By: Juan Abelardo Carles R.
Photos: Javier Pinzón
The Canoa Quebrada dunes, known to drift over three and a half miles inland with crests of up to 130 feet, are the result of a discussion that has taken place over millions of years between the sirocco winds from Africa, loaded with microscopic sand, marine currents, and the dry Ceará “caatinga” desert, which fights to keep the beach from moving into the desert.
This “battlefield” has become a playground for tourists and locals, who come to Canoa Quebrada to careen along zip lines, ride the wind on paragliders or kiteboards or, in the case of this humble reporter, find their heart in their throat in a dune buggy, climbing up and down the sandy parapets with disconcerting dexterity. Canoa Quebrada is a good example of what Fortaleza has to offer: a wide range of fun and adventure within easy reach.
But Fortaleza isn’t the only option. The capital city of the state of Ceará serves as a gateway to a number of other places and the state itself has become a mecca for those in search of extreme tourism or who simply want to relax in a uniquely exuberant natural setting full of discoveries. Until recently, Fortaleza’s secrets have been reserved mostly for locals or, at best, visitors from other South American countries, but Copa Airlines has unlocked its treasures, and those of the surrounding area, with connections to the airline’s other seventy-eight destinations throughout the continent.
As its name suggests, the city grew up around Fort Schoonenborch, built by the Dutch in 1649 in an unsuccessful effort to resist Portuguese attempts to expel them. The Dutch dream ended in 1654, when the Portuguese moved into the military post and renamed it Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. Over the years, a settlement grew up around the fortification until finally, in 1726, it was given city status and eventually became the capital of the newly created territory of Ceará, in 1799.
Little remains of the Dutch constructions today; the bastions, barracks, and canons all date from the Portuguese period. Since 1942, the fort has served as a barracks for the Brazilian army’s tenth military region and also houses a museum dedicated to the country’s military history. The complex is among the city’s largest monuments, along with the nearby Metropolitan Cathedral, dedicated to San José, which was built between 1938 to 1978 in an eclectic but predominantly neo-Gothic style.
And while you’re walking through Fortaleza’s historic center, stop in at the nearby Tourism Center, located in the city’s former penitentiary. This 19th-century complex houses a well-stocked handicraft market, as well as the Museums of Popular Art and Culture and Mineralogy. Fortaleza’s Central Market, also nearby, is larger and more modern, and offers an incredible variety of crafts from Ceará and the entire northeastern region.
And you won’t want to miss the Dragão do Mar Center for Art and Culture. An unprecedented selection of cultural activities are on offer at this center covering some 320,000 square feet, including contemporary art exhibitions, a planetarium, theaters, amphitheaters, cinemas, restaurants, gardens, and public squares. Other spaces, such as the Museum of Photography, complete the city’s cultural panorama.
“Punch out,” as they say in many of these places and go to the beach! The urban coastline alone has over twenty miles of prime beaches, starting with the traditional Iracema Beach, offering a veritable carrousel of images of everyday life in Fortaleza. You can begin your walk through Iracema near Puente de los Ingleses, a beautiful pier lined with kiosks and benches, and then stroll along the beach, between swimmers, sunbathers, beach volleyball games, and other walkers.
Beyond Puente de los Ingleses is another point of interest on the urban coastline: the handicraft market at Beira Mar. Marquee tents with artisans’ wares are grouped around a plaza featuring comedy shows. You can wind up your walk at the Mercado Dos Peixes fish market at the end of Meireles Avenue. After the nearly 2.5-mile hike, get your strength back in one of the restaurants clustered in front of the market where they’ll prepare whatever you purchase in the market to your specifications.
The city’s other important beach circuit is Playa del Futuro. This five-mile stretch of pristine sand, reaching back for some 900 feet in places, faces some of the most crystal-clear water in the Fortaleza metropolitan area. Playa del Futuro is a gigantic aquatic playground, mainly for surfers and kite surfers, and has a lively nightlife with bars and clubs.
Outside of Fortaleza, the beaches get more interesting, including Canoa Quebrada, which we mentioned earlier. This sleepy fishing village dating back to the 17th century became an “alternative” retirement community in the mid-70s. If you don’t go in for dune buggy rides, paragliding, or kitesurfing there are also excursions to the neighboring beaches Ponta Grossa, Garganta do Diabo, or the Jaguaribe River.
The concept of beach as playground has really taken off along the Ceará coast. Take Cumbuco Beach near Fortaleza, for example. Given its proximity to Fortaleza, tour operators usually wind up their city tours with this wonderful beach. Cumbuco Acqua Beach has beachfront water slides and pool activities for adults and children and offers a chance to cap off the experience with a tremendous banquet in the waterfront dining area.
The star, however, is Beach Park, located in Porto das Dunas, just twelve miles outside Fortaleza. Beach Park is titanic; nearly fifty acres with a variety of attractions, including eighteen water games. With towering, gravity-defying straight and curving slides and gigantic fountains, Beach Park looks like a futuristic city in the middle of a palm grove. It was most definitely built to ensure that every second is packed with fun.
The city of Porto das Dunas, home to this park, also offers six miles of uninterrupted beaches and, as its name implies, endless dunes that can be explored in a dune buggy, on a motorcycle, or even on horseback. And this adventure circuit would not be complete without Jericoacoara, 180 miles west of Fortaleza. Also a former fishing village, it is now a destination for wind and kite surfers. Being further away, Jericoacoara has retained its pristine condition, with designated roads and specific locations for practicing sports and enjoying this landscape typical of northeastern Brazil.
Other beaches, such as Mucuripe and Sabiaguaba, and trails like the ones in Morro Blanco Park, provide panoramic views that resemble scenes out of a surreal movie. In short, your options for fun in Fortaleza, and Ceará in general, are endless and can hardly be contained in a few pages. Travel to the city yourself and write your own adventure story! Adrenaline is better than ink.
How to Get There
Beginning July 18th, from North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean, Copa Airlines offers two flights weekly to Fortaleza, Ceará, on Wednesdays and Sundays. The outgoing flight (CM 342) will take off from Panama at 3:25 p.m. and land in Fortaleza at 11:57 p.m. The return flight (CM 343) will leave Fortaleza on Mondays and Thursdays at 2:13 a.m. and arrive in Panama City at 6:45 a.m. More information at www.copaair.com
Where to Stay
Fortaleza is a tourist destination with a great variety of hotels to suit a wide range of budgets. During their visit, the Panorama of the Americas team stayed at the Gran Mareiro Hotel (Rua Osvaldo Araújo, 100, Praia do Futuro) http://granmareiro.com.br/
Additional information about the city of Fortaleza and the state of Ceará is available at www.setur.ce.gov.br