Travel in Latin America
Sergipe is Brazil's smallest state but has a variety of interesting travel destinations. White beaches with dunes alternate with mangroves, rivers, mountains or waterfalls, and the state is home to wildlife preservation programs such as the TAMAR sea turtle project in Pirambu, and the Falcon Park in Areia Blanca. The colonial history of northeast Brazil is well preserved in São Cristóvão, while adventure tourism can be found in the Xingó Canyon, in boat trips and snorkelling.
1. Market and handicrafts in Aracaju, Sergipe's capital
Aracaju is a pleasant city to spend a day or two. Visit the beach south of town, or the bustling market downtown: the Mercado Municipal. Food stalls abound offering a variety of exotic fish, fruits and vegetables. It is a good place to buy cashew nuts and peanuts at a reasonable price, and part of the market is dedicated to local handicrafts.
2. Parque dos Falcões in Areia Branca, a sanctuary for birds of prey
The Falcon Park is not mentioned in any of the regular guidebooks on Brazil. This is odd, because the park definitely merits a visit. The best thing is to organise a daytrip from Aracaju, because the owner of the park speaks only Portuguese (well, and bird language that is), there is no public transport and reservations must be made in advance. The entrance fee is 15 reais (about 8,5 US dollars).
3. Biological Reserve of the Tamar's sea turtle project in Pirambu
Thirty kilometres north of Aracaju lies Pirambu, one of Sergipe's many fishing villages. It is also one of the research stations of TAMAR, the Brazilian conservation and research program for sea turtles. It is smaller in size than their sea turtle station at Praia do Forte, near Salvador da Bahia, but there are a couple of tanks with different species of sea turtles as well as a hatchery.
At 4:30pm the guards will set baby turtles free that were born in the hatchery that day, which makes it an attractive tourist attraction to visit with children. TAMAR doesn't allow visitors to join them at night to visit sea turtle nests.
4. Colonial history of northeast Brazil in São Cristovão
São Cristovão is Brazil's fourth oldest town, dating from 1590, and marvellously preserved and restored. The São Franscisco Square also received the title of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town lies 25 kilometres southwest of Aracaju, and buses ply on a regular basis. There are no guesthouses but we managed to arrange a stay at the Convent of São Francisco, which has several basic bedrooms (at one time it was equipped as a guesthouse, hence the facilities).
Downtown you'll find the São Francisco Convent and many churches. The convent houses an excellent sacred art museum, truly one of the best we have visited in Brazil. It has the most extraordinary statues on display, as well as a series of explanatory panels giving insight into the history and legends of Brazil's saints. The latter are an absolute joy to read, that is if you can read Portuguese – the downside is that there is no information available in English.
5. Adventure tourism in Cânion do Xingó
We didn't have the time to visit the extreme north of Sergipe – 200 kilometres from Aracaju lies Canindé do São Francisco. However, I would like to point out this attraction, because I do think it is worth a visit and is as yet hardly – if at all – mentioned in guidebooks.
Brazilians who have been there told me that at Cânion do Xingó you can book a twelve-hour boat trip into a spectacular canyon, which includes a visit to the Gruta do Talhado. The boat serves lunch and there are opportunities for swimming and snorkelling. The pictures I have seen of this canyon look very promising.