Fortaleza, Brazil cruises

On the north shore of Brazil’s ‘shoulder,’ Fortaleza is a pleasant palm-lined city and the capital of the Céara state. It looks out into the Atlantic from a long stretch of beautiful, sandy coast.

The first European settlers here were Dutch, and they built the five-pointed, star-shaped Fort Shoonenborch in 1649 after defeat at the hands of local people and the Portuguese. In 1654, the Dutch left and the fort was renamed Fortaleza de Nossa Senhora da Assunção; the area around it was to grow into Brazil’s fifth largest city. The citadel itself still remains, its low-rise whitewashed walls adorned with cannons and palm-trees.

Another spot worth a visit is the magnificent Teatro José de Alencar, a Victorian-classical-meets-Art-Nouveau vision of colourful glass and cast iron balconies, and much of its ironwork was actually imported from Glasgow. It’s named after a lawyer, politician and author who was born in Fortaleza and is considered one of Brazil’s most prominent writers of the Romanticism period. Iracema Beach takes its name from the eponymous, indigenous hero of one of his novels; it’s also where the English Bridge, which resembles a classic British seaside pier, juts photogenically into the ocean.

Nearby in the Casario area, the Dragão do Mar Centre of Art and Culture is one of the most visited attractions. It hosts exhibitions, films, theatre performances and live music, with a permanent display dedicated to those who once inhabited the Sertão, the arid backlands extending south from the Atlantic Coast.

Enticing beaches make this area a huge draw for visitors from Brazil and beyond. Fortaleza itself stretches for over 12 miles along the shore, but many of the best beaches lie further along the coast.

Cumbuco Beach is one of the most famous, while Morro Branco invites you to investigate a stunning labyrinth of cliffs coloured white, yellow, pink, orange, red and purple. All along the Atlantic’s edge, you’ll find fishing villages and the distinctively curved triangular sails of the jangada, the local sailing boats. Opportunities for kite surfing, windsurfing, sailing and horse riding abound too. Perhaps the most iconic experience is an exhilarating buggy ride across the vast expanse of sand dunes that ripple inland like still waves.

If you stay in the city itself, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Fortaleza, built in Gothic-Roman style, should be on your list. The third largest in Brazil, it has distinctive towers and stained glass windows, with space for over 5,000 people. At the Mercado Central, you can pick up traditional artwork, pottery, woven goods, clothing, bamboo products, lacework and much more. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, a barraca, or beachfront shack in the city or along the coast, might tempt you with fresh-that-day seafood.