Built on the profits of the sugar cane industry, Maceio is the capital city of the northern Brazilian state of Alagoas. Its primary draw is the 13 miles of urban beaches that line the serpentine oceanfront, and as a gateway to the powder sand beaches to the north and south. Just off the coast, rocky reefs form shallow natural pools, providing fantastic opportunities for snorkeling and swimming.
Although quieter than Brazilian coastal cities such as Rio and Recife, it is precisely this laid-back charm that draws people to its beachfront promenade lined with palm trees and thatched-roof restaurants, many of which stay open well into the night.
While some flights from Europe arrive at Maceio’s Zumbi dos Palmares international airport, connected to the city center by a bus that stops at the popular beach districts of Ponta Verde and Pajucara, North American visitors usually need to connect via domestic flights from Rio or Sao Paulo. If you are on an extended visit to Brazil, the airport has good connections with other cities such as Brasilia, Florianopolis and Salvador. Alternately, you can catch a bus from Recife, about 160 miles north of Maceio. An executive bus leaves Recife three times daily, and less luxurious coaches depart every two hours for the approximately four-hour journey.
Maceio is all about the beach, especially around the northern neighborhood of Ponta Verde and at Pajucara Beach. The former is home to a boardwalk lined with beach bars and many of the city’s better oceanfront hotels, while the latter hosts a nightly craft market poetically named “Chiero da Tierra,” or scent of the earth.
Easily navigable by foot, Maceio city center contains few significant historic attractions, but some pretty colonial buildings, including 19th-century Bom Jesus dos Martires church, covered in Portuguese blue-and-white azulejo tiles.
The port area of Jaragua is also home to a host of colonial buildings; many were converted into lively bars and nightclubs. But it’s the water that inevitably draws you in, and to swim in the shallow reefs known as “parrachos,” head to the Praia Pajucara and jump on one of the brightly colored jangada boat excursions.
For many visitors, Maceio is a convenient base for exploring the approximately 125 miles of beaches north and south. The farthest beach north at Maragogi is about 2.5 hours by car, but the more easily accessed beach of Praia da Sereia, just north of Maceio, is a popular spot to swim in the warm natural pools and under the shadow of a mermaid sculpture, or to grab a seafood lunch at a beach kiosk.
More secluded beaches can be found at Milagres and Porto da Rua, or by heading south to Barra de Sao Miguel and Praia Gunga, which, while busier at weekends, remain tranquil throughout the week. One of the easiest and most popular excursions from Maceio is the nine-island boat tour of the emerald green Lake Mundau departing from Pontal da Barra at the southern end of the promenade.
The trip takes you up the inland waterways with stops at a couple of beaches for refreshments. Back at Pontal da Barra, you can sample local shrimp at one of the many small waterside restaurants.