Porto de Galinhas, located south of Recife in eastern Brazil, is known for its beautiful golden beach and natural pools, in which you can swim among fish, coral, and other aquatic life. It also has a strange obsession with chickens…
Steve and I visited Porto de Galinhas on a day trip from Recife, encouraged by our Brazilian friend Filipe. We’d bought tickets from the reception of our hotel, Grand Mecure Boa Viagem, the previous night, and these reserved us seats on a minibus that left the hotel the following morning. We boarded the bus at 7.30am, and the journey took around an hour and a half. There was a guide on the bus who talked for most of the journey, however as it was all in Portuguese we didn’t understand a single word!
Alighting from the bus, we were drawn immediately to a colourful pedestrianised street shaded by a canopy of umbrellas.
But the most unusual thing about this street were the cartoon-like chicken statues along it, in homage to the town’s name. Porto de Galinhas translates as ‘Port of Chickens’, in reference to how illegal traffickers once used ‘chickens’ as a code name for slaves who shared boats with guineafowl. The name’s unsavory origin hasn’t stopped the town from capitalising on it, with chicken statues and souvenirs on every street corner.
Heading onto the beach, we walked until we reached a quieter section with an unobstructed sea view, where we settled into a pair of deck chairs under a parasol. We spent most of the day relaxing in this spot, reading and swimming in the warm turquoise water. Salespeople roved past constantly, but were not intrusive as they had been in Rio. For a bit of fun, we bought pina coladas made in pineapples from a rolling trolley!
It was a while before I realised what and where the ‘natural pools’ were. Turns out, they are places where the coral reef is exposed at low tide, trapping seawater and creatures within its hollows. There are some exposed reefs on the beach itself, on which you can spot small crabs scuttling about, but the more exciting reefs thriving with life are located further out to sea.
I read online that you can get sailboats called Jagandas out to the pools, but we hadn’t seen these. Instead, I decided to find my own way to the pools.
The reefs containing the pools are close to the beach, and it’s possible to swim or even wade from the beach to the reefs as long as the tide is low (around late morning). I spotted people who looked like they were making the crossing and followed them, past a number of attendants tasked with protecting the reef. As I swam over and climbed out onto the reef, I awkwardly tried to check with them that it was okay to do so. They laughed, but appeared to say that it was okay as long as I stayed within the ropes. I gave them a thumbs up and went to explore.
Walking along these further-out reefs was amazing. The reef either side of my feet was a hive of activity: I was delighted to spot different types of coral, spiky black sea urchins, and tiny sea creatures swimming between the crevices. Further on, I reached a small pool swarming with small black fish and, after that, a pool with fewer fish but which you were allowed to swim in. It was too good an opportunity to miss. Unfortunately, because I had to swim there I hadn’t been able to bring my camera to photograph these amazing sights. But it’s an experience I won’t forget in a hurry.
along the promenade
We had to catch the bus back to Recife at 3.30pm. On our way back into town, we stopped at the large ‘Porto de Galinhas’ sign and spent some more time admiring the brightly coloured promenade and streets leading off it, including one filled with small Brazilian flags.
We returned to our hotel in Recife at 5pm, ready to see more of the city tomorrow.
All text and photos (c) Juliet Langton, 2019. All rights reserved.