BEST TIME TO GO
A year around destination for different parts of Brazil
May – August for The Pantanal
February – March for the Rio de Janeiro, the world’s largest carnival and the Salvador festival
Direct flights from London Heathrow to Rio de Janerio, 11hrs 40mins
Without doubt, Brazil is exhilarating. Rio de Janeiro is obviously a focal point with its carnival and buzzing city life, but add the samba, teeming Amazon rainforest, breathtaking beaches and mix of cultures, is just a small selection of everything that is on offer.
Rio is the ideal starting point, but it’s not just about a vibrant city. A view down from the feet of the iconic statue of Christ atop Corcovado, out across the city to the most famous beaches on earth – Copacabana and Ipanema – proves it is also physically beautiful. The capital, however, is actually purpose-built Brasilia, miles inland and fascinating simply on the basis of the urban ambition and the 1950s architecture it represents – its Cathedral is stunning.
Away from the modern skylines of Brazil, many towns have seen little change in centuries. Olinda, in north-east Brazil, with its beautiful colonial architecture, is the cultural centre of the country. Similarly, the towns of the Minas Gerais region (west of Rio), founded on the wealth of the 18th Century gold and diamond booms, are full of lavish mansions, churches and sculptures by the revered Aleijadinho. One colonial gem is Parati, a tiny fishing village in the Costa Verde, south of Rio, where wonderful colonial buildings contrast with the jungle clad slopes behind.
The teeming Amazon Basin in the north is a must for visitors. From Manaus take a river journey into the jungle; a world of dense vegetation, disembodied sounds and strange and interesting smells, that assaults all your senses. Although much of the wildlife remains obscured by foliage, the Amazon is a thrilling and mysterious experience.
It is considerably easier to spot wildlife in the open spaces of the Pantanal in the central-west of Brazil, one of the world’s great wildlife reserves. The vast area of seasonal swampland is home to a plethora of birds and wildlife including crocodiles, anteaters, wolves, armadillos and jaguars. Opportunities abound depending on your interest and the time of year.
Of course, when it comes to beaches, the Brazilians have made them a way of life. Images of beautiful people, deep blue oceans and sweeping golden sands are as synonymous with Brazil as the hypnotic samba rhythms. The Costa Verde boasts some wonderful places with Buzios (considered one of the world’s most beautiful places) and Angra dos Reis providing perfect antidotes to the big, animated city, while way to the north-east lies Natal, surrounded by spectacular sand dunes, empty beaches and rich marine life. This area also has one of the world’s largest collections of prehistoric rock paintings, fossilised dinosaur tracks and remains of long-extinct creatures.
To discover more natural beauty, head south to the wonderful Iguazu Falls that straddle the borders of Brazil and Argentina. The Falls, that are over 3km wide and 80m deep, fill the air with mist, while the thunder of pounding water almost takes your breath away. Spend time exploring the area; forest trails reveal birds, butterflies and wildlife. Then as the sun sets through the spray on the Argentinian side, the mist glows orange before the Falls slip into inky darkness and the river rolls on into Paraguay.