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The São Francisco River is a river in Brazil with a length of 3,160 kilometres. It is the fourth largest river system in South America and the longest river wholly within Brazil.

It begins in the state of Minas Gerais. It runs generally north behind the coastal range draining an area of over 630,000 square kilometers before turning east to form the border between the state of Bahia and the states of Pernambuco and Alagoas before entering the Atlantic Ocean between the states of Alagoas and Sergipe.


tourist map of Alagoas

Tourist map of Alagoas


Founded in 1565 , Penedo is an important page in Brazil’s colonial history. Built on the banks of the Rio São Francisco, it’s home to an enviable collection of architecture.

Particular gems include 19th century Teatro Sete de Setembro theater and three 18th century churches, Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Corrente, Igreja de São Gonҫalo Garcia dos Homens Pardos, and Igreja de Nossa Sellhora dos Anjos.

The Marituba do Peixe floodplains, just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the city, are a worthwhile side trip. Penedo is accessed from Maceió by taking the well-paved AL-101 highway 168 kilometers (104 miles) south. If you’re coming from Aracaju, take the BR-101 highway north to the junction near Nascenҫa, then the SE-304 to Neópolis, 35 kilometers (22 miles) away on the state border. From there a ferry runs to Penedo, across the Sao Francisco River, every thirty minutes.


The lengthy construction of Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Corrente (Praҫa 12 de Abril, Centro) was begun in 1764 and finished some 125 years later.

The simple faҫade of this masterpiece of Brazilian rococo belies its rich interior. The high altar is adorned with gold leaf and pink and blue marble framed by Portuguese tiles. Equally astonishing are the pulpit carvings, the nave ceiling painted by Libório Lazdro Lial Afes of Pernambuco (who also worked on several of Penedo’s other religious buildings), and the 19th century English floor tiles.

A recent restoration was funded by Programa Monumenta, supported by the Department of Culture.

The church is said to have hidden runaway slaves behind a false door in the side altar (to the left as you look into the church from the entrance). More rapidly constructed was the Igreja de São Gonzalo Garcia dos Homens Pardos (Avenida Floriano Peixoto, Centro), which opened its doors in 1759, a mere year after the ground was broken. It’s known for its 19th century neo-gothic bell towers.

Construction on the Catedral de Nossa Senhora do Rosario (Praҫa Barão de Penedo, 1, Centro) began in 1690.

The faҫade was demolished in 1815 and replaced by the current one, which has beautiful stained glass windows.

Built by the Franciscans between the 17th and 18th centuries, the complex of Igreja de Nossa Senhora dos Anjos and the Convento de São Francisco (Praҫa Frei Camilo de Lelis, Centro) is one of Alagoas’s most important architectural sites. The church and convent were built in the Portuguese baroque style.

Their sober exteriors contrast with the rich rococo carvings inside. Look for the optical illusion in the church’s distinctive ceiling painting by Liborio Lazdro Lial Afes.


Ever since it hosted Dom Pedro II and his retinue in 1859, this 18th century town house has been known as Paҫo Imperial („Imperial Palace“).

The institution collects 18th and 19th century religious art, furniture, and decorative objects, all donations from local families.

Opened in 1971, the museum was an initiative of then-mayor Raimundo Marinho. From the second floor visitors can enjoy views of the São Francisco River. A giant canvas by Francisco Lopes Ruiz’s portrays the emperor who made the building famous (Praҫa 12 de Abril, 9, Centro).


The Teatro Sete de Setembro is home to the Filarmonica Imperial de Penedo (Penedo’s Imperial Phillarmonic), established in 1865. Construction began in 1881, and the theater was inaugurated three years later on Independence Day, September 7 („sete de setembro“).

The neo-classical design is the work of Italian architect Luiz Lucariny. Four ceramic statues high on the faҫade represent the muses of poetry, music, dance, and painting.

The theater was restored in the 1980s. In July and August it hosts the Festival de Ferias no Teatro drama festival. Avenida Floriano Peixoto.


The nine rooms of this museum read like a city resume. Collections include artifacts of illustrious local families photographs, and historical documents.

The Casa do Penedo Foundation restores and preserves old newspapers and books and supports

local writers. Guided tours of the museum can be arranged. Rua João Pessoa, 126, Centro.


Marituba is 20 kilometers (12 miles) east from Penedo, between Penedo and Piaҫabuҫu. This“ Pantanal of Alagoas“ is known for its large floodplains with navigable canals.

A canoe trip through the canals lasts about an hour. Local guides (found at Penedo’s only tour agency, listed below, or in front of Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Corrente) will help you hire a canoeist.

Marituba’s other attraction is Casa da Farinha, an old-fashioned flour mill still grinding with its original wooden mechanism. Straw crafts are common in Penedo; women frequently sell bags, hats, and baskets from their doorsteps.


Brightly colored historic houses line the banks of the Rio São Francisco in this charming colonial city.

Dom Pedro II was enchanted by the town and spent some time here – wagging tongues say a local noblewoman enchanted him, as well.

Piranhas is also the acknowledged capital of cangaҫo (backland banditry). For all its fame, however, the town was never actually attacked by the cangaceiro Lampião.

The bandit king spared the city because its single entrance could easily have left the bandits surrounded, and because he was devoted to the Virgin Mary, the city’s patron and protector. The city would not spare Lampião, however.

Troops from the town left to capture the cangaceiro and his band and returned with eleven heads to exhibit in the public square.

Among these were Lampião’s and that of his wife, Maria Bonita. Though the gruesome evidence eventually made its way to Bahia , Piranhas was where the historic photographs were taken.

Bone up on the history of cangaceiro at the Museu do Sertão, one of the city’s few attractions.


The city’s neo-classical municipal railway station building has housed the Museu de Sertão since 1983.

One room exhibits material related to the navigation of the Rio São Francisco, north eastern folk culture, and the railroad that passes through town.

The second room houses pulpits, shrines, and other religious items. The third room has an extensive collection of cangaceiro artifacts, from personal items belonging to Lampião and his band, to the 1930s posters offering a reward for his capture, dead or alive.

One of the museum staff, Josias Valão dos Santos, is an attraction in and of himself: he had the dubious honor of arranging the heads of the dead bandits on the steps of city hall. He’ll eagerly tell curious visitors the story, as well as those of his many other backland adventures. Antigo Prédio da estaҫão ferroviária de Piranhas (the old Piranhas railway station building).


Piaҫabuҫu sits on the left bank of the Rio São Francisco, its main attraction. The town is very close to the river’s mouth, and a boat or buggy trip to the spot where Old Chico’s waters meet the sea is a must.

Visitors should also try to visit Praia do Pontal do Peba, a beach famed for its shrimp fishing.

Piaҫabuҫu is 138 kilometers (86 miles) south from Maceió by the AL-101 highway, and 26 kilometers (16 miles) east from Penedo along a good paved road.


There are several departure points for boat trips on the last 13 kilo meters (8 miles) of the Rio São Francisco, most of them near roadside bars along the road to Piaҫabuҫu.

You can also prevail upon the boatmen who work in the city’s quays. Tours normally take around two and a half hours round trip by fishing boat. You’ll pass mangroves and dunes and make a stop near the river mouth so you can walk to where the waters meet, an environmentally protected area.

Buggy trips will also take you there: tours last approximately three hours and cover 21 kilometers (13 miles).

They cruise around Pontal do Peba beach, cross farms to the dunes, and then drop off visitors for the walk to the river’s mouth. Instead of walking to the river’s mouth, the more adventurous can go the last 3 to 5 kilo meters (about 2 to 3 miles) attached to a buggy-pulled parachute.


Praia do Pontal do Peba is a 23 kilometers (14 miles) beach, 13 kilometers (8 miles) from the center of Piaҫabuҫu.

The beach’s fine, compact sand is backed by dunes, and the sands and waters draw sea turtles to lay their eggs and shrimp fishermen to ply their trade. Fishing is good, especially bait casting.

The beach can get crowded, particularly in areas where guesthouses and restaurants vie for space with fishermen’s houses and summer homes.


The Rio São Francisco is born in Minas Gerais’s Serra da Canastra mountain range.

It then flows toward the Northeast, watering the otherwise dry land of four states. Its winding 3000 kilometers (1,850 miles) course divides Bahia from Pernambuco and Sergipe from Alagoas, then empties into the sea.

The river flows through almost 500 municipalities, and, since 1847, towns not so lucky to sit along its banks have campaigned for the river’s route to be diverted to cure their water shortages. Diversion projects are shelved and reopened intermittently, always amid huge controversy.

In Bahia, Old Chico slakes the thirst of Bom Jesus da Lapa, Barra, and Juazeiro, towns fervently devoted to the saint for whom the river is named.

The river’s current of mysticism is also evident in the carrancas – grotesque gargoyles placed on boat bows to ward off evil spirits.

But modern technology has its place on the river, as well: Brazil’s first hydroelectric plant, Angiquinho, was constructed on the Rio São Francisco in 1913.

Today, the river is dammed at Sobradinho, Paulo Afonso, and Xingó, in AJagoas.

In Petrolina, Pernambuco, the river irrigates fruit crops. Its potential for tourism, however, is only exploited in Canindé do São Francisco, Sergipe, and Piranhas, as well as in Penedo, Alagoas, at the scenic merging of its waters with the Atlantic Ocean.Alagoas North Coast Travel Guide – Brazil Travel Guide

Mouth of the São Francisco River Travel Guide – Brazil Travel Guide

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