Brazil: The Grand Tour
If you want to plan a trip which may just be an experience of a lifetime, consider visiting Brazil. However, plan to be in the country for a while because there is 8 511 965 square kilometers to explore! There is a diversity of cultural sites, architectural wonders and natural highlights. Rio de Janeiro boasts some of the country’s finest museums, and the different areas within the city add to a busy but fulfilling vacation. At the same time, Brazil maintains within its borders three major natural highlights: The Amazon, The Pantanal, and Iguazu Falls. Such varied and unique attractions lure visitors from across the world.
Brazil is a land of many, many contrasts that is, and each region of the country provides visitors several awe-inspiring sights, cultures and adventures.
Did You Know?
- The population of Brazil is some 190,000,000 souls
- The government is a federal republic
- Brasília is the capital of Brazil
- The dominant religion is Roman Catholicism followed by Protestantism
- Portuguese is the official language of Brazil
- Most of Brazil experiences a tropical climate, except the south which has temperate climate
- Brazil follows the metric system while the official electrical unit is 110 V or 220 V and 60 Hz
- Brazil has four time zones
- The currency in Brazil is the Real (Plural: Reais)
- Brazil shares its land boundaries with ten countries: French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay. And to the east the coastline runs alongside the North and South Atlantic Ocean.
Brazil was under the rule of the Portuguese for three centuries until it gained independence in 1822. But, the country became a republic only in 1889. And until 1985, was under military rule when a civilian federal republic was finally established. Since then, Brazil has grown to become one the leading economic powers of South America. The roots of Brazilian culture lies in that of Portugal. Heavily influenced by the Portuguese, Brazil boasts of a colorful and vibrant culture. Brazilian music has a rich tradition with various styles such as samba, bossa nova, forró, frevo and many others.
Chances are you will begin your Great Brazilian Adventure in either Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo
Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro is perhaps the most visited city in Brazil – and for good reason! Known as the cidade maravilhosa (marvellous city), is nothing if not exhilarating. The picturesque mountains, the white-sand beaches and verdant rainforests Rio offers visitors the allure and romanticism that vacations often crave.
Songs have been written and movies have been made … So it’s no coincidence that Christo stands arms outstretched welcoming visitors from afar. In addition to the weather, the beaches, the cidade, the dining choices (which are endless) and the museums, galleries there is the world-famous Carnaval to attend, and New Years in Rio and something to behold.
The downtown neighborhood of Centro is where to shop. There are enthusiastic street vendors everywhere, and street markets sell crafts ranging from typical to beautiful locally designed jewelry and musical instruments. And be sure to visit The Petropolis and Buzios, both of which are not far from Rio.
Just an hour drive from Rio de Janeiro is Petropolis – the Cidad Imperial that was the former summer residence of the emperor Don Pedro. His son Don Pedro II developed and founded this city, now known as The Petropolis. Cariocas escape to this area for a weekend during the summer. The Petropolis offers a wonderful respite from Rio de Janeiro’s crazy-packed streets and beaches. A day trip is a common. Buzios was originally settled by European pirates and slave traders, and was a quaint and quiet fishing village. It’s immaculate, serene beauty was a well-kept secret until a discovery by the French star Brigitte Bardot in 1964 made the village popular, transforming Buzios into the spectacular beach resort it is today. Only 2 hours from Rio de Janeiro, Buzios has been nominated as one of the top-10 most beautiful places in the world – an absolute must-see.
São Paulo is the largest city in Brazil, with a city resident population of some 20 million people in the metropolitan region, and is one of the richest cities in the southern hemisphere. Historically attractive to immigrants as well as Brazilians from other states in the country, São Paulo has become one of the most diverse cities in the world.
São Paulo, or Sampa as it is also often called, is also probably one of the most underrated tourism-destinations in Brazil, tourism-wise, often overshadowed by other cities and areas in the country. It is in fact a great city to explore, with its own idiosyncrasies, the exquisite way of living of its inhabitants, not to mention the world-class and diverse regional and international cuisine available to all tastes. The main financial hub in the country, São Paulo is also Brazil’s most cosmopolitan city, offering visitors an impressive cultural and arts scenes and top-rate nightlife and restaurants. Most of the wealthiest people in Brazil live here, hence this is perhaps where the shopping opportunities may be the-best-of-the-best.
When you have done the laid-back beaches, and you are back from the Amazon, São Paulo may be just the right place to complete your Great Brazilian Adventure.
The official name for central Brasilia is Plano Piloto, named for the winning “pilot plan” design of the city proposed by Lucio Costa. Brazilian President Juscelino Kubitschek moved the capital here from Rio de Janeiro to bring the countries interests further inland, away from the coast. The idea to move the capital to a more secure area was first suggested by Jose Bonifacio in 1823, and he was the one who suggested the name “Brasilia.”
President Kubitschek, who became President in 1956, invited the best Brazilian architects to present projects for the new capital. Oscar Niemeyer, today one of the most famous world’s architects, combined straight and rounded shapes to create innovative architectural masterpieces. And Lucio Costa, a renowned Brazilian urbanist, devised a lay-out combining beauty, simplicity and functionality.
Brasilia is nothing less than a remarkably well planned city. The entire city was built in only four years by the hands of hundreds of thousands of workers from all across the country. Difficulties in construction arose mainly for the reason that the land allocated to the future capital was largely inaccessible: the nearest road was over 75 miles away and the nearest airport some 115 miles. The resultant system of highways that was constructed to connect Brasilia to the rest of the country helped greatly to unify Brazil.
What marks Brasilia to be deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site is that the city’s architectural design is one of the world’s best examples of a modernist city. It is one of the richest and most comprehensive examples of Modernist architecture. The official buildings, in particular, are innovative and imaginative.
Some of the not-to-be-missed sites and attractions in the city are:
Parque Nacional de Brasilia – This national park contains two natural mineral springs that have supposed healing properties.
Catedral Metropolitana Nossa Senhora Aparecida – This cathedral was designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer. Unassuming from the outside, one step inside this wide-open cathedral will leave you awestruck. The walls and alter are made of white marble, and the stained glass overhead is truly a sight to behold.
Palacio do Itamaraty – Also designed by Oscar Niemeyer, the Palacio is one of the finest examples of the modernist architecture that dominates Brasilia. This government building is used as a reception palace for the ministry of foreign affairs. Guided tours are offered daily.
Congresso Nacional – This architectural landmark is probably the most recognizable of architect Niemeyer’s work. From a distance, it looks like a tower flanked by two large bowls on either side (one up, one down). The building houses the senate and the Chamber of Deputies. You can in fact take the time to watch the Brazilian function.
Salvador de Bahia
Salvador, which is one of the oldest cities in Brazil, was the first capital of the country, and is currently the capital of the state of Bahia. Amerigo Vespucci – the same man who discovered America – arrived here in 1501, sailing under the Portuguese flag. With November 1st being the day of all saints, Vespucci decided to name his ground of arrival the Bay of All Saints.
The historic city of Salvador de Bahia is a city rich in folklore and culture, and the city has maintained a character of dated intrigue that attracts many a marvelling visitor. Given the rich historical heritage since the 17 century, Salvador de Bahia has been warded the status of a world’s heritage site by the UNESCO.
Indigenous backgrounds of African, European and Brazilian peoples and histories have provided Salvador de Bahia with the authentic, mythical appeal it can boast of today. As a result, Salvador has been able to produce some of the richest Brazilian art forms: capoeira, samba de roda, and afoxe – an African rhythm that influenced many Carnaval groups. The city has been crowned “the land of happiness,” and not without reason. As well, there is some 50 kilometers of striking beach areas and an immeasurable amount of smiling, laughing, and partying radiate from the city.
The architectural marvels of Salvador which ought to be visited are the Cathedral of Salvador, which is a specimen of the most intricate form of Mannerist style or architecture and decoration; the Church of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim, which is the most sacrosanct church in Salvador and features adornments of neoclassical design; .the Convent and Church of Sao Francisco, which is one of the most magnificent churches in Brazil and the Mercado Modelo, the market area of Salvador with featuring arts and crafts and a few restaurants.
The city’s coastline is one of the longest in Brazil and All Saints Bay, the country’s most extensive bay, border the Low city beaches; the Atlantic Ocean borders the High city beaches. The island of Itaparica, the Cachoeira region and the region of Morro de Sao Paulo, an island across the Bay of All Saints, are splendid areas around Salvador which can be visited by ferries.
Florianopolis (In Portuguese: Florianópolis) is the capital of the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina. Half of the city is on the mainland of Brazil while the other half is on the Santa Catarina Island. As such, Florianopolis can boast of some of Brazil’s most beautiful beaches.
The city seems to be all about an adventure. Especially along the beaches and on the water! Florianopolis (or Floripa, as the island is affectionately known by locals) is one of the world’s best surf spots and most stunningly beautiful locations, blessed with 42 pristine beaches, lush rolling hills, soft white sand dunes and sparkling lagoons.
In addition, there is a tremendous array of extreme sports activities to please even the most discerning adventure enthusiast. And as a respite from your adventures during the day, Floripa offers a wealth of cultural attractions, including traditional Brazilian fairs and markets, Azorean architecture, and historical points of interest such as ancient forts used to defend the island against pirates and invaders.
Florianopolis can also boast of some of South America’s best nightlife. Brazil is famous for its fun loving culture and Floripa will not disappoint. Getting to know Floripa means you’ll get a glimpse of what it really means to catch the Brazilian vibe.
Established in 1637 by the Dutch after they destroyed the regions’ former capital of Olinda, Recife is now the second largest city in Northeastern Brazil and is capital of the state of Pernambuco. Recife received its name from the Portuguese word for reef, referring to the coral reefs that line its coast just beyond the city’s many beautiful beaches.
The Recife area has only recently become a visitor attraction, and has come to be popularly known as the Venice of Brazil for its many connecting bridges, canals, and small windy streets.
The beautiful beaches of Recife have certainly helped the city draw the summer holiday tourists, while the exciting February carnival season repeatedly, year-after-year, attracts large numbers of visitors – both from within Brazil and areas of South America and beyond.
Recife is a typical urban city. The nearby city of Olinda, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, enjoys a close association with Recife and many holidaymakers now choose to base themselves here, due to its proximity to Recife and plentiful accommodation.
If you love adventure than you will no doubt want to visit the Amazon. The Amazon is, quite simply, the world’s greatest bio-system. The region of Amazonia, the correct name of this area, provides visitors an intimate glimpse of the most diverse collection of flora and fauna in the world. As much as twenty percent of the world’s species are found in the rivers and jungles of Amazonia. But you can call the area the Amazon.
The Amazon River is the second largest river in the world (the largest being the Nile in Egypt) and just happens to pass through the region of Amazonia in Brazil. The river is formed at the meeting of Rio Negro and Rio Solimoes. At this location, appropriately named, Meeting of the Waters, the black waters of Rio Negro join and mix with the clay-coloured waters of Rio Solimoes. The effect can be brilliantly enjoyed right in front of a visitor’s eyes, and happens to be one of the greatest highlights of the region.
A popular means of visting and seeing the Amazon is by riverboat. Tours are designed around a traditionally-styled riverboat, typical to the region and ecologically designed with the fragile Amazon River and surrounding environment in mind.
The Amazon is home to a vast, unforgettable array of unique sights, sounds and cultures. Daily excursions by foot and by skiff (small boat) allow you the opportunity to see diverse wildlife such as sloths, toucans, pink dolphins and other species you may not be familiar with. You will also meet the local people, so that you can get a rare glimpse of how life ‘on the river’ is lived.
The name “Pantanal” comes from the Portuguese word pântano, meaning wetland, bog, swamp or marsh.
The Pantanal is a tropical wetland and the world’s largest wetland of any kind. It lies mostly within the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul but extends areas of Bolivia and Paraguay, sprawling over an area estimated at between 140,000 square kilometers and 195,000 square kilometers. Eighty percent of the Pantanal floodplains are submerged during the rainy seasons, nurturing an astonishing biologically diverse collection of aquatic plants and helping support a dense array of animal species. This vast wetland, well over half the size of France, is one of world’s great wildlife preserves and could very well be the highlight of your Brazil trip.
The Pantanal is one of the most immense, pristine and biologically rich environments on the planet. This area is an unparalleled wildlife sanctuary of spectacular beauty, an ecological delight containing hundreds of species of birds, thousands of varieties of butterflies, myriads of brightly coloured flowers, and shoals of fish. Capuchin and Howler monkeys, capybaras, toucans, anacondas, caimans and tapirs help create an aquatic and sylvan theatre of sights and sounds. The endangered jaguar, and increasingly rare Hyacinthine macaws and giant river otters all make their home in the Pantanal.
All-in-all, you could spend weeks in Brazil and still not see it all, or experience the warmth and richness of the country. Brazilians as a whole are incredibly friendly and are quick to open their arms to foreign visitors, so plan your trip carefully, bring a positive attitude and a healthy dose of curiosity and chances are your vacation in Brazil will include not only sun, sand, surf, culture, adventure, romance and a variety of memories, but new friendships that will last a lifetime.
Like this destination? You may also be interested in...