A restored city centre full historic buildings
Olinda, a maze of cobbled streets
Igarassu, the second-oldest city in Brazil

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The old-European style Barrio

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The old-European style Barrio

Let your MSC cruise take you to north-eastern Brazil’s largest metropolitan area, Recife, a dynamic, sprawling city of over four million with a booming economy and two major ports. The city centre – the three islands of Santo Antônio, Boa Vista and Bairro do Recife – is a compelling mix, once you get used to it (a bit like Rio’s old downtown).

The city centre is completely safe and the regenerated Bairro do Recife area in particular is a real gem, more akin to belle époque Europe than to the rest of Brazil.

Most of its middle class lives in the beachside district of Boa Viagem, a forest of high-rise condos and beach hotels to the south, though it’s not as much of a resort area as Maceió – while shopping malls and businesses have moved out here, it remains a residential area at heart.

Olinda is, quite simply, one of the largest and most beautiful complexes of colonial architecture in Brazil, and is just waiting to be admired on an MSC South America cruise excursion. It’s a maze of cobbled streets, hills crowned with brilliant white churches, pastel-coloured houses, Baroque fountains and graceful plazas.

MSC South America cruises also offer excursions to Igarassu. The second-oldest city in Brazil, 32km north of Recife, was founded by the Portuguese in 1537 on a ridge rising out of a sea of palm trees: the name means “great canoe” in the language of the Tupi Indians, the cry that went up when they first saw the Portuguese galleons.

Though it’s nothing like Olinda, a few relics of its past remain in the historic centre (Sítio Histórico de Igarassu); for example, the modest Igreja dos Santos Cosme e Damião, the oldest church in Brazil, is still there on the ridge (the first church was founded in 1535, but this one dates to the 1590s).

Must see places in Recife

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    North Brazil

    Nature reserves and colonial atmospheres
    Nature reserves and colonial atmospheres

    Brazil’s north-east has definitely benefited from the nation’s economic boom and is now a region on the rise.

    Despite having the most dazzling coastline in South America, a buzzing beach scene and an exuberant culture that blends samba, reggae and African influences, the area, divided politically into eight separate states, has not been spoilt by tourism. 

    A cruise to Brazil’s north-east will show you the major cities along the coast: some, such as Recife, Olinda, São Luís and Fortaleza, have a deep colonial heritage; others, such as Maceió and Natal, have developed mostly in recent decades. All of these cities have their own city beaches plus more idyllic and deserted resorts hidden up and down the coast. The Ilha de Fernando de Noronha, hundreds of kilometres offshore, is one of the finest oceanic wildlife reserves in the world, an expensive destination but perfect for ecotourism.

    The smallest Brazilian states and long ignored by travellers, Alagoas and Sergipe have developed rapidly in recent years. Though lacking the romance of Rio and Salvador, the two state capitals of Maceió and Aracaju offer fine beaches and a smattering of history, while some genuinely well-preserved colonial towns are a short bus ride away.