The northeastern coastal city of Recife presents a contrast with its colonial center and beaches lined with modern high-rise buildings. Nicknamed "the Venice of Brazil" for its canals and bridges, Recife is a poor but culturally vibrant city 1,155 mi/1,860 km north of Rio de Janeiro.

Plan two nights to see the city's historic center, with its many old mansions and impressive 17th- and 18th-century baroque churches, and to relax upon the sweeping white-sand beach of Boa Viagem, Recife's version of Copacabana. Additionally, Recife has a number of interesting museums, including the Museu do Homem do Nordeste, which offers a great introduction to the culture and history of the Brazilian Northeast.

Take time to browse at the Casa da Cultura (an old prison converted into a shopping mall), or shop for Brazil's finest ceramic tiles at the Brennand Ceramics Workshops, just outside of town (there are also many startling sculptures there). Recife has a fantastic Carnival that rivals those in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador.

Several half- and full-day excursions are possible, including visits to Olinda, a beautiful small colonial town with gilded baroque churches (World Heritage site); the stunning white sand beaches in and around the resort towns of Cabo de Santo Agostinho, Porto de Galinhas and Tamandare (20-65 mi/30-110 km south); the island of Itamaraca (30 mi/50 km north—good beaches, a 17th-century Dutch fort and one of the oldest churches in Brazil); and Caruaru (85 mi/135 km west—a typical town of the Northeastern interior famed for having the biggest outdoor market). Tours to traditional sugarcane plantations outside Recife are also available. 1,155 mi/1,860 km north of Rio de Janeiro.

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