Brazil's Ceara targets international travelers


FORTALEZA, Brazil -- During the past 10 years, the state of Ceara has become one of Brazil's fastest-growing regions with a GNP that has increased two times faster than that of the country as a whole.

Now, the government aims to make tourism the state's No. 1 industry. Domestic arrivals have increased by 70% in the past four years, and the goal is to achieve a similar status at the international level.

Situated where the country's eastern coast juts farthest into the Atlantic, Ceara's capital, Fortaleza, is determined to become the new gateway to Brazil. It is, in fact, the South American metropolitan city closest to the U.S.

Aiming to take advantage of geography, Ceara's government and its tourism minster, Anya Ribeiro, have set about transforming Fortaleza's infrastructure. Through 1999, Ceara has spent $10 billion toward this end, with another $4 billion slated for the next two years.

In 1998, an international airport opened, an $86 million investment. With an annual capacity of 3 million passengers, it is designed to handle the mega aircraft of the future.

Varig Airlines now operates weekly nonstop service between Miami and Fortaleza, a six-and-a-half-hour flight.

Inaugurated in 1998, Fortaleza's art and cultural center is a $30 million complex housing museums, a planetarium and theaters. Fortaleza's sightseeing options are pleasant, though not extensive.

The Jose de Alencar Theater, constructed of Scottish wrought iron, was built in 1910 and restored in 1991. The interior's ornate iron balconies and rows of wood and woven cane chairs suit the city's tropical ambience.

Rambling about the cobbled, pedestrian-only streets of the old section, travelers can admire some impressive turn-of-the-century buildings, an 18th century fortress and old world pharmacies and bakeries.

Ceara is known for handicrafts and the Ceara Handicraft Center (Ceart) displays and sells everything from wicker furniture to macrame hammocks, lace, needlepoint and straw baskets. Here, clients can watch artisans create intricate scenes with colored sand packed tightly into small bottles.

A jail, dating to 1824, doubles as a crafts center and regional museum, while every evening, more than 150 vendors set up stalls along the beach, offering cashews, crafts and other souvenirs.

Restaurants abound, as do spots for dancing the samba. In fact, Fortaleza partying manifests itself in a different theme, complete with food, music and an "in" location, for each night of the week.

Cumbuco, 12 miles west of Fortaleza, offers crystal-clear waters, dunes towering up to 80 feet, lagoons and water sports. Other popular beaches such as Canoa Quebrada and Jericoacoara can be reached by chartered helicopter, prop plane or drives of two and seven hours, respectively.

Each beach offers comfortable pousadas, averaging $35 per room including breakfast. To introduce this product to the marketplace, the tour operator Brazil Nuts, in conjunction with Varig Airlines, has created a number of attractively priced packages with seven-night Fortaleza and beach combinations starting at $888, including roundtrip air from Miami.

Clients could opt to combine Ceara with other Brazilian destinations such as Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Salvador or Manaus and the Amazon. Varig has frequent service between these points and Fortaleza.

Clients might consider the carrier's domestic passes, which offer multiple flights within 21 days for $290 to $540, depending on the number of coupons selected and season.

Ceara's tourism ministry, Varig and Brazil Nuts have launched a major U.S. promotion complete with a dedicated phone line to assist agents with information and reservations. A number of familiarization trips are planned to introduce the trade.

For details, contact the Ceara Tourist Center, based in Naples, Fla., at (877) 412-3272.
E-mail: [email protected]
Brazil Nuts: (800) 553-9959 or (941) 593-0266

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