Brazil is the largest country in South America and fifth largest in the world. Famous for its football (soccer) tradition and its annual Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Recife and Olinda. It is a country of great diversity, from the bustling urban mosaic of São Paulo to the infinite cultural energy of Pernambuco and Bahia, the wilderness of the Amazon rainforest and world-class landmarks such as the Iguaçu Falls, there is plenty to see and to do in Brazil.
Owing to Brazil’s continental dimensions, varied geography, history and people, the country’s culture is rich and diverse. It has several regional variations, and in spite of being mostly unified by a single language, some regions are so different from each other that they look like different countries altogether.
Music plays an important part in Brazilian identity. Styles like choro, samba and bossa nova are considered genuinely Brazilian. Caipira music is also in the roots of sertanejo, the national equivalent to country music. MPB stands for Brazilian Popular Music, which mixes several national styles under a single concept. Forró, a north-eastern happy dancing music style, has also become common nationwide. New urban styles include funk – name given to a dance music genre from Rio’s favelas that mixes heavy electronic beats and often raunchy rapping – and techno-brega, a crowd-pleaser in northern states, that fuses romantic pop, dance music and caribbean rhythms.
A mixture of martial arts, dance, music and game, capoeira was created by African slaves brought to Brazil, mainly from Portuguese Angola. Distinguished by vivacious complicated movements and accompanying music, it can be seen and practiced in many Brazilian cities.
Brazil is a huge country with different climate zones. In the North, near the equator there is a wet and a dry season; from about São Paulo down to the south there is spring/summer/fall/winter.
Holidays and working hours
Brazil observes the following 13 national holidays:
- New Year – 1st January
- Carnival – February/March (Movable – 7 weeks before Easter. Monday and Tuesday are the actual holidays, but celebrations usually begin on Saturday and last until 12PM of Ash Wednesday, when shops and services re-open.)
- Good Friday – March/April (movable) two days before Easter Sunday
- Tiradentes – 21st April
- Labour Day – 1st May
- Corpus Christi – May/June (movable) sixty days after Easter Sunday
- Independence Day – 7th September
- Patroness of Brazil – 12th October
- All Souls’ Day (Finados) – 2nd November
- Republic – 15th November
- Christmas – 25th December
Working hours are usually from 8AM or 9AM to 5PM or 6PM. Banks open Monday to Friday, from 10AM to 4PM. Street shops tend to close at noon on Saturday and only re-open on Monday. Shopping malls normally open from 10AM to 10PM, Monday to Saturday, and from 3PM to 9PM on Sundays. Some malls, especially in large cities, are also open on Sundays, although not all the stores may be open. It is also possible to find 24-hour stores and small markets that are open even on Sundays.
Most popular and beautiful cities of Brazil
Brazil has many exciting cities, ranging from pretty colonial towns and coastal hideouts to hectic, lively metropolises; these are a few of the more prominent travel destinations:
- Brasília – The capital of Brazil, and an architectural spectacle. Noteworthy buildings include a basket-shaped cathedral, the beautiful Arches Palace (seat of the Ministry of Justice) and others.
- Florianópolis – The city is located in an island in the Atlantic Ocean in the southern state of Santa Catarina, with lakes, lagoons, amazing nature and more than 40 clean, beautiful, natural beaches. Major destination for Argentines during the summer months.
- Fortaleza — The fifth biggest city in Brazil, blessed with beautiful beaches. Home of the Iracema Beach street market. A good base for exploring the beaches of the northeastern coast, including Jericoacoara. Famed for forró music and comedians.
- Manaus – Located in the heart of the Amazon, is the capital of Amazonas State and it is also the biggest city of the Amazon. At Manaus the rivers Negro and Solimões meet to became the Amazonas River. The best place to go to visit the Amazon rainforest. It is a gateway to the Anavilhanas and to Jaú National Park.
- Porto Alegre– a major city between Argentina and São Paulo and gateway to Brazil’s fabulous Green Canyons.
- Recife – A major city in the Northeast region, originally settled by Dutch colonizers. Nicknamed “The Brazilian Venice”, it is built on several islands linked by many bridges. Rich in history, art and folklore. Do not miss neighboring Olinda and Porto de Galinhas. The city is also a gateway to the amazing archipelago of Fernando de Noronha.
- Rio de Janeiro – World famous, beautiful city that welcomes visitors with that big statue of an open-armed Jesus atop Corcovado Hill.
- Salvador – The first capital of Brazil is home to a unique blend of indigenous, African and European cultures. Its Carnival fun is famous, and the influence of African culture and religion is remarkable.
- São Paulo – Brazil’s largest, richest and most cosmopolitan city, where you can find strong influences of several ethnicities, including Italian, Korean, Japanese, German, Russian, Caribbean, Greek and Arab.
The official language of Brazil is Portuguese, spoken by the entire population (except for a few, very remotely located tribes). Indeed, Brazil has had immigrants from all parts of the world for centuries, whose descendants now speak Portuguese as their mother tongue.
English is not widely spoken except in some touristy areas. Don’t expect bus or taxi drivers to understand English, so it may be a good idea to write down the address you are heading to before getting the cab. In most big and luxurious hotels, it is very likely that the taxi fleet will speak some English. If you are really in need of talking in English, you should look for the younger people (-30 years), because they, generally, have a higher knowledge of the language and will be eager to help you and exercise their English.
Spanish speakers are usually able to get by in Brazil, especially towards the south. While written Portuguese can be quite similar to Spanish, spoken Portuguese is much harder to understand.
You Must See
- Amazon Rainforest – The Amazon River Basin holds more than half of the world’s remaining rainforest, and over 60% of that lies within the North of Brazil — approximately one billion acres with incredible biodiversity. The region is home to about 2.5 million insect species, over 40,000 plants species, 2200 fish species, and more than 2,000 types of birds and mammals. One in five of all the bird species in the world live in the rainforests of the Amazon, and one in five of the fish species live in Amazonian rivers and streams.
- Atlantic Forest (Mata Atlântica) – A region of tropical and subtropical forest which extends along the Atlantic coast of Brazil from Rio Grande do Nortestate in the Norteast to Rio Grande do sul state in the South. The Atlantic Forest has a wide variety of vegetation, including the many tree species such as the iconic araucaria tree in the south or the mangroves of the northeast, dozens of types of bromeliads and orchids, and unique critters such as capivara.
- Pantanal – A vast tropical wetland expanse, one of the world’s largest. 80% of it lies within the state of Mato Grosso do Sul but it also extends into Mato Grosso (as well as into portions of Bolivia and Paraquay), sprawling over an area estimated at between 140,000 and 195,000 square kilometers (54,000-75,000 sq mi). 80% of the Pantanal floodplains are submerged during the rainy seasons, nurturing an astonishing biologically diverse collection of aquatic plants and helping support a dense array of animal species.
- Waterfalls (Cachoeiras) – Brazil has an amazing range of impressive waterfalls of all sizes and shapes. Iguaçu Falls, in eastern Parana, is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world, truly a sight to see. The 353-meter Cachoeira da Fumaça in Bahia’s Chapada Diamantina National Park is the country’s second highest waterfall, after the Amazon’s almost inaccessible Cachoeira do Araca. Other famous waterfalls include Caracol Falls, in a Rio Grande do Sul state park of the same name near Canela, Itaquira Falls, an easily accessible 168-meter fall near Formosa, Goiás, and the gorge at Parque da Cascata near Sete Lagoas, Minas Gerais. Aside from the nationally famous falls, in many parts of the country, particularly theSouth, Southeast, and Central West regions, you are rarely far from at least one locally-famous, named waterfall worth a short hike.
What you must do in Brazil
The biggest party in the world takes places across the country every year, lasting almost a week in February or early March. It is celebrated in a wide variety of ways, from the giants boneco masks of Olinda and the trios elétricos of Salvador to the massive samba parades of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. For a relatively more subdued atmosphere, check out the university-style street party of Ouro Preto or the sporty beach party at Ilha do Mel. Don’t forget to make your reservations well in advance!
Almost the entire coast is lined with fabulous beaches, and the beach lifestyle is a big part of Brazilian culture. Nowhere is that more true than in Rio de Janeiro, with its laidback, flip-flop-footed lifestyle and famous beaches like Ipanema and Copacabana. Beaches in other areas of the country may not have the instant name recognition but are no less amazing. The Northeast has jewels like Jericoacoara, Praia do Futuro, Boa Vista, Porto de Galinhas, andMorro de São Paulo which bring in throngs of travellers, particularly Europeans. Landlocked mineiros go mingle with the rich and famous at Guarapari or dance forró in the sand at Itaunas, while paulistas head for Caraguá or Ubatuba. In the South, weekend revelers flock to Ilha do Mel or Balneário Camboriú, while the 42 beaches of Santa Catarina Island draw in thousands of Argentianian tourists every year. Hundreds more beaches lie ready to be explored as well.
- Soccer – Soccer is the talk of the town wherever your are in Brazil, and the country is brimming with great teams and great players. While Rio de Janeiro’s world-famous Maracanã stadium is currently in renovations, you can still catch a game at lots of other great venues like the Mineirão in Belo Horizonte or Morumbi Stadium in São Paulo.
- Volleyball – While soccer is the main sport in Brazil, is very normal to find spaces on the beaches where you can play beach volleyball, but this version of the sport possess a different code of rules than indoor volleyball (for example instead of six players, only two players are allowed to play on each team).
- International Charter Group: – - Yacht charter and sailing, one of the worlds largest yacht charter companies, can take care of all charter requirements, from bareboat to crewed in the Brazil. Operating from nine offices worldwide (USA, Spain, UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland, Caribbean, Honk Kong and Dubai).
Brazil’s unit of currency is the Real (pronounced ‘hay-OW’), plural Reais (‘hay-ICE’), abbreviated BRL, or just R$. One real is divided into 100 centavos. As an example of how prices are written, R$1,50 means one real and fifty centavos.
Brazil’s cuisine is as varied as its geography and culture. On the other hand, some may find it an unrefined melange, and everyday fare can be bland and monotonous. While there are some quite unique dishes of regional origin, many dishes were brought by overseas immigrants and have been adapted to local tastes through the generations. Italian and Chinese food in Brazil can often be as baffling as Amazonian fare.
Brazil’s national dish is feijoada, a hearty stew made of black beans, pork (ears, knuckles, chops, sausage) and beef (usually dried). It’s served with rice, garnished with collard greens and sliced oranges. It’s not served in every restaurant; the ones that serve it typically offer it on Wednesdays and Saturdays. A typical mistake made by tourists is to eat too much feijoada upon first encounter. This is a heavy dish — even Brazilians usually eat it parsimoniously.
The standard Brazilian set lunch is called prato feito, with its siblings comercial and executivo. Rice and brown beans in sauce, with a small steak. Sometimes farofa, spaghetti, vegetables and French fries will come along. Beef may be substituted for chicken, fish or others.
Excellent seafood can be found in coastal towns, especially in the Northeast.