Brazil is a land of contrasts. Here you will find great wealth and grinding poverty, beautiful beaches and filthy waterways fouled by industrial pollution, honest, open people and some of the most crooked politicians in Latin America. In a country where many of the national heroes are of African heritage â€“ entertainers such as Gilberto Gil or soccer players such as PĂ©le or Ronaldinho â€“ racism is still a huge social problem. The favelas, or slums, of Rio and SĂŁo Paulo are among the most dangerous in the world.
It is as rich in natural resources as any country in the world, yet it cannot seem to escape its status as an underdeveloped nation. "Brazil is the country of tomorrow," an Argentine friend of mine once told me. "And it always will be."
Brazilâ€™s struggles should not prevent you from visiting and seeing its natural wonders. Best of all, perhaps, are the Brazilians themselves, who are nearly always friendly, cheerful and eager to share their country, which they all love dearly, with foreign visitors.
Its landmass is vast, similar to that of the entire United States if you donâ€™t include Alaska, making it the fifth-largest country in the world. However, over two-thirds of its 181 million people live in the cities along the coast, including Sao Paulo, now the worldâ€™s second most populous city. Brazil is one of Latin Americaâ€™s biggest tourist draws. The attraction is easy to understand: Brazil has everything... literally.
History? Brazil has a long colonial history, was attacked by pirates, and was even the seat of the Portuguese royal court for fifteen years.
Beaches? Copacabana and Ipanema are two of the worldâ€™s most famous, and there are thousands more that are less well-known but just as beautiful.
Nightlife? Brazilâ€™s carnival has become synonymous with fun and dancing, and even though it is only one week per year, the carnival spirit is a constant: every city in Brazil has fun clubs and bars.
Nature? The waterfall at IguazĂş is one of the largest in the world. Most of the Amazon River is within the country of Brazil, and the Pantanal region is host to hundreds of species of birds and animals.
Chances are, if you like to travel, for whatever reason â€“ bird watching, eating, beaches, partying, fishing, photography â€“ Brazil has something to offer.
Brazilians generally think of their country as being divided up into five regions, each of which has its own character, history, cuisine and nature.
The Northeast region is known for having the earliest Portuguese settlements at Olinda and Salvador. Salvador was a center of the slave trade during the colonial era, and today is home to many Afro-Brazilians, which gives the region a unique, lively flavor.
The Northern Region consists of the Amazon River states: each of the seven large states in this region contains part of the Amazon River system. It is known for adventure travel and bird watching.
The Central-Western Region is home to the capital city of Brasilia, itself a UNESCO World heritage site due to its avant-garde architecture. It is also where you will find the Pantanal, the worldâ€™s largest wetland and home to hundreds of species of wildlife including crocodiles and anacondas.
The Southeastern Region is more urban. Settled as much by Italians and Japanese as by the Portuguese, the huge cities of Rio de Janeiro and SĂŁo Paulo are modern, cosmopolitan cities that have much more to offer than just parties during carnival and nice beaches.
The Southern Region, which was also populated by diverse European and Eastern cultures, is home to the Iguazu waterfalls, one of the largest in the world. It is also where you will find the city of Blumenau, where they have the best Oktoberfest outside of Germany.
Of course, Brazil is most famous for carnival. Every year, Brazilians lose all semblance of sanity and take to the streets. Rioâ€™s carnival is the most famous, but it is not the only one worthy of a visit in Brazil.
SCUBA Divers will not want to miss diving in Salvador.
The Bay of All Saints is home to more than 100 shipwrecks and numerous marine species.
Brazil has become expensive in recent years, especially in the big cities and around tourist attractions. Budget travelers may have to stretch their budgets in Rio.
Luxury travelers may find that a custom-made, private tour is the preferred way to visit multiple destinations in Brazil.