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Northeastern Brazil is made up of a hodgepodge of small states that outsiders are only slowly beginning to discover. One of them is Ceará, whose capital, Fortaleza, is by any measure a big city—with more than 3 million residents, it is Brazil’s fifth-largest metropolis. It’s a place where life is focused on the coast in a way that recalls Miami, with high-rise apartments that overlook 26 kilometers (16 miles) of Atlantic Ocean beaches, and with endless promenades where families stroll and stop to eat at seaside cafés.
In the late 19th century, Fortaleza abolished slavery, several years before the rest of the nation. For all its modernity today—its fine subway system, contemporary shopping malls and brand-new cruise ship terminal and convention center—Fortaleza also has many historic 1920s pastel buildings in its commercial heart; many have been renovated and are now home to restaurants and bars. Northeastern Brazil’s country style of music and dance, forró, is hugely popular here and has picked up fans around the world. Finally, founded in the early '90s, the city’s vast greenbelt, Cocó Park, is another pleasant spot to stroll, with its boatable mangrove swamps that help cool the tropical city.