A shore excursion on your MSC South America cruise can be the opportunity to visit the languid state capital of Ceará, Fortaleza. It’s a sprawling city of over 2.5 million inhabitants, an oddly provincial place compared to its north-eastern rival Recife, despite its size.
The city itself contains an odd smattering of sights, but it’s the beaches, bar scene and shopping opportunities that make it an obvious pit stop on the route north – there’s plenty of good artesanato to be had, notably lace and leather, and Fortaleza is the largest centre for the manufacture and sale of hammocks in Brazil.
The city has initiated a spate of new projects designed to increase its tourist appeal still further in the next few years, including a new cruise ship terminal, beautification of the beachfront Avenida Beira Mar, a giant aquarium or Acquário (the third largest in the world), and the redevelopment of chic shopping street Rua Monsenhor
Tabosa, completed in 2014.
Fortaleza’s year-round heat is mitigated somewhat by the constant sea breezes sweeping in from the Atlantic, making the beach districts even more enticing. Housed in the city’s old prison, completed in 1866 and in use to the 1970s, the Centro de Turismo is not a tourist office but a shopping mall of arts and craft stalls, selling everything from local lace and tasty cashew nuts to hand-crafted dolls, toys and more standard souvenirs. Quality is generally good and prices reasonable, and the main building is surrounded by the one-time exercise yard, shaded by mango trees – a good place to grab a fresh juice from the kiosk here.
MSC South America cruises also offer excursions to Fortaleza’s modern Mercado Central. It’s a wonderful place to explore, a huge complex holding hundreds of small stores, most selling the artesanato for which the city is famed.