OLINDA is, quite simply, one of the largest and most beautiful complexes of colonial architecture in Brazil: a maze of cobbled streets, hills crowned with brilliant white churches, pastel-coloured houses, Baroque fountains and graceful squares. Not surprisingly, in 1982 it was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Founded in 1535, the old city is spread across several small hills looking back towards Recife, but it belongs to a different world. In many ways, Olinda is the Greenwich Village of Recife; it's here that many of the larger city's artists, musicians and liberal professionals live, and there's a significant gay community. Olinda is most renowned, though, for its Carnaval , famous throughout Brazil, which attracts visitors from all over the country, as well as sizeable contingents from Europe.
A city in its own right, Olinda is far larger than it first appears. Yet despite its size, it has become effectively a neighbourhood of Recife: a high proportion of the population commutes into the city, which means that transport links are good, with buses leaving every few minutes. Olinda's old colonial centre is built slightly back from the sea, but arching along the seafront and spreading inland behind the old town is a modern Brazilian city of over 300,000 people – known as Novo Olinda , it's the usual bland collection of suburbs and main commercial drags. Like Recife, Novo Olinda has a growing reputation for robberies, but the heart of colonial Olinda is safe enough. There's a calm, almost sleepy atmosphere about the place, and wandering around at night is pretty safe. Finally, if you want to swim or enjoy a sunbathe, you'll need to head out of town, as Olinda's beach is fairly polluted and smelly.