Imagem card

Capibaribe River (Recife, State of Pernambuco)

Capibaribe or Caapiuar-y-be or Capibara-ybe (or ipe), comes from the Tupi language meaning river of the capybara, or wild pigs.

Capibaribe River (Recife, State of Pernambuco)

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 23/03/2023

By: Regina Coeli Vieira Machado - Servant of the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation - PhD in Information and Documentation

Capibaribe or Caapiuar-y-be or Capibara-ybe (or ipe), comes from the Tupi language meaning river of the capybara, or wild pigs.


The river originates from the Serra do Jacarará, in the municipality of Brejo da Madre de Deus, on the border of Pernambuco and Paraíba. Its course is about 250 kilometers, and its basin is approximately 5,880 square kilometers.


It has approximately 74 tributaries and reaches 42 municipalities in Pernambuco, the main ones being Toritama, Santa Cruz do Capibaribe, Salgadinho, Limoeiro, Paudalho, São Lourenço da Mata, and Recife.


In the summer, the river can be navigated for up to two kilometers from its mouth by canoes and small boats, in winter it becomes so full that sometimes causes floods and damage to the riverside areas of the countryside municipalities.


Capibaribe has great historical and social importance in the formation and development of Pernambuco and the Northeast Region of Brazil. It was known as the bridge river because, in colonial times, it was a significant link between the sugarcane crops of the wooded area of Pernambuco and the cattle pens of the Agreste and Sertão Regions.


In the 16th century, much was said about the people of the Capibaribe floodplains. This same floodplain was one of the first, in the Brazilian colonial landscape, to be populated with makers, sugarcane farmers, and sugar mills owners, who gave rise to the sets of casas-grandes connected by the river water and by the blood of the settlers.


It was in the floodplains of the Capibaribe where the sugarcane crop was first consolidated in the Northeast, due to the type of soil—the massapê, a red and fertile land—proper for sugarcane agriculture.


The agriculture and livestock developed on the banks of Capibaribe greatly contributed to the evolution of the state of Pernambuco, which took place not only from the center to the periphery, but also from the sugarcane mills to the commercial centers.


In the 19th century, people used to bathe in the Capibaribe, and the shores of Várzea, Poço da Panela, Ponte de Uchôa and Monteiro housed those looking for a summer retreat. Canoes could be seen sliding along the river, driven by sailors with oars or sticks, who used the river to transport people, objects, and goods.


Its route within the municipality of Recife, up to its bifurcation, passes through several neighborhoods: Várzea, Caxangá, Apipucos, Monteiro, Poço da Panela, Santana, Torre, Capunga, Derby, Madalena. Its northern stream meets the Beberibe River and flows into the sea. The southern stream passes through Afogados, Retiro Island, towards Joana Bezerra Island, joining the Tejipió River to then flow into the port of Recife, a few kilometers from the mouth of the northern stream.


Despite its great contribution to the socio-economic development of the state of Pernambuco and the Northeast, the Capibaribe is currently polluted by organic waste, covered in mud and siltation.


In addition to being fundamental to the development of the region, the Capibaribe River was also a great source of inspiration for poets and writers.


The River is connected in the most intimate way to the history of the city. The river, the sea, and the mangroves. Murders, floods, revolutions, escapes of enslaved people, and bandit assaults on bridges make the history of the Capibaribe also the history of Recife.


(Gilberto Freyre, Practical, historical, and sentimental guide of the city of Recife, 1942).


Dia nítido lavado pelo Capibaribe,
O rio ninando o Recife,
O Recife criança em seus braços
(Mauro Mota, Domingo no Recife. In: Elegias, 1952)


Clear day washed by Capibaribe,
The river cradles Recife,
The child Recife in its arms
(Mauro Mota, Domingo no Recife. In: Elegias, 1952; our translation)



Recife, July 11, 2003.

sources consulted

CHACON, Vamireh. O Capibaribe e o Recife: história social e sentimental de um rio. Recife: Secretaria de Educação e Cultura de Pernambuco, 1959.

GONÇALVES, Fernando Antônio. O Capibaribe e as pontes: dos ontens bravios aos futuros já chegados. Recife: Comunigraf, 1997.

how to quote this text

MACHADO, Regina Coeli Vieira. Rio Capibaribe (Recife, State of Pernambuco). In: Pesquisa Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2003. Available at: Access on: month day year. (Ex.: Aug. 6, 2020.)