Brazil World Cup 2014: 25 travel highlights
Brazil World Cup 2014: 25 travel highlights
There’s no denying that prices will rocket, and available accommodation will be scarce, when Brazil hosts the football World Cup this summer, from June 12 to July 13, but the excitement throughout the country will be palpable. Not for a long time again will visitors be able to say they have seen matches in the country that brought the world Pelé, Ronaldinho and Mancini. There are 12 host cities, and matches will take place at world-famous locations including the Brasilia Stadium. See our full travel guide for football fans going to the World Cup this summer
2. Soak up the atmosphere on Ipanema beach, Rio de Janeiro
Its name is an indigenous word for “Bad, dangerous waters” (and should you dip in the sea, the strong undertow might have you believe this), but Ipanema beach is the place to see and be seen in Rio de Janeiro. Subcultures on the sand are demarcated by postos – life guard towers – Arpoador, for example, is the city’s most popular surfing spot, while Posto 9, Garota de Ipanema, is the place for the tanned and trendy of Brazil to hang out. It gets very crowded at weekends. Join a beach team to learn how to play volleyball, an experience Natalie Paris got the hang of on a trip to Brazil in 2012.
3. Party in Rio
The Rio Carnival arrives with a bang before Lent every year, and given that it sees two million people per day burst onto the city streets, it is considered the world’s largest carnival. Its origins come from the Portuguese, who brought the “celebration of carnival” to Brazil in about 1850. Black slaves became involved in celebrations, and were allowed to be free for five days during the festivities, which soon took on a uniquely Latin American feel. Expect flamboyant costumes with more diamante and glitter than a Swarovski factory, and more excitement than you can shake a Brazilian bottom at. For more information, visit: rio-carnival.net
4. Visit the lagoon-filled dunes in Lençois Maranhenses National Park
Although this area in north-eastern Brazil, covering 1500 sq km, initially appears to be a desert like any other, the proximity to the Amazon basin means that it is actually subject to not insignificant rainfall, leading to the creation of alien-like lagoons among the white sands. Park residents work mainly as fishermen, moving to more urban areas during the dry season. Getting into the park is difficult (there are no direct access roads) but come tour operators offer trekking trips, including Bespoke Brazil (01603 340680; bespokebrazil.com)
5. Escape from the city to an artist’s retreat
An antidote to the hubbub of Brazil’s big cities, Olinda is said to be the country’s best preserved colonial city, where artisans’ workshops crouch alongside colourful old houses and years-old churches. Indeed, the historic centre was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1982. Visit the Sé de Olinda cathedral, originally a small mud chapel and now a baroque-style, haunting white, red-roofed building (open from Tues-Sun, 9am-5pm) and the Museu de Arte Sacra de Pernambuco, housed in a former Bishop’s Palace (Tues- Fri 10am- 4pm, Sat-Sun 10am-2pm).
6. Climb Sugarloaf mountain
This peak – Pão de Açúcar – soars to 1,299ft above Rio’s harbour, and is one of several granite and quartz mountains around the city. You can reach the summit by cable car, on a line originally built in 1912, in six minutes, or tackle it on foot, which will take three hours, and involve downward views best avoided by vertigo sufferers. Journey Latin America can arrange tailor-made itineraries for Brazil include trekking to Sugarloaf’s summit (020 3582 0822; journeylatinamerica.co.uk)
7. Snorkel in Bonito
Known as the eco-tourism model for Brazil, Bonito, in the south-western corner of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, offers visitors the chance to snorkel in lakes in caves and past needle-like stalactite formations among lush rainforest. Try the Rio Sucuri, a 1,500m snorkel through glass-clear waters with subaquatic gardens, or the Abismo de Anhumas, a 72m drop bottomed by an underground lake where snorkelling and scuba diving are possible in waters with 30m visibility. For more information, visit: bonitoweb.br
8. Visit Christ the Redeemer
With an armspan of 92 feet (28 metres), and a height of 98 feet (30 metres), the proportions of this statue on Mount Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro, are truly impressive. Completed in 1931, Christ the Redeemer was designed by engineer Heitor da Silva Costa, chosen on the basis of his sketches of a figure with a cross in one hand and the world in the other.
Today, more than 600,000 visitors per year visit the site, transported to the summit by a railway that is almost 100 years old. Tickets, including a round-train trip and admission to the monument are from R$ 50,00 (£13) for adults and R$ 25,00 for children. For more information, visit: corcovado.com.br
9. Drive the Costa Verde
The world’s great road trips are dominated by names such as Big Sur and the Great Southern Route, but Brazil’s Costa Verde easily rivals them. Stop-offs on the 350-mile route between Santos and Rio de Janeiro include the pristine island of Ilha Grande, and the wilderness beyond the road cannot be ignored either.
When, Chris Moss, Telegraph Travel’s South America expert, visited last year, he described the surrounding natural scenery as “exuberant. Palms burst from cliff walls, mist drifts over forested valleys, pink and orange flowers erupt on the roadside. Even where there has been agriculture, the grass glows bright green. Everywhere the jungle is invading, spilling over, reclaiming territory.” Audley Travel (01993 838610; audley.co.uk) can arrange trips along the Costa Verde.
10. Board a riverboat up the Amazon
Starting in Belém or Manaus, a 985-mile journey up the world’s largest river largest drainage system takes about five days. The most authentic way to do it is to take a traditional river boat, kitted out with nothing more than hammocks, a canteen and a bar on a few decks. Don’t expect cruise-liner excitement or entertainment; instead revel in the surrounding hum of wildlife and the overwhelming calm. You can stop at Mount Alegre to see prehistoric rock art and cave paintings, which were discovered in the Victorian era by Alfred Russel Wallace, the British naturalist. Amazon Clipper Cruises (amazonclipper.com.br) has a range of itineraries available.
11. Get wet at Iguazú Falls
On the border between Argentina and Brazil, the Iguazú Falls stretch for 1.7 miles (2.7km), with the highest drop at 269 ft (82m), making them taller than Niagara. An average of 553 cubic feet per second of water falls from their heights.Last Frontiers (01296 653000; lastfrontiers.com) has a 13-day trip to Brazil that includes a three-night stop at the Falls. Optional activities include a ride in an inflatable boat that passes as closely as possible to the shafts of tumbling water themselves. Price from £2,550, including flights.
12. See Brazil’s Big Five
Seeing Africa’s Big Five is a bucket-list topper, but South America’s lesser-known offering is just as appealing – although sightings are, of course, never guaranteed. Look out for the Brazilian tapir, giant anteater, maned wolf, giant river otter and jaguar in the Parnaíba Headwaters National Park and the 81, 000 square miles of the Pantanal wetlands. On the trail on a trip for Telegraph Travel, Naturetrek (01962 733051; naturetrek.co.uk) offers its 17-day “South America’s Big Five” itinerary from £5,995, including flights.
13. Stay at an eco-lodge on the Maraú Peninsula
The beaches in of Bahia are some of Brazil’s best, and can be enjoyed from the tranquillity of one of the state’s finest eco-resorts, Butterfly House, on the Marau peninsula, 250km south of Salvador. There are eight villas fitted with sustainably sourced interiors, a honey-coloured sand beach on the doorstep, and and freshwater lakes and World-Heritage listed rainforest to be explored by the more intrepid. (00 55 7332 584 113; butterflyhousebahia.com).
14. Fly to a nature reserve archipelago
Twenty-one islands; 220 miles (354km) off the Brazilian coast; utter return-to-nature stuff. This is what the Fernando de Noronha archipelago offers, with its dense forest, dolphins and albatrosses. Little there today makes one think that these beautiful islands were once a prison, and later a military base; the environment is more congenial now to honeymooners, and wildlife spotters hoping to see endemic birds and sea turtles. Today, visitor numbers are controlled and a daily tax is imposed on visitors for environmental protection.
15. Stay in a pousada
A pousada, a word for which there is no direct translation into English, is a small independent guesthouse or eco-lodge, where you will often find personal and personable service, characterful décor and mountainous breakfasts. Chris Moss describes the Pousada Portas da Amazônia, in São Luis, as “A beautiful 29-room property spread over two tall, connecting timber-framed 1830s town houses, reinvented with decorative touches using cipó (a creeper), wicker and bamboo.” 98 3222 9937; portasdaamazonia.com.br).