João Pessoa: An Escape for Life
I had read a lot about João Pessoa and it seemed to be a good place for our young family for all the right reasons. I was particularly interested in the cultural side of things: plenty of theatres, parks, places to go, great shopping facilities, good beaches and weather. My wife and I had pondered over several other towns
We went there for the first time over three weeks during Christmas. Due to the problems at the airports we decided to drive some 2,000 miles all the way from where we were living down in the Southeast, and we saw and appreciated a lot more of Brazil than we would have done by plane.
When we arrived, we alighted from our air-conditioned car by a little roadside restaurant on the outskirts. Have you ever opened the oven door to check the roast and felt a blast of heat on your face? Well that’s just what it was like. The average temperature varies around 30ºC during the day and 27ºC at night. However, there’s always a soft, gentle breeze blowing in from the sea like a silk scarf, cool in every sense of the word.
João Pessoa has a definite small town feel. Several tree-lined, wide avenues run through the city, though you feel like you are always driving through the suburbs of a larger city. One moment you’re driving along, the next you’re confronted by a large sandy, grassy square with people exercising or lounging at a bar. When looking around the neighbourhoods you notice that the walls surrounding the houses are lower or next to non-existent, and there aren’t so many electric fences. There was the odd big dog and people left their belongings on their balconies too. So in the main, neighbours were very trusting of each other. Very reassuring.
Arriving at the beautiful beach area of Tambaú and Cabo Branco we were stunned by the turquoise waters. Looking for somewhere ideal for the children, we drove further north and several beaches such as Intermares and Poço fitted the bill. There is beachfront housing and in some areas a few six storey buildings, but it doesn’t feel overbearing. Driving to Cabedelo, we took the ferry across to Lucena followed by a long leisurely drive to the Baía da Traição. However, if you really want isolation, the beaches on the South coast are a much better option.
We took a drive to Barra do Garaú and Bela, and with the exception of one fisherman about 500m away, we were the only people there. After some time had passed I came across a number of vehicles parked up around natural lagoons in the sand. A Pajero passed me and I thought “if he can do it, I can”. In the back of my mind, a little voice was saying, “stay there, everyone is enjoying themselves”. I wish I had listened. I drove about eight metres on to the sand and sunk. I had no idea what had happened. The car was in 4×4 mode and I was following the tracks of the other vehicles but here I was sunk right up to the axles. As I got out of the car my door was just above the sand, I looked behind me to see a dark line of seaweed and worse still: it looked like the tide was coming in. I took a food carton lid and scooped in a frenzy at the sand below the car. My wife asked if she could take a photo, then thought better of it. When it seemed like we were going to lose our car, I heard the roar of a big pickup behind me, with a truckload of party goers. They assessed the problem, raced off for a rope and then made several attempts to pull our car out of the sand. One of them was a member of the local 4×4 club, and he kindly explained I was driving too slowly and there was too much air in the tyres. There was a sickening feeling looking back to where the car was stuck as the tide had covered the spot in less than 45 minutes. There was sand everywhere and I am still finding sand even when I think I have given the car a thorough cleaning.
Every morning a team of sweepers meet up at Manaíra beach. They walk along the seafront in a long line clearing the road, pavement and beach. I watched them start one morning, standing in a huge circle on the beach. They started with a few songs, followed by what appeared to be “feel good” chants, then a happy birthday which I found myself joining in to and then finally prayers. It was so uplifting. Ten minutes later I was
words by Tamashin
Top 5 Things To Do in João Pessoa
1. Swim in the crystal clear waters of Picãozinho (pictured below) through the hundreds of colourful fish as you wander freely
2. Get intimate at Tambaba beach, Brazil’s first nudist beach and voted one of the 10 best in the country
3. Spare a sigh for the sunset at Jacaré beach whilst listening to the daily performance of Ravel’s Bolero
4. Get fit jogging, cycling or roller-skating along the coastal path at Manaira and Cabo Branco beaches
5. Be spoilt for choice by the tasty regional cuisine at Mangai restaurant
When to go
The sun shines all year round with an average temperature of 30ºC. João Pessoa is a typical tropical climate destination with high humidity alleviated by late afternoon showers and a constant sea breeze. December to February is a pleasant affair as the city teems with cultural events linked to the New Year’s Eve festivities and the Carnival without the crowds typical of Rio or Salvador.
How to get there
The easiest way to get to João Pessoa from Europe is by flying into the neighbouring cities of Recife and Natal that are only 2½ hours away by bus. TAP airlines has daily flights to both cities via Lisbon. TAM airlines has frequent services from São Paulo and Rio (both about four hours), normally involving a stopover in another town in the North-east region.
At first glance Paraíba state may look small, but it has enough attractions to keep you coming back. The first obvious idea is to explore the deserted south coast until Tambaba, 45km south from João Pessoa, a nudist haven and said to be one of the prettiest in the country. Inland, Campina Grande is worth visiting on Wednesdays and Saturdays when a large street market is held with all sorts of handicrafts, art, food and clothes. The town is also packed during the massive Festas Juninas festivities in June.
Where to stay
João Pessoa is a good alternative to some other hyped-up capitals in the North-east regions for its reasonably priced accommodation. At the high end is Tambaú Tropical Hotel (tropicalhotel.com.br), famous for its great, circular shape extending into the sea and its private beaches. Pousada do Cajú (pousadadocaju.com.br) is a very well located mid-range hotel which has four small pousadas close to the beach. The city also has a very good YHA youth hostel at Manaíra beach area (manairahostel.br2.net)
Eat, Drink & Fun
When hunger strikes the Manaíra area is the place to go as it has a concentration of some of the best restaurants in town. Mangai (696 Av Edson Ramalho), boasts a 40-dish menu of traditional local cuisine and Casa do Bacalhau (52 Av Franca Filho), has a fine selection of fresh seafood. Truth be told, Bargaço (5160 Av Cabo Branco), probably serves the finest lobster in João Pessoa. Many beach bars such as Giramundos in