João Pessoa is, for its sheer size, an undiscovered paradise: There are few foreigners and lots to do.
João Pessoa is one of the oldest cities in Brazil, dating back to 1585. From 1634 to 1654 it was controlled by the Dutch.
The city center grids out on a hill between a lake (lagoa) and the river. Some 7 kilometers to the east, along Presidente Epitácio Pessoa, are the beaches of Tambaú (to the left as you hit the beach) and Cabo Branco (to the right), where most of the tourist infrastructure is found. The landmark and point of reference here is the Tropical Hotel Tambaú and the feirinha (handicraft market) in front of it. Further north are the less attractive Manaíra, and then the pleasant and quieter Bessa. The beachfront avenue receives several names: Avenida Cabo Branco, Avenida Almirante Tamandaré and Avenida João Mauricio.
Airport some 25 km out of town. Taxi to the city R$ 60, negotiable. You might find the much bigger airport of Recife more convenient, especially for international flights. Taxi R$ 260, negotiable.
João Pessoa's long-distance bus station is in spot in the center. To get to the beach of Tambaú, cross the road and enter the urban bus terminal to catch number 507, 510, 511 or 513 "Tambaú" or "Cabo Branco" R$ 2,65. Taxi about R$ 25.
The centre of João Pessoa is worth a day's stroll for its historical building, a growing number of which are being restored. There are numerous signs indicating the tourist trail:
In Tambaú there are several handicraft spots, notably the feirinha and some stall up Rua Sen Rui Carneiro.
For a quick bite, there are several hamburger stands around the lagoon.
The densest concentration of nightlife is just behind the feirinha in Tambaú:
Daytime drinking is in any of the string of shacks along the beach promenade of Tambaú and Cabo Branco. A couple of these have their specialties:
The 5 kilometre beachfront of Cabo Branco and Tambaú is dotted with hotels of all kinds, although rock-bottom budget options are few. Off peak discount can reach 40%. Bargain hard.
Hardman Praia Hotel
Ouro Branco Hotel
Althought Joao Pessoa maybe considered a safe place to visit, especially in the coast bit, even in the most wealthy places (including Cabo Branco, Manaira, Tambau, Altiplano Cabo Branco, Aeroclube, Bessa, Intermares, Jardim Luna) you should not carry ostensively expensive watches, camcorders, iPods/iPads, fancy mobiles, etc because you could get robbed even during day time. The Brazilian government advises tourists and locals not to resist, to avoid violence.
During the evening you can walk along the coast of Cabo Branco safely, but avoid dark places and make sure there are people around you. If you need to go home, get a taxi. If you go by foot even a short distance away from the beach (towards the center) it's very dangerous, especially if there is no one else on the road.
Tourists should avoid using the bus. It's not safe because it's the favorite means of transport for thugs, muggers and thieves, and they consider tourists "easy" targets and can easily recognise someone from abroad. Many buses are robbed every month in Joao Pessoa. Usually the bad guy enters the bus like anyone else and when nobody expects, he announces the assault. The robber go one by one collecting their belongings and them leaves the bus. When the police arrives it's even more dangerous because passangers can become hostages so the mugger can leave the bus without being caught.
Don't walk around with lots of money in your pocket. Cash machines or ATMs are everywhere (prefer the ones inside shopping centres) and credit/debit cards are widely accepted. But don't walk around without any money: you may need something to give to the bad guys in case you are mugged. Not having money to give a mugger can be dangerous as they may get angry and resort to violence. An excellent idea is to buy a small frontal unisex pouch locally called a "capanga" (which literally means "bodyguard"), normally used to carry your wallet, checks, money and car keys.
If you hire/rent a car, park it along the coast. Avoid parking off the coastal area, and don't leave anything in the car, including the front part of your stereo. Carry it with you if you can or at least hide it inside the glove compartment. Also, before parking your car, always check to see if there is any unusual behavior (maybe a motorbike staring at you or changing his way unexpectedly to follow you or hiding close to the trash dumpster). If there is, go somewhere else and come back again in a few minutes so you can make sure it's safer.
Do not go to the Shopping Manaira by foot. The safest way is by taxi so you can go straight to the main gate. It's only safe to go by car during day time and if there is no queuing at the car park entrance. If you must go by car, go through the car park entry in front of Pague Menos Chemist/Pharmacy/Drugstore (closest entry to Retao de Manaira). In March/April 2011 muggers attacked a group of cars in a queue to the Shopping Manaira's car park and stole everything they had in the cars (purses, wallets, jewels, watches, money). They also asked some of the victim's to get out and took the cars. In 2010, a male from Campina Grande, whilst leaving the car park in late night (around 2:00 am) with his friends was shot by muggers. One of his friends took control of the car and drove to the hospital, but he didn't resist and died in the hospital.
Should you find yourself being mugged, the normal advice applies:
Don't resist or do anything to aggravate the muggers. Try not to stare in their faces as they might think you are memorising their appearance. Eyes to the ground is probably your best bet. Let them take anything they want (keep your arms limp). Afterwards, leave the scene quickly but calmly (don't run in panic screaming for the police). If possible, and not more dangerous, don't leave in the same direction that the muggers went.