Covering nearly half of South America’s total surface area, Brazil is bordered by all countries except Chile and Ecuador, combining an increasing ecological profile with a kaleidescope of interesting towns and cities - none more so than Rio de Janeiro. Almost all journeys, whether by air, sea or land are long and arduous and realistically the only Portuguese-speaking country within Latin America cannot easily be visited in a single trip, though a number of airlines offer comprehensive airpasses.
Rio de Janeiro
Set against the magnificent backdrop of Guanabara Bay, the beauty of this varied city almost defies description. Skyscrapers stand beside Portuguese colonial architecture and beach life is an institution - the famous landmarks, Corcovado and Sugar Loaf look down on perhaps the best known beaches anywhere, Copacabana and Ipanema. The social highpoint of the year is Carnival, though it is worth noting that the whole country gets caught up in the party atmosphere, particularly up the coast in Salvador, Maceio and Recife. View Brazil in a larger map
Higher than Niagara, wider than Victoria, Iguazu Falls represents one of the greatest spectacles of falling water in the world and unquestionably one of the great sights of South America. In addition, there are excursions into the surrounding rainforest with its wealth of orchids, tree ferns, birds and butterflies as well as boat trips beneath the Falls themselves. Centrepiece of Das Cataratas is the so called Devil’s Throat, a three sided gully into which 14 separate falls thunder.
Prior to the 19th century, the town of Manaus was small and relatively insignificant. But the rubber boom brought great changes and there is no better symbol of the town’s faded glory than the baroque-style Opera House. Just a short distance away is the extraordinary ‘meeting of the waters’, where the ink-black Rio Negro flows beside the lighter waters of the Rio Solimoes. More importantly, Manaus is the take-off point for river excursions and into the jungle itself where accommodation is in comfortable jungle lodges. Up river, Tabatinga is the border town from which journeys by boat embark along the Peruvian stretch of the Amazon to Iquitos, providing the visitor with an insight into life on this mighty river which has remained unchanged for centuries.
One of the world’s great wildlife reserves, the vast wetland known as the Pantanal covers 360,000 square kilometres and may be reached through Corumba (bordering Bolivia), Cuiaba or Campo Grande, either by air or overland. The staggering abundance of animal species found here, over 900 in total, include jacare, monkeys, anteaters and capybaras, a kind of giant aquatic guinea pig. The area is also a bird lovers' paradise. Lodge accommodation provides the ideal base from which to explore this fascinating area in the company of knowledgeable guides.
The North East
The provinces of north-eastern Brazil were the first to be settled by the colonial Portuguese - their first export, a hardwood called ‘Brazil’, gave the country its name. Often known simply as Bahia, Salvador contains a wealth of colonial architecture, nowhere more evident than in its churches, forts and museums. In addition, a colourful mixture of European and African culture has spawned the nation’s musical heritage, the Samba. Further north, and a few kilometres from Recife is romantic Olinda, a jewel of Brazilian culture.