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Brazil Travel & Holiday Tips

Rio de Janeiro

Known as the cidade maravilhosa (the marvelous city), Rio has one of the most beautiful settings in the world. The city’s spectacular harbour is dominated by the famous rocky outcrop, Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf), and, further up, the Corcovado (Hunchback) peak, rising 709m (2326ft) above the Baía de Guanabara and providing the focal point for the classic Rio skyline. The Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue stands on top of Corcovado. Pão de Açúcar can be reached by two cable cars ascending 396m (1300ft) above Rio and the Baía de Guanabara (one leaves approximately every 30 minutes). Flocks of tourists arriving by tour buses can sometimes spoil the view, so visitors should avoid the busiest times (between 1000-1100 and 1400-1500). The Corcovado peak is located within the Parque Nacional da Tijuca, and is accessible by cog train (leaving from the Rua Cosme Velho). From the top there are magnificent views of Rio. Taxis also take visitors up to the peak and driving there will take up to an hour. Rio’s other landmarks are its numerous beaches, most notably the infamous Copacabana and Ipanema. Beach life is a ritual in Brazil and different beach sections reflect different ways of life and fashions. The Girl from Ipanema beach is particularly popular with young people and is located at Posto Nine in Ipanema. Owing to strong waves and undertows, swimming off Ipanema can be dangerous. Rio’s other main beaches include Arpoador, Barra da Tijuca, Botafogo, Flamengo, Leblon, Leme, Pepino and Vidigal.

Rio has many interesting museums, including the Museu Histórico Nacional, located in the São Tiago Fortress. The Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro contains Brazil’s most important collection of modern art. The Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói, designed by famous architect Oscar Niemeyer and overlooking Boa Viagem beach, showcases contemporary Brazilian art. The Museu do Folclore Edison Carneiro displays folk art and art naif. The Museu do Índio contains some 14,000 objects made by Brazilian Indians and is one of the nation’s most important Indian heritage museums. The Museu da República is set in the well-restored Palácio do Catete and reveals a fascinating insight into Brazilian history.

São Paulo

The view from the top of São Paulo’s tallest building, the Edificio Italiano reveals South America’s largest city (over 10 million inhabitants) and Brazil’s financial, commercial and industrial heartland. Famed throughout the continent for its abundant nightlife and shopping, São Paulo’s rapidly growing population resides in a sprawling urban maze characterized by perpetual traffic jams and a chronic lack of space. While São Paulo’s concrete jungle is a far cry from the color and charm of other Brazilian cities, there are some cultural attractions on offer, notably the MASP – Museu de Arte de São Paulo with an internationally renowned collection of impressionist paintings (with works by Van Gogh and Degas amongst many others).

The Brazilian Northeast

The Northeast of Brazil is famed for its beautiful beaches and distinct history and folklore. Known as the ‘Golden Coast’, this region contains the states of Alagoas, Bahia, Ceará, Maranhão, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Piauí, Rio Grande do Norte and Sergipe.

Salvador da Bahia

The state capital is split into upper and lower sections. Cidade Alta, the heart of the old city, is perched at the top of a 50m-high cliff, linked to Cidade Baixa by steep streets, a funicular railway and the marvelous Art-Deco Elevador Lacerdo. The majority of Salvador’s museums, palaces and churches are concentrated within Cidade Alta and thus the city is ideal for exploring on foot. This UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts a staggering number of churches, including the impressive Church of São Francisco and the fascinating Church of Bonfim, where middle-class matrons rub shoulders with the peasantry as they gather to worship. However, religion in Bahia is not limited to the established church. The state’s African legacy extends to candomble, a fusion of African and Catholic religions. Candomble followers dress in white and honour hundreds of native deities in terreiros (or cult houses) all over the city, it is possible to witness ceremonies as some terreiros accept visitors as long as they dress accordingly and are respectful.

Salvador has some of the best museums in Brazil and next to the opulent Catedral Basilica is the Museu Afro-Brasileiro, a fascinating insight into afro-Brazilian culture, with sections on candomble, capoeira and Carnaval. Other interesting museums include the Casa de Jorge Amado, Bahia’s best-known novelist, the Museu da Cidade and the Museu de Arte Sacra, the latter housed in a 17th-century convent.

Avid shoppers should head for the Mercado Modelo for a wide variety of goods including many examples of local handicrafts. The local cuisine (comida bahiana) is among the best in Brazil, focusing on rich African flavours.

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