Too often overlooked by visitors to Brazil, the southern states of Paraná, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul are a delightful surprise. From pristine beaches rising up into fertile highlands to the spectacular Iguaçu Falls on the border with Argentina and Paraguay, the Região Sul (South Region) has a more varied topography and cooler climate than the rest of Brazil. As the country's wealthy, industrial heart, the standard of living down South also sets it apart. Here, you'll find the legacy of its German, Italian, and Portuguese immigrants alive and well, in the food, the viniculture, the architecture, and the cultural celebrations, which include the largest Oktoberfest outside of Germany.
The southern section of the Serra do Mar, a mountain range flanking the coast, stretches well into Rio Grande do Sul, and separates the interior from the shore. Much of it is still covered with the luxuriant Mata Atlântica (Atlantic Forest), which is as diverse and impressive as the Amazon rain forest. The Serra do Mar gives way to hills that roll gently westward to the valleys of the rios (rivers) Paraná and Uruguay. Most of these lands were originally covered with dense subtropical forests interspersed with natural rangelands such as the Campos Gerais, in the north, and the Brazilian Pampas, in the south.