A rainbow of colours and different emotions, ranging from the rhythms of samba, the cries from the football stadium and the captivating sounds of the Amazonian rainforest. All our senses are awakened in the largest country in South America.
When you arrive in Brazil, any Indian could easily pass for a local and mix quickly in the mass. Here, people are smiling, have a light brown, heavily tanned skin and are especially love to party all year round. This booming subcontinent is also proud of its culture blending the traditions of the tribals, African and Portuguese where the Catholic religion has a very important place.
Spread over three time zones, Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, representing 30 pc of tropical forests in the world and covers almost half the South American continent. The geography of Brazil can be summarized in four major regions: a long, narrow coastal strip which extends from the Uruguay border to the State of Maranhão, the vast central plateau (Planalto), which covers most of the southern basin of the Amazon and two large depressions, the Amazon basin and the Paraguayan basin to the southeast.
It is also the only country in the entire central and southern American region where Portuguese is spoken. In 1500, when the Portuguese arrived in the territory, it was still inhabited by semi-nomadic tribes. Pedro Alvarez Cabral docked on Brazilian coast after the discovery of India by Vasco da Gama. Thinking he, too, had landed in India, he quickly realised that it was another land and took possession of it on behalf of Portugal.
He was followed by other explorers who began trading in the logs from the immense Brazilian forests. In 1550, the first slaves were shipped to Brazil for cultivation of sugar. The country got its name from the dye-wood that is found in abundance here and which struck the initial Spanish, Portuguese and French explorers and traders.
Brazil is also the rhythmic music and maracas sounds where women dressed in magnificent feather costumes sway their hips during the Carnival or strut its 8000 km of beaches. The country has indeed some of the best beaches in the world; lively beaches of big cities, beaches and tropical islands, fringed with tropical forest or along its coastline. On those same beaches and especially in big cities, young boys often get together after school to play football, dreaming of becoming the next Pele, Ronaldo or Neymar.
Brazil is indeed a very festive country and not just on special occasions. Wherever you go, you will meet people playing instruments, singing and dancing. Perhaps because of its African roots, Brazilian music is a collective act, a convivial ceremony. The canção samba is a mixture of Spanish bolero and African rhythms. Popularised by radio in the 1930s, it became a national symbol, whose figurehead was Carmen Miranda. The Bossa nova, born in 1950, has its origins in the North American music, with a dominant jazz and samba. Even today, new musical forms continue to be born in Brazil.
Architecturally, the historic centre of Salvador de Bahia is considered to be one of the finest examples of Portuguese colonial construction. Minas Gerais, a city in Ouro Preto which has been recognised by UNESCO as a Wolrd Heritage site, represents the golden age of Brazilian baroque architecture. The center of the bold new capital, Brasília, has also been termed a World Heritage Site by Unesco.
Rio de Janeiro: the joy of living
Given the vastness of the territory, a trip to Brazil has to be prepared well in advance and it is difficult to describe here all the possible routes. Famous for its inescapable carnival, Rio de Janeiro is a must stop for a first visit. The beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, made legendary by bossa nova singers and the samba clubs of the city, attract travellers from around the world. If you come specially to participate in Carnival in Rio, try to relax a lot in the aircraft on the way. Because, once you have landed, the the party goes on non stop until Ash Wednesday, which marks the end of festivities.
With nearly 500 festivals in the streets of the city, you will be spoilt for choice. If you want to get an idea of the scale of the carnival, join a samba school and parade with them amidst a thunderous percussion under the cheers of the audience at Sambódromo. Or at least, get yourself a dancing costume to follow one of the many blocos of the city. Even if the carnival lasts only a few days, its preparation takes months. The Cariocas, inhabitants of Rio, are the perfect incarnation of the joy of living. Besides the famous carnival, opportunities to have fun are just about everywhere and at any time, whether spending a Saturday on the beach of Ipanema, going to a party in Lapa, watching a football match at Maracanã, or to joining a samba de roda, improvised on the pavements of the city.
Green hills and white sand beaches, bordering the deep blue ocean present an invitation to adventure, with multiple options. Surfing at Prainha, hiking in the Atlantic Rainforest at Tijuca, sailing in the Guanabara Bay, or climbing the Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf hill). Seen from here, the city is transformed into a set of gracefully curved green hills and golden beaches lapped by azure waters that kiss the feet of rows of skyscrapers. Amidst this backdrop, a short ride on the cable car is a delight. Of course, the more adventurous will climb the hill on foot or even scaling the rocks for the ones with extra adrenaline.
Easily accessible from Rio, Ilha Grande is a must for the tourists. For decades, the island served as a prison and a leper colony and untouched by development because of this, the island has slopes covered with jungle and several beaches which are amongst the best preserved in Brazil. Here one can spend days hiking through the lush tropical forest, snorkelling in aquamarine waters or basking in the cool waterfalls. Ilha Grande is definitely a true paradise for nature lovers, made even more so as automobiles are banned here.
Salvador de Bahia, the Afro- Brazilian jewel
The north-east and its capital, Salvador de Bahia, are fascinating for their Afro-Brazilian culture, of which the most spectacular manifestations are the spiritual practices of candomblé and capoeira. Today, the vibrant Bahian capital remains the theater of the unique fusion of two very lively cultures.
Still in the Northeast, visit Recife and Olinda that share history and have a common culture. Recife is the metropolitan elder sister with its share of skyscrapers and traffic jams, but also a beautiful historic centre. Ongoing renovations and new restaurants and museums have made it even more attractive. The contrast is striking with the beautiful Olinda, which is very wooded, has calm streets, colonial churches and art galleries. Their rich common heritage finds its most vibrant expression in the streets, in the huge carnival.
São Paulo: between business and leisure
It is difficult to speak of the state of São Paulo without using superlatives: largest industrial producer in Brazil, the largest and ethinically most diverse population, the largest fortunes, the biggest stock exchange, the busiest port, the finest museums but also the worst traffic congestion and significant poverty. While Rio has seen its economic weight decrease over the past decade – the upcoming 2016 Olympics and the discovery of oil should change that – and Brasília is simply a bureaucratic hub, the megapolis of São Paulo – the sixth most populated city in the world – seems to play the role of national capital in many sectors – trade, finance, industry and culture.
But in the state of São Paulo, the interest lies not only in its largest city, there is quite a lot for the visitors. Towards the coast, the jungle covers the mountains before giving way to the most beautiful beaches in southern Brazil and the mountainous coast of Ubatuba is particularly beautiful. Towards the interior, the region of Campos do Jordao has breathtaking views of the Serra da Mantiqueira, whose green peaks stand over 2500 m. Further, Iporanga is surrounded by one of the best preserved Atlantic rainforests of the country, while a nearby national park contains hundreds of caves, hence its nickname Capital das Grutas (capital of the caves).
Easily rivaling the frenzy of New York, modernism of Tokyo and the fares of Moscow, São Paulo beats its rivals soundly in choice for its nightlife. It can indeed count on almost 30,000 restaurants, bars and clubs to delight its approximately 20 million foodies, clubbers and cocktail fans. From large restaurants in the exclusive districts of Itaim Bibi and Jardins to avant-garde establishments in Baixo Augusta through the bohemian bars of Vila Madalena, almost every night in São Paulo is a night of debauchery of bolinhos, drinks and rhythms upto the dawn.
Anacondas and Whales
Brazil is home to a dizzying number of animal and plant species, including toucans, sloths, river dolphins, caimans and several species of monkeys, snakes, including the famed anacondas, and spiders. With pristine forests, swamps and coasts, the opportunities to observe its wilderness are legendary. The city of Manaus in the Amazon remains one of the best gateways for an expedition in the jungle. Diving enthusiasts should head to Fernando de Noronha for its diving spots and first-rate snorkeling with abundant marine life. Praia do Rosa is also ideal for whale watching between June and October. The Araguaia River, in the states of Goiás and Tocantins, meanwhile, is a paradise for anglers, with a large variety of fish, including the pint, the dourado and legendary tucunaré – better known as peacock bass – is popular with anglers.
Beyond the usual clichés, in Brazil, the traveller also discovers the human wealth of a country where insecurity and economic growth coexist and compete every day in joy de vivre, though far from India and requiring preparations and a large budget, you will not regret exploring this vibrant culture and incredible landscapes still unknown and totally at odds with Indian culture.
- Carnival : the most famous ones being organised in Rio, Salvador and Olinda
- Gay Pride in São Paulo with 4 million participants
- Oktoberfest all over Brazil celebrating the European traditions
- Semana Santa, 4 days during which the Christian community cover s the entire city of Ouro Preto with flowers
How to reach
March to November are the best months for visiting Bazil as the climate is drier. December through February are particularly rainy, hot, and humid months. July through August are the best time to visit the Amazon, although the climate is almost always humid and hot. The flights from India are particularly long, of at least 25-28 hours with at least one mandatory stopover in Europe or Middle East. The tickets cost on an average about INR 100,000.
Where to stay
The accommodation is extremely varied, ranging from small ramshackle rooms with no windows to sumptuous hotels overlooking the sea. Almost all of the Pousadas (small family pensions), Albergues da Juventude (youth hostels on www.hostel.org.br) and hotels offer some form or other of breakfast. The Quartos are rooms with shared bathroom, while apartamentos are rooms with private bathrooms. In touristic areas, especially in Rio, better book early. Camping is not very popular in Brazil but can be a good way to explore in some areas especially in the numerous national parks (see www.campingclube.com.br for details). There are, of course, also online sites like airbnb for apartments.