One of the most colourful and vibrant countries on earth, Brazil could certainly never be accused of being a wallflower. It contains not only some of the most diverse flora and fauna, the largest rainforest and the longest river on Earth, but also the world’s biggest, most exuberant carnival.
Topping most people’s lists of places to see is likely to be the Amazon region, a vast swathe of tropical rainforest, which can be explored by boat along the Amazon River. Although famously diminishing in size due to deforestation, the jungle is still a remarkable area, home to a seemingly infinite array of creatures and plants. One of the most impressive sights is the Foz do Igiazu, or Iguazu Falls, whose waters gush at a staggering rate over a precipice into the Iguazu River.
Although the official capital is the modern city of Brasilia, far more people visit the lively city of Rio de Janeiro, where the beaches and general revelry are a major draw for party-loving travellers. Most famous for its wild carvival, held usually in February, the city is fun at any time of year and shouldn’t be missed.
Brazil also has some charming colonial towns that are well worth visiting. Olinda and Salvador are two of the most attractive, their cobbled streets drenched in olde-worlde atmosphere, both home to their own riotous carnivals and some delicious local cuisine. And if you tire of sightseeing, there are plenty of idyllic beaches along the 7,000km of coastline.
Souvenir hunters have endless possibilities for finding a bargain in Brazil. Shopping ranges from elegant boutiques to hippy markets and everything in between.
Artwork and handicrafts feature heavily across the country and art lovers have a huge range of locally crafted items to tempt them from roughly hewn pots to oeuvres of an international standard. You can peruse paintings in chic galleries while being served a glass of chilled wine or you’re just as likely to find yourself in a musty old workshop with the artist pulling up a chair and opening a beer.
Markets, known as feiras or feirinhas, are found in every city and are the obvious place to head for. Woodcarvings, musical instruments, jewellery, leather goods and clothing are among the main items at most markets, with a few regional additions such as lace and crochet work from the northeastern states and pottery from the Amazon. An added advantage of these markets is that there’s always a place offering shoppers a seat, a cold beer and a snack.
Food markets are well worth a visit for the experience alone. They are also a good place to find homemade chilli sauces, spices and guaraná powder, all of which travel easily and make interesting souvenirs. Take a wander around a fish market in the Amazon for the sheer wonder of the creatures on display, or stroll through a northeastern market for the overwhelming fragrance of ground cumin and black pepper.
Wannabe musicians should check out the music shops in Rio and Salvador and the craft markets selling musical instruments. Percussion instruments such as congas, bongos, and berimbaus are great buys, but can be tricky to squeeze into a suitcase. The Brazilian tambourine, pandeiro, or maraca-style instruments are easier to transport. For those who accept their musical limitations and are happy to leave it to the professionals, current and old recordings are found at most music shops.
If you have a passion for jewellery, your pulse will quicken on entering any of the H Stern and Amsterdam Sauer stores. Glittering displays of some of the most exquisite precious stones around are for sale at very reasonable prices. That’s not to say that some purchases won’t require a bank loan but, as the gems are all homegrown, prices are better here than anywhere else for those who simply can’t live without their sapphires.
And if your goal is to hit the beach in Ipanema – or anywhere else in Brazil – and blend in with the locals, be sure to purchase your beach attire locally from any of the numerous swimwear boutiques. Anything else will look positively Victorian.
Brazil, South America’s largest country, covers a vast expanse of the continent. It has long held a fascination for European explorers, the dense rainforest of the Amazon was believed to hide vast cities of gold, although perhaps these earliest visitors missed the real wealth of this wilderness – its incredible natural beauty. Today’s visitors can witness the best of all that Brazil has to offer, from the colonial influence of the Portuguese settlers, seen in the great city of Rio de Janeiro to the magnificence of the Iguazu Falls, nature at its most powerful.
Often seen as Brazil’s “jewel in the crown”, Rio has cast its spell on visitors for centuries and it’s easy to see why. Emerald green mountains and the sparkling waters of the Atlantic provide the perfect backdrop to this enchanting city and its residents, known as Cariocas.
Rio’s legendary carnival is the main draw for many visitors, but for those that can’t make it, there’s no shortage of entertainment the rest of the time, from religious festivals to sporting and cultural events. All year round, the bars and clubs throb to the beat of live music while the beaches provide a daytime playground for both tourists and locals. In addition, the city has more than its fair share of shops, a good selection of museums and great food. For exclusive Rio de janerio deals click here.
When to go
The North of the country has a tropical climate, with the South more temperate and with more marked seasonal variations. During the winter (June to August), temperatures in the South can drop to around 12 degrees centigrade, while in the summer, they tend to stay around the 30 mark, though many areas, most notably Rio, reach the high 30s from December to February. The Amazon basin is, unsurprisingly, very wet and humid.
The North is wettest from January to April, while the rainy season hits the northeast coast from April to July and the South and central regions from November to March. As the best tactic is to avoid real extremes of temperature or rainfall, the best times to visit Brazil depend largely on where you’re going. As a general rule, though, the northern/northeastern regions are at their most comfortable from August to November, whereas in the South, April/May and September to November are the best times to go.
Bahian cooking is among the most popular, using fresh seafood cooked in spices that were introduced to the country by the Portuguese colonisers, combined with the milk and oil from the coconut palms that grow in abundance in the northeast. Bahian seafood stews known as moquecas are popular throughout the country but are best at their source. Heavy on chillis, coriander, palm hearts and lime, the food is just one more reason to hang out a bit longer in Bahia.
In the cowboy country of the south, the fare is heaven for carnivores with succulent cuts of meat barbecued to perfection. Churrascarías, barbecue restaurants, are found throughout Brazil, but the best are in the south. Armies of waiters relentlessly serve great sword-like skewers of beef, pork, sausages, chicken and chunks of buffalo mozzarella. Some restaurants have “yes and no” discs at the tables for diners to indicate that they are “resting”. When ready for another onslaught, diners flip the disc over to show they’re ready for more.
In the interior of the arid Northeast, the diet reflects the hard conditions of the land and the limited produce it offers. But it also reflects the talent of the inhabitants for creatively using what nature offers. Carne de sol, sun dried meat, is a rather salty but delicious meat eaten with yams or sweet potatoes and accompanied by the ubiquitous black beans and rice. Farofa, ground cassava flour, with the appearance and taste of sawdust, is used to mop up the juices.
The climate in the state of Minas Gerais is temperate and the traditions are strongly European. Minas is renowned for its cheeses that can rival some of the best from Europe, as well as for its rich pork stews flavoured with fresh herbs, and chicken and okra dishes served with polenta in the local black stone pots. Tropical fruits are grown here but so too are orchard fruits: plums, apricots, peaches. These are usually made into doces, sweet desserts made with the stewed fruit and a ton of sugar.
The Amazon region relies heavily on river fish, which are often huge creatures with very meaty flesh that are best barbecued. Amazonia also offers an array of tropical fruits, many of which are unknown outside Brazil. Try the vitamin C-rich açerola, the delicious, dark purple açaí or the sublimely tropical cupuaçu. Many of these fruits have no translation from their native names, while others are more familiar: mango, jackfruit, sour sop, passionfruit. One name that has become familiar in the West recently is guaraná. The berries of the guaraná bush are used as a stimulant and taken in liquid or powder form or as a pale gold fizzy drink that rivals Coca Cola for its popularity and its equally distinctive taste.
If there is one dish that is found throughout the country it is the national dish of feijoada. Traditionally served as a Sunday lunch, this heavy stew is made from black beans and bits of pork you didn’t know existed. It is served up with finely chopped kale, rice and sliced oranges. It may not sound so enticing, but it has been known to have visitors booking return flights to Brazil at the memory of it.
Now lets get talking. Brazil’s official language is Portuguese but you are sure to find quite a number of people who speaks English. Below are a few English to Portuguese translation to get you going
|Good morning||Bom dia||Bom-dee-uh|
|Good afternoon||Boa tarde||Boh-uh-tard|
|Good evening||Boa noite||Boh-uh-noyt|
|My name is…||Me chamo…||Mee-xa-mou|
|One, two, three, four, five||Um, dois, tres, quatro, cinco||Oon, doysh, tresh, kwa-tro, seen-koo|
|Please||Por Favor||Poor fuh-vor|
|How much?||Quanto custa||Kwan-too koosh-tuh|
|Where is…?||Onde esta…?||Ond’ shtah|
|Bill||A conta||Uh kohn-tuh|
|I would like…||Queria…||Kree-uh|
|Where should I get off for…?||Onde devo sair…?||Ond dee-vor sah-eer|
|Is this bus for…?||Este autocarro vai…?||Ehst oh-too-kah-roosh vy|
|Where are the toilets?||Onde estacas casas de banho||Ond’ shtown has kah-zuh d’ban-yoo|
|I’m looking for…||Estou a procura…||Shtoh uh pro-kuh-ra|