Petrolina is a city in the São Francisco Valley (Vale do São Francisco), in the southernmost point of the state of Pernambuco, in Brazil. With over 340,000 inhabitants (2017), it is one the largest cities of the Northeast's Sertão, a mostly semi-arid and sparsely populated region. However, Petrolina stands as the major city and business center of the São Francisco Valley, a fertile area thanks to the irrigation from the São Francisco river and a major exporter of fruits, and also a growing enotourism destination.
The São Francisco Valley is an agricultural region, in-between the states of Bahia and Pernambuco irrigated by the São Francisco river. It is a major fruit exporter, especially grapes, mangos and bananas, and a growing center of production of Brazilian] wines and sparkling wines. Petrolina is the largest city and business center of the region, and contains the region's only international airport.
Petrolina is certainly the most convenient base for business travellers and enotourism enthusiasts to explore the region, as besides the airport, it contains the best array of hotels, transportation, and also more upscale bars and restaurants which are rare in other cities of the region. The city itself does not contain much in terms of sightseeing, with exception of a beautiful neo-gothic cathedral, a (derelict) heritage quarter and a pleasant riverside that can be inviting for a stroll or a bicycle ride when the weather is not too unforgiving.
- 1 Aeroporto Internacional de Petrolina - Senador Nilo Coelho (PNZ IATA), Rodovia BR 235 - km 11, s/n - Zona Rural, 56313-900 (about 9 km from the city center), ☏ . The main gateway to Vale do São Francisco region. It has some domestic daily flights to São Paulo, Recife and Salvador. The public area contains several rental car agencies, some snack shops, and a souvenir shop. The transit area does contain only vending machines.
If you are staying in Juazeiro, you can reach Petrolina by simply crossing the São Francisco river on foot via the Presidente Dutra bridge, or by public transportation boat at the pier in front of the crossing between R. Aprígio Duarte and R. Lauro de Freitas.
If you plan to do agro- and eno-tourism, definitely a car would be highly recommended unless you plan to take the Vapor do Vinhos boat tour in Juazeiro. Car rental agencies are readily available at the airport and at the city center, with prices typically starting from R$ 150 per day.
By taxi or e-hailing
To move exclusively around Petrolina or to the nearby town of Juazeiro it is not cost-effective to rent a car. Taxis are available at the airport, at taxi stands, and by calling, but are often not that frequent to hail on the street. An alternative is to use e-hailing apps such as Uber and its local competitor, Central Valle Táxi, which is based on taxi and has pricing quite competitive to Uber.
Regular taxis (not from Central Valle Táxi) from Petrolina generally charge extra (Bandeira 2) during the night, December, Sundays and public holidays, and to go to Juazeiro. Taxis from Juazeiro also charge Bandeira 2 to go to Petrolina.
Walking during daytime is not easy due to the (often scorching) heat and the lack of shelter, and therefore it is preferable for short distances, such as walking around the city center.
Petrolina is basically flat and cycling is easy, at least when the sun is not too strong. There are segregated cycling paths at the riverfront (Orla) and at some major roads including Av. Monsenhor Ângelo Sampaio (linking the city center to the Monumento ao Centenário in the north of the city) and at Av. da Integração Airton Senna which links the Havan department store in the west of the city with the Av. Monsenhor Ângelo Sampaio in the east.
- 1 Catedral Sagrado Coração de Jesus e Cristo Rei, Praça Dom Malan, S/N - Centro, Petrolina. The Cathedral of Petrolina is one of the city's most recognisable and attractive sights, built in Neo-Gothic style and inaugurated in 1929. In front of the cathedral lies the O presente de Padre Cícero a Dom Malan sculpture, that represents the scene of Padre Cícero, one of Brazil's most popular religious leaders, giving the cathedral's clock as a gift to the first bishop of Petrolina, Don Malan. In the north side of the cathedral lies the Concha Acústica (acoustic shell), built in Modernist style in 1973 and that resembles an open bible. This space is used for public performances and events, but when it is not holding one, the place should be avoided as it is a hanging place for drug addicts.
- 2 Palácio Episcopal da Diocese de Petrolina, Praça Dom Malan, 99 - Centro, Petrolina. The mansion was inaugurated by Bishop Don Malan in 1929, intended as home for for Catholic clerics. It is no longer used or open to the public.
- 3 Petrolina Antiga, R. Barbosa Lima - Centro, Petrolina, 56302-020. Rua Barbosa Lima is the city's historical quarter filled with early 20th century, colourful houses. It used to contain cafes, bars and restaurants but unfortunately, now it seems abandoned, with the buildings vandalised and in state of disrepair.
- 4 Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora Rainha dos Anjos, Praça do Centenario S/N, Centro, Petrolina, 56302-120, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. The city's first church and place of foundation, inaugurated in 1860 in Neo-Colonial style with Neo-Classical elements. It is dedicated to Our Lady Queen of the Angels, patron saint of Petrolina which has a statue inside the church.
- 5 Estação Ferroviária de Petrolina, Rua Governador Eraldo Gueiros Leite, 82 - Centro, Petrolina, 56304-580, ☏ . Petrolina's rail station, inaugurated in 1923 and which operated until 1977 as part of the Petrolina to Teresina and V.F.F. Leste Brasileiro rail lines. The rails actually never reached Teresina. It is a Neo-Renascence style building, declared a National Heritage site. A funeral service operates there.
- 6 Mãe d'Água statue (At the São Francisco river, near the Juazeiro-Petrolina ferry stop). Located at the São Francisco river near the ferry stop to Juazeiro, it is a statue of the orixá (a deity of a traditional African religion Iemanjá, which via syncretism with the Catholic religion, is associated with Our Lady of Sailors in the state of Bahia.
- 7 Museu do Sertão, Rua Esmelinda Brandão, s/n - Centro, Petrolina, 56304-640 (near the River Shopping mall), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. M-F 9AM-6PM, Sa Su holidays 9AM-1PM. A free entrance museum about the history of the Brazilian Northeast's Sertão region, containing a range of regional furniture and objects, plus some personal belongings of famous regional figures such as Don Malan and Lampião. free.
- 8 Orla, Av. Cardoso de Sá - Centro, Petrolina. The Orla is the riverfront of Petrolina, facing the São Francisco river and which provides a nice view of Juazeiro and of the sunset. It contains a running and cycling track, scattered bars and restaurants, and in the other side of Av. Cardoso de Sá, the most expensive real estate in the city.
The main highlight of Petrolina is getting out of the city and exploring the São Francisco Valley region, either by car or by boat. Apart from that, some possible activities in the city include:
- 1 Parque Aquático Ilha do Sol, Estrada da Tapera, Km 3, s/n - Zona Rural, Petrolina, 56308-000, ☏ . W-Su 8AM-5PM. A modest water park facing the São Francisco river, it is a good way to refresh from the daytime heat and enjoy the city's abundant sunshine.
- 2 Ilha do Rodeadouro (Take Av. Luís de Souza to the west of the city to the Juarez pier, then take a ferry). The island in the São Francisco river contains Petrolina's only beach, which is a popular place for bathing on weekends. There are restaurants and bars surrounding the small beach. You can reach the Juarez pier, with ferries to the island, by taking a van at the Grande Rio hotel.
- Walking or cycling in the Orla in the early morning, when the weather is fresh
- Take a boat ride to Juazeiro and enjoy the sight of the Mãe d'Água, as well as the Petrolina skyline, on the way
- 1 Downtown, Av. Souza Filho, R. Dom Vital and others - Centro, Petrolina. The city center of Petrolina is also the city's main shopping area, which most shops on Av. Souza Filho, R. Dom Vital and surrounding streets. As in most of Brazil, street shops are typically open on daytime, from Monday to Saturday excluding public holidays. There you can find the usual array of Brazilian chain stores such as Magazine Luiza, Lojas Americanas, Marisa and Havaianas, as well as local shops.
- 2 River Shopping, Av. Monsenhor Ângelo Sampaio, 100 - Centro, Petrolina, 56304-160, ☏ . M-Sa 10AM-10PM, Su 2PM-8PM. For those longing for the conveniences of air conditioning and evening/Sunday shopping, Petrolina has a modern (and usually crowded) shopping mall in the city center area, although not so near the main shopping district. Besides the usual stores, cinema and food court, it contains a Hiper Bompreço supermarket, a Macaxeira restaurant and the only Melissa store in Petrolina.
- 3 Mercado Turístico, Rua Governador Eraldo Gueiros Leite - Centro, Petrolina, 56304-250. M-F 8AM-6PM, Sa 8AM-1PM. Despite the name, "Tourist Market", it is actually a typical popular shopping gallery, with informal sellers offering cheap clothes, perfumes, shoes, and accessories. There are a few local handcraft shops.
- 4 Galeria Eco Center, Av. Souza Filho, 516 - Centro 56304-000. M-F 8:30AM-6:30PM, Sa 9AM-2PM. A sort of "oasis" in the middle of the bustle of the city center, the small shopping mall has many local boutique shops and some pleasant cafes and dessert stores. Most Petrolinenses, however, go there to buy smartphones and accessories.
- 5 Havan, Av. Coronel Antonio Honorato Viana, 1294 - Gercino Coelho, 56308-000, ☏ . M-Sa 9AM-10PM, Su 10AM-9PM. It is hard to miss seeing the Statue of Liberty on the way from the airport to the city center, and that's the location of the local branch of the Santa Catarina-based Havan department store. It is a good place to find higher quality goods in terms of furniture, electronics, toys and household items, or perhaps just relax and have a handmade cake at the Valle Café.
Petrolina has probably the widest range and highest quality of eating options of the São Francisco Valley. It has some excellent Brazilian Northeastern restaurants, with goat meat being the local speciality. Surprisingly, the city also has a quite significant number of Japanese (actually more like Brazilian-Japanese) restaurants, due to having a significant Japanese-Brazilian community, originated from São Paulo, and active in the farming and retail sectors.
- 1 Bodódromo, Av. São Francisco, s/n - Areia Branca, Petrolina, 56330-095. The Bodódromo ("Goat drome") is Petrolina's most famous gastronomic center, a collection of restaurants serving Brazilian Northeastern cuisine, with particular emphasis on goat meat, lamb and fish. Bode Assado do Ângelo (Av. São Francisco, 8, +55 87 3983-0911), specialised on goat meat, is the most famous restaurant in the area.
- 2 Restaurante Flor de Mandacaru, Rua das Ameixas, 155 - Cohab VI, Petrolina, 56309-010, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. One of Petrolina's most famous restaurants, dedicated to Brazilian Northeastern cuisine, with a range of regional dishes such as moqueca de Cari, sarapatel de bode and carne de sol, and with evocative decoration and regional music.
- 3 777 Sushi Bistrô, Av. São Francisco, 174 - Areia Branca, Petrolina, ☏ . M-Sa 6-11PM. The restaurant of chef Vinícius Tetsuo Kikuti Freire, with Japanese-Peruvian fusion experiments, is widely known as the best Japanese restaurant of Petrolina, and possibly one of the best of the entire Brazilian Northeast. The restaurant is small and extremely popular, so prepare for a long queue.
Petrolina's variety of nightlife spots is also unparalleled in the São Francisco Valley and Sertão regions, ranging from simple botecos and riverside kiosks to high-end bars, gastropubs and nightclubs. The highest concentrations of watering roles are in the Orla and surrounding streets, and nearby the Bodódromo.
- Juazeiro is Petrolina's neighbour city just across the São Francisco river. It is somewhat less modern and developed than Petrolina, but it is lined up with bars along the river, and contains the Juá Garden Shopping, a large shopping mall with some kid-friendly entertainment options. Juazeiro is also the starting point of the Vapor do Vinhos tour, a enotourism boat ride along the São Francisco river.
- Lagoa Grande and Casa Nova are the municipalities containing all the São Francisco Valley's wineries
- The Sobradinho Dam in the municipality of Sobradinho is a large dam and a popular regional tourist attraction