Recife is a large city along the Northeast coast of Brazil. Recife is easily accessible by bus or airplane and is a great place to book accommodation as there are several day tours leaving every day to nearby attractions such as beaches, snorkel spots and Olinda.
Olinda is a smaller town a few kilometres north of Recife and is the main attraction, although you can stay in olinda it is slightly more pricey compared with recife.
Olinda is more common for international tourists as it boasts some of the oldest colonial style buildings in all of Brazil.
Getting to Recife
We had quite the experience getting to Recife from Pipa. One would think this is a common route, but information on this route is scarce and therefore a bit confusing. There are two ways to travel this route:
1) Cheapest Option – Connect in Goianinha
We almost always go for the cheapest option so we caught the local bus out of Pipa heading to a city called Goianinha where you can then catch a different bus to Recife.
This local bus cost R$5 each and took about 30minutes. You catch the bus where all the local buses go from in Pipa on the Main Street near Praia Do Amor. One leaves approximately every 10-15 minutes in high season
The bus drops you off in the street in Goianinha – there is no bus terminal in this town. After asking locals for help (using google translate of course) we were pointed to a restaurant called De Valle where the bus to Recife picks people up.
Unfortunately for us, the ticket office only opens 15minutes before the bus is due to arrive. We saw that the office had a debit card machine and thought we could pay with card as we were running low on cash- the machine was broken. We ended up missing that bus and had to wait for a couple hours for the next one after finding an ATM and getting cash.
The bus company from Goianinha to Recife is called Progresso. DO NOT buy your bus tickets on their website, they took my money and never gave us the tickets. Either buy the tickets in advance on busbud (great website but charges a small service fee) or in cash at the ticket counter.
The bus ride costs about R$60 and is four to five hours long.
2) Easiest Option – Backtrack through Natal
Same as above, you catch a local bus to Natal. It will cost about R$15 and take 1.5 hours. (If you did not go to Pipa, you can easily catch a direct bus from Natal to Recife.)
The bus will leave you at the main bus terminal in Natal where you can either stay in Natal for a couple nights or get a bus straight to Recife for R$80. The journey time can vary based on the number of stops and bus company but should take about 6 hours.
Arriving in Recife
The Recife bus terminal is in the WORST location. If you can communicate with your bus driver try to explain that you want to be dropped off as close to Boa Viagem as possible.
Boa Viagem is the neighbourhood you should book your accommodation in (unless you prefer to stay in Olinda.)
The bus terminal is literally in the middle of nowhere, 30km or more from Boa Viagem – we learned this the hard way.
If you do get dropped at the bus terminal you can take the metro and then a bus to your hostel. Ask your hostel in advance for the bus number. Note, the area where you get off the metro to get on a local bus is very poor and very dodgy. Maybe think twice about attempting this route if you are alone or traveling at night.
We arrived in Recife around 8pm and took the metro to the local bus station where we were not inclined to get on the local bus. The area was very sketchy looking so we jumped in a taxi from there instead.
Accommodation in Recife
Many tourists opt to stay in Olinda instead of Recife, we didn’t do this and I am glad. Olinda is a beautiful area with interesting architecture, but does not have the amenities of the big city. Olinda is also just as unsafe (if not worse) than Boa Viagem in Recife. Olinda can easily be explored from Boa Viagem via one direct bus.
We stayed at Pirates da Praia Hostel Coworking in Boa Viagem. It was fantastic! Amazing location with a grocery store in the same building,across the street from the bus stop to Olinda, two blocks from the beach, around the corner from a Banco do Brasil and massive shopping centre. The hostel had a friendly vibe, good common areas, awesome air conditioning in the room and helpful staff. Every bed had a lamp and power points. Also, coffee, tea and biscuits where available all day! The hostel booked our tours for us with no fee which helped as we do not speak Portuguese. For backpackers who enjoy clean facilities, social vibe and a great location I would not stay anywhere else in Recife!
What to Do in Recife
We took the local bus to Olinda. It’s very easy and direct (bus number 910 goes straight there.) Olinda is a beautiful town with colonial style old buildings.
We were lucky to be exploring Olinda approaching Carnival time as we got to see some pre-carnival celebrations on the street.
Walk to the top of the hill and check out old churches along the way. There is lots of tourist shopping stores and a nice view at the top of the hill.
I heard that Olinda has a good nightlife as well but we did not get a chance to check it out this time.
2) Walk around Boa Viagem and the City Centre
We don’t speak Portuguese so we skipped out on the museums here but rumour has it that they are quite interesting.
The beach is Boa Viagem is nice and you can rent tables and umbrellas to sit all day. Keep in mind though that Recife is renowned for shark attacks and if you don’t see anyone else swimming probably do not enter the water. The best time to swim is low tide when the reef isolates some swimming areas from the rest of the ocean. I would not recommend to swim there during high tide.
Lots of restaurants are in Boa Viagem as it is the “tourist area.” We had some prawns and beers for a reasonable price, R$25 for a plate of prawns and R$7 for a 600ml beer.
3) Go on a day trip to Porto de Galinhas
The hostel was able to book a mini bus for us to Porto de Galinhas and back for R$30 each! The bus picks you up in the morning and brings you back in the evening. The bus ride was about 1.5 hours each way and comes with a guide (who only speaks Portuguese.)
Porto de Galinhas is a town with one of the commonly ranked ‘Best Beach in Brazil‘. You want to get there for low tide as it creates natural swimming pools in the reefs to look at fish and coral. You can also chill on the beach and enjoy the sunshine.
There are many restaurants as well as food stalls. You can rent a table and umbrellas for R$30 or agree to just buy their food. Be careful though, many places make this deal with you but the cheapest meal can be R$70 or more, so ask to see the menu before agreeing to sit down and choose a place with cheaper meals (we found a plate of prawns for R$23 at a restaurant called Pescaria.)
Porto de Galinhas is known for its perfect beach weather, sunny days with just a slight breeze all of the time. It doesn’t have shark attacks like Recife and is a total tourist spot. Definitely worth coming for a day trip to escape the craziness of the city.
Overall, Recife and Olinda were interesting places to visit. I wouldn’t recommend making a special trip just to visit but if you are making your way up or down the Northeast Coast of Brazil you definitely should stop and explore for a couple of days!