Capital: Brasilia

Size: 8,547,403 km²

Population: 170m

Currency: Real

Language: Portuguese

Visas: Not required for UK nationals.

Food: The most famous dish is the feijoada completa: several meat ingredients (jerked beef, smoked sausage, smoked tongue, salt pork, along with spices, herbs and vegetables) are cooked with the beans. Manioc flour is sprinkled over it, and it is eaten with kale (couve) and slices of orange, and accompanied by glasses of aguardente. Churrasco is a mixed grill, including excellent steak, served with roasted manioc flour. It is normally served in specialized restaurants, churrascarias or rodízios (or espeito corrido) – make sure you are hungry when you visit!

Drink: Caipirinha – a deceptively gluggable glass full of the local spirit topped up with pounded ice and limes. One is delicious, two even more so, after that – well, over to you! Caipiroska is the same thing made with vodka, consequently a shade less overwhelming. The fruit juices are fantastic as well.

Festivals: Brazilians need little excuse to hold a party and there are plenty of options throughout the year. The most famous festival in Brazil is Carnaval, particularly that of Rio de Janeiro, although Carnival in other cities can be equally interesting. Dates vary between February and early March. Semana Santa, which ends on Easter Sunday, is celebrated with parades in many cities and towns. Bahia has many festivals throughout the year but some of the most interesting are the Lavagem do Bomfim in January, the Presente para Iemanjá in February and the Festa da Boa Morte in August. In the south, the Festa Nacional da Uva, a grape and wine festival, is held in Caxias do Sul during February. Towards the end of the year in October the Oktoberfest is held in Blumenau, whilst the Círio de Nazaré festival takes place in Belém. The festival year ends on 31 December with the hugely popular beach-based Reveillon.

When to go: Brazil as a destination can be visited at any time of the year depending on your priorities and where you are travelling. Most of the country is tropical, but given its sheer size, weather patterns vary.

Described as the sexiest people on earth, Brazilians are seduced by the sounds of their music and the lure of the beach. Along its 7,250km coastline, there is a stretch of sand for every volleyball player, capoeira dancer, surfer, dune-buggy driver, and the national sport could as easily be flirtation as football.

But Brazilians have a spiritual side to match their hedonistic streak. Many exotic religions flourish, most notable Candomblé, based on African traditions, which exist alongside Catholicism. Artistically Brazil also has a rich vein that goes back to the 16th century when, prosperous from gold and diamonds, the Portuguese colonialists invested in what are some of the most beautifully preserved baroque buildings found anywhere.

As the world’s fifth largest nation, Brazil has a wide diversity of attractions and sights. Brazilians say that God created the world in six days, and on the seventh, he created Rio de Janeiro. Few who have been to Rio would argue, given the city’s spectacular mix of mountains, rainforest and beaches, and its eclectic mix of cosmopolitan city and tropical resort. Corcovado, Sugar Loaf, Copacabana, Ipanema and Maracanã are all names and images that make Rio special. As does the spectacular Carnaval.

Brazil is much more than Rio. The north-east is growing in popularity as a destination led by the state of Bahia, often dubbed ‘Africa in exile’. This was the heart of colonial Brazil and the architecture of the period is best found in the state capital of Salvador where over 800 buildings dating from the 17th and 18th centuries can be found in an area considered a world heritage site by UNESCO.

The north-east offers a heady blend of cultures, cuisine, ethnic groups, as well as many natural wonders such as the national park of Chapada Diamantina or the stunning beaches. Other popular destinations in the north-east include the states of Alagoas, Ceará, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Rio Grande do Norte and Sergipe.

Brazil is also home to the Amazon river that flows through northern Brazil to the Atlantic Ocean, feeding along the way the biggest expanse of rainforest in the world. Visitors can explore and experience the astonishing natural variety of the Amazon’s flora and fauna through gateways such as Belém or Manaus, both cities famous for their opera houses.

Offering a more visible display of flora and fauna is the Pantanal, a collection of ecosystems that is the largest wetlands in the Americas and in which can be found an immense diversity of bird and wildlife.

Brazil’s southern states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná are equally full of contrasts and surprises that include outstanding beaches for surfing, dolphin and whale-watching around Florianópolis; towns such as Blumenau with its distinct Bavarian architecture; the Itaimbezinho canyon, the largest in Latin America; and the falls at Iguaçu that stretch almost three kilometres across the mighty Iguaçu river that borders Brazil and Argentina. One of the falls, the Devil’s Throat, is the largest waterfall in the world in terms of volume of water per second.

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