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krisek Olinda - A travel report by Krys
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Olinda,  Brazil - flag Brazil
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krisek's travel reports

Olinda. One of Brazil's colonial gems. Pretty.

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Olinda means pretty. And it is! Few kilometres from the bustling Recife city, Olinda a colonial gem in the great country of Brazil. The Portuguese did a great job packing the town with stunning houses, mansions, palaces. Time seem to have stopped here.

The Igreja do Carmo
The Igreja do Carmo
Something in my gut told me not to take the two buses from the Recife airport to Olinda via Boa Vista of Recife which would have taken at least 90 minutes. I took the pre-paid unmetered taxi, which set me back by BRL60. And that took only about half an hour.

There was not that much of the daylight left when I checked in at the Pousada Baoba. And since at this altitude there is never much twilight, it was minutes after the sunset when it got completely dark. It was only time for a short stroll and nighttime snapping and that day was over. The tourist information office told me that at 10pm, at the Praca Joao Alfredo, there was supposed to be a night show with local music and performances. I was not sure that I was going to last that long.

I stopped for dinner at the Creperia and had a great pizza, washed down with two small bottles of Bohemia lager. All was good, and the beverage was extra cold! The restaurant was located on the corner of the piazza so I was not going to miss any action, I thought. Nothing started though before I finished. I went on the second circuit exploring Olinda at night. After discovering a few new squares and alleys, I descended back to the square and saw only a small group drumming and pulling strings. Nothing that I had not seen before. My feet therefore took a direction back to the hotel. Suddenly, a rather nicely played guitar strung my ears. It was a young guy playing and singing at the former Maxambomba Street Railway Station, which now served as a cafe and, as it turned out, one of the main nightlife kicking spots of Olinda. I could not resist a couple of drinks there. The guy was really good!

The entire next day was for strolling around Olinda's colonial district. It was all up and down, up and down, as Olinda was built on several hills. Almost each hill was used as a site for a church or monastery or convent. The old town was really nice and walking about with a camera dangling down the shoulder was not a problem. It was safe.

Favourite spots:
Praca de Se and the Igreja de Se
Praca de Se and the Igreja de Se
Actually, I could not pick a favourite place in Olinda. I liked Praca de Se with its large and very simple cathedral perched on the highest hill in town and rather special view of the old town and the unbelievable skyline of Recifie with its shimmering skyscrapers. There was also a craft market geared for visitors and tourists, offering handmade table cloths (some very intricate and beautiful), woodcarvings representing the little houses of Olinda, t-shirts, sarongs, scarves, etc. Inside a tiny passage full of shops, there was a terrace offering great views of Olinda, Receife and the beaches. At the of the terrace was a minute cafe selling simple snacks and refreshments. It had no tables on the terrace, but it definitely had a charm and the best view in town!

What's really great:
One of the alleys in Olinda's old town
One of the alleys in Olinda's old town
Although on a UNESCO World Heritage List since 1982, Olinda was not overflowing with tourists at all, when I visited at the end of August 2011. It had so much potential. Countless mansions, haciendas and houses were on sale, and they screamed to be converted into hotels, cafes, restaurants, lounges, clubs, whose tables could take some room on the piazzas and squares. This would create more living atmosphere rather than the sleepy, and sometimes creepy, one. Fortunately, vast majority of the houses and their facades seemed well looked after, all painted in vivid colours. The only drawback was traffic. Cars of all sorts cruised the cobble stone alleys freely in all directions (not indicating where they were turning!) and many were parked along the pretty lanes. OK, I would not perhaps rule out all traffic, but I might prohibit parking. This would create a more authentic ambiance of this wonderful little town, for in the 17th century, there were no Fords, Fiats, Citroens, Suzukis, etc.

The Monasterio de Sao Bento
The Monasterio de Sao Bento
Olinda enjoyed a reputation of the largest collection of colonial architecture in Brazil. There was a lot to see there, true. But to say that the town had the largest collection might have been an overstatement.

OK, from a sacral point of view, these were the goodies (all start with 'Igreja'): dos Milagres; de Sao Sebastiao; de Sao Pedro; do Carmo; de Sao Francisco; da Se; do Bonfim; da Conceicao; da Miserecordia; da Boa Hora; do Amparo; de Sao Joao; do Rosario; do Monte; and then there was also the Monasteiro de Sao Bento and the Seminario de Olinda.

From a secular point of view, the sights included: Palacio dos Governadores; Observatorio; a petite Forte de Sao Francisco; and a string of really good looking mansions: Bica de Sao Pedro; Bica dos Quatro Cantos; Bica do Rosario. The red painted palace, where the local collage was placed was one of my very favourites - it looked incredible in this colour and the facade work was superb.

Room number 7 of the Pousada Baoba
Room number 7 of the Pousada Baoba
I found Pousada Baoba, charging BRL155 (£59, $96) for a deluxe double room in the old town. Not the cheapest option in town, yet still a good value for money and not a bad location at all. The price included toiletries, clean crisp towels, two beds, breakfast full of coffee, fruit, juice, tea, cakes, bread, preserves and cold cuts.

The beds were a little too high for my comfort and the windows opened into the a walkway giving access to other room, so if you wanted privacy, you have to keep the shutters down and switch on the lights. Not the best of options, if you asked me.

Apart from the location, which was really good actually - just steps from the beach, the little fort, and the tourist information office, the main quality of the place was the staff. They spoke little English, but they would bend backwards to make sure you got all the assistance you needed! The most friendly were two moreno guys at the reception, and the owner, who tirelessly made sure customers felt comfortable.

A guitarist at the Estacao Maxabomba
A guitarist at the Estacao Maxabomba
The Caldinho do Dogao was a very popular pub serving food from a comprehensive menu and good range of drinks. Tables under the stars right by the seafront (nice breeze) and overlooking a large square pulled considerable crowds at night. Live music was organised every night and BRL3 was therefore added for each person on their bills. Personnel did not speak any other language, only Portuguese and the venue's wifi was not available to guests, which was rather poor. Caipirinhas were BRL3.60, which was not too bad, caipiroscas were BRL5.50, cocktails went for BRL5.90, while measures of other liquour cost BRL3.80 on average, while more exotic alcohol went for about BRL5.50. The service was not too great and rather slow. But luckily, the club was flanked by two other venues right next door, which also played live music, and it was easily to relocate and still enjoy the night in the very same area of the town.

The 'cycle beach' of Olinda
The 'cycle beach' of Olinda
Olinda's old town had three beaches. They were called: Praia de Sao Francisco; Praia do Carmo; and Praia Milagres. The picture beside was taken at the Praia do Carmo. The beaches were definitely the most popular hangout spots in Olinda, with Praia do Carmo receiving the most of the local population. Guys with grills would set up their mobile units and grill fish and seafood. Others sold snacks and drinks. Boys took their bikes to the beach and just set camps around them. That was the weirdest thing I saw in Brazil.

For those, who did not like beaches and the heat, Olinda had a good collection of bars and cafes serving ice-cold drinks. Many of them were located along the coast, all the way from the old town to the new town. Many very cute and atmospheric ones were tucked in the old little colonial houses in those narrow and steep lanes running from one church to another, from one little square to another. Most were air-conditioned, so one had to ring a bell to let them to open the door.

A very large and super tasty prawn pasta at the Estacao Maxabomba restaurant
A very large and super tasty prawn pasta at the Estacao Maxabomba restaurant
The Estacao Maxambomba was a delightful restaurant providing live music at night. Their menu had Brazilian snacks (BRL6-19), seafood (BRL20-27), lager (BRL4-9) and a few other items. The restaurant was based in the former urban railway station called Maxambomba do Carmo (a district of Olinda). It was the first street car system in Latin America, which inaugurated in Recife on 5 January 1867 by an English company called Brazilian Street Railway Limited. The specialty of the restaurant was prawn. They served some 20 dishes dedicated to prawn, ranging from BRL27 to BRL42, coming with fettuccine, rice or potatoes - sizes of which could easily feed three hungry people! I went for the Camarao Estacao with fettuccine. It was divine. And huge! I had difficulty to eat it all, but the cold draft lager helped a little.

Other recommendations:
The small Observatorio of Olinda
The small Observatorio of Olinda
Olinda was served by the Recife International Airport (REC), some 18km south. There were no direct public transport links from the airport to Olinda and one would have to spare 1.5 hours for two bus trips via Recife proper. Recife reportedly had metro running from the airport to city centre, but I did not check if it was running. A pre-paid taxi ride all the way to Olinda's old town was BRL59 and was taking about 30 minutes. Agents man terminal exit doors. A regular metered taxi was about BRL45.

Olinda just 8km north and therefore being practically Recife's district had very frequent buses running between the two for BRL3.10.

Olinda's old town was safe. Also at night on the deserted little alleys. There was some street lighting on most lanes. Olinda Novo was reportedly gradually inheriting some safety problems from its vast neighbour, Recife. Yet, as a visitor, you would have absolutely no interest to venture there. Except perhaps for a cash from ATMs located 1km into the new town.

Published on Thursday September 15th, 2011

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Sat, Sep 24 2011 - 08:26 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Like a fairy tale!

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