Brazil, by far the largest country in South America, encompasses one of the widest gulfs between raw nature and urbanity anywhere in the world. It's home to both bustling cosmopolitan cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo along the Atlantic coast and to indigenous tribal villages virtually untouched by outsiders in the Amazon rain forest, with the frontier city of Manaus along the Amazon and the heavily Afro-Brazilian culture of Bahia along the Atlantic adding further diversity.
But even more than its places, Brazil is known for its fun-loving people, exemplified by the spirit of their annual Carnaval celebrations, marked by samba dancing, skimpy and elaborate costumes and all-night revelries.
The Sights of Rio
Most travelers to Brazil start (or eventually make their way to) Rio de Janeiro, known for its iconic landmarks, gorgeous beaches, boisterous Carnaval celebrations, and as the host city of the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. While in Rio, which fronts the Atlantic Ocean, it’s almost mandatory to spend some time on Copacabana or Ipanema beach.
These beaches are known for their beautiful views, relaxed atmosphere, and the beautiful people that visit the. Other must-sees include the statue of Christ the Redeemer, which occupies the highest point of the city and offers spectacular views of Sugarloaf Mountain and one of the world’s most beautiful harbors. Rio’s nightlife is also some of the best in the world.
The Amazon region, the largest tropical rainforest on earth, is centered in Brazil. Manaus, the capital of Amazonia, is the starting point for many of the river cruises on the Amazon River and its tributaries such as the Rio Negro, which flows into the Amazon just outside the city. Manaus is also known for its opulent 19th-century opera house, financed by the wealth of rubber barons and considered the finest outside Europe in its day.
Small-ship cruises usually make multiple stops per day for rainforest hikes, visits to remote villages, and dugout canoe rides through jungle creeks. Listen for howler monkeys in the trees and watch for pink dolphins in the rivers. You might also spot sloths and alligators.
The Pantanal is an often overlooked but fascinating natural region. Lying south of the Amazon, it’s the world’s largest wetlands area and is a prime spot, many say the best in the Americas, for spotting wildlife such as jaguars, tropical birds, and giant otters. (The Pantanal lacks the thick foliage that often obscures Amazon wildlife viewing).
And in the far southeastern part of the country, on the border with Argentina, stands enormous Iguazu Falls, one of the most powerful cascades on earth. A mile and a half wide, it consists of 275 separate falls, producing often thunderous noises and towering mists.