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By Amy Skalmusky, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – One could say that Aracajú suffers from the middle child syndrome. Located midway between two popular tourist destinations in the Northeast of Brazil – Salvador, Bahia and Maceió, Alagoas – Sergipe’s capital city is commonly overlooked. For the lucky ones that do visit, Aracaju offers unspoiled beaches, a safe and well-organized urban space, and outstanding local cuisine.

Gentle waves and constant wind make kite surfing is a popular sport in Aracaju, photo by Amy Skalmusky.
Gentle waves and constant wind make kite surfing is a popular sport in Aracaju, photo by Amy Skalmusky.

Only a two-hour flight from Rio, Aracaju is pleasant year-round. It has relatively stable temperatures, averaging 27 °C (80.6 °F) in the summer and 22 °C (71.6 °F) in the winter, and a constant, cool breeze from the ocean.

The city of Aracaju, founded in 1855 has a population of 600,000 people. It was one of the first planned cities in Brazil, which is evident in the well-maintained and clearly-marked streets laid out on a grid – a welcome site for visitors renting cars, bikes or motorcycles.

The town center is neatly arranged and filled with modern conveniences such as theaters, museums, malls and churches. However, the Mercado Albano Franco, situated at the edge of town, stands out as a true sensory experience, giving visitors a peek at typical life in the Northeast.

Hundreds of vendors offer a myriad of fruits, vegetables, seafood, meat, and goods from around the region. Exotic delicacies such as mangaba, umbú, sirigüela, live crabs, fish the size of small children, specialty sweets including rapadura (dried sugarcane juice, in the form of a brick) as well as the famous local cashews are some of the items found on sale.

Small restaurants and stands within the complex offer regional dishes accompanied by colorful bands playing Northeastern folk music, or forró.

Although a good carne de sol completa com pirão-de-leite (a complete meal with salted, dried meat, rice, beans, fried cassava and a type of white sauce) is a good bet at the market, the true stars of the food in Aracaju come from the sea. The standout is the crab, which is best eaten “with a hammer.”

After being boiled in salt water, the entire crab is served and diners are given a small hammer or piece of wood to break the shell and extract the meat. Though it takes patience, the results are delectable.

Vendors at the Mercado Albano Franco offer exotic fruits, regional specialties and arts and crafts, photo by Anselmo Pontes.
Vendors at the Mercado Albano Franco offer exotic fruits, regional specialties and arts and crafts, photo by Anselmo Pontes.

After a good meal, the next logical stop is the beach. Aracaju has approximately 35km of coastline with warm, shallow water and gentle waves. The beaches to the South offer calmer waters and better infrastructure than the ones in the North, which are less developed.

The nearest beach to the city is Praia de Atalaia (Atalaia Beach). A favorite with families and popular for its nightlife near the Passarela do Caranguejo (Crab walkway), the beach is lined with bars, restaurants and leisure areas. The Oceanário de Aracaju (Aquarium of Aracaju) on the beach houses twenty aquariums displaying various plants and marine life species from Sergipe.

Further south, the Praia do Refúgio (Refúgio Beach) has some of the most charming kiosks and restaurants as well as calm water and coconut trees. The Parati restaurant is one of the nicest places to spend the day and try a caipirinha “nevada”, or iced caipirinha, of mangaba or caja.

Those who want to rough it can venture to Praia Pirambu (Pirambu Beach) in the North. This extensive, desert beach has dunes and a protected area for nesting sea turtles (part of the TAMAR project).

Tourism in Aracaju has been growing at around 10 percent a year. With the government investing heavily in infrastructure and promotion, the city may soon end up leaving its siblings behind.

Recommendations:
Hotels:
Parque dos Coqueiros
Aquarios Praia Hotel

Restaurants:
Parati – Rodovia José Sarney 47 – Praia do Refúgio
Carne de Sol do Miguel – Avenida Antônio Alves, 340 – Atalaia
Cariri – Rua Dr Niceu Dantas, 775 – Atalaia
Areia Branca restaurante (for Crab) – Mosqueiro neighbourhood

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Last month I spent a week each in Maceió, Aracaju and Salvador. Aracaju was a delightful surprise. The infrastructure there is much better than Maceió, and the beaches were fabulous. It’s a hidden gem, but becoming less hidden all the time. I met many Cariocas and Paulistas who had fled their cities and settled recently in Aracaju.

  2. This year 2 guys have stolen my camera and cash while I was walking in Atalaia. Unfortunately not so safe as used to be.

  3. Safe? Aracaju? For where, Fallujah? I lived there for 13 years, one of my best american friends who lived there for 25 years was murdered in his home a year after I arrived. A total of 4 other foreigners that I knew fairly well were robbed and shot, but all four survived. They have a murder rate of around 50/100K, and approximately 150 people are killed each year being ran over by automobiles……real tropical paradise, if you build yourself a fortress and imprison yourself inside!

  4. I decided to go to Aracaju because it was about four or five hours far from Salvador, which was my destination. Although it’s pretty small compared to the other cities I’ve visited in Brazil, you can find many interesting things to do there. The city is amazing. I think it’s mostly safe, I didn’t feel like it was dangerous. Public transportation seems to be crowded tho, and cabs are pretty expensive, so renting a car is the best option, for sure. Anyways, I highly recommend it.

  5. I lived in Sergipe in the late 60s and never felt unsafe. The city has grown immensely since then. But because much of it is fairly new, it is modern, clean and I still find it a safe place. Of course there will be incidents of robbery and violence, as in any large city, so one should take the same precautions as in other cities. Know what neighborhoods to avoid and don’t be out alone at night. Don’t flaunt money or jewelry or expensive cameras. I keep money and credit cards in a special pouch under my clothes, wear only a cheap watch, and take my 2nd-best camera when I travel. You might carry a good-quality point and shoot camera you can fit in a pocket rather than have a huge expensive one around your neck. I keep a little bit of money in a pocket for convenience, but also so that if I am robbed, I can give the thieves something and hope they will be satisfied. I take the same precautions when I travel in the U.S.

    I live in a very small town in the U.S. (about 3000 residents) that is almost crime-free. But I still lock my house and car doors and am careful with my purse and camera.

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