Fortaleza is one of the lesser-known large cities in Brasil, though it could be thought of as the Nordeste’s hidden gem if there were more to do there than go to the beach or cultural center Dragão do Mar, a haven of art and architecture three blocks from the beach. There isn’t much else though, so Fortaleza remains one of the places everyone means to visit but never gets around to.
I lived in and loved Fortaleza for five months, so here’s what I suggest seeing while in town.
Dragão do Mar is what separates Fortaleza from other seaside cities, so we’ll start there. Dragão do Mar is a cultural center with a planetarium, museum, music and art exhibits, and unique architecture, and all of this is within a ten minute walk from Praia de Iracema. While the walk is short, it’s best to avoid at night and the quiet hours of weekdays.
Next up comes Ponte dos Ingleses, or Bridge of the English, a pier at the end of Praia de Iracema, or Iracema Beach. The pier was built by English company Norton Griffts Co. to be used as a port for the city, but the project and bridge were then abandoned. Decades later the pier was finished and now serves as a popular place for runners during the day, couples during the night, and photographers at sunrise and sunset. It was never used as a port.
Further down the beach is Paseo das Artes, a walkway surrounded by art sanctioned by the city. The first week of each new piece is spectacular, but before long people start to scribble their names in spraypaint with the same mentality of dogs marking their territory on poles.
A kilometer down the beach from Paseo das Artes is the statue of Iracema. Traditionally, Iracema was a goddess who protected what is now Fortaleza from sea monsters or something. Now the statue is used as a meeting point and the plaza used as a skate park. It’s perfect.
At night Praia de Iracema meets Avenida Beira Mar and is overrun by people renting roller blades and selling popcorn, churros, and traditional Brasilian food such as tapioca (an omelete made with ground cassava instead of eggs) or spitinhas (meat skewers, often served with sides of rice and salad), while others sell bootlegged electronic gear or dress up as statues and charge for pictures. The walk feels like a carnival, but happens 365 days a year.
Further down Avenida Beira Mar, a street that runs along the beach for several miles, is the Feira de Artesanal na Beira Mar, where a mix of mass-produced souvenirs and handmade souvenirs are sold side by side, with a keen eye needed to tell the difference.
You’ve reached the end of Beira Mar and the end of the safe, fun part of Fortaleza’s coast.
Inland a few miles is the standard Mercado Central found in most every Latin American city, along with what looks like the ugliest cathedral ever built…
until you step inside and are hypnotized by the dancing colors of sunset reflecting through the stain glassed windows surrounding the cathedral.
Now that you’ve seen what there is to see in Fortaleza, the next thing to do is to make it out alive.
Other things to see before leaving the area are Praia do Futuro, the Beach Park water park, Canoa Quebrada beach and sand dunes, and further up the coast, the heavenly Jericoacoara.