A travel destination with a metropolitan area of 3.4 million situated on the northeastern coast of Brazil, Fortaleza is most notable for its Beira Mar district, a beach lifestyle that includes year-round warmth and ubiquitous fresh-seafood shacks, and a proximity to some of the most unique adventure locations in the whole country. Despite this, entering Fortaleza in the first place may actually be somewhat underwhelming; there aren't many obvious cultural touchstones beyond the colorful Dragao do Mar and one can be a bit turned off by the number of prostitutes, unlicensed vendors, and other products of poverty that frequent tourist areas. Don't let these things deter you from the authentic pleasures of this city: wild nightlife, a few popular squares (Praça do Ferreira and Praça José de Alencar), and beaches, beaches, beaches.
Yup. When in Fortaleza, it's all about the beaches, the most popular of which are Future, Iracema, and Meireles. The cuisine and nightlife are most fashionable along the Beira Mar (the literal "beach side") and the nearby Dragao do Mar, which is notable for its culture and tourism center (Museu de Arte e Cultura Popular) and a high density of clubs and bars that battle it out over which night of the week to bring it the hardest. Although we'd rather not dwell on the subject, prostitution is an activity you'll notice with regularity even in nicer parts of Iracema or Dragao do Mar, so gentlemen, be advised: the girl at the bar may have a monetary investment in your interest.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Fortaleza are the plentiful distractions to be found throughout the state of Ceará and adjacent Piaui. From the gorgeous and paradoxical desert lagoons of Lencois Maranhenses and kitesurfing capitals like Cumbuco and Flecheiras to the provocative red cliffs of Canoa Quebrada, this region of the Brazilian coast provides ample stretches of both uber-popular resort towns and small, tucked away communities. Then again, Fortaleza and the more southerly Recife are the closest sizable cities within driving distance of a vast expanse of park lands and the dusty authenticity of remote villages. Serra das Confusoes National Park is a good twelve hours inland, but is a distinctive medley of color-changing rock formations worth a road trip, while Chapada Diamante is just as far away but full of intrigue for the caving, hiking, and the highest waterfall in Brazil (Cachoeira da Fumaca). At a half day's drive, Sete Cidades National Park is closer and is home to more incredible rock formations and signs of prehistoric human development that include cave paintings.
Although it'll be quite a hike in getting to national parks of note, you'll find that Fortaleza's coastal location will allow access to quite a range of water and beach-based activities, while also providing quite a variety of nightlife and cuisine options for those so inclined. For a city that is often overlooked by international travelers (despite the fact that it's the shortest plane ride from North America), a relaxing trip to Fortaleza might be just the thing to give you a break from the next wind-blown summit. And if you get bored, there's always windsurfing, four-wheeling, and whole lot of other adventure activities to remind you why you travel.