From the jungle calls of the Amazon to the curves of Copacabana’s thong-clad crowds, Brazil is a heady celebration of the big, the bold and the beautiful. Brazil’s vast coastline is fringed with sandy beaches and island getaways, while buzzing Rio de Janeiro and stylish São Paulo offer nightlife and culture galore – as well as an annual dose of Carnival fever.
Whether it’s the big surf of Santa Catarina in the far south, or the sand dunes of northern Natal, you could spend months hopping from one sun-baked beach to the next. Offshore islands add further temptation. Some, such as tiny Ilha Catimbau in the Bay of Paraty, are little more than a pile of rocks. Others, such as Fernando de Noronha, are a nature lover’s paradise, protected by a pristine national park.
Hard as it may be to drag yourself away from the coast, this enormous country also offers many inland attractions. Not least the Amazon Basin, the lungs and freshwater supply for much of the subcontinent. Here you can loll in a hammock as you drift downstream on a steamboat, looking out for the occasional macaw. You could take a wildlife safari down a side-creek in a dugout canoe, or simply wonder at the luxurious lunacy of the Manaus Opera House, clad in Italian marble and sparkling with crystal chandeliers.
Surpassing even the Amazon for its flora and fauna is the Pantanal, the biggest wetlands in the world. The sheer abundance of nature here is overwhelming, particularly in the dry season when thousands of caiman rub shoulders with capybara at the shrunken waterholes.
The Iguaçu Falls, spanning the Argentinian border, are one of the natural wonders of the world. Some 275 waterfalls cascade from the tropical forest, as dazzling blue morpho butterflies flit through the spray. The biggest fall is the Garganta do Diabo – Devil’s Throat – at 82m (2709ft) more than 1½ times taller than Niagara.
The Northeast is where Brazil’s African roots are strongest, and with much of its earliest preserved architecture. The sultry coastal city of Salvador, is famous for its rich cultural heritage; as expressed in its passionate music and dance, spicy cuisine, and Afro-Brazilian spiritual traditions.
With all of Brazil’s awe inspiring natural beauty and rich cultural wealth, it should come as no surprise that the Brazilians themselves are also fabulously diverse. The indigenous peoples were rapidly outnumbered by influxes of settlers from Europe, as well as millions of slaves transported from Africa. The stereotype hedonistic, football-mad, body-beautiful Brazilian is no doubt based on Rio’s native Carioca. But there are also blonde blue-eyed gauchos with German roots in the south, Lebanese merchants in the Amazon, and the world’s biggest Japanese population outside of Japan.
Preparing to host the World Cup in 2014, and the 2016 Olympics coming to Rio, the largest country in South America is gearing up to take centre stage. Whether you’re strolling down orderly São Paulo avenues, or kicking back in the chic coastal resort of Búzios, you’ll discover a Brazil that is confidently rising to the challenge.
Prices are steadily increasing, so even the simplest Brazilian holidays don’t come cheap. Crime does happen, especially in the cities, but those who keep their wits about them and avoid certain areas are highly likely to have an incident-free trip.