4 years, 8 months ago
Her name was Rio and she dances on the sand,
Just like that river twisting through a dusty land,
And when she shines she really shows you all she can,
Oh Rio Rio dance across the Rio Grande!
Has ever a song introduced a city better? Long, lazy stretches of sun-drenched sand, looked over by a sprawling city that at its peak has one of the world’s most iconic landmarks, Christ the Redeemer.
And stand down 80s music fans. I know that Duran Duran weren’t actually singing about Brazil (and their hit Rio was actually something of a ballad to the USA, with Rio Grande referring to the river in Colorado). But I’m going to ask for your support in allowing Simon Le Bon and company to introduce one city and one huge, rich and diverse country that is going to get a lot of attention this year. I’m talking about you Brazil!
Firstly, let’s get football fever out of the way, which is something most people won’t be saying this year – at least not until their team is knocked out anyway. Rio de Janeiro and eleven other cities will be the focus of all football fans when the World Cup kicks off in June. Brazil is getting ready to welcome the 32 competing teams and an estimated 600,000 fans from around the world in what is only the second time in 50 years that the competition has been hosted in South America. There is little doubt, therefore, that the streets, bars and beaches of all the cities and towns in Brazil will have a carnival atmosphere during the competition, not least because Brazil is the favourite to take the trophy (again… sigh).
Speaking of carnivals, if football’s not your thing but partying is, then get ready to don sequins and shake your money maker in early 2014 by visiting Brazil for Mardi Gras. Most of the country’s cities will host traffic-stopping carnival celebrations including street parades, live music and samba dancing. Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo will have arguably the biggest parties, and festivities in the northeast will look very different with the Bahia-style of carnival drawing strong influence from Brazilian-African heritage and music. Celebrations begin on February 28th in 2014 and will go on until the following week, ending the night before Ash Wednesday.
Now let’s take a closer look at the lesser known but equally exciting and colourful World Cup host cities. The country’s capital – and now home to a newly refurbished sports stadium – Brasilia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its abundance of modernist architecture. It is of course also home to the Brazilian President, the federal government and the country’s Supreme Court, which is definitely one of the city’s architectural highlights as well as the famous Juscelino Kubitschek Bridge.
credit: Josa Jr
Heading towards the coast, Belo Horizonte promises a ‘beautiful horizon’, the meaning of its name, but the city is perhaps more famous in Brazil for being its ‘capital of pubs’. Every year, hungry visitors flock to the Comida di Buteco competition, which aims to find the very best pub grub being served by the city’s many neighbourhood bars, but don’t expect an English roast or hotdogs – this is a celebration of local flavours! Belo Horizonte is also the home of cachaça , a famous liquor made from sugarcane, essential for the most Brazilian of cocktails, a caipirinha.
Further up the coast is Salvador – or São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos, as it used to be called – a city also referred to as Brazil’s ‘capital of happiness’. Salvador is the centre of Afro-Brazilian culture, the home of Capoeira and is also where you’ll find some of Brazil’s most-loved foods, strongly influenced by West African flavours, like acarajé or ‘akara’ as it is known in Nigeria, where it’s believed to originate. But I recommend you don’t get preoccupied with too much food and culture, because the city is home to an astonishing 50 miles of beaches and has some of the best surfing spots in Brazil.
credit: Danielle Pereira
One of the World Cup’s most northern host cities is Natal, which charmingly means Christmas in Portuguese. Often overlooked by tourists to Brazil, Natal is well worth taking a closer look at thanks to a reputation as one of the safest cities in Brazil and because of the Via Costeira, a scenic coastal highway that provides easy access to Natal’s beautiful urban beaches. Its location also means it has year long sunshine and warm tropical temperatures, with November to April being the hottest months.
And finally I want to highlight Manaus, or ‘the Heart of the Amazon’, the world’s second longest river runs right through this inland city, and it’s the most populous settlement in the Amazon. Despite its distance from the other host cities, I think Manaus is a very special destination because of its legacy as an established eco-tourist haven and a fascinating history from European colony in the seventeenth century to the centre of Brazil’s booming rubber industry in the late 1800s. Needless to say, you should head to Manaus if exploring the Amazon Rainforest is on your bucket list and even in the city you can see a wide range of varied plant and wildlife, including the endangered pied tamarind monkey.
So there you have it, my quick overview of why the World Cup is going to make 2014 Brazil’s year, along with just a snapshot – actually a torn off, teensy little corner of a snapshot – of what there is to enjoy in this vibrant and diverse country. I’ve not even touched the sides of how much Brazil can offer, so perhaps you’d like to share your best Brazil travel tips and suggestions?