Brazil Feature

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Beaches

Along its 4,654-mile coastline, Brazil has thousands of breathtaking beaches, so you're bound to find a little slice of paradise wherever you are. In the northeast you find sweeping, isolated expanses of dunes; warm aquamarine waters; and constant breezes. Rio's famous beaches are vibrant, social, and beautiful. The south has glorious sands and cooler climes. A short list doesn't do them justice, but these are some of our favorite beach destinations:

Rio de Janeiro. Barra da Tijuca, Prainha, and Grumari are the most naturally beautiful beaches in the city of Rio. Copacabana and Ipanema are the best beach "scenes." Itacoatiara in Rio's sister city Niterói is a hidden paradise locals sneak off to on the weekends to avoid crowds. Farther out of the city, Búzios has some of the country's most gorgeous beaches.

Ceará. Canoa Quebrada, near Fortaleza, and Jericoacoara are our two favorite northeastern beaches for sheer beauty and relaxation.

Paraná. Ilha do Mel is known as the Paradise of the South Atlantic, and is one of the best ecotourism destinations in Brazil.

Santa Catarina. It's difficult to choose one beach to recommend on Ilha de Santa Catarina and Florianópolis. Garopaba, Praia dos Ingleses, and Praia Mole are the most famous, and Jurerê Internacional is the favorite among the well-to-do.

São Paulo. Ilhabela is a paradise of more than 25 beaches.

Bahia. Praia do Forte has plenty of leisure activities, and is the number-one place to see sea turtles in Brazil.

Nature

This is one of the best places on earth for nature-lovers. There are so many places to see that you will need to carefully plan your itinerary. The Amazon and the Pantanal, Brazil's two ecological wonderlands, are givens, but some lesser-known gems are waiting to be discovered by tourists, like Curitiba, known as the "ecological city" because of its many parks and green areas. Our favorite nature destinations follow.

Pantanal Wetlands. This vast floodplain is the best place to see wildlife outside sub-Saharan Africa. Its savannas, forests, and swamps are home to more than 600 bird species as well as anacondas, jaguars, monkeys, and other creatures.

The Amazon Rain Forest. A visit to the world-famous Amazon is one of those "life-list" experiences. Its scope and natural wealth are truly awe-inspiring.

Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina, west of Salvador. One of Brazil's most spectacular parks, Chapada Diamantina was a former diamond mining center where intrepid tourists now camp amongst its plateaus and hidden pools.

Parque Nacional do Iguaçu. This preserve has one of the world's most fantastic waterfalls, in addition to winding hiking trails to take you to the fall's lookout points.

Projeto Tamar, Praia do Forte. Each year, September through March, more than 400,000 baby turtles are hatched along this beach northeast of Salvador.

Nightlife

Brazilians are famous for their Carnival, but any time of year is occasion for revelry here. Even small towns have multitudes of festivals that may start out with a Catholic mass and end with dancing in the streets. Nearly every town has live-music venues playing samba, axé, forró, and MPB (Brazilian pop music) year-round. Brazilians—men and women alike—seem to have been born shaking their hips. If you can't dance the wild-yet-elegant samba, don't worry, a lot of Brazilians can't either—they just know how to fake it.

Rio de Janeiro. Music and dance clubs stay open all night long here, especially in Lapa. Brazilians arrive for their nights out late—expect the houses to fill around midnight. This is one of the top places in Brazil to hear great samba and Brazilian jazz, called bossa nova. Carnival is the biggest party of the year, but New Year's Eve in Rio is also a fabulous celebration on the Copacabana beach.

Salvador. The center of axé (Brazilian pop) music and Afro-Brazilian culture, Salvador has an easygoing party scene, but its Carnival is considered one of Brazil's best parties, where you can dance in the streets for eight days straight.

Belo Horizonte. With more bars per capita than any other Brazilian city, it's obvious that BH knows how to party. Expect to find fine sipping cachaça. The music scene is quite lively here.

São Paulo. If you crave elite clubs and rubbing elbows with Brazilian cosmopolitan millionaires and sipping martinis at rooftop skyscraper bars, head to São Paulo. It's Brazil's poshest place to party.

Food and Drink

You will have your pick of diverse dishes to try in Brazil. Each region has its own specialties: exotic fish dishes and fruit juices in the Amazon; African spiced casseroles in Bahia; and the seasoned bean paste tutu in Minas Gerais.

Feijoada. The national dish is a thick stew with a base of black beans, combined with sausage, bacon, pork loin, and other meats. Traditional versions may include pig's feet, ears, and other "choice" meats. Feijoada is usually accompanied by farofa (toasted manioc flour), rice, and garlicky collard greens.

Churrasco. Served at churrascarias, churrasco is meat, poultry, or fish roasted on spits over an open fire. In a rodízio-style churrascaria, you get all the meat and side dishes you can eat at a fixed price.

Caipirinha. The national drink is caipirinha—crushed lime, ice, sugar—and cachaça, a liquor distilled from sugarcane.

Açaí. This purple energy-packed berry from the Amazon makes a velvety, icy drink that wins addicts much as coffee does. Amazonians take it bitter, often accompanying savory dishes, whereas urbanite Brazilians in Rio and São Paulo sweeten it and drink it with granola or peanut dust, called paçoca.

Guaraná. Be sure to try this carbonated soft drink made with the Amazonian fruit of the same name. It has a unique but subtle flavor.

Cafezinhos. These thimble-size cups of coffee with tons of sugar keep Brazilians going between meals. They are also offered after rodízios to sooth an achingly full stomach.

Updated: 09-2013

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