Let me just clarify, right off the bat, that Rio de Janeiro is probably my favourite city in Brazil and one of my favourite cities in the world. It’s as awesome (and troubled) as everyone says it is and it should always be a priority on any trip to Brazil, however, sometimes I think Rio takes up too much of the limelight. Brazil is huge, wild, beautiful and varied and is so much more than the iconic statue of Christ, Rio carnival, Copacabana beach or the football stars Brazil has become famous for. This post is about giving air time to just some of the other amazing things Brazil has to offer.
The moral of the story is you need to visit Brazil but here’s just a few reasons why;
To put the lime in the coconut and drink them both up
Brother bought a coconut, he bought it for a dime
His sister had another one, she paid it for a lime
She put the lime in the coconut, she drank them both up
She put the lime in the coconut, she drank them both up
In all seriousness this is one of the most winning combinations ever. Book yourself on the next flight to Brazil and find the man that puts the lime in the coconut and drink them both up! Great song, great refreshing beverage!
Romeo & Julieta
While we are on the subject of winning combos, Romeo and Julieta is the name given to the genius paring of goiabada, a paste made with goiaba (guava), and cheese – usually a soft white variety. This pairing can be a simple slice of each creating the perfect bite for a snack but it is also the inspiration for many desserts that go by the same name but are made with creamier cheeses. This treat originated in the state of Minas Gerais but can be found throughout Brazil.
Shiny happy people
The Brazilian people face more than their fair share of problems, but you could never accuse Brazilians of being miserable. Brazilians rich and poor, for the most part, choose joy. Enjoyment of life, however that may look, is at the core of Brazilian culture. Always joking, always laughing, they don’t take things too seriously. They always make time to be with friends and family and they don’t wait until Friday to celebrate. You will find the people of Brazil to be warm and friendly and those who speak some english love the chance to practice it with you.
If wildlife is your thing, Brazil is your destination. A trip down the Amazon is a big bucket list item for many. Head up to Manaus where there are several boat tour operators offering cruises on the mighty Amazon river and go looking for anacondas, pink river dolphins, birds, black caiman, piranha, electric eels and so much more.
Down in the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland located in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, you stand a chance to spot lowland tapirs, hyacinth macaws, giant anteaters, capybaras, black howler monkeys, marsh deer, yacare caiman and if you are really, really, really lucky, a jaguar.
You’ve probably heard of samba and chances are it's one of the first things you think of when you think of Brazil, but have you heard of pagode, axé, forró, lambada, funk carioca, bossa nova, nova bossa, MPB, sertanejo, brega, frevo, tropicalia, choro, mangue beat, maracatu or embolado? You see, samba is only the tip of the iceberg. You’ll have no trouble finding live music in any of Brazil’s major cities even on week nights but for the very best in uniquely Brazilian music head to Salvador da Bahia. You can find rock, pop, hip hop and country but what Brazilians are really good at is inventing genres of their very own!
In my opinion, the north eastern state of Bahia is the most fascinating region of Brazil. Salvador, the state’s capital and the first capital of the country in colonial times, is the heart of Brazil’s Afro-Brazilian culture. Bahia is the birthplace of many important Brazilian Icons. It’s the home of Candomble, Capoeira, Batucada, the Bahian ladies dressed in big skirts and turbans and the Senhor do Bonfim church and its famous ribbon. The historical centre in Salvador, called Pelourinho, is a UNESCO world heritage site and is host to what is said to be the best carnival in Brazil. Bahian food is unique and delicious with African influences and tropical local ingredients. You must try the moqueca and an acaraje from a street vendor. Bahia is home to many of the country’s most beautiful beach holiday destinations and is a very popular holiday choice with Brazilian travellers and gringos alike. Now, repeat after me, I will not visit Brazil without visiting Bahia!
Cosmopolitan São Paulo
No one is more irritated by Rio’s persistent hogging of the Brazilian limelight than the people of São Paulo, known in Brazil as Paulistas. São Paulo city is entirely lacking on the beach front it’s true, but when it comes to world class dining, cosmopolitan diversity, shopping, nightlife, parks, arts and culture, São Paulo shines. Brasília might be the nation’s capital but São Paulo is the financial and industrial capital and is the leading city when it comes to representing Brazil on the world stage. Go there for the best pizza in the country as well as an entire suburb full of delicious Japanese food. Go there for the best shopping and museums, São Paulo Fashion Week and the Brazilian Grand Prix. What it lacks in natural beauty it makes up for in practically everything else. What I am trying to say is that São Paulo is one of the most relevant and important cities in the country and considering it is the most highly populated, if you don’t experience São Paulo then you haven’t experienced a significant part of life in Brazil.
The Smoky South
I’m talking about Rio Grande do Sul tche. The country’s southern most state can often feel like a different country altogether, especially when compared to the north. Those hailing from Rio Grande do Sul are known as Gaúchos, named after the cowboys they descend from. In many ways they have more in common with their gaucho neighbours in Uruguay and Argentina with their chimarrão and churrascos (Pronounced “shim- ahowm” and “shu-haas-ko”). Chimarrão, a pastime rather than merely a drink, is the practice of drinking mate tea which is a native leaf that was drunken by the Guaraní people indigenous to the region (it tastes like a smoky green tea). Remember, it's not chimarrão unless you share it with loved ones. Churrasco is the world famous Brazilian barbecue and while it has been adopted whole heartedly by the rest of the nation, the south is where it originated and where it is done best. Dining at a Churrascaría is a rite of passage for all visitors to Brazil (vegetarians are exempt). Head slightly north of the state's capital city Porto Alegre, to the German towns of Gramado and Canela to experience the region's German influence. Bring warm clothes if you go in winter because it can get cold down there (another reason to embrace the chimarrão).
Beyond Bahia there's the rest of the north east to explore and I promise you it will be worth the effort. From beautiful, remote Jericoacoara up the very top, all the way down the coast to Bahia, there are tonnes of awesome cities and gorgeous small beach towns. Canoa Quebrada is a great, remote beach town in the state of Ceará perfect for anyone who enjoys kite surfing. Ponta Negra is actually a suburb in the capital city of Natal, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, but it has the feeling of a beach town. For lovers of nature, remote beaches and wildlife a trip to Praia da Pipa, a beach town south of Natal, is essential. You'll see dolphins and turtles at the beach and marmosets in the atlantic forest. But for the ultimate experience in natural beauty and wildlife you have to take a trip to the island of Fernando de Noronha which is widely regarded as the most beautiful spot in all of Brazil. You can fly there from either Natal or Recife and although it is a little bit pricey, it is beautifully preserved and worth the extra effort. Life in the north east is more tranquil and relaxed than in the industrial south, the weather is great year round and the water is so deliciously warm and clear. Brazil's tropical north east is a veritable paradise and it's generally cheaper and safer than the big cities of the south too. What are you waiting for?
If you’ve ever dreamed of spending your balmy afternoons swaying in a hammock, then you need to come to Brazil. This is an excellent dream, by the way, and I absolutely commend you for it! It’s the very best way to nap and read books after all. Hammocks are everywhere in Brazil and if you stay in a pousada (a guest house) you will more than likely be treated to a hammock for your swaying pleasure, especially in the warmer parts of the country. They are also widely available for purchase so you can take one home with you and re-live a piece of Brazil everyday forevermore.
Colonial Portuguese Architecture
Brazil was colonised by the Portuguese in the 1500s and there’s no mistaking the distinctive Portuguese architectural treasures they left behind. If you’re a history buff or have a general love of baroque architecture, then Brazil has some towns that you will love visiting. Many of Brazil’s oldest towns have UNESCO world heritage status and for very good reason. For the best in historic colonial towns head to São Luis, Olinda, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, Paraty, Ouro Prêto and Congonhas.
Água de Coco
Brazilians have been drinking coconut water fresh from the source for long before it became a superfood in the west. The best part is you can find them for sale everywhere you look, especially at the beach, which is exactly when you’ll want one. They keep them bem gelado (nice and cold) and they only cost between $2 and $5 reais (a couple of bucks) No coconut water from a bottle can compare to the real thing and it’s great as a post work out drink, or a cure for hangovers and deli belly. The humble coconut gives and gives.
Brazilian food is very very good although it’s not a particularly fancy cuisine. It tends to be very homely and soul food-y. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything spicy (your best bet will be in the north if you’re looking), but you will find that Brazilian food tends to be fairly salty and seasoned simply with garlic, onion and the odd spice depending on the region. There are strong Italian and Portuguese influences throughout the country and a distinctive African influence in the north east. Churrasco (barbecue) is king in the south while German, Japanese and Lebanese and other immigrant groups have made their contribution over time. Expect to see a lot of beans and other legumes, white rice, cassava and manioc, pizza and pasta, fried savouries, tropical fruits and of course plenty of meat and seafood. Don’t leave without trying feijoada, moqueca, pizza a Paulista or bolo de brigadeiro.
Brazil has essentially perfected the art of going to the beach and it’s a much more elaborate affair than in most countries. All of the popular busy beaches have a thriving economy of service providers tripping over each other to meet your every desire. Many beaches have barracas (beach bars of varying infrastructures – pronounced ba-ha-ka) with plastic chairs, tables, beach loungers and umbrellas. There’s a cover charge for a beach lounger/umbrella but they might waive it if you spend enough on snacks and drinks with them. If you can’t find a beach lounger then you should lie on a kanga (a sarong, and don’t worry, there will be someone there to sell you one). Once you’ve settled on a nice spot for sunbathing you can sit back and relax and let the refreshments come to you. Fancy a coconut? A beer? How about some fried cheese? Forgot your bikini? In the mood for a crepe? How about a cocktail? Need a new pair of sunnies? You can purchase any and all of these things and more. And yes, people will be trying to sell you things you don’t want but a simple não obrigado (pronounced naum bri-gahdo, it means no thanks) is all you need to say to be left in peace. Do I need to point out that if you purchase the cooked prawns from beach vendors you’re playing Russian roulette? People do eat them but I don’t think it’s worth the risk...
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This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the wonders that Brazil has to offer, it's really only a taste. Come and see for yourself! Forget about the fear mongering media, now is a fantastic time to visit Brazil! They are suffering through a bad recession so that makes it really cheap for travellers who can bring in some much needed revenue to this wonderful country and help keep tourism jobs alive. Make your next vacation a colourful trip to Brazil!