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Brazil
What to see in Brazil

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AMAZON NATIONAL PARK
This huge national park can best be seen by hiring a guide locally for hikes through the dense rain forest (hiking without a guide is allowed only on certain trails). Be sure to take food and treated water with you on the trail. During the rainy season (February-April) you can tour the flooded rain forest by boat. Basic cabins are available in the park only if scientists are not using them; visitors can stay in hotels in the town of Itaituba. 1,550 mi/2,500 km northwest of Rio de Janeiro.
ANGRA DOS REIS (site in English)
This town is a popular destination for trips to nearby islands such as Ilha Grande, a nature preserve with great beaches and for yachting and spear fishing. To kill time while waiting for your boat, visit the Nossa Senhora do Carmo church and convent. There's a Club Med in nearby Mangaratiba. 75 mi/120 km west of Rio de Janeiro.
BELEM DO PARA (site in Portuguese)
The large port city of Belem (pop. 1,245,000) is a good base for half-day river cruises to get a closer look at jungle, birds, dugout canoes and Brazilian fishermen. (These short cruises are really intended for people who aren't headed farther up the Amazon on longer cruises.) Belem itself has enough of interest to justify a two-day stay: the 18th-century Basilica de Nossa Senhora de Nazare; the Goeldi Museum (a combination of zoo, botanical gardens, aquarium and a good ethnology museum); some old French-style mansions in the Cidade Velha (Old Town); and the Teatro da Paz, which was graced by Anna Pavlova and other famous performers at the beginning of the 20th century. The Ver-o-Peso Market is special: Among the fruit and vegetable stalls, you'll find vendors selling crocodile teeth, dried boa constrictors and voodoo charms (go early in the morning to see the most action). If possible, attend a batuque ceremony (batuque is a religious sect known for its colorful costumes and interesting music). Not far from the city is the Ilha de Marajo, an island the size of Switzerland at the convergence of the Amazon and several smaller rivers. The island's ranches accept guests July-December. 1,520 mi/2,445 km northwest of Rio de Janeiro.
BELO HORIZONTE (site in Portuguese)
This very modern and industrial city is usually visited as a stopover point for travelers going from Rio to Brasilia. Belo Horizonte (pop. 2,017,000) called Belo or Belzonte locally, lies in the center of the country's most important mining area. It probably doesn't warrant more than one full day and night to see its highlights: the Palacio das Artes handicraft museum and the Church of Sao Francisco (paintings by artist Portinari and design by Niemeyer, the primary architect of Brasilia). You can also see a prehistoric Indian cave and the Museum of Modern Art. Walk through the city's jewelry section and window-shop for gems (buy only if you know what you're doing). If you're in Belo Horizonte on a Sunday morning, visit the arts-and-crafts fair in Municipal Park (don't overlook the park, which has an incredible 2,000 species of trees as well as a few resident pickpockets). Belo is known for its hearty cuisine. A visit to Congonhas (45 mi/70 km away) can be made as a day trip, or as a prelude to nearby colonial Ouro Preto. If you're in Congonhas, be sure to visit the Basilica de Bom Jesus to see Brazil's most famous work of art, the Twelve Prophets, created by sculptor Aleijadinho. 220 mi/350 km northwest of Rio de Janeiro.
BRASILIA (site in English)
Brasilia, the nation's capital (pop. 1,598,000), was constructed from scratch at the end of the 1950s. Located near the geographical center of the country, it replaced Rio as the capital in 1960. Built in only three years under the direction of Brazil's leading architects, Brasilia was intended to draw development to the country's interior. Although, on paper, it appeared to be a well-planned city, in reality it falls short of its promise. The city was laid out in the shape of an airplane (a modernist metaphor): government and administrative buildings form the cockpit and fuselage, while residential and shopping areas fill in the wings. The city was planned for a maximum population of 500,000, with space set aside in every residential block for apartments, restaurants, shops and services. No provisions were made, however, for the great mass of non government workers (more than one million in number) who provide services to the city and who live in several "satellite communities" (more commonly referred to as slums). There are a few other details, in addition, that weren't really thought through. For instance, even though the temperature is always blazing hot, there's little shade, and every building must be air-conditioned-a tall order for an energy-poor country. It's also a city that's convenient only if you have a car: Even short distances on a map make miserable walks. What's more, its location in the middle of nowhere has not endeared it to the politicians who live and work there (those who can afford it get away every weekend to enjoy the cultural attractions of Brazil's larger and more cosmopolitan cities). Unless you're particularly interested in modern architecture, don't go out of your way to visit Brasilia-especially at the expense of some of the country's other attractions. If you do go, one day will be more than ample. Plan just enough time to see some of the more impressive buildings: the Palacio do Congresso (Capitol Building), Palacio do Planalto (presidential mansion and office), Palacio da Justica (Supreme Court, with artificial cascades) and the Palacio de Itamaraty Foreign Ministry). For a nice view of the main buildings, go to the Square of the Three Powers (referring to the legislative, executive and judicial branches). Afterward, see the impressive National Cathedral, built in the shape of a crown with angels suspended within. You'll find a good view of the city atop the main television tower (you'll be able to see from there that the city is indeed shaped like an airplane). If you have more time, visit the national museum (historical displays and a comprehensive modern firearm collection). The embassy sector, where each country has taken pains to represent its national contemporary architecture, is worth seeing only if you're stumped for something to do-the area is relatively isolated, and all you can do is look over the compound walls at embassies. 575 mi/925 km northwest of Rio de Janeiro.
BUZIOS (site in English)
Buzios (pronounced BOO-zee-ohs) is a priced, attractive resort area jutting into the Atlantic on the Cabo Frio Peninsula. The resort is made up of three towns (Armacao, Ossos and Manguinhos) with 17 idyllic beaches set among sandy coves. Water sports include surfing, wind surfing at Ferradura (Horseshoe) Beach, snorkeling (Joao Fernandes and Joao Fernandinho Beaches) and swimming. Sunbathers can avoid tan lines at Azeda and Azedinha, the resort's two topless beaches. Although not very well known by North Americans, Buzios was "discovered" by the French in the 1960s and has been popular for years with chic Brazilians and Europeans. Development is continuing at a controlled pace: New buildings have a height limit of two stories and are designed to blend in with local surroundings-a neat trick for million-dollar villas in what was once a fishing village. Most lodging is in small pousada-style accommodations. Book as far in advance as possible, as it can get busy. As befits an upscale resort, there are many fine shops and excellent restaurants (Continental and Brazilian cuisine). At least once, sample grilled fish, fresh from the sea, on the beach-it's a special treat (and inexpensive, to boot). 125 mi/200 km northeast of Rio de Janeiro.
CHAPADA DIAMANTINA NATIONAL PARK (site in Portuguese)
This mountainous area, where diamonds were discovered nearly 200 years ago, is dotted with abandoned mining towns. The mountains are laced with hiking trails that pass roaring waterfalls, mysterious caves and wild rivers (but hire a guide-maps are hard to find). Rock hounds will enjoy the opportunity to collect unusual specimens-those keen eyes may even spot a diamond. Lencois was the center of the diamond activity, and it has retained much of the diamond-rush days. Visit the Old French vice-consulate (the French bought industrial diamonds for drills in the Panama Canal) and the Mining Museum (Museu do Garimpo). 725 mi/1,165 km north of Rio de Janeiro.
COSTA VERDE
The Costa Verde (Green Coast) offers relaxing day and weekend trips from Rio and Sao Paulo. Locals favor its charm and authenticity over fancier Buzios. The drive from Rio to the city of Santos is beautiful: small beach line one sides of the road, jungle and mountains the other. Visitors pass cattle ranches, quaint 17th-century towns, uncrowded beaches of white sand and more than 300 offshore islands. (The islands can be seen on day trips from Sepetiba Bay, an hour-long drive from Rio.) Santos itself, located 45 mi/70 km southeast of Sao Paulo, is Brazil's leading commercial port-both Santos and next-door neighbor Guaruja afford a wide range of nice beaches and boat tours. Nearby Jose Menino have beautiful orchid gardens that flower from October to February. East of Santos is the popular beach resort of Ubatuba. Also in this area is the colonial town of Parati (settled in 1650), which has been designated a national and UNESCO monument. The historical town center is now closed to automobile traffic. 175 mi/280 km southwest of Rio de Janeiro.
CUIABA
The capital of Mato Grosso State, Cuiaba (pop. 500,000) is interesting to tourists mainly as a jumping-off point for excursions into the Pantanal. If you find yourself in town with time on your hands, visit the small zoo and the Museu do Indio at the University of the Mato Grosso. Riverside cafes, with live entertainment, offer nice views of the Cuiaba River. Santo Antonio de Leverger, just upstream, has excellent river beaches. 975 mi/1,570 km northwest of Rio de Janeiro.
CURITIBA (site in English)
This large capital is a nice, well-functioning and clean city that is finally beginning to get the attention it deserves. Settled by Germans, Poles and Italians, Curitiba is usually a way station on the highway from Sao Paulo to Iguacu Falls or points south. A model for urban planners throughout the world, the city features Lagoa da Ordem (a nicely preserved historic section with cobblestone streets), pleasant parks (with many bike paths) and several museums (we liked the exterior of the art nouveau Museu Paraense, though its exhibits were less memorable than its facade). It has excellent restaurants (Italian, Japanese and Brazilian) and active nightlife (local jazz and rock). But perhaps the biggest surprise is Brazilian drivers who stop at red lights! Unless you plan a day trip to Vila Velha, one night is adequate. Another day trip is the 65-mi/105-km train rides to the town of Paranagua, through Lovely Mountain scenery. 420 mi/675 km southwest of Rio de Janeiro.
EMAS NATIONAL PARK (Parque Nacional das Emas) -site in Portuguese
Advance permission from the National Park Department is necessary to visit this park (there are no tourist facilities), but hard-core nature lovers will find that it's an excellent place to see Brazilian wildlife. The residents include rheas, anteaters, capybaras, coatimundis and armadillos, as well as tropical birds. Enormous termite mounds dot the grounds. The park lies east of the Pantanal.
FERNANDO DE NORONHA (site in English)
A seldom-visited, mountainous archipelago off the northeastern coast, Fernando de Noronha is a year-round destination that offers quiet beaches, good diving, great surfing and snorkeling, and a laid-back atmosphere. The landscapes and seascapes are diverse and beautiful: The islands were declared an environmental reserve in 1986. There are 17 fortresses on the islands (the principal one being Forte de Nossa Senhora dos Remedios), but the main reason to go there is relaxation. A week will not be too long for those who think this sounds appealing. The Hotel Esmeralda (built by the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II) is the only hotel; so advance reservations are essential. 320 mi/510 km northeast of Recife.
FLORIANOPOLIS (site in English)
Imagine Bavaria by a tropical bay and you'll have some idea of Florianopolis. The capital of Santa Catarina state, the city is divided into two: the mainland part is mostly industrial, while the scenic spots are on the island-attractive colonial buildings, 400-year-old forts, baroque churches and the best surfing in Brazil (on the eastern coast of the island). Florianopolis' night life is active and the bier halls are popular meeting spots (the city produces some of Brazil's Nearby, at Camboriu, are resorts and casinos. 480 mi/770 km southwest of Rio de Janeiro.
FORTALEZA (site in English)
This coastal city (pop. 1,766,000) has several outstanding beaches to the north and south, but avoid the polluted beaches in town. Facilities are adequate. The seafood and local music are excellent. It's a good place to shop for Brazilian handicrafts. Aside from a few museums and the mausoleum for Castelo Branco (a military president), there really isn't much to see or do. 1,350 mi/2,175 km north of Rio de Janeiro.
IGUACU FALLS (Site in English) (Foz do Iguacu)
Located near the junction of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, Iguacu Falls (pronounced eeh-gwa-SUE) is a must-see: It may be the greatest waterfall in the world. There are 275 cataracts in all, stretching 2 mi/4 km from bank to bank and reaching a height of 300ft/90 m. The falls, on the Parana River, are best seen October-December and March-May. We suggest flying from Rio or Sao Paulo as early as possible, overnighting at the falls, then flying to another destination the next evening. That way, you'll have a lot of time at the falls, which look and photograph differently in different light. The adventurous can go by train, road or riverboat (the boat trip takes about two days from Rio). A four-minute helicopter ride goes up the river into the falls and over them, then circles and comes down in to the falls again before landing (there's about a 1-mi/2-km walk back). About 35 mi/55 km south of the falls, you can drive into Argentina via a bridge, or continue on to Paraguay. We don't recommend it, however. The traffic is horrendous, as the area is jam packed with South Americans shopping for discounted (and often counterfeit) goods. We suggest, instead, that you stay longer at the falls or visit the old missions in the area. Keep in mind that you'll need a very long day to see both the Brazilian and Argentine sides of the falls. On the Brazilian side, you'll see the falls from a distance (although the views are breathtaking), while the Argentine side has catwalks that take you deeper into the jungle setting and right up to the edge of the roaring waters. (You can take a boat ride quite close to the edge.) The park has an aviary with more than 200 types of birds, most of that are native to Brazil. An easy side trip is to the vast Itaipu Dam built jointly by Brazil and Paraguay, where you can take a free tour. It's one of the largest hydroelectric works projects in the world (55 stories high and 5 mi/8km wide-12,800 megawatts). 730 mi/1,175 km southwest of Rio de Janeiro.
ITATIAIA NATIONAL PARK
The main sights of this mountainous park include rock formations created by erosion (including the Prataleiras, made up of giant rock slabs). The park encompasses waterfalls, alpine meadows and lowland jungle. Wildlife includes monkeys, sloths and more than 400 species of birds. 90 mi/145 km northwest of Rio de Janeiro.
JOAO PESSOA (site in English)
The capital of Paraiba State (pop. 497,000) lies on the easternmost tip of South America. The main reason to visit is to see the Igreja Sao Francisco, one of Brazil's most interesting churches: Elements of several European architectural styles can be seen in its facade (the Dutch, French and Portuguese all occupied the city at different times). 1,060 mi/1,705 km northeast of Brasilia.
MANAUS (site in Portuguese)
In the days of the Amazon rubber boom (before the invention of synthetic rubber), Manaus was known as the Paris of the Jungle. Those days, however, are long gone: Today's Manaus is a troubled city. A fire devastated part of the center of the city, and the city's population has exploded to 1,300,000, overburdening sanitation and health facilities. Nonetheless, Manaus still serves as a base for tourist excursions exploring the mid-Amazon region. Day trips can be made by riverboat to visit villages built on stilts or to hike through the jungle on foot. Several jungle lodges in the vicinity offer a wide variety of rain-forest programs. When cruising down the river about 12 mi., 20 km from town, watch for the Wedding of the Waters, where the clear waters of the Rio Negro meet the muddy Amazon. Adventurous travelers might consider long-distance river journeys to or from Belem (though to be honest, we were bored out of our gourds after three days on the river). The city itself, though rather dirty, is worth exploring. Despite the fact that it's 1,000 mi/1,600 km inland, huge oceangoing ships dock there to distribute their cargo throughout the Amazon basin, and it's fascinating to watch them unload. Amazon wildlife can be easily seen at the CIGS zoo, and the Municipal Market on the river is colorful and lively-try to visit when fishermen arrive and unload their catch. Make a point to see the restored 1892 opera house, Teatro Amazonas, in its entire belle-époque splendor. Some top performers have sung there. Plan two nights in Manaus. 1,200 mi/1,930 km northwest of Brasilia.
NATAL (site in Portuguese)
This city of 607,000, located on the northeastern tip of Brazil, is best known for its beaches. We think the two nicest are Ponta Negra and Praia Maio. Negra is a relatively deserted stretch of sand dunes south of town (except on weekends, when the dunes are hopping with crowds), and Maio is a broad beach in town protected by a reef and the star-shaped 16th-century Fortaleza dos Reis Magos (Fort of the Magi). The lighthouse of Mae Luiza affords great views of Natal and the surrounding beaches. Because of its distance from other major areas, many tourists don't visit Natal. Plan three nights there if you're a beach lover; otherwise, one night will be plenty. 1,290 mi/2,075 km north of Rio de Janeiro.
NITEROI (site in Portuguese)
Just across the bay from Rio, Niteroi is a town with three wonderful beaches, Itaipu, Camboinhas and Itacoatiara. Bus and ferry to Rio connect the city. There is good shopping and a strip with restaurants, bars, clubs and kiosks. Parque da Cidade has wildflowers, tropical plants and a beautiful view of the city. Located 9 mi/14 km east of Rio de Janeiro.
OLINDA (site in English)
Olinda (pop. 389,000) has some of the best-preserved colonial buildings in Brazil (UNESCO has declared it a "monument to humanity"). The city's architecture reflects both its Portuguese and Dutch heritage (the Dutch invaded and occupied the area in the 17th century). We think the best way to see Olinda is on foot. Stroll its 16th- and 17th-century cobblestone streets, past colonial houses, shops, churches and markets. There are frequent festivals in town-the best known is Carnival. Olinda is usually seen as a day trip from Recife. 1,200 mi/1,930 km northeast of Rio de Janeiro.
OURO PRETO (Vila Rica) - site in English
Originally named Vila Rica (Rich Town), this 18th-century hill town (pop. 30,000) was once the wealthiest gold-mining center of Brazil. (The name Ouro Preto itself means Black Gold.) We think its a-must-see, particularly for architecture and history buffs. Unlike many other colonial towns in the country, Ouro Preto is largely unaffected by encroaching modern buildings and skyscrapers. For this reason, it is considered one of the two best-preserved colonial towns of the nation (the other is Olinda). Ouro Preto has cobblestone streets, baroque churches and scenic ruins. Other evidence of its past wealth and glory includes the 18th-century Igreja de Nossa Senhora de Pilar (much of it covered in gold leaf) and sculptures by Aleijadinho. Allocate half an hour to see the Museum of the School of Mines (containing 25,000 gems and mineral samples) located on the main square. The massive white sculpture nearby depicts independence hero Tiradentes (Toothpuller-he was a dentist). The town can be seen as a day trip from Belo Horizonte, but we recommend a day and night in Ouro Preto, just to absorb its special atmosphere. Nearby Mariana, filled with baroque churches, is also a gem. Its terrain is relative flat, so those who have difficulty walking might find it an alternative to steep Ouro Preto. 60 mi/100 km southeast of Belo Horizonte.
PANTANAL (site in English)
The Pantanal is one of the world's great wildlife reserves. A trip there should be booked through an adventure tour operator-only a very small part of the area has any tourism infrastructure (or towns, for that matter). The Pantanal abounds with birds (especially waterfowl), and because the terrain is largely open, it's easier to spot some animals in the Pantanal than farther north in the jungles of the Amazon. Fishing is excellent, with more than 350 varieties of fish, some weighing up to 175 lb/80 kg. The reserve has alligators, deer, armadillos and capybaras (the world's largest rodent). Unfortunately, poaching has endangered some of the animals, and anteaters, jaguars and otters are no longer commonly seen (although they're said to be making a comeback). The best time to visit is during the breeding season (July-September). 1,000 mi/1,600 km west of Rio de Janeiro.
PETROPOLIS (site in Portuguese)
Petropolis, a half-day or full-day trip from Rio, provides a very nice vacation from your vacation. Set in the cool hills north of Rio, this Swiss-style town (pop. 286,000) was the summer retreat for the last emperor of Brazil. Petropolis' main attractions are its Crystal Palace, Gothic cathedral, Museu Imperial (imperial crown and robes-the marble floors are special, too) and the house of Santos-Dumont. Alberto Santos-Dumont, a turn-of-the-century Brazilian aviator, is notable for two reasons: First, Brazilians fervently claim him to be the inventor of the airplane-the Brazilian Encyclopedia Britannic doesn't have an entry for the Wright brothers-and, second, he was incredibly compulsive and designed his house to conform with his ways. He always climbed the stairs to his house starting with his right foot first, so he cut out the left side of every other stair starting with the first, and the right side of alternating stairs, thus forcing his visitors to do as he did. We especially enjoyed the horse-and-carriage rides through the city past lovely canals and bridges, old-fashioned street lamps and pleasant parks. 30 mi/45 km north of Rio de Janeiro.
PORTO ALEGRE (site in English)
This modern southern city (pop. 1,263,000) first became notable around the turn of the century when large groups of European immigrants (primarily Germans and Italians) arrived. Plan two nights in Porto Alegre to see its baroque Italian cathedral, several palacios (mansions), the 80-acre/30-hectare Parque Farroupilha and the Teatro Sao Pedro (the city's oldest theater). If time permits, take a ride on the Guaiba River to see islands and the city from the water. Day trips north can be made to visit the shoe-manufacturing town of Nova Hamburgo-the drive there passes potato, corn, tobacco, sugarcane and soybean fields. On the way are the towns of Canela and Gramado, where descendants of Germans make wood and basket handicrafts. 700 mi/1,125 km southwest of Rio de Janeiro.
RECIFE (Site in English)
The coastal city of Recife (pop. 1,297,000), on the Golden Coast of northeastern Brazil, presents a contrast of colonial and modern buildings. Called the Venice of Brazil for its canals and bridges, Recife is dirtier than the Italian version (but not by much). Plan two nights to see the three main regions of the city (spread out over islands and peninsulas connected by bridges-the older parts of the city are nearest the ocean). Recife has a number of interesting museums, including ones devoted to clay, sugar, trains and subjects such as slavery, archaeology and geography. There are also 17th- and 18th-century churches with beautiful woodcarvings and gilded altars. Take time to browse at the Casa da Cultura (an old prison turned shopping mall), or shop for Brazil's finest ceramic tiles at the Brennand Ceramics Workshops, just outside of town (there are also many startling sculptures there). Recife has a fantastic Carnival that rivals those in Rio and Salvador. Several half- and full-day excursions can be made, including ones to Olinda; Cabo (20 mi/30 km south-beaches at Gaibu, a fort and a museum); the Island of Itamaraca (30 mi/50 km north-good beaches, a 17th-century Dutch fort and one of the oldest churches in Brazil); Sao Jose da Coroa Grande (65 mi/110 km south-beaches and good scuba); and Caruaru (85 mi/135 km west-a figurative-arts center with big markets Friday-Sunday and smaller markets on other days). Tours to traditional sugarcane plantations outside Recife are also available. 1,155 mi/1,860 km north of Rio de Janeiro.
RIO DE JANEIRO (site in English)
Rio (pop. 6,000,000), the former capital of Brazil, sits on one of the world's most magnificent harbors-arrive by ship, if possible. Beautiful Rio de Janeiro (pronounced HEE-oh dee zhah-NAY-roh) demands no fewer than three nights to do it justice. We're happy to report that the city seems to be coming to terms with problems that have plagued travelers in the recent past. Crime is down, and morale is up, although graffiti is more prevalent than before. Driving isn't quite so unpleasant: Major roads now go one way for morning traffic and another for the afternoon rush, and littering is heavily fined. The numerous hillside slums known as favelas are still the shame of Rio, but renewal projects are extending city services for the first time to many residents in the poorest areas. Progress seems slow but steady. Upon arrival in Rio, almost everyone heads up to the rocky outcrop known as Pao de Acucar (pronounced pow dee ah-SU-car, or, in English, Sugar Loaf Mountain) for a spectacular 360-degree view of Rio and Guanabara Bay (a gondola-and-cable system takes you up and back). The view of Rio at your feet is stupendous, but continue up Corcovado Mountain to get an even higher perspective: It's the site of the 130-ft/40-m Christ the Redeemer statue, which overlooks the city (the drive there and back and the tour will take almost three hours). You can also take a funicular up to the statue-the best view is on the right-hand side. From Corcovado, you'll see that the city is divided by a mountain range into two areas: the Zona Norte and the Zona Sul (northern and southern zones). The Zona Sul holds most of the city's sights. Rio, you'll soon find, is not only lovely, it's lively. Cariocas, as Rio natives are called, are fun loving, and it's important to allow time to join in activities where you'll meet the people: Spend a day on one of its famous beaches (Copacabana, Flamengo, Leblon or Ipanema), attend a soccer game at Maracana Stadium (the largest stadium in the world-it holds 200,000 fans!), go to a performance at the Municipal Theater or plan a night of club hopping. There are several museums in town, covering everything from classical composer Villa-Lobos (his possessions and scores) to the campy Carmen Miranda Museum (the actress' costumes and trademark fruit-basket headdresses). The National History and Fine Arts Museums are other must-sees. For a look at Rio's spiritual side, see the divine art and architecture of the Candelaria Church and Gloria Church, as well as the Sao Bento Monastery. Indulge your natural spirit in the botanical gardens or Tijuca Forest. Rio's first theme park, Enchanted Land, is south of Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Every year, during the four days preceding Ash Wednesday, the most chaotic celebration in any city in the world gets under way: Carnival. Everybody is out dancing in the streets, so don't plan on doing any shopping or normal sightseeing at that time. In fact, Carnival activities range not only citywide, but also nationwide! Participants plan (and save up for) their colorful, exquisite costumes for a year (though some costumes seem to be little more than glitter and one or two sequins). The best costumes can be seen on Sunday and Monday of Carnival week in the specially constructed Sambadrome. The shows start at 8 pm and continue until 8 am! Buy your tickets well in advance. Carnival is a must-at least once in a lifetime. Day trips from Rio include Petropolis, Angra dos Reis, Itatiaia, Niteroi, Paulo Enginheiro de Frentim, Vassouras, Nova Friburgo (Alpine mountain town, noted for its flowers) and Teresopolis (the climbing and hiking center of Brazil). Parati, to the west of Angra dos Reis, is a charming beach resort and colonial town (albeit a bit too far for a comfortable day trip-plan an overnight instead). Sao Paulo is 45 minutes away by the Air Bridge (shuttle flights leave every half-hour).
SALVADOR (Sao Salvador de Bahia) - site in English
This is striking city (pop. 2,300,000), Brazil's longtime colonial capital, and lies on beautiful Santos Bay (Bahia De Todos os Santos). A strong African influence derives from the slaves brought to work in the sugar cane fields more than 400 years ago. Salvador is divided into an upper and lower section, and the enormous Lacerda elevator, which goes from one level to the other, affords outstanding views. Multicolored homes, red-tiled roofs, a great market, twisting and narrow cobblestone streets, great beaches, terreiros (cult worship houses) and about 300 churches make this an excellent place to stay for two or three nights. No tour of the city is complete without seeing the Igreja de Sao Francisco-although relatively plain on the outside (as are most Portuguese churches in Brazil), the inside is covered in gold leaf and is as ornate as it is beautiful. Also visit the Farol da Barra (a 16th-century fort overlooking one of several sites claiming to be the original spot where Portuguese navigator Cabral's party landed in Brazil) and the Igreja do Bomfim, where believers from across the state go to worship and celebrate (don't miss the Room of Miracles, where believers leave reproductions of body parts in need of miraculous healing-you'll be amazed by the number of plastic arms, legs, heads, hearts and lungs dangling from the ceiling). Shopping is good on Rua Alfredo do Brito and exceptional at the Mercado Modelo (good African and Brazilian souvenirs). Pelourinho, one of the oldest areas in town, has colonial architecture and a pillory (where slaves and prisoners were tortured). Other reminders of the city's past can be seen at the Museu de Arte da Bahia (17th-century antique displays) and the Museu Abelardo Rodriques (colonial paintings). The city's culture is celebrated in the Museu da Cidade (Yoruba tribal displays), the Afro-Brazilian Museum (African displays), and the Carlos Costa Pinto Museum. Try to attend a candomble ceremony, which illustrates the lively African religious culture found in the city, and watch capoeira, an amazing combination of martial arts and African folk dance (don't take pictures of the participants unless you are willing to pay for the privilege). Salvador also has a great Carnival celebration, though it's not as flashy as the one in Rio. North of Salvador is the fishing village of Praia do Forte, which borders the Sapiranga Ecological Reserve. The reserve protects one of Brazil's last stands of Atlantic rain forest. Itaparica, a lush island 12 mi/19 km southwest, has several nice beaches and a great view of Salvador across the bay. The Sao Joaquim Ferry makes the 45-minute crossing several times daily, but be sure to reserve a space in advance-Salvadorans like Itaparica, too. Note: Salvador has more than its share of poverty and crime. When you're having a soda or beer in an open bar or cafe, be prepared for beggars with cups or glasses to ask you for a drink. Crime directed at tourists is a problem, particularly in Pelourinho after dark or the sparsely populated beach areas. Avoid the temptation to change money on the streets at attractive rates-you'll be inviting trouble. 750 mi/1,200 km northeast of Rio de Janeiro.
SAO PAULO (site in English)
Sao Paulo is where nature's jungle gives way to concrete one. It's the largest city in South America and the third largest in the world. This ethnically diverse megalopolis of 16,000,000 is the financial, commercial and industrial center of Brazil. It is also rich in culture, parks and museums. But don't go expecting to see a beautiful city like Buenos Aires or Rio. While there are lovely neighborhoods in Sao Paulo, it seems as if everything is made of concrete-even the fire hydrants! The real reason to go is to sample its wide variety of international restaurants, fabulous shopping and very active night life-Sao Paulo is one of the very few places in the world where you can get stuck in a traffic jam at two in the morning. The city is centered around the Praca da Se (praca, pronounced PRAH-sah, means square). It was near the square's cathedral, at the Patio de Colegio, that Jesuit priests founded the city in 1554. But the sentimental heart of the metropolis, featured in poetry and song, is the intersection of Avenida Sao Joao and Avenida Ipiranga. We especially enjoyed Sunday morning in the square, when the Hippie Fair (a colorful flea market) is open for business. Nearby is one of the city's loveliest parks, the Praca da Republica, and the tallest building in town (Edificio Italia, which has a rooftop garden and restaurant). Just off the Praca da Republica is the Rua Barao de Itapetininga, a pedestrian shopping street that leads to the baroque Municipal Theater (world-class concerts) and one of the city's symbols, the Viaduto do Cha (Tea Bridge). Skyscraper-lined Avenida Paulista, once the street, where coffee barons lived in splendid residences, is now the commercial center of the city. For an idea of what a millionaire's mansion looked like, visit the McDonald's on Avenida Paulista (the hamburger chain restored one of the last remaining manors for its location). History buffs should allow time for the 17th-century Casa do Bandeirante-the building highlights displays from Brazil's age of internal exploration. High among the city's cultural attractions is the Sao Paulo Museum of Art (locally known as MASP, it's on Avenida Paulista), with a fine collection of Portinaris and one of the largest compilations of impressionist paintings in the world. The Sacred Art Museum, near the Tiradentes subway stop, is claimed to be the best on the subject in Brazil. Art lovers will want to visit the city in the fall of an odd numbered year, when Sao Paulo hosts the Bienal de Arte, showcasing modern art from dozens of countries. The Museum of Contemporary Art, open year in and year out, is also housed in the Bienal building. Ethnic neighborhoods provide the setting for exceptional restaurants and the city's active nightlife. Some of the more interesting areas are Bela Vista and Bixiga (both Italian), Vinte e Cinco de Marco (Arabic), Bom Retiro (Jewish) and Liberdade (Japanese). Liberdade has a colorful street fair on Sunday mornings-exit the Liberdade subway station and you'll find the market all around you. Other Sao Paulo sights include the Butanta Institute Snake Farm and the Jockey Club (horse racing). Parks include the Parque de Ibirapuera (planetarium) and Parque de Ipiranga (the tomb of Dom Pedro I, the nation's first emperor, is in the park). Shopping, once done only in small stores and boutiques, is now possible in upscale shopping centers all over town. Chiefs among them are Morumbi, Eldorado, Iguatemi and Ibirapuera. Alameda Itu and Rua Augusta (the latter leading off Avenida Paulista) are the chic shopping streets. Plan two nights in Sao Paulo. For a day trip, drive down the scenic Via Anchieta to the ports and resorts of Guaruja and Santos. Rio de Janeiro is 45 minutes away by the Air Bridge, shuttle flights that leave every half-hour). 225 mi/360 km west of Rio de Janeiro.
VILA VELHA (site in English)
This park in southern Brazil has a beautiful crater lake and odd rock formations (some are 650 ft/200 m long and 1,970 ft/600 m wide) that-with the help of your imagination and a guide-appear to be carved in the shapes of people, animals and objects. You can easily visit the lake by elevator. This intriguing park is best seen as a day trip from Curitiba. 480 mi/770 km southwest of Rio de Janeiro.
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