All eyes on Brazil for 2014

As if endless strands of sun-toasted coast, mountains splashed with Crayola-green rainforest and significant populations of some of the planet’s most beautiful colonial villages and wildlife didn’t already add up to an unfair share of heaven, Brazil goes and snags two of the most coveted sporting events in the world, beginning with the 2014 FIFA World Cup and followed two years later by the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Tack on a recession-dodging economy, and boom! Brazil is the belle of the ball. Of course, hosting two of the world’s most high-profile events means Brazil’s infrastructure and security have come under scrutiny, and – despite some occasional lapses – both are on track to ensure a smooth ride for visitors in 2014.

Boy diving off rocks at Morro do Leme. Image by Richard I'Anson / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images.

Boy diving off rocks at Morro do Leme in Rio de Janeiro. Image by Richard I’Anson / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images.

Gearing up for 2014

Rio de Janeiro has made huge strides in crime crackdown and now offers a palpable sense of security along world-famous sands such as Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon; other FIFA World Cup host cities such as São PauloBelo Horizonte,Recife and Manaus are following suit.

While the focal point of these events will be Rio – where idyllic golden beaches, iconic postcard-perfect mountains and one of the sexiest populations on the planet create an intoxicating tropical cocktail that leaves visitors punch-drunk on paradise – Brazil, despite the stereotypes, is much more than beaches and bikinis.

Playing football on Ipanema beach in Rio. Image by Tony Burns / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images.

Playing football on Ipanema beach in Rio. Image by Tony Burns / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images.

Beyond Brazil’s big cities

After joining the caipirinha-fuelled caravans in FIFA World Cup host cities, an escape will be in order. Be it trekking across towering windswept dunes peppered with cerulean lagoons in Lençóis Maranhenses, exploring gilded colonial churches in frozen-in-time cities such as Ouro Preto or swimming in aquarium-like rivers near Bonito, Brazil’s diversity will leave you slack-jawed.

Brazil’s list of dream destinations is long. Rio’s urban setting is the southern hemisphere’s most stunning, while a visit to the iconic Iguaçu Falls – where 275 waterfalls crash across the border with Argentina – is simply unforgettable. And then there’s the enigmatic Amazon and wildlife-rich Pantanal, two of the most biodiverse regions on earth.

Iguaçu Falls by Ben Tavener. CC BY 2.0.

Iguaçu Falls by Ben Tavener. CC BY 2.0.

Regional flavours

No South American country can match the diversity and cultural pedigree of Brazil’s local grub. The country’s gastronomic capital, São Paulo, has embraced gourmet street-food fairs. Events such as O Mercado (monthly in Vila Mariana) and Feirinha Gastronômica (weekly in Vila Madalena) feature booth after booth of local chefs whipping up delicious culinary offerings to salivating paulistanos. And the food-truck craze is on its way to Brazil – just as soon as most cities can work out hygiene legislation.

An incredible array of fruits in the Mercado Municipal, Sao Paulo. Image by wilbanks. CC BY-SA 2.0.

An incredible array of fruits in the Mercado Municipal, São Paulo. Image by wilbanks. CC BY-SA 2.0.

In the north, indigenous Amazonian ingredients such as tucupi and jambu shape local dishes of duck and river fish. African roots fuel the cuisine of the northeast, where vatapá (a paste of shrimp, coconut milk and peanuts) stuffed inside acarajé(fried fritters made from black-eyed peas) makes for Bahia’s ultimate cross-continental snack. Brazil’s two most famous dishes, moqueca (spicy seafood stew) and feijoada (bean stew with pork or beef), are also steeped in African influences. In São Paulo, Japanese, Italian, Syrian and Lebanese immigrants have introduced delectable ethnic cuisine. And in the south, cowboy culture – and beef – rules.

When to visit: the best festivals and events for 2014

From 28 February to 4 March, some six million revellers converge amid sun, sand and samba for Rio de Janeiro’s annual Carnaval celebrations and from 12 June to 13 July, the world’s biggest football party comes to Brazil. The 2014 FIFA World Cup kicks off in São Paulo and ends in Rio de Janeiro a month later, hitting 10 additional cities in between. Grab your calendar and time your trip for one of these unforgettable events.


Brazil’s top 10 carnivals

Brazilians know how to throw a party on a mammoth scale and make other festivals look like trainspotting conventions. So charge your caphirianas, don your most sequined outfit and samba your way through the hottest carnivals in Brazil.

Rio de Janeiro

One of the world’s largest parties, Carnaval – in all its colourful, hedonistic bacchanalia – is virtually synonymous with Rio. Held over five days of revelry during Easter, from the Friday to the Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday, residents of Rio begin the partying months in advance. Parades featuring elaborate floats flanked by thousands of pounding drummers and twirling dancers, is the culmination of the festivities – though the real action, Cariocas profess, is at the wild parties about town.

Visitors are welcome to join the mayhem. There are free live concerts happening all over the city, while those seeking a bit of decadence can head to the various balls about town. Whatever you do, prepare yourself for sleepless nights, an ample dose of caipirinhas (the unofficial Brazilian national drink: cachaça with crushed lime, sugar and ice), samba and  joyful crowds.

Copacabana beach, Rio de Janeiro

The best way to see in the New Year is to join the Reveillion party on Rio’s mightyCopacabana beach, where the spiritual and the secular come together for one amazing night. Two million people pack the sands to welcome in the New Year. From about 8pm, top bands perform on stages strung out along the 4km-long beach, pumping out a variety of Brazilian and international music. At midnight, a spectacular fireworks display lights up the night sky while the hardiest of revellers keep things going til sunrise.


Carnaval in Salvador happens on the streets in late February to early March, where music and spontaneity rule and trios elétricos (electrically amplified bands playing atop speaker-laden trucks) work two million revellers into a frenzy. For an entire week they dance, drink and kiss until they drop, get up the next day and start again. Each year the city designates a theme for Carnaval, and decorates the city accordingly.


The largest festival on the River Amazon, Círio de Nazaré revolves around a small statue of Nossa Senhora de Nazaré (Our Lady of Nazareth) which is believed to have performed miracles. For centuries, Brazillians have come to honor the Virgin and carry the statue from Belem to Icoaraci and back in a river procession of hundreds of boats. Millions of people fill the streets during the second week of October, along with the sounds of hymns, bells and fireworks, to accompany the image from Catedral da Sé to the basilica.

São Luís, Maranhão

Bumba Meu Boi is a wild, folkloric festival is derived from African, Indian and Portuguese influences that mingled in colonial times. The event, held from late July until mid-August, revolves around the story of the ox’s death and resurrection. Accompanied by much heckling, a stream of street performers, many dressed as oxen or mythological creatures, tell the tale through song, dance, theatre andcapoeira (Afro-Brazillian art form).


Everyone dons a costume for the 11 days and nights of Olinda’s Carnaval, held over Easter. Balls, nights of samba, Afro-Brazillian rhythms and plenty of street-style merriment characterize the festas (party). Everything else happens in impromptu fashion on the streets. The official opening commences with a parade of 400 ‘virgins’ (men in drag) and awards for the most beautiful, most risqué and the biggest prude.


The pounding rhythms of maracatu (slow, heavy Afro-Brazilian drumbeats) played during Recife’s festival aren’t for wallflowers. It is a participatory event held over Easter, with an infectious euphoria and fabulous dancing: people don’t sit and watch here, they join in. The months leading up to Carnaval are filled with parties and public rehearsals that are almost as much fun as the actual event, especially the week before.

Porto Seguro

Porto Seguro throws an impressive Carnaval and hedonistic bash, complete with plenty of dancing in the streets, round-the-clock music jams and no-holds-barred partying. It’s a little less wild than some of Brazil’s famous, but it lasts until the Saturday after Ash Wednesday. For cultural buffs, the Festa de São Benedito is celebrated in the Cidade Histórica. Children blacken their faces and perform African dances from December 25 to 27.


Paraty loves to put on a good festival, starting with has its own odd version of  Easter Carnaval. Hundreds of young revelers dance through the cobblestone streets and during Holy Week beautiful torchlit processions take place. For Corpus Christi in June, streets are covered in coloured sawdust, leaves, flowers, coffee grounds and chalk. New festivals keep springing up each year; recent additions include festivals of photography, gastronomy and seafood.


Carnatal takes to the streets with Salvador-style trios elétricos and blocos sporting names like Jerimum (Pumpkin) and Burro Elétrico (Electric Donkey). It’s the wildest out-of-season Carnaval in the country – held in the early weeks of December, it is a great substitute for anyone who can’t make it to the real deal.

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