The trip ticks all the boxes for thrills: the wind in your face, untouched landscapes, and swimming in small warm water lagoons along the way.
10. Desert Roads
The Alagoan desert is dotted with historic cities fronting the tranquil waters of the San Francisco River (also known as Viejo Chico), one of the country’s most iconic. The area is perfect for adventures like climbing in the Xingó canyons, visiting lacemakers’ villages such as Entre Montes or artists’ colonies on Isla dos Ferros.
11. Viejo Chico from Above
The “Roads of San Francisco” route, which takes four to five days, departs from the 18th century historic quarter of the unassuming city of Pirañas. The best view of the famous canyons that line the San Francisco River can be seen from Delmiro Gouveia; it is best enjoyed on ATV rides along local byways with views of the Xingó canyons, and boat or launch rides on the river.
12. Journey through the History of Jaraguá
Boasting a surfeit of historic buildings, Colonial-era warehouses, churches, museums, and bars, the historic district of Jaraguá is located in Maceió’s port zone. The cobblestone streets provide a backdrop for a cultural journey through the capital’s history. The tour, called “Living Jaraguá,” includes cultural attractions and folk shows by local groups. It concludes with a jazz performance at the Rex Bar.
13. Maceió Gourmet: The New Face of Northeastern Cuisine
Savoring the pleasures of the table is a perfect way to say good-bye to the capital. The fusion of two palates: the sertão (desert) and the coastline, is the distinguishing characteristic of the best cuisine of Maceió. The Peruvian restaurant Wanchako and the sertão-style Picuí are among the most renowned exponents of this cuisine.
14. Simone Bert: Wanchako Restaurant
With a cozy, charismatic ambience graced with Inca art, the Wanchako Restaurant is run by the extremely agreeable Simone Bert. Daughter of a fisherman and wife of a surfer, she has been fascinated by the sea since she was a girl. She still has a close relationship with the city’s fishers, who supply her with the freshest ingredients for her celebrated ceviche feast, which includes shrimp, tuna, and sashimi versions.
15. Wanderson Medeiros: Ambassador of Northeastern Cuisine
Award-winning chef Wanderson Medeiros reinvents Northeastern dishes, offering smaller portions of a subtler and more sophisticated take on the cuisine. One of the classic house recipes is carne de sol (salted, dried beef) in butter, served on a bed of winter squash with a creamy sauce of fresh curd cheese.
How to Get There
Copa Airlines offers two flights a week to Recife from North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean through its Hub of the Americas in Panama City. Maceió is located 160 highway miles from Recife.
Diving Let’s Dive: www.letsdive.com.br / Tel: (82) 3316 5385.
Skydiving Vertical Speed: www.verticalspeed.com.br / Tel: (82) 9921 6841.
Stand Up Paddle: Tel: (82) 99615 0473.
Volcano SupBoards: Tel: (82) 98834 3608.
Where to Eat Picuí: Carne de Sol: www.picui.com.br / Tel: (82) 3223 8080.
Wanchako: www.wanchako.com.br / Tel: (82) 3377 6024.
Divina Gula: www.picui.com.br / Tel: (82) 3223 8080.
Where to Stay
Hotel Ponta Verde: www.hotelpontaverde.com.br / Tel. (82) 2121 0040.
Gungaporanga: www.gungaporanga.com.br / Tel: (82) 3015 6359.
Playa del francés
Diving Ecoscuba: www.ecoscubamaceio.com.br / Tel: (82) 3260 1453.
Cachaçaria Altemar Dutra: www.cachacariaaltemardutra.com.br / Tel: (82) 3686 3499.
Mirante de Talhado: ATV rides, climbing, and canoeing in the San Francisco canyons. There are also chalets with magnificent views of the lake. www.mirantedotalhado.com.br / Tel: (82) 98874 9373.