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Fortaleza is a large beach-side city on the North coast of Brazil, and very popular with Brazilian tourists, although increasingly now international tourists are becoming aware of its charms. A vibrant city with a couple of sweeping ubran beaches, it's a great mix of city buzz and more laid back beach vibes.
The city is considered the birthplace of Forró music and is nationally renowned for its stand-up comedy. You'll find many comedy clubs dotted around, however you'll of course need a good command of Portuguese to enjoy visiting these.
There are two main beaches - Meireles and Iracema - and most of the accommodation is on the strip next to them. They are both lovely urban beaches: large, clean and with plenty of space. Even at weekends you can usually find a space for yourself and during the week the beach can be virtually empty.
There are restaurants lining the beachfront area offering plenty of fish and seafood as well as a few international options such as pizza to cater for most tastes.
The best beach in the city is Praia do Futuro, which is lined with little shacks and sits around five kilometres away from the main tourist hub of Fortaleza. There are a few hotels there, if you want to stay somewhere that feels less touristy, but you need to be aware that there isn’t the police presence there that there is near the two main beaches so do exercise some sensible caution if walking around at night.
Fortaleza has a very active nightlife, starting late and carrying on until the early hours. It is particularly lively at weekends, but any night is good for a party in Fortaleza.
Forró is the traditional dance of the area and you can go and see this dance (and join in) and listen to some live music any night of the week, although weekends are best. There are plenty of clubs in Fortaleza where you can get a real feeling of what it’s about.
There are many different styles of Forró, although as the birthplace of the dance, the types practiced here are widely considered to be the most authentic. It is a partner dance and involves a lot of close body contact.
The style you will most commonly see is known as universitario, which is similar in style to Salsa but with a lot more spinning, which looks great when watching a demonstration but is less than practical on a crowded dance floor!
Forró music is virtually always performed with a rhythm section of triangle and zacumba (a traditional Brazilian instrument) and will nearly always feature an accordion, although the Brazilian accordion is quite different from the European version. Many other instruments will then join in. The resulting sound is hypnotic and a real treat for the senses.
There is a market along by the beach-walk (Beira-mar) selling clothes, hammocks and trinket souvenirs every evening from around 5pm through to 11pm. There are also some unofficial artisanal stalls nearby, selling the usual array of jewellery and semi-precious stones.
Fortaleza is the centre of Brazil’s garment industry, so cheap clothes are in abundance. There are plenty available at the evening market or you can go to the central market during the day, if you feel your haggling skills are good enough. You are not paying for high quality here, but prices are low and it’s perfect for buying a cheap holiday wardrobe that you can wear for just a few weeks and then throw out.
Apart from the restaurants and bars that line the beaches, the place to head is the Dragão do Mar. This is a great spot for people watching, where you can get a coffee or a beer and watch the world go by. Open from late afternoon through into the small hours you will often find concerts taking place too.
The famous Orbita bar, which is popular with both locals and visitors, is just across the road and features live music, pool tables and all types of entertainment. For reasons best known to itself, Sunday nights are its most popular night. Each local venue has its special night; the popular Pirata, for example, has its starring night on Mondays.
If you enjoy eating crab then it’s worth visiting Fortaleza on a Thursday, as this is crab day. The beach shacks at Praia do Futuro are best for this but over by the fish market there are plenty of good seafood restaurants that will have crab too.
Seafood is the most popular type of food in Fortaleza’s restaurants, but meat is also popular, particularly in the form of all-you-can-eat or pay-per-kilo establishments.
Near to is Dragão do Mar in the centre is Praça José de Alencar, where you can sit and watch some of the city’s street performers. There is also a good art museum (Museu de Arte e Cultura Popular) right in the centre. Even if it’s closed you can wander around and enjoy the many beautiful murals on the outside walls.
If you're feeling a little more adventurous, then head to 'Beach Park', an adrenaline-filled water park on the shore of the main throng of Porto das Dunas for dozens of exciting water slides and wave pools. Widely considered to be one of the top 10 water parks in the world, it's a must-vist for any family trip to Fortaleza.
You can’t walk along Beira-Mar without finding agents selling trips to beaches outside the city. Jericoacoara is the most popular, but requires more than a day to get the best from it.
Cumbuco is a more reasonable day trip, good for kite-surfing and has a fresh water lake for swimming. Canoa Quebrada is another possibility, an old hippie hangout, now more of a resort. Both are easy day trips.
Fortaleza's biggest draw is its reliable weather, and from May though to November it very rarely rains, with sunshine almost guaranteed every day within these months. Rain is possible the rest of the year, but normally only as a short, tropical downpour in the afternoon or overnight. The temperature is a pretty consistent 23-31 degrees all year, meaning Brazilians are free to struff their stuff along the golden sands almost every day of the year.
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