João Pessoa is the capital of the state Paraiba, located in the Northeast of Brazil.
It was acknowledged as a city by the Portuguese Crown in 1585, making it the third oldest Brazilian city. It has approximately 800.000 inhabitants and it is famous for its warm beaches and greenness.
There you can see the sunrise before any other person in the whole American continent, at the easternmost point of America, the Ponta do Seixas.
In João Pessoa you will also be able to see the biggest semi-equatorial native forest surrounded by a city, in the world.
The city is calm and beautiful, the tourists that visit João Pessoa are not there to paint the town red, they are more interested in lying in a hammock and drink coconut water by the sea.
With a tropical climate, yearly average temperature of 26°C (79°F) and located by the sea, João Pessoa offers a privileged "endless summer" feeling. Even during the rain season, the sun always comes out to say hello. You definitely don't need to worry about warm clothes.
JPA is the airport code for João Pessoa. There aren't direct international flights (yet) but there are many connection flights available. You have the option to fly non-stop to REC (Recife) and cover the missing 120 km to João Pessoa by taxi or on very comfy busses. The bus station is located downtown.
The beaches in João Pessoa are calm and the water is comfortably warm. Kids can freely play in the little waves because the waters aren't deep nor there are rip currents to be afraid of.
During the low tide you can also go scuba diving. On the urban beaches it's possible to rent parasol + chairs for a very low price. Refreshments like soft drinks, ice cream and coconut water are offered at the kiosks around and also by wandering vendors. Small restaurants offer lunch menus, mainly based on fish and seafood.
If you're looking for a place full of pubs, bars, discos and a nightlife that ends by breakfast time, João Pessoa is the wrong place. Of course there are places where you can go dancing and for a drink, but João Pessoa is more of a place to relax.
There are diverse interesting events happening throughout the year and you'll always find a place where live music is being played. Live music is very present in Brazilian culture, whether it's a live band or the typical „voz & violao“ (voice and acoustic guitar). There are also many public events, free of charge, and they take place in different spots, not only in the touristic areas.
The Northeast of Brazil has a very typical cuisine, oftentimes hearty. One thing you shouldn't skip at all is trying all the fresh fruit juices you can, there are so many and the various combinations make it impossible to list them all, they're delicious and healthy. Of course you'll also find churrascarias there.
Don't forget trying tapioca at the "feirinha" (little market), a bowl of açaí or the typical cachorro-quente (literally hot dog) of the region. Going to a cachaçaria to drink cachaça, capirinha or other cocktails is always a good choice.
If you're into sodas, you should definitely try guaraná (but only the Antarctica brand, please!) and if you go for a cafezinho (little coffee = Brazilian espresso) please be prepared for the amount of sugar in it. Brazilians eat good food and big portions, so beware if you're on a diet.
João Pessoa was founded by the Portuguese in August 5th 1585, but it wasn't called like this back then. The city went through various names, being Royal City of Nossa Senhora das Neves the first one. Shortly after, when Spain conquered Portugal, it was renamed after the King Felipe II of Spain as Filipéia de Nossa Senhora das Neves.
Between 1634 and 1654 the city fell under the rule of the Netherlands and was again renamed as Frederikstad. With the end of the Dutch period, João Pessoa received the name Parahyba* do Norte (North Parahyba) and remained so until 1930, when the city was again renamed after João Pessoa Cavalcanti de Albuquerque, the then governor of Parahyba and candidate for president of Brasil, murdered in that year.
*Parahyba (Paraiba) means "unnavigable river" in Tupi and it's also the name of the federal state whose João Pessoa is the capital.
The Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch rules provided the city with beautiful colonial architecture, mainly religious, commercial and military buldings. Most of these buildings are located downtown, known as „centro histórico“ (historical center).
The city expanded relatively slowly. It was founded at the banks of the Sanhauá river and grew towards the coast, which created a sort of visual timeline from colonial to contemporary architecture.
Most modern buildings are located along the coastline and João Pessoa has been experiencing an exponential urban growth in a short time. Several luxurious residential skyscrapers are being build, however, a local law forbids the construction of skyscrapers direct on the coastline, in order to avoid the warming of the rest of the city (something largerly experienced in other cities like Rio de Janeiro).
This law stays in the way of many real estate speculators and big hotel chains and is questioned over and over again, but the tourists (and inhabitants) remain unanimous, the beaches look way more beautiful without skyscrapers and the wind is always very welcome in the centre.
During the Earth Summit ECO 92, João Pessoa earned the title of second greenest city in the world, second to Paris. It also has the biggest native semi-equatorial urban forest in the world, the botanical garden, popularly known as „Mata do Buraquinho“. The park is open for guided tours.
There are many coconut palm trees planted in the residential neighborhoods (everybody loves coconut water!) and on the beaches.
In the centre, at the Solon de Lucena Park, the Golden Trumpet Trees provide a yearly spectacle of yellow blossoms. The central lake of the park is surrounded by imperial palms. These imperial palms can also be found at some places in the historical centre, like at Praça João Pessoa (João Pessoa Square).
The Northeast was the first region to be colonized in Brazil. Before the Europeans arrived, the area where João Pessoa is located was inhabited by natives from the Potiguara and Tabajara tribes. The Portuguese were the first ones to come, but they weren't interested in colonizing the territory at first, leaving room for the French to make themselves at home and make business with the natives.
There were many conflicts between the French and the Portuguese, who also misused the previous existent rivalry between the Potiguara and Tabajara according to their own interests: to conquer the territory for themselves.
The Portuguese eventually won, expelling the French and ruling until the arrival of the Dutch. From the 16th century on, traffickers brought millions of Africans to work as slaves in the vast sugar cane plantations in northeastern Brazil. Native Americans, Europeans and Africans are basically the three big groups of people who originated the population of Paraíba. Their influences can be seen everywhere, in the culinary, religion, vocabulary and culture in general.
The Portuguese spoken in Brazil differs as much from the European Portuguese as American from British English. Save from some spelling differences and specific words, the language is the same. It doesn't matter if you learned Brazilian or European Portuguese, you'll be able to speak the language anywhere where it is spoken.
Like in any other country, the accents will vary from region to region. In the Southeast people will tend to "sh" the words more than in the South, Northeast and North. Northeasterns also tend to speak slower and slightly slur, but there is no dialect in Brazil, everybody speaks Portuguese all across the country.
You don't have to speak fluent Portuguese if you're going to Brazil, there's always somebody around who can help you with English or Spanish, but I strongly recommend you to learn the basics. The average Brazilian doesn't speak anything else than Portuguese. A lot of online information about cultural events in João Pessoa are available only in Portuguese (make the best of your translation tool!).
There are so many short-term courses for travel purpose everywhere, why not engage in one? You can also use apps like duolingo. If you learn a bit of the language, your experience and the interaction with the local people will reach a whole new level.
However, there is no reason to worry, people in Brazil will help you to find your way even if they don't speak your language. They're very welcoming people, ask anybody who has already been there. Brazilian hospitality is legendary.
Historical events, notorious personalities, typical holidays, special sightseeing points, trivia and more about Joao Pessoa.
Brazil is one of over 100 countries that signed the 1968 Vienna Convention, so if your country is also part of that list, you can drive in Brazil with either your original driving license (and its respective portuguese translation) or an IPD (International Driving Permit) for up to 180 days. The IPD is only valid if accompained by the original valid driving license. Do not try to drive in Brazil unless you're a seasoned driver, the traffic can be chaotic. Avoid rush hour by all means!
I'd strongly advise you not to rely on the public transportation in João Pessoa, unless you're with locals. The system is very complicated, the stops aren't named nor numbered, the timetable exists only on paper, there are so many busses heading to different directions... you gotta be an inhabitant to be able to find your way amidst the chaos.
You can either rent a car or simply take a cab. Cabs are pretty affordable and once you're downtown (or on the beach) you can do the rest pretty much on foot. If you're in a group, the taxi fare can be shared. Some drivers are open to negotiate a fixed price! The better your Portuguese... well, you know. Again, avoid rush hour!
If you're an active person, well, you can do a lot on foot! The Epitácio Pessoa Avenue is a perfect straight line linking the beach and the centre, covering a distance of about 7 km. You can always use the Admiral Tamandaré Bust (beach) and the Solon de Lucena Park (centre) as reference points. On Sundays, this avenue even has an exclusive lane for bikes.