Carnival in Salvador da Bahía, Brazil
Attractions of South America e-Book

Brazil



O Brasil! Only looking at the picture above brings a smile on my face. Brazil is huge, the biggest country of South America and known in the rest of the world for its girls, music and football/soccer (maybe not in that order).

It is a country of contrasts. From extremely rich to very poor yet one thing they do all have in common. They make you feel at home. From busy São Paulo to the rustic "sertão" (interior) you will discover people full of joy. To travel to Brazil is to unlock the door of grace, passion and fire.

I traveled 5 months in this amazing land of joy. Even before I set out on my journey through South America I knew that I wanted to know Brazil from the bottom to the top. One never to be forgotten experience was my stay with street children for 6 weeks in a street child care center in Salvador da Bahía. Very, very emotional experience, but oh so rewarding.


Brazil Vacation Highlights

The Pantanal
Explore the reaches of Pantanal, a swamp larger than France with remarkably varied wildlife: exotic birds, anacondas, capybaras, wild boar and millions of alligators await visitors.

Iguaçu Falls
Among the world's great natural marvels on the border of Brazil, Iguaçu Falls is made up of 275 waterfalls that rush endlessly over a breathtaking cliff 3km wide. Unspoiled tropical forest surrounds the falls, which can be explored by foot, bike or boat.

Salvador da Bahía
Salvador is the Bahia region's most historic city - its 1549 founding marked the beginning of longstanding Portuguese occupation in Brazil - and also offers picture-perfect beaches and some of the country's most electrifying nightlife.

Manaus Opera House
The Manaus Opera House, an opulent Italian Renaissance theater built in 1896, symbolizes Manaus' role as the cultural and commercial hub of the Amazonas state.

Amazon River Journey
Let the powerful Amazon River usher your vessel along as tropical birds and other wildlife line the forested shores - the journey of a lifetime when you travel in Brazil.

Parque Nacional de Tijuca
Not many cities can boast of a national park in their midst, but Rio de Janeiro's Parque Nacional de Tijuca's wealth of flora and fauna makes an ideal escape from the bustle of the streets.



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Rio de Janeiro

Christ, the Redeemer Rio de Janeiro (meaning River of January in Portuguese) was reached by Portuguese explorers in an expedition led by Italian Amerigo Vespucci in January of 1501. Since the Europeans thought at first the Bay of Guanabara was actually the mouth of a river, they called it "Rio de Janeiro".

The city is commonly divided into the historic downtown (Centro); the tourist-friendly South Zone, with world-famous beaches; the industrial North Zone; the West Zone; and the newer Barra da Tijuca region.

Check out this wonderful hostel in Rio de Janeiro!

Absolute highlights of Brazil and Rio de Janeiro are the giant Jesus statue (O Cristo Redentor, Christ The Redeemer - click on picture to enlarge), the Sugarloaf Mountain, Copacabana beach and the city's unequaled nightlife.

Read more about Rio de Janeiro and see lots of amazing pictures of "a cidade maravilhosa", the wonderful city.



Carnival

is the event of the year, especially for Brazilians, it is their moment of glory. To be part of carnival is just unbelievable. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can match this 6 day long party from sunrise till sunfall. Drums, drums and drums... O Brasil! Que Beleza!

Carnival in Pelourinho, the historical center of Salvador da Bahia
Dida (Banda Feminina) performs during Carnival in Salvador da Bahía, Brazil

Have a look at some great Carnival pictures from Salvador da Bahia

The streets are packed with people during carnival. Trucks (Trio Eletricos) pass by with bands playing music on top of them. If you like what you hear just join the masses dancing behind the truck. If not... just wait till the next one passes by. I had great fun in Pelourinho (the historical center of Salvador da Bahía). Drum bands (blocos) parade in the city, small samba combos appear everywhere... The mood is great, the atmosphere vibrant and there's always a place to join in and show off your excellent samba moves.

Tip: Some wonderful photo collages may come up if you click on certain Brazil pictures... explore and enjoy.

Accommodation gets expensive in Brazil and you need to book in advance. Other than that? Just enjoy the best party you'll ever have!


Capoeira, a Dance of War

Everywhere you go in Brazil you see performances of Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art form that came to Brazil on the slave ships from the African continent. It is a "war dance" where 2 opponents perform acrobatic movements without touching each other.

If one player succeeds to unbalance his opponent the dance is over. Capoeira is accompanied by rhythm and chant. The instruments used are berimbaus (I have one at home, don't ask me to play on it), pandeiro (tambourine), reco-reco (rasp) and agogo.



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Brasilia

The surreal capital of Brazil, Brasilia, is something you have to see. Its coldness competes with a country that evokes feelings connected with passion. it is a very modern city build in the 1960's. Distances are very long and I can only say that the experience for me was one of unbelief. This? Brazil? No!

President Juscelino Kubitschek ordered the construction of Brasília. It is a planned city. The main urban planner was Lúcio Costa. Oscar Niemeyer was the chief architect to most of the public buildings and Roberto Burle Marx was the landscape designer. The city plan was based on the ideas of Le Corbusier. Brasília was built in 41 months, from 1956 to April 21, 1960 when it was officially inaugurated.

Read more about Brasilia


Ouro Prêto

Ouro Prêto is a wonderful colonial town in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil. The town comes alive during Semana Santa (Holy Week) when the streets are decorated with flowers and there are very colorful processions during the week. The name Ouro Prêto, meaning Black Gold, was given to the town when in the 17th century gold was found in the area. The gold had a black color.

The hard work was done by black slaves and you can still visit some of the gold mines in Ouro Prêto. When the gold rush came to an end in the 18th century and people left the area Ouro Prêto was of no financial value and no modern buildings were added to this amazing colonial town.

You can visit many wonderful churches or dig into history in the gold mines. There is a beautiful waterfall just outside Ouro Prêto.

Read more about Ouro Prêto


Iguaçu Falls

Iguaçu Falls At the border with Brazil you'll find the most beautiful waterfalls of the world.

The Iguaçu Falls are waterfalls of the Iguassu River located on the border of the Brazilian state of Paraná (in the Southern Region) and the Argentine Province of Misiones.

Most of the falls are within Argentine territory, but from the Brazilian side a more panoramic view is obtained. They will take your breath away. An absolute wonder of nature.

Read more about Iguaçu Falls


Other Interesting Brazil Vacation Places

I entered Brazil in Guajara-Mirim in the Amazon Basin (border with Bolivia). From there I traveled to Porto Velho. A museum in Porto Velho tells the crazy history of the men who build the first railroad in the Amazon. Thousands perished and the railroad was only used for a few years.

Chapadas do Guimaraes is a tranquil place near the city Cuiaba from where you can do some day hikes to nearby waterfalls. It is from Cuiaba that you can book a wildlife trip to the Pantanal, the place in Brazil to see an abundance of crocodiles, anacondas, piranhas and capybaras (what?).

Goyas Velho and Pirenópolis were two nice towns I spend some days before arriving in the capital Brasilia.

I can recommend spending the night in Paraty, a gorgeous little town between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. It was the first settlement to be built in Brazil. Have a look at the fortress and imagine this ship with a pirate flag in the distance while your taking place behind the canon.


The Music of Brazil

I am in awe of the musical culture that has spread throughout Brazil. It is without doubt the most musical country on the planet. The musical subtleties that are part of the MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira) have produced countless songs that are miniatures of majestic art.

These are some of the artists that are just so, so good. Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque, Milton Nascimento, João Bosco, Egberto Gismonti, Marisa Monte, Djavan, ...

Please visit the Samba page for an excellent overview of the wonderful musical styles there are.

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Special note: I'd like to thank Sami Storch from São Paulo for helping me out when I was in trouble (an ATM liked my visa card so much it didn't return it to me, I was in SP with $5, oops). We'll see each other soon. A gente fala!



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Must See Places in Brazil
Rio de Janeiro Salvador da Bahia Brasilia
Rio de Janeiro Salvador da Bahia Brasilia


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© All photographs by Mark Van Overmeire*

*Photo "Christ, the Redeemer" by Patrick Roherty | Agency: iStockphoto.com
Photo "Iguassu Rainbow" by Nicole Andersen | Agency: Dreamstime.com