When I started searching for lodging in Recife, everything was already booked or out of my price range. I had two options - stay in Olinda, a beautiful and historic neighborhood to the north of the city, or stay about 45 miles south, in the beach town of Porto de Galinhas. I went with Porto de Galinhas and its air conditioned hostel, and am so glad I did.
Until recently, Porto de Galinhas was a sleepy fishing village. Its unusual name - "Chicken Port" - refers to its unsavory history as an illegal slave trade outpost. After slavery in Brazil had been outlawed, the practice was continued at the port under the guise of selling "chickens".
I arrived in Recife early and hopped on the #95 bus from the airport (about 13 Reais). The bus, despite being your typical long-distance motor coach, was a little sweaty and gross, but for the price, it's difficult to complain. Its final stop is in PdG - from there I walked to my hostel. Casa Branca was difficult to find, but despite very few locals speaking English, everyone was kind and helpful, including the hostel staff. I was the only person in my room half the time - since each dorm had its own bathroom, it was like staying in a basic hotel for a fraction of the cost.
Shrimp and chicken empadas.
Porto de Galinhas has been voted Brazil's best beach eight times in a row, for its mix of beauty and accessibility. It's very touristy, with most of the commercial infrastructure you'd expect from a beach town. It's also small - the entire town is easily walkable. Food is slightly more expensive than in the rest of the northeast, but there's a grocery store within walking distance where you can get your bottled water, etc., at fair prices.
While "Best Beach in Brazil" might be excessive, it was really great. Aside from annoying bouts of rain (which you could see coming in from the ocean), the sand drops off nicely into the turquoise water, so that you go from ankle-deep to waist-deep in a couple of steps. From there, it was fairly shallow out to the reef. I buried my little beach bag in the sand under my sarong and went swimming numerous times.
Peixe na Tilha. The food was meh for the price point, but the Caipirinha was the strongest I had in Brazil.
However, the reason Porto de Galinhas is on the map is its tide pools. They're closer to the shore here than in any other spot in Brazil. If you're a decent swimmer, you could easily make it out to them on your own at low tide, but the traditional way is to take a fishing boat, or jangada, for about 20 Reais.
I ended up on a boat full of Brazilian tourists, including one very excitable kid. Our guide showed us around the paths on the reef, and more importantly, gave us fish food. While the girls in my group were wary of the fish, their boyfriends and the kid joined me in coaxing them closer with food. Everyone had a good laugh when I jumped... having been bitten on the butt by a fish. On the other hand, I got to hear the word "bunda," used for the first time.
After seeing Olinda and Recife, I knew I'd made the right choice in where to stay. I'm so glad air conditioning was a priority that led me to Porto de Galinhas!