Recife is the capital city of the Brazilian state of Pernambuco and is the fourth largest city in the country. While Rio, Salvador, and São Paulo are well-visited, travelers lucky enough to spend time in Recife and the nearby city of Olinda agree that the area is brimming with vibrant culture, historical architecture, picturesque beaches, and unique music and dance expressions.

Our visit began in Olinda, one of the best-preserved colonial cities in Brazil and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With its hilly cobblestone streets, colorful Portuguese-style buildings, majestic churches and convents, and striking views, Olinda is a bucket list destination for any traveler. After exploring the beautifully preserved San Francisco Convent, we visited Palácio dos Bonecos, a workshop and museum dedicated to the giant puppets that are a fixture in Olinda’s annual carnival parades. Colorfully dressed dancers holding small parasols demonstrated the acrobatic steps that accompany the frenetic frevo brass bands that play for hours on end during the festivities while a giant Bob Marley puppet twirled along.

After a refreshing coconut water, we visited several impressive churches and had an opportunity to do a little shopping at Olinda’s many arts and crafts stands. From there, we drove to the Ricardo Brennan Institute, a museum and park that are home to a mind-boggling range of items, ranging from one of the world’s largest collections of swords, knives, and other armaments, to sculptures, paintings, and books, not to mention teacups, watches, and furniture. Once one of Brazil’s richest businessmen (he passed away in 2020 at the age of 92), Brennan was a consummate collector, and this sprawling labor of love is widely considered one of the best museums in South America. The collection can be a bit quirky, and it is certainly intriguing and unquestionably worth the visit.