Ceara: Where Brazilians go for a relaxing vacation

It’s disheartening when a bad image spills over to tarnish something fine. A case in point is Brazil which suffers from a nasty image as a tourist destination. While some regions of Brazil are downright dangerous, the entire country should not be painted with the black brush of violence. Muggings, purse-snatchings and robberies occur day or night on Rio’s famed public beaches; “Death Squads” roam the slums killing the homeless; pickpockets and muggers prey on unsuspecting tourists outside major hotels and crime is common in Recife, once the crown jewel of Brazil’s tourism industry. Sao Paulo, South America’s largest city — once a beautiful spot — is now dirty and polluted.

On the good news front is the remote and little-known state of Ceara tucked away beside the ocean in northeastern Brazil. One of Brazil’s 22 states, Ceara is where Brazilians go to enjoy a safe and relaxing vacation — along with many Germans, Italians and other Europeans. My visit to Ceara was enjoyably different from my usual vacation haunts, plus a good-value destination.

Canadian tour operators abandoned Brazil several decades ago because of crime problems in Rio, Sao Paulo and Recife. It was only elier this year that a Canadian tour operator, Sunquest Vacations, launched holiday packages to Ceara and its pleasant, bustling capital city of Forteleza. Two other Canadian travel companies are hoping to sign up holiday destinations in Ceara, according to Anya Ribeiro, Ceara’s minister of tourism.

The citizens of Ceara are proud of their low crime rate which is bolstered by a strong showing of civic and military police in all tourist areas. My wife and I walked for miles through the streets of Fortaleza and in several of the surrounding villages, and never once did we feel threatened.

Ceara is dubbed the “State of Light” with a recorded average of 2,800 hours of sun annually (an average of 7.6 sunny hours each day of the year). Another other big plus is 573 kilometres of sandy beaches — equivalent to a stretch of sand from Toronto to Montreal. And the water of the Atlantic Ocean off Ceara is delightfully warm — not surprising as the state lies only three degrees south of the Equator. The temperature in Fortaleza never dips below 26 degrees Celsius, even on the coldest winter day, which is our summertime.

Sunquest features four hotels in Fortaleza, including the 5-star Caesar Park hotel on the ocean front — an elegant 230-room hotel with magnificent dining. The others are the Imperial Othon Palace and Marina Park hotels, both 4-star, and the 3-star Novotel Magna for budget-minded travellers.

Fortaleza is a port city of 2.5 million people, bustling with construction and commerce. Textiles and fishing are the primary industries. One of the most pleasant features of the city is the ocean-front boardwalk which stretches five kilometres and attracts everyone — children, seniors, joggers, dogs, romantic couples, and of course tourists. Everyone heads for the boardwalk to take advantage of its open-air bistros, Brazilian music and flea-markets.

Outside the city, there are two beach-front resorts, the above-listed Paradise Flat hotel on Cumbuco Beach — one of the best I have ever seen with miles and miles of soft, white sand. This 45-room hotel, 30 km from Fortaleza, is small and suitable for those travelling on a budget.

The other Sunquest spot is the funky but charming Hotel Praia das Fontes Beach Resort, my personal favorite. The accommodation in the 92 chalets is rustic but comfortable; the food will not win any awards but is plentiful and adequate. The relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere makes it an excellent choice to “get away from it all.”

“It’s a great spot. We’re definitely coming back,” enthused Mel Leasa, a retired transportation executive from Stratford, Ontario. He and his wife Phyllis are longtime CARP members and were among the first Canadians to visit the Praia das Fontes earlier this year. “It has everything I want from a vacation — good value and great atmosphere, plus a friendly and helpful staff.”