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Country Guide: Brazil
Country Guide: Brazil
Our one-liner advice? Head to Rio de Janeiro then explore the rest of Brazil.
Taking our own tip, we’ll start with Rio, then offer up some ideas about what we think you should see and do. Our recommendation is that you should spend at least two weeks seeing and doing it but later on we’ve got some guidance for those with less time.
Grab your map then and locate this lot:
For many people, their abiding image of Brazil is the statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooking the sprawling city and bay of Rio de Janeiro, with its surrounding lush forests and wonderful beaches. This buzzing city, with its beautiful beaches, riotous Carnaval and unique spirit is on most travellers itineraries – and rightly so.
The heart of African Brazil, Salvador throbs to the beat of drum troupes and the rhythms of capoeira. Little wonder it hosts one of the country’s most famous Carnavals. It also boasts one of Brazil’s most beautiful colonial centres in the well-preserved area of Pelhourinho.
It’s impossible to classify an area of land the size of Western Europe under a single label. Brazil’s Amazonian region includes steamy tropical jungle cut by red-brown rivers, forests and savannahs pierced by tabletop mountains, and white sandy beaches lining blue rivers.
The world’s largest freshwater wetland is a wildlife paradise, offering the best chance to appreciate Brazilian wildlife, from capybara (rodents the size of a large dog) to deer, anteaters, primates, cayman, anaconda and ocelots. The Patanal is also your best chance of spotting the elusive Jaguar.
“Poor Niagara!” was how Eleanor Roosevelt reportedly reacted on seeing this 3km long waterfall that plunges 80m into a tropical forest paradise. Iguaçu is actually a collection of almost 275 waterfalls that range from elegant cascades to brutal chocolate-coloured torrents that plunge into angry cauldrons of white water. A wonder of the natural world.
West of Rio, Brazil’s Costa Verde is one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the country. Here, thickly forested ridges drop into the Atlantic. In amongst the forests, charming colonial towns and fishing villages overlook powder white beaches and clusters of islands – it’s everything you’d expect from a tropical paradise.
Once the centre of Brazil’s wealthy sugar industry, Olinda is now something of an artists’ colony. The pretty colonial centre is almost 500 years old, and its charming warren of cobbled streets overlooked by colonial buildings has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. It’s a great place to wander, discovering ornate churches, museums and galleries.
Delta do Parnaíba
A few hundred kilometres south of the mouth of the Amazon lies this, the largest river delta in the Western hemisphere (and you thought Brazil was all about the Amazon…), where the Parnaíba river empties into the Atlantic in a wetland maze of islands, forests and dunes. It might not be as famous as it larger cousin, but the wetland wildlife and birdlife here are worth the trip.
Think of Brazil and you’ll probably imagine parades of beautiful people gyrating through the streets of Rio to the samba sounds of massed drum troupes. Carnaval (and yes, that is how they spell it if you’ve been wondering) is as integral to Brazilian life as winning the world cup, and Carnaval doesn’t just happen in Rio – almost every town will host some form of festivities.
“Football mad” barely begins to express Brazil’s obsession with the beautiful game. Games are played everywhere from beaches, to street corners to 100 000 seater stadiums. Little wonder they’ve won the World Cup more than anyone else. It’s not just football though – look out for capoeira, an acrobat martial art that is uniquely Brazilian, while beach volleyball and surfing are hugely popular too.
As we said, try to give yourself at least a couple of weeks, but what if time is something that, for whatever reason, you don’t have plenty of, we’ll try to help.
Brazil in 2 –3 days
Forget the vast variety of the country and concentrate on where you are. You’re most likely in Rio, so make the most of this most global of cities. Visit the beaches, marvel at the view from the summit of Corcovado, and plan a longer trip next time.
Brazil in 7 –9 days
You’re still going to have to make some decisions on which part of the country to skip out. Rio is on most travellers’ itinerary, so after a few days here, head westwards to the Costa Verde and spend a night or two enjoying Paraty – one of Brazil’s most beautiful colonial towns.
Next, fly to Iguaçu Falls, where a day and a half is the minimum required to appreciate the spectacle of the falls from both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides. Take a boat trip out into the seething water below the falls to get a sense of the sheer power on show.
For your final destination, choose between the vast wetlands of the Patanal and the magical allure of the Amazon. If the former, make for Corumbá or Miranda. If you’re feeling adventurous, a camping safari is the best way to connect with this magical region. For a little more luxury, stay at a ranch and enjoy traditional Brazilian hospitality.
A trip into the Amazon can mean any number of things. Manaus is the largest city in the region, with good air connections. From here you can organise jungle trips that range from luxury lodge stays to budget boat trips.
Be warned: the Amazon may be a wildlife paradise, but the vegetation is so thick and (depending on the time of year) the canopy so high, you’ll probably hear and sense more wildlife than you see. Travel further afield to get a less touristy experience – the best Amazon reserve is at Mamirauá, near Tefe, another flight away from Manaus.
Brazil in 2-weeks+
If you’ve ticked off the Patanál and the Amazon, head along Brazil’s gorgeous coastline, stopping off in the buzzing Afro-Brazilian city of Salvador.
If you fancy the slow life, hop on a river boat heading down the Amazon. The four day trip from Manaus to Belém offers a wonderful way of seeing the wonders of the world’s mightiest river.
Brazil has good air connections with Europe, North America and South Africa, with most flights landing in Rio or São Paulo.
There are numerous land crossings into Brazil, the most common connections being those with Southern Brazil, coming from Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
Brazil has an excellent transport infrastructure, which is just as well, since distances here can be vast. There are air connections between all of the major centres, operated by national and low cost carriers.
Bus travel within Brazil is well developed, ranging from cheap and packed to quick and luxurious, depending on how much you’re prepared to pay.
In the Amazon basin, you’ll almost certainly get around by boat. Travelling on local cargo boats is wonderful – bring a hammock, plenty of insect repellent and a good book.
Food and drink
The national obsession with meat, meat and little more meat is encapsulated in the epic churrasco – a mixed grill available everywhere. For a snack, try savoury pastries called salgado, or empadas.
Set menus at lunchtime are always good value too.
Coffee addicts will love coffee Brazilian style – thick, sweet and strong enough to knock you backwards. The local cane spirit, called aguardente but known equally as cachaça or pinga has even more of a kick.