For hundreds of years, Brazil has symbolised the great escape into a primordial, tropical paradise, igniting the Western imagination like no other South American country. From the mad passion of Carnival to the immensity of the dark Amazon, it is a country of mythic proportions.
Perhaps it’s not quite the Eden of popular imagination, but it’s still a land of staggering beauty. There are stretches of unexplored rainforest, islands with pristine tropical beaches, and endless rivers. And there are the people themselves, who delight the visitor with their energy and joy.
Brazil is a country full of contrasts. When someone hears the word Brazil, one thinks of the great Amazon forest, fantastic beaches, great soccer players, Carnival time - and that’s all. Well, Brazil certainly has much more to offer - warm people, great cities with everything from slums to high technology, a wide range of weather patterns, an awesome mixture of cultures and races - and much more!
The most interesting places to visit in Brazil include Fernando de Noronha Island, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo (the two bustling mega cities of the south-east), the more relaxed city of Salvador in the northeast, or the old colonial towns of Ouro Preto and Olinda. For natural beauty, try a visit to Iguacu Falls. If you have the chance the best time to visit is Carnival. There is nothing in the whole wide world like Carnival in Rio. Brasilia, the capital city of the country, is known by its great architecture. It is a planned city.
São Paulo is the largest city in South America and the second more populous city in the world. It is the economical capital of Brazil and a very busy place. It is also rich in culture parks and museums.
São Paulo is centred around the Praça da Sé, where there is a stone mark symbolizing the "point zero" of the city. The subway system is clean and efficient but covers only a few areas of the city, although extensions are being made. Interesting neighbourhoods to visit include Jardins, Itaim and the Ibirapuera Park.
Brazilians say that the Sao Paulo locals (paulistas) live to work and to eat. This is probably true. Food in Sao Paulo is the best in the country and rivals that of any major capital in the world. If you are there and like to eat meat, make sure you try the rodizios (barbecue) or feijoada (pork and beans - served only on Wednesdays and Saturdays). The pizzas are also extremely tasteful and a must-eat. You can find it from a wide range of restaurants from the simplest delivery place to fine expensive ones.
São Paulo is also very much a party town. You can get stuck in traffic in the middle of the night when party animals return from their hunt.
Automotive traffic in Sao Paulo is complicated, especially in main routes, all along the day during weeks and gets worse at rush hours (from 8 am to 10 am and from 6 pm to 8 pm). Laws to regulate traffic include a rule forbidding cars to circulate at specific week days depending on the final number of their license. In the weekends the traffic is better with some complications in places where there are bars, shopping or other public attractions. Sao Paulo has the largest underground transportation system in Brazil; people refer to it as "metrô". It is not as comprehensive as the trains in Europe or North America, but it serves most of the important areas. It is the safest and cleanest way to get around Sao Paulo.
Rio de Janeiro is one of the most beautiful and spectacular cities you will ever visit. Even the most well-travelled individuals will love what the city has to offer. One of the best ways to appreciate the setting is by going up Sugar Loaf Mountain for a spectacular 360-degree view of Rio and Guanabara Bay. Across the Bay, you will see the Rio-Niteroi bridge (almost 14 km long!). Cariocas (Rio natives) disagree on which point gives the more spectacular view: Pao de Acucar (Sugar Loaf) or Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) on Corcovado Mountain which is probably the most well known landmark of Rio. It is recommended that you experience both. Then there are also the world-famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.
For any true football (soccer) fan a visit to the Maracana stadium is a must do pilgrimage, where you can lay your feet in the imprints of those belonging to the great Pele and many other legends. Currently under renovation for the Pan American Games 2007, this Stadia has seen better days but never any better players than have graced its turf for Brazil.
A basic understanding of the Portuguese language will come in handy. It is true that many Brazilians understand and can speak Spanish, but it is not their native language and may offend some Cariocas. Other than that, most Brazilians will go out of their way to help a tourist navigate the city.
If you can afford it, hire a driver for your touring: not only will they keep you safe, they will also show you things you may have missed on your own. Schedule as much time as possible for this destination, especially if visiting during Carnival, the greatest party on Earth!
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