Difference between revisions of "Fortaleza"
Revision as of 20:31, 23 January 2009
Fortaleza is one of the largest cities in Brazil and certainly one of the most vibrant. Temperatures range from 23-31 C with rare exceptions. July - November has virtually no rain. February - May can have its share, but mostly at night. Fairly safe for a Brazilian city this size (about 2,5 million), but stay alert when wandering away from Beira Mar, especially after dark. Although quite a party town, Fortaleza itself hibernates during carnival, when any party-animal who can afford to goes to some outlying beach.
The author José de Alencar is so important for the identity of the city of Fortaleza (and also the state), that its inhabitants are nicknamed Alencarinos. He eagerly discussed the origins of the people, languages and geographical names of the region. Most important in this context is the novel Iracema, with its renowned main character lending her name to several neighborhoods and inspiring statues around town.
In Brazil, Fortaleza is also known for its crop of comedians, and the forró music and dance, all gaining popularity countrywide. The city is perhaps the most popular domestic package tour destination, and Europeans are following suit. Sadly, the latter comes with its share of holiday prostitution.
The modern international airport Pinto Martins (Telephone +55 85 3392 1200) was opened in 1998. Services here include federal police, post office, health authorities, internet cafe, tourist information and travel agencies. Airlines fly to almost every major city in Brazil and also other capitals of South America, mostly via São Paulo. More direct options include:
Weekly charters to major European airports:
Allow at least an hour for immigration control if you fly in from abroad. Double it if there is another international flight shortly before yours.
Today's flights can be checked online.
There is an urban bus 404 Aeroporto/Benfica which runs frequently between the airport and the center, where you can find buses to virtually anywhere in Fortaleza (Not recommended at night). Going to the urban beaches can either be done this way, or by crossing the parking lot and the highway (keep slightly to the right, not recommended at night) and catch the 027 Siqueira Papicu/Aeroporto, which will take you pretty straight to Praça Portugal/Shopping Aldeota. From here you can either walk some 7 blocks along Avenida Desembargador Moreira to the beach of Meireles, or you can wait for Circular 1 which passes within a block of most hotels in Meireles and Praia Iracema. Reverse this process (Start with Circular 2) to get to the airport, which is slightly easier as the bus then stops right in front of the terminal, and not on the highway.
There are two types of taxis, follow the signs: Airport taxis are more expensive, and have fixed prices. Most tourist areas fall within the most expensive zone, charging R$ 29,60. Regular taxis offer just about the same comfort, and run on the meter, stopping at about R$ 25 to Praia de Iracema or Meireles. Bargaining is tough out here, but fairly easy in the opposite direction.
The main bus station (Telephone +55 85 3230 1111) has buses to most all of the country, often via connections. Expresso Guanabara has the most extensive network from here. Note that most lines within the state of Ceara have their last coach leaving around 6-7 PM.
Taxi to Beira Mar is about R$ 15 and 10-15 minutes. The bus 078 Siqueira Mucuripe will take you the same place in around 30 minutes, -mind the direction!
A second, much smaller bus station is in the western suburb of Antonio Bezerra. Most all lines here are en route to/from the main bus station. And a third bus station is planned in the southern suburb of Messejana
Most tourists will not go more than 5 blocks from the sea, except for the airport and bus station, and perhaps a shopping mall. The following main streets will take you from the city centre to the fish market, by way of Dragão do Mar and the beaches Iracema and Meireles, totalling some 6 km: Avenida Almirante Barroso, Avenida Beira Mar (until Rua Idelefonso Albano, where it's cut off by an artificial beach), Avenida Historiador Raimundo Girão, Avenida Beira Mar (from Avenida Rui Barbosa). This last section of Beira Mar (literally Sea Side), covering some three km, is by far the most attractive part of the city, with police stands and patrols making it fairly safe around the clock, although rather deserted from midnight to dawn. From the fish market, where the Avenida Beira Mar with its broad pavement stops, to the beach of Praia do Futuro is the port area, backed by a refinery and slums. Walking here at daytime can be risky, -at night it's asking for trouble.
Many years in the planning, and quite some time under construction, always halted but budget quarrels, Metrofor promises to take you there and back in no time. Whenever it will be operational.
As any major Brazilian city, Fortaleza can be done almost entirely by bus . Ticket price is R$ 1,60 (rare exceptions), and if you get off at a terminal you can change lines without paying again. Most lines run 7 days a week 0500-2300, give or take. The lines listed here, deemed most useful for tourists, will run roughly every 5-10 minutes daytime weekdays, frequencies perhaps halved nightime and weekends, and down to once an hour after midnight. Only the most useful parts of the routes are described. Some lines have the number 1 or 2 after their names, only to indicate direction, others don't. I.e. the very same bus with the same number and name could be running either from A to B, or from B to A. Ask!
All 4000-odd taxis in town run on the same meter system , except the special cabs at the airport. Start price is R$2,96, then R$1,48 per km on rate 1 and R$ 2,22/km on rate 2. The latter is charged every day from 20:00 to 06:00, Saturdays also from 13:00 to 20:00 and all Sunday, public holidays, and the whole month of December. Waiting is charged R$ 14,80 per hour. Cab drivers in Fortaleza are fairly honest. The meter should always run unless yoy have fixed a price before getting into the car. Most trips that would exceed R$ 10 on the meter are negotiable, and when you pass R$ 30 on the meter a discount of up to 50% could be obtained if you bargain well. Taxi stands are abundant , but it can often prove easier to negotiate if you hail one off the street.
Average bargained prices to out-of-town-destinations:
By moto taxi
Depending on the traffic flow, this can be a rather scary experience. In general about half the price of a cab, starting at R$ 3 for runs up to ten blocks or so.
Brazilian city traffic makes this option rather less than tempting for anyone that normally honks less than once a minute while driving back home. The city is best covered by bus and cab, but a car can make many daytrips to outlying beaches. Rental shops are virtually everywhere. Despite huge signs claiming low prices, you will hardly end up paying less than R$ 60 for the most basic car, -plus fuel. Beach buggies start at R$ 100.
Advice: Don't buy anything from beach (or street) vendors. Their food is a potential hazard to your health, and most anything they sell can be had from the beach shacks at a similar price. Souvenirs and clothing is cheaper and more varied at the Feirinha or Mercado Publico. Many of them will distract you and steal your belongings. And, please, don't feel sorry for the kids: The more money they can make on the street/beach, the more colleagues they will attract: Their income goes either straight to their parents, or to drug dealers. The city of Fortaleza provides food and shelter for homeless kids, -note the people with the high visibility vests strolling Beira Mar. If you are sitting at a table, and really need something from a vendor, -say cigarettes, -ask the waiter to do the shopping on the pavement. This will be appreciated by everyone around you.
There are a couple of locals (although they will sometimes tell you otherwise) that speak some English who approach tourists on the beaches being very helpful. In the end they are not. They want your money, -watch out!
There are two nice city beaches, Praia de Iracema and Meireles. Some people discourage bathing here, although they are mostly rated green by authorities (Click Serviços On-line, then Monitoramente de Praia). The whole stretch from the Ponte Metalica (aka Ponte Inglesa) pier to the fish market is paralleled by the Avenida Beira Mar, very nice for an evening stroll. A string of shacks line the beachfront, mostly good for drinking and people watching. Some of these, particularly when serving in the sand, have up to three different menus with varying prices. Sunbeds can be charged up to R$ 30 a day, although the real price is R$ 3-5. Unless otherwise stated, cross the street for food. The busiest strip (with the most expensive beer), including the bulk of beggars, prostitutes and vendors, is right in front of McDonald's, to avoid these go east of the market. A selection listed from west (Praia de Iracema) to east (Fish market):
The most attractive urban beach is Praia do Futuro. Windy, with rather strong current and undertows, swimming can be a challenge, but for a dip it's fine. Dozens of beach shacks, here a selection from north (closest to Beira Mar) to south, with their special features:
At the very end of Praia do Futuro its name changes to Caça e Pesca. Freshwater swimming in a strong current where the river Cocò meets the ocean.
There is good surfing on the beaches, and frequent competitions at Praia do Futuro.
A couple of motorized schooners and a catamaran do similar 2 hour cruises along the city beaches at R$ 25 per person, setting out daily at 10:00 and 16:00 from near the Iracema-statue, where they also have their ticket booths. The latter time is better, as you get the sunset. Bring swim-gear. Minimum of ten people required- often cancelled in the low season.
Another schooner takes you all the way to Cumbuco at 09:00, lands you for lunch and has buses you back to Fortaleza before 5 PM. R$ 130.
Deep sea game fishing
R$ 600 for a day.
Oba has the full programme for the city's cinemas.
The state of Ceará has a large textile industry, and arguably the cheapest clothing in Brazil. Also the capital of hammocks, varieties of which can be found ranging from less than R$ 10 to more than R$ 100. Best place to buy is the range of small shops opposite the cathedral, city centre.
There are handicraft shops all around the city, but the best places to go are the Feirinha da Beira Mar (Beach front fair, daily about 4 PM - 10 PM) and the Mercado Central (Near the cathedral). These places have a large number of stalls and shops, and competition drives prices down.
The best concentration of restaurants in town is found in the Varjota neighbourhood. Follow Rua Frei Mansueto some five blocks inland from Beira Mar.
Thursday is crab day in Fortaleza, especially in the many shacks at Praia do Futuro.
Three options for a rodizio (grilled meats en masse, watch out for expensive drinks and desserts):
The state of Ceará is renowned for its seafood. Near the fish market are several restaurants:
If you are a bit more courageous, buy your shrimp, lobster, squid, whatever straight from the stalls, and hit one of the nearby shacks to fry it for you. One kilo of mid-sized shrimps about R$ 15, R$ 3 for frying, -then plenty of beers!
There is bad, watery, plastic flavoured ice cream galore in Fortaleza, as elsewhere in Brazil. Try these for the real stuff:
If your accommodation has bad or no breakfast, most large hotels let you take part in theirs for about R$ 10-12. Tulip Inn, Av. Abolição 3340, runs its buffet from 6 AM to 10 PM! R$ 12.
Grab a chilled coconut from a stall at Beira Mar, possibly less than R$ 1!
In December 2008 the city council of Fortaleza followed a growing Brazilian trend by banning drinking in public, i.e. outside licensed premises. It remains to see how this will be enforced, if at all.
Fortaleza is a forró-stronghold. Virtually any day of the week you can find a party with live music and this traditional dance, sometimes in quite modern variations (often referred to as forró universitário). On weekends you can choose from literally dozens of places. For a more genuine, tourist-free happening, you must move towards the outskirts of the city, paying up to R$ 30 by cab.
Traditionally, Fortaleza nightspots have their dedicated day of the week, like Pirata (below) on Mondays. So, when asking around for a place to go, always be specific on when.
For daytime drinking, which can be quite a party, specially on weekends, see the Beaches-section.
The largest concentration of watering holes, very practical if you want to hit and miss and don't have a car, is at Dragão do Mar, Praia Iracema. This area features refurbished colonial buildings, loads of open air seating, live music (sometimes charged), and happy hour beer. Fridays and Saturdays the party is everywhere:
Many of the shacks at Praia do Futuro host parties nightime Thursday - Sunday.
Another area of interest is Varjota, inland from Mucuripe. Plenty of bars and restaurants. Take Rua Frei Mansueto from Beira Mar, 5-10 blocks.
Like it or not, Fortaleza has grown into the Brazilian Gringo-prostitution capital. (At least by repuatation. Rio arguably wins in absolute figures.) Many foreigners, especially Europeans, fly in on charters with this as the main attraction. Unfortunately, this affects other travelers, particularly single men. Many Brazilians, including otherwise sympathetic girls, will assume you are there for "business". The main concentration is at "Happy Street" (Rua dos Tremembés), Praia de Iracema, where the clubs Forró Mambo (R$ 20), Café del Mar (R$ 15) and their immediate neighbors serve overpriced drinks. A small group of young women sitting alone at a table along Beira Mar is probably pro. Any drinking spot that attracts foreigners is bound to attract working girls, therefore some of them try to filter the entries, meaning that a foreign male can have trouble getting in with his Brazilian girl.
Reservations are essential in January, when Brazilian holidaymakers pack in. September-November and March-May have room for bargaining at most posted prices. Many hotels will immediately give you 30% off.
Most hotels are on the strip Praia Iracema - Meireles - Mucuripe, parallel to Avenida Beira Mar, and up to about 4 blocks inland. Categories are spread about, but Praia Iracema has most budget options. Many cheap deals can be struck at Praia do Futuro, but be aware transport costs and lack of security at night.
There are two youth hostels in Praia Iracema, both within 100 m from the church. They charge R$ 30-35 for a dorm bed, which is more expensive than the cheapest single rooms in the same area.
A typical modern two bedroom 65 m2 flat, fully furnished and equipped 2 blocks from Beira Mar will cost around R$ 70 a day in low season, double in high. Monthly rates are about R$ 1000 low season, R$ 2000 or more peak. Mostly you have to pay electricity on top of this. Be aware that an air conditioner can set you back R$ 20 a day if you leave it running. Dozens of agencies.
Many hotels put "flat" or "residence" in their name. This mostly means that you can buy an apartment there, -typically 40-50 m2 with one bedroom and a tiny kitchen. Many of the owners will rent these out for a price substantially less than the one posted in the reception, particularly for longer terms. Monthly deals can come close to the R$ 1000 mark in low season, including linen change and cleaning. Ask the receptionsts for owners' phone numbers:
If you go for a furnished room with a bathroom (often no fridge or a/c), referred to as a kitchenette (often spelled "Kitnet", or anything in between), you will typically be charged R$ 3-400 a month in high season. Praia Iracema has most of these.
If you travel west from Fortaleza, into the states of Maranhão, Pará or further, Brazilian authorities recommend that you get a yellow fever vaccination. An International Certificate of Vaccination  can be issued if you have the shot taken at the airport or in the city center. If you already have your booklet, and only need a new shot and the corresponding entry, this is best done at the medical center at Avenida Antonio Justa, one block from Pão de Açucar, weekdays 7 AM to 4:30 PM, free of charge.
There are plenty of laundries around. Those which charge per kg (mostly R$ 6-10) are somewhat cheaper than those which charge per garment. Your clothes are normally ready next day. There is one single self-service laundry:
Changing cash EUR or USD into BRL is mostly done at interbank rates, meaning that it's better value than most all cash advances on credit or debit cards. Many travel agencies exchange money, and there are 4 exchange bureaus on a string by McDonald´s at Av. Beira Mar, -a good place to compare rates.
Any tour agency, and a number of pushers along Beira Mar, can offer you daytrips, and longer packages, to outlying beaches. The one thing they have in common is the price, -it's fixed in between them, and it's far too expensive. If you are a group of 3-4 persons, a taxi can mostly be negotiated for less.