Considered by Brazilians to be among the best in the country, the Recife/Olinda carnival is a nonstop, no holds barred street party where you, the exuberant participant, are the real star of the show. Best of all, for the budget conscious among us, there are virtually no admission fees and hotel prices are low, meaning revelers can expect to spend a fraction compared to more famous celebrations such as in Rio.
So spectacular, in fact, that the first Portuguese to arrive were said to have exclaimed: “Ó, linda” (Oh, beautiful), leading to its name. And beautiful it certainly is, featuring a mishmash of technicolored houses and whitewashed, terracotta-roof churches amidst tall coconut trees that tower over the turquoise ocean below.
Seemingly everywhere you look in Olinda is an Instragrammable affair, thanks to a plethora of quaint pastel-colored homes which line its narrow cobblestone streets. Be sure to keep those batteries fully charged because you’ll be spending a lot of time behind a camera here.
Founded in the 16th century, Olinda was the original capital of the Pernambuco province and formerly one of the most powerful and influential cities in Brazil. Sadly, such influence was largely achieved through an army of imported African slaves who worked the nearby sugar fields to bring untold wealth to the city. Slavery continued until a nationwide abolition in 1888, and the remnants of this terrible trade can still be seen today in places like the Riberia Market.
Rather than just nominate the odd building here and there, in 1982 UNESCO decided to declare the entire historical center a World Heritage Site, a testament to how important Olinda is to Brazil’s cultural and historical patrimony. Such prestigious acclaim led to Olinda being dubbed a “giant open-air history museum.”
A number of Brazil’s most beloved artists have come out of Olinda, both contemporary and in days gone by. Of particular interest are the joyful mamulengos, giant puppets that perform in street theatres and take center stage during the madness of carnival. Be sure to pay a visit to the city’s many museums and galleries to discover the vibrant and colorful local style for yourself. Who knows? You might even feel tempted to pick up a piece or two.
Unlike the rough and tumble metropolis of Recife to the south, the people of Olinda are laid back and decidedly artistic. Bohemians will love this whimsical little town, not least for the plethora of art galleries and impromptu street performances found throughout. Keen to make some new friends? The town’s coolest bars and cafes have a refreshingly inclusive vibe.
The Catholics really made the most of Olinda, constructing picturesque houses of worship all throughout town. These churches – of which there are too many to mention – range from cute little affairs to massive cathedrals that overlook the sea.