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Mermaid magic on the Brazilian coast: Porto de Galinhas

As a travel chick normally excited by the idea of getting to the top of a large mountain or fighting my way through a band of fast and furious level five rapids, the typical beach holiday hasn’t featured much in my travel plans for the past seven years or so. That all changed after my first visit to Porto de Galinhas in 2012.

Toes on Porto de GalinhasLocated on the south coast of the Pernambuco State, Porto de Galinhas is one of the most popular and most stunning beach destinations in the north of Brazil. The annual temperature hovers steadily around the 27 degrees mark, the sun is relentless, the stretches of beautiful, white sand are endless and the sea is the place to be for non-stop, water-sports activity. I arrived to Porto a woman and left two weeks later an honorary mermaid.

I stayed in one of the dorms in La Rocca,the only hostel in Porto de Galinhas which has an outdoor swimming pool, which great for people who (like me) don’t have a lot to spend on accommodation, but who want to make the most of the little luxuries in life. It’s also really close to the bus station, town centre and beach, which makes it excellent for getting sorted and for travelling around with ease.

Snorkelling in the natural pools, which are located a little way out off of the coastline on the central beach, was magical. I had never seen so many fish sporting different patterns and colours in one small area like I saw that day when bathing in the natural pools of Porto de Galinhas.

Beyond my personal enjoyment of flapping around like Daryl Hannah in “Splash,” (yes… I’m an 80’s child!) it was really great to see how the possible negative effects of tourism in Porto de Galinhas are controlled. The natural environment is protected in a number of ways and the main objectives are to preserve and protect the many species of fish and other invertebrates which live in the warm waters of Porto de Galinhas.

Beach, Porto de GalinhasTwo of the largest projects in operation are known as Blitz Ambiental and Projeto Hippocampus, which are managed in part by the Ipojuca Municipality and in part by independent organisations. All tourists who wish to enjoy what nature has to offer in the natural pools in Porto de Galinhas must first enter a small hut close to the beach to watch an informative video about what is allowed and what isn’t allowed when swimming and snorkelling in the pools. After watching the video, each eager swimmer is given a wristband to wear which allows them entrance to the pools.

Small boats, called Jangadas, are used to transport the tourists from the coastline out to the pools and from here the fun begins. By controlling who enters the pools and by informing the tourists about the importance of respecting the natural environment around them, Blitz Ambiental and Projecto Hippocampus have managed to ensure that growing tourism doesn’t destroy the natural beauty of the area and that the biological diversity is not only protected, but encouraged to continuing developing.

Part of the work undertaken by Projeto Hippocampus includes the rescuing of certain marine species, such as seahorses, from extinction. There are centres dedicated to the preservation and reproduction of seahorses in Porto de Galinhas, managed by volunteers who are passionate about preserving the natural beauty found in Porto. It was inspiring to see the work that they do and a pleasure to walk along South American beaches which haven’t fallen prey to irresponsible tourism and litter throwing, which is a sad reality in a number of beach destinations in South America.

My two week trip to Porto de Galinhas was all about snorkelling with the fish, walking for miles along the beach and catching up on my thoughts by spending hours just floating in the sea. The waters are incredibly warm in Porto de Galinhas. Swimming is more like taking a bath and it doesn’t really matter at which point in the year you choose to visit, thanks to its close location to the Equator.

However, having fallen so deeply in love with the region, my plan for July 2013 is to return to Porto de Galinhas to take full advantage of all the crazy water-sports on offer. I can’t wait!

The plan so far includes a week-long scuba diving course to get closer to the fish I saw last year in my snorkeling goggles and fancy flippers, a crazy afternoon crashing through the waves as part of a kite-surfing experience and a week-long surfing course. Porto de Galinhas is a world-renowned destination for surfers and surfing competitions. Every year, surfers from all over the world visit Porto de Galinhas to try out in one of the biggest international surfing competitions in South America. The waves can get pretty big, particularly in neighbouring Maracaipe which is just ten minutes away on a bicycle or in one of the cool buggies that people use to get around from one great beach to another.

Flying out of Recife’s airport, last year, on my way back to the madness of Buenos Aires, where I happen to be based at present, left me a little lost for a while. There’s something about the waters in the North of Brazil and its abundant marine life that’s going to stay with me forever.

I’ve been to three different Brazilian beach destinations since leaving Porto de Galinhas, but nothing can beat Porto for a sense of the extraordinary. I’m more than a little bit excited about returning in just over two months. The mermaid within is just dying to get back into the sea for a splash-about!

The Jolly English Pirate is a freelance writer from London who is based in Latin America. She travels the world writing features for female-interest publications and independent travel blogs, including reviews of Latin American Cinema and ecological travel. Feel free to send her a tweet or visit her blog for more information.

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