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  Maragogi: Gateway to the Coral Coast of Brazil

This special English language travelogue complements the Portuguese language site Maragogionline.com.br. The author has been coming to these beaches for the past forty years. Now that he’s retired, and known as the BrazilBum, he is spending more than half the year on one of Maragogi’s outlying beaches. Any questions can be directed to brazilbeachbum@yahoo.com.

Introduction
Maragogi is the gateway to a cluster of eight closely knit cities along the northern coast of the state of Alagoas, Brazil called the Coral Coast or the “Costa dos Corais”. Besides Maragogi, these towns include Japaratinga, Porto de Pedras, and São Miguel dos Milagres, Passo de Camaragibe and Barra de Santo Antonio. Maragogi's twenty-two kilometers of beaches are on a wide lagoon formed by a continuous tropical reef that stretches over 130 kilometers along Brazil’s Northeast Coast between the states of Pernambuco and Alagoas. The region’s never ending reefs are perfect for scuba diving or snorkeling either at the reef or just beyond. Many visitors prefer to wander along the reef (using appropriate footwear) or its pristine beaches looking for sea life or shells, admiring the coral formations, or to just relax marveling at the constantly changing color of the Caribbean-like, clear waters.

Background and History
The Coral Coast region is still in the process of being “discovered” and developed. But, for centuries, this coast has been witness to the rich history of the competition for the conquest of the New World. In the region of Maragogi, battles between the Dutch and the Portuguese were fought in the early 16th century. Slightly inland from the coast some of the early sugar plantations produced the first local oligarchies and local legions such as Calabar, a local landholder who fought the Portuguese along side the Dutch in his quest for an independent Brazil. Later, the cultivation of coconuts would add to the commercial prominence of the region. Yet, its most important resource continues to be the natural beauty of its reefs and waters and the kilometers of hard packed sand that make its beaches so delightful to stroll and to shell.

Maragogi was initially a small village called Gamela. In 1887, it was granted the status of a Town and adopted the name of Isabel, to honor the Brazilian Princess who signed a law ending slavery in Brazil. Later on, in 1892, it was named Maragogi after the river that baths the city. “Maragogi”, according to some historians, comes from “Marahub-gy”, or river of the Marauba tribes. Today, its 344 square kilometers contain sugar cane and coconut plantations and a large number of plots dedicated to family agriculture. Major Attractions

Maragogi is Alagoas’ second most visited tourist destination after Maceio, the state capitol. Its many attractions include:

The “Galés": A group of extraordinary tropical pools formed at low tide about 6 kilometers off the city’s beach. They are served by 15 large registered catamarans leaving from various points in the Maragogi municipal area charging $R25 per person for a two hour cruise. Individual tours are also available. Tourists are able to appreciate different marine species and swim surrounded by colorful fish. Many day trips are organized by agencies in Maceio and Recife. But, knowledgeable locals stress that this area merits more than a day’s excursion.

Tropical Lagoon: The 22 kilometers of pristine beaches border Maragogi’s wide, transparent tropical lagoon filled with scenes of great beauty. You can rent a small sailboat and sail the wide lagoon or hitch a ride on one of the stable local sailing rafts called a “jangada”. There are also bicycle tours along the hard packed sand. Wind surfing is popular due to the constant trade winds in the region.

Scuba Diving: Several companies operate boats that go to the reef and beyond to dive and to fish. Fishing within the lagoon is not very productive. For neophytes, the catamarans at the Galés have options for first time scuba dives (baptism) in shallow waters.

“Croa” of São Bento: In the Vila of São Bento, a district of Maragogi south of the city, there is a less known, but large formation of tropical pools that can be easily reached from this fishing community. Nearby there are oyster farms that with special arrangements can offer visits with tastings.

In-Land: Even though its beaches and the tropical reef are its principle attractions, there are side trips to visit the surrounding centuries old sugar cane growing area that highlights the history of the region. In the city and throughout the surrounding area there are culinary and cultural delights as well as many unique excursions that show Maragogi's potential for ecological tourism.

*Eco-tourism: example is the Visgueiro Tree - Ecological trail. The Coopeagro, a non-profit organization, takes you through lush tropical fruit trees and cane fields to a huge centuries old Visgueiro tree in what remains of the “Mata Atlantica” forest. It’s a tree that nine people are needed to encircle its trunk! At the end of the trail you can refresh yourself at some small waterfalls. See http://coopeagro.org/trilha_do_visgueiro.htm or 5582 3296 2010.

*Haras Cana Brava: Off the beach in the District of São Bento, one finds a new tourist attraction for horseback riding and well as a golf driving range.

Events:
- Carnaval (February or March) – The most electric time of the year at the height of summer. The local celebration is a non-stop mixture of the best of Brazil, Samba Schools, Trio Electricos, and street groups or “blocos” all offer the chance to join in the fun.

- Anniversary of the Incorporation of the City on April 24th is always more than a civic holiday. It is the motive for a massive block party!

- June Harvest Festivals of Saint John and Saint Pedro with typical food and square dancing interspersed with shows of popular local groups.

- The São Bento “Mariscada” honoring the women who dig and clean the small clam that is typical of this district.

- A Lobster Fest organized with the fishing village of Barra Grande.

- The newest festival – the Treasure Chest –“a Botija” honoring the recent discovery of a rich chest of coins under the streets of old Maragogi.

Shopping
Local arts and crafts, made from coconut fronds, shells and seaweed are very unique and plentiful both in the stores and stalls along Maragogi’s waterfront. Stores and stalls stock varied supplies of colorful souvenirs as well as clothing items. In addition, along the seaside road that connects Porto de Pedras with São Miguel dos Milagres, there are beautiful and well made local arts and crafts sold in clearly marked shops along the route.

Transportation
Traveling to the Coral Coast involves an international flight with or without domestic connections to Recife’s international airport that is about 130 kilometers from Maragogi, less than a two hour drive or a three hour local bus ride. Maceio, Alagoas is another gateway airport. Most hotels and inns (“pousadas”) will arrange for a car and driver for airport pickups. Once in the area, local transportation is plentiful, including taxis, beach buggies, and “combies”, small vans which economically take you along the paved roads that link the cities and villages all along with coast.

There is bus service from both Recife and Maceio on the Real Alagoas Company. Be sure to specify the route along the coast - the "litoral". Their bus from Recife goes right by the street in front of the international airport. Check with the company for schedule information (5581) 3452-1511. You can catch the Atlântica bus from the Maceió bus terminal to Maragogi at 7 a.m., 9 a.m., and 2:45 p.m. daily. The return bus leaves at 5 a.m., 10 a.m., and 4 p.m. daily. The trip takes three hours and costs R$12. In addition, there are van services at economical prices leaving from the Posto Mar Azul gas station near the G. Barbosa Supermarket on the northern edge of Maceio.

Maragogi is close enough both to Recife and Maceio to arrange day trips to tour their principle attractions. In fact, at almost the same distance, is the famous market town of Caruaru, Pernambuco with its fabulous assortment of arts and crafts and bargain priced clothing. All these quick excursions require a car and driver that can be hired locally.

So, while it may seem a long way to travel, it is not so out of the way and it is more than worth the effort. This is a place to spend a week or the rest of your life!

Weather and Tourist Season
January and Carnaval (four days in February or March) are considered the high season for tourism. However, the weather is superb from October through April. The warm and humid tropical climate is cooled by wonderful sea breezes along the beach. At other times of the year, the weather remains warm, but the rainy season presents unpredictable amounts of precipitation. For those of us who can travel outside the peak season, the region has the added attraction of good rates and uncluttered beaches.

Accomodations
The region has a great variety of accommodations, from international resorts to comfortable guest houses. The region’s inns - “pousadas” range from simple bed and breakfasts to some exceptional and exclusive private getaways for the rich and famous. Clicking on the Hotel, Pousada and Chalet bars at the left on the accompanying Portuguese site Maragogionline.com.br one can explore the options in each category. Although the area’s resorts specialize in a more active nightlife, many of the smaller inns (pousadas) strive to meet the personal needs of their guests with genuinely friendly service. Just an evening stroll along Maragogi busy water front with its variety of restaurants, stores and stalls selling unique local arts and crafts allows contact with locals and visitors alike.

Summary
The Coral Coast’s beaches and reefs are an invitation to relax and luxuriate in the warm transparent calm waters or discover the vast echo system of its reefs. Or just go shelling for miles along its dazzling, hard packed sand lined by tall coconut trees. Whether you are adventurous or just want to relax, the Coral Coast has something for everyone and every pocket booke