Brazil is huge, diverse and utterly captivating, from the white sand beaches and hedonistic clubs of Rio to the extraordinary rainforests and wetlands of the Amazon and Pantanal.
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Few places have such a wealth of natural riches - the canyons, forests, rivers and swamps of Brazil are teeming with life, boasting the biggest collection of animal and plant species found anywhere in the world. Head to the coast and you’ll find a beach culture like no other - simply lay back on the sands with a caipirinha in hand, or follow the pulsing beat of samba and dance the night away.
But to experience the true Brazil, you need to explore the expanses of country beyond Rio, San Paulo or Brasilia, taking in the natural and cultural wonders of this extraordinary nation.
Food and drink
There isn’t really a national dish in Brazil, it’s more a melting pot of regional dishes that take full advantage of nature’s abundance. Visiting a Brazilian food market is a feast for the senses, full of fabulous tropical fruits, colourful vegetables and aromatic spices.
There’s no reason not eat local in Brazil – the meat and fish are fresh and flavourful, and the sauces and vegetable accompaniments have been passed down and perfected over the generations.
Steak, chicken, rice and beans are staples all over the country, with budget restaurants serving these up for a budget price all over Brazil.
The Capirinha is the nation’s favourite cocktail, and you’ve never really had one until you’ve tried it in Brazil – it’s a delicious mix of cachaça, sugar and lime.
Brazil has fantastic shopping opportunities all over the country, and plenty of regional crafts and speciality goods that make wonderful souvenirs.
Image is everything in Rio, so it’s the best place to go for fashion, cosmetics and shoes (flip-flops are a speciality). Salvador has some great shops selling antiques and jewellery, whilst Sao Paulo has the best big shopping malls, which stay open late into the evening.
If you’re travelling further afield, you’ll find Bahia is the best place to buy art, ceramics, musical instruments and carvings, and you can buy gold and silver Brazilian jewellery everywhere, many with emeralds and diamonds.
The Amazon region has plenty of towns selling handmade hammocks and wooden gifts; but if you’re in the market for something more expensive, make sure it’s not an artefact that has been taken from the jungle.
Language is one of many things that sets Brazil apart from the rest of South America – whilst every other nation speaks Spanish (or variations thereof), Brazilians stand alone in speaking Portuguese, a throwback to 200 years of Portuguese colonialization. Centuries of immigration and settlement has created a diverse cultural mix, with African and Indian influences being somewhere in the DNA of most native Brazilians.
Even 21st century Brazil is home to the biggest Japanese population outside of Japan, as well as a large population from Portugal and Italy. It makes for a fascinating cultural mix and anything-goes culture, with plenty of European influences in evidence in cities like Rio.
Brazilians are passionate, spirited and tactile, with a deep and enduring love for music, dance, football and good living – all are welcome here, as long as you’re willing to party.
Travelling around in Brazil is easier than you might think, with good air services between the major cities and towns, and a few local trains.
Your main method of transport is buses, which are always crowded but cheap and comfortable. Many Brazilians are happy to travel long distances by bus, and it’s a good way to enjoy the ever-changing and beautiful landscape.
Car hire is an option, but the local roads and drivers are terrifying, with one of the highest road death rates in the world. Once you’re in the cities, taxis are cheap, reliable and plentiful, or you can easily travel with the locals on the bus.
Things to watch out for
Carnival season is usually in February, and it’s when Brazil becomes the pleasure-seeking party capital of the world. Every city, town and village hosts a celebration, with the biggest in Rio attracting revellers from all over the world to drink and dance the night away. If you’re heading to Brazil during carnival, be sure to pack your dancing shoes!