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One Day in Aracaju: Off the Beaten Path in Northeast Brazil

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1 week ago

It’s no secret that I think Northeast Brazil offers the best of the country. Wide stretches of glorious Atlantic coastline, the most colorful Portuguese colonial towns, and, of course, a vibrant and accessible Afro-Brazilian cultural scene, with music and art at every corner. And don’t even get me started on Carnival!

Wedged between the larger and more popular cities of Recife and Salvador, Aracaju is certainly not on most foreigners’ Brazil travel itineraries. With no large attractions, Aracaju often hides under the radar. However, for many travelers, adding Aracaju onto your Northeastern Brazil travel itinerary often makes a lot of sense.

For example, if you’ve already completed our 3-day itinerary for Recife and Olinda and you are curious to explore more of Northeast Brazil, or you’re thinking about a road trip north from Salvador in search of your slice of paradise. Better yet, if you’ve just arrived back from 4-days on Fernando de Noronha and you’re looking to save some money. In short, Aracaju is the perfect add-on to many of the star attractions of Northeast Brazil.

How to get to Aracaju, Brazil

Aracaju is located in the state of Sergipe, in Northeast Brazil.

By air

Aracaju Airport (airport code: AJU) is well connected to major Brazilian cities, including São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and Recife.

Domestic flight prices in Brazil fluctuate dramatically, we always recommend that you book as far in advance as possible.

By land

If you have traveled around Brazil, you already know that Brazil’s domestic bus network is excellent. You can take direct buses from much of the country (and especially across Northeast Brazil) directly to Aracaju’s bus terminal.

Bus times vary between companies and stops, but generally speaking you are looking at 7 hours to Salvador, 5 hours to Macaeio and 12 hours to Recife directly.

For those considering a Northeast Brazil road trip, driving directly from Aracaju will take about 5 hours to Salvador and 8 hours to Recife. The major perk of doing this road trip would be stopping along the way at some of the best beaches in the world!

Where to stay in Aracaju, Brazil

I recommend staying in the Atalaia neighborhood of Aracaju. Set about a 20-minute drive from the commercial centre, this is the major beachside neighborhood and maintains a real holiday atmosphere.

Atalaia has many pousadas, hotels and apart-hotels catering almost exclusively to domestic Brazilian tourists. For those traveling on a budget, I recommend the Anaue Pousada. Anaue operates like a hostel with both very clean dorms and excellent private rooms. The hostel is only a few blocks back from the beach and is the best value for money option in Aracaju.

For those looking for more mid- to high- range offerings, the Jatobá Praia and Celi Hotel offer excellent beachside options.

atalaia beach palm trees in aracaju brazil

How to spend One Day in Aracaju, Brazil

Here are my tips on how to spend the ideal day in Aracaju. You could easily spend a few days here, enjoying the beaches and detoxing in one of Brazil’s most affordable cities. However, if you do have time on your side, I would recommend getting out of town to the more remote and rugged beach towns!

Breakfast

I recommend starting your day early, as we are busy! If your hotel doesn’t offer breakfast, check out Pand’oro in Atalaia. They offer both Western- and Brazilian-style breakfast, with the usual characters of omelettes, tapiocas and various cakes. If you have a sweet tooth like me, don’t miss out on the cocada (coconut cake).

Morning: São Cristóvão

Our first stop for the day is the uber-charming colonial town of São Cristóvão. If you have visited other more famous colonial towns like Ouro Preto or Olinda, be prepared for something entirely different. São Cristóvão is tiny (think a few blocks) and you would be hardpressed to fill more than two hours here.

In saying that, São Cristóvão is the fourth-oldest city in Brazil and well worth a visit on any itinerary of Northeast Brazil. São Cristóvão is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for being one of the earliest patterns of Portuguese colonial town planning in a tropical landscape.

Life in São Cristóvão centres on the majestic São Francisco Square, with the namesake São Francisco Church and Convent standing at the back. Take your time exploring the cobblestone streets, hopping in and out of decaying churches and artisan shops.

You’ll find that São Cristóvão is not tourist-y at all. The town can be very quiet, and there are only a handful of cafes and açai shops. Regardless, São Cristóvão offers a unique opportunity to reflect on Brazil’s colonial heritage in a completely untouched atmosphere.

How to get to São Cristóvão

The easiest way of getting to São Cristóvão is unquestionably Uber. From Atalaia, an Uber will cost you about 40-50 reais (US$8-10) for the 35-minute drive.

Travel tip: It can be tricky finding an Uber back. I recommend calling an Uber about 15 minutes before you plan to go, as often the cars will be coming from nearby towns or the highway.

If you would prefer to go with organized transport, any Aracaju hotel will be able to link you up with local tour providers who offer day trips to São Cristóvão.

Lunch: Local food

São Cristóvão is home to a few local restaurants and small diners. For lunch, I recommend you head to Filhas do Mangue for a gastronomic experience which you really wouldn’t expect to find in São Cristóvão. For me, it’s all about the extras, from the sweet tamarind juice to the baked cheesecake with guava jam.

Early Afternoon: Aracaju commercial centre

After lunch, make your way to the Mercado Municipal Antônio Franco. This combined open-air and covered market offers an assortment of local crafts, flowers and fruits. If you’re looking for a unique (and cheap) souvenir to bring home, this is the spot for you.

I have visited many urban markets in Brazil and normally find them to be very crowded, full of shady characters and not the most relaxing area. Aracaju is a pleasant surprise, with a large police presence and a lazy summer afternoon atmosphere.

From here, walk along the water for about 15 minutes to the Sergipana People’s Square. These large, colorful statues take you through key characters in Sergipe’s local culture, history and folklore. If you want to learn more, across the road is the excellent Museu da Gente Sergipana.

Late Afternoon: Beach

Let’s be honest: the real reason everyone comes to Aracaju is for some time on the water. Once you’re done in the commercial centre, hop in an Uber to the Passarela do Caranguejo (Crab Walk). This is the heart of Atalaia’s urban beach and home to the iconic giant crab statue.

Here, take some time to lie on the beach or grab an açai on the broadwalk, while you look in the shops and markets.

Travel tip: As you head to Atalaia beach, you will notice some small sand mounds. These are the best spot in Aracaju for sunset, with sweeping views over the beach.

Dinner and Evening

You’ll find that most of the restaurants on the boardwalk offer a similar spread of generally quite average Brazilian food: BBQ, steaks, tapioca and seafood.

I think Terra Tupi is easily the best option on the beach. The prices are similar to others nearby yet the service and quality is far higher. And whatever you order, don’t forget to add a side of potato puree with Brazilian cheese.

If you read any guidebook, they will probably tell you that the Cariri Restaurante e Casa de Forró is the place to be after dark. I’ll be honest: the restaurant knows this and the food is subpar at best. But that’s not to say you should skip Cariri altogether. After eating elsewhere, head over to Cariri and enjoy some of Aracaju’s best live music!


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