By Stephanie Foden, Contributing Reporter
OLINDA, BRAZIL – Just four miles north of the bustling streets of Recife is the sister city of Olinda, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best-preserved colonial cities in Brazil. A spectacular walk around the cobblestone streets lined with bright houses, cafés, museums, galleries and Baroque churches can make for a pleasant afternoon.
Founded in 1535 by the Portuguese, Olinda was the original capital of Pernambuco state. The 300-acre-wide historic town lost its capital status to Recife after it was sacked and burnt by the Dutch nearly a century later. While some of the buildings seen today were originally constructed in the 16th century, most were built or rebuilt after the fires.
One site not to miss is the Protestant Igreja da Sé (Church Cathedral), one of the many churches in Olinda. It was built in 1537 atop Alto da Sé (Cathedral Heights), the town’s highest point from where incredible panoramic views can be appreciated.
As this is a popular point for tourists to start their descent into the picturesque town, visitors can find local tour guides here eager to show them around. Then, for a break from the churches and galleries, a stop in at one of Olinda’s many charming restaurants, cafés or bars is recommended.
American traveler and English teacher Ashley Tessarolo, who has recently been in town, recommends visiting Estação Café in the historic district. “It’s like an oasis from all the chaos going on outside,” she boasts. “The coffee is good, and they put work into the atmosphere of the place, and it pays off.”
Every February, the streets in the old town are taken over by partygoers in handmade costumes and giant puppets, and there are no stands or roping like in its big city counterparts. It is the carnival by the people for the people: they organize their own blocos, play their own music and make their own path, with almost no government intervention.
For year-round entertainment however, travelers should head to one of Olinda’s street parties. “It’s dirty and poorly planned, but that’s what makes it fun. The street is full of interesting characters on party nights,” said Tessarolo.
“I saw a man rig up a tightrope, walk it, pretend to fall, and then spit flames eight feet into the air. A lady with no teeth walked around in pristine, adorable clothes, taking pictures with people then asking for money.”
The closest airport to Olinda, a city of 370,000, is the much larger city of Recife’s Guarapes Airport. From here or any point in Recife, you can reach its historic neighbor by local bus or a 20-minute taxi ride.