What do you get if you combine cinematic landscapes, kaleidoscopic culture, head-spinning biodiversity and a constant rhythm of carefree joie de vivre? Welcome to Brazil!
The world’s fifth-largest country commandeers the lion’s share of South America, all the way from the Amazon Basin – the world’s largest tropical rainforest – to the pampas of southernmost Rio Grande do Sul, delivering 7500kms of sun-toasted sands in between.
It is these postcard-perfect shores for which Brazil is arguably most famous, but this Latin giant boasts far more than beaches. Lush jungle? Check. Colonial villages? Check. Unparalleled wildlife? Check. Delectable restaurants and pulse-pumping nightlife? Check. Stunning waterfalls, canyons, mountains and dunescapes? Pronto, pronto, pronto and pronto!
Brazil owes its language and much of its cultural potpourri to Portugal – both unique compared to its Spanish-settled South American neighbors – whose explorers arrived in the 1500s and settled what was then a land of largely indigenous inhabitants numbering between two and four million people. Waves of immigration from Africa, Europe and the Middle East have shaped and enriched the country throughout history. Today, with a population of nearly 200 million, Brazil is one of the world’s most diverse nations.
A tropical wonderland
A visit to Brazil usually begins in Rio de Janeiro, one of the world’s most vibrant urban landscapes, where dramatic, rainforest-crowned mountaintops surround a city nestled picturesquely between jungle and sea. The Amazon region – and its namesake river – are home to the planet’s greatest collection of plants and animals, and this enigmatic landscape has long intrigued explorers, naturalists, novelists and travelers alike. Brazil’s other hotspot for biodiversity, the Pantanal, is the world’s largest wetland, where every moment throws up another photo opportunity full of colorful birds and wildlife.
The roar of Iguaçu Falls will redefine your idea of the power of Mother Nature; this torrent thundering over the edges of cliffs is a spectacle without rival. And in a country with no shortage of world-class beaches, the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha serves up three of the best, and then adds the distinction of being Brazil’s top spot for diving and surfing, and one of the best places on Earth to mingle with endangered sea turtles and Spinner dolphins.
But wait, there’s more! Pristinely preserved colonial villages (Ouro Prêto, Tiradentes, Paraty, Olinda), scenic national parks (Lençóis-Maranhenses (parquelencois.com.br), Chapada Diamantina, Chapada dos Veadeiros (whc.unesco.org/en/list/1035), Chapada dos Guimarães), idyllic tropical islands (Ilha Grande, Ilhabela, Ilha de Santa Catarina, Morro de São Paulo, Boipeba, Ilha do Mel) and an even longer list of diverse regional cuisine and culture, from the African-fueled state of Bahía to the heavily German and Italian-influenced states of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul, all unite in a seductive marriage that ticks off a traveler’s wishlist.
Olympic fever (and fears)
Summer 2016 brings the Olympic Games to Rio de Janeiro, the first time the world’s most important amateur athletic event has been held on South American soil. From August 5-21, 2016, the world’s spotlight will once again focus on Brazil in much the same way it did for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. And much like the world’s greatest football tournament, the lead-up to the event has not been without controversy and concern.