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.
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.
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.
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