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More a continent than a country, Brazil offers a huge variety of attractions for the traveler. This completely revised edition covers it all: from Rio, the most beautiful city on Earth, to the wilds of Amazonia, from carnaval to colonial churches, from samba to scuba. 60 maps and plans.
The vast hinterland of the South and Southeast is often called the Centre-West and includes an enormous central plateau of savanna and rock escarpments, the Planalto Central. In the middle stands Brasília, the country¹s space-age capital, built from nothing in the late 1950s and still developing today. The capital is the gateway to a vast interior, the Mato Grosso, only fully charted and settled over the last three decades; it includes the mighty Pantanal swampland, the richest wildlife reserve on the continent. North and west, the Mato Grosso shades into the Amazon, a mosaic of jungle, rivers, savanna and marshland that also contains two major cities Belém, at the mouth of the Amazon itself, and Manaus, some 1600km upstream. The tributaries of the Amazon, rivers like the Tapajós, the Xingu, the Negro, the Araguaia or the Tocantins, are virtually unknown outside Brazil, but each is a huge river system in its own right.
The other major sub-region of Brazil is the Northeast, the part of the country that curves out into the Atlantic Ocean. This was the first part of Brazil to be settled by the Portuguese and colonial remains are thicker on the ground here than anywhere else in the country notably in the cities of Salvador and São Luís and the lovely town of Olinda. It¹s a region of dramatic contrasts: a lush, tropical coastline with the best beaches in Brazil, slipping inland into the sertão, a semi-arid interior plagued by drought and appallingly unequal land distribution. All the major cities of the Northeast are on the coast; the two most famous are Salvador and Recife, both magical blends of Africa, Portugal and the Americas, but Fortaleza is also impressive, bristling with skyscrapers and justly proud of its progressive culture.
WHEN TO GO
Brazil splits into four distinct climatic regions. The coldest part in fact the only part of Brazil which ever gets really cold is the South and Southeast, the region roughly from central Minas Gerais to Rio Grande do Sul, which includes Belo Horizonte, São Paulo and Porto Alegre. Here, there¹s a distinct winter between June and September, with occasional cold, wind and rain. However, although Brazilians complain, it¹s all fairly mild. Temperatures rarely hit freezing overnight, and when they do it¹s featured on the TV news. The coldest part is the interior of Rio Grande do Sul, in the extreme south of the country, but even here there are many warm, bright days in winter and the summer (DecMarch) is hot. Only in Santa Catarina¹s central highlands does it occasionally snow. The coastal climate is exceptionally good. Brazil has been called a "crab civilization" because most of its population lives on or near the coast with good reason. Seven thousand kilometres of coastline, from Paraná to near the equator, bask under a warm tropical climate. There is a "winter", when there are cloudy days and sometimes the temperature dips below 25°C (77°F), and a rainy season, when it can really pour. In Rio and points south the summer rains last from October through to January, but they come much earlier in the Northeast, lasting about three months from April in Fortaleza and Salvador, and from May in Recife. Even in winter or the rainy season, the weather will be excellent much of the time.
The Northeast is too hot to have a winter. Nowhere is the average monthly temperature below 25°C (77°F) and the interior, semi-arid at the best of times, often soars beyond that regularly to as much as 40°C (104°F). Rain is sparse and irregular, although violent. Amazônia is stereotyped as being steamy jungle with constant rainfall, but much of the region has a distinct dry season apparently getting longer every year in the most deforested areas of east and west Amazônia. And in the large expanses of savanna in the northern and central Amazon basin, rainfall is far from constant. Belém is closest to the image of a steamy tropical city: it rains there an awful lot from January to May, and merely quite a lot for the rest of the year. Manaus and central Amazônia, in contrast, have a marked dry season from July to October.
Despite the immense expanses of the interior, roughly two-thirds of Brazil¹s population live on or near the coast; and well over half live in cities even in the Amazon. In Rio and São Paulo, Brazil has two of the world¹s great metropolises, and nine other cities have over a million inhabitants. Yet Brazil still thinks of itself as a frontier country, and certainly the deeper into the interior you go, the thinner the population becomes. Nevertheless, the frontier communities have expanded relentlessly during the last fifty years, usually hand in hand with the planned expansion of the road network into remote regions.
Other South Americans regard Brazilians as a race apart, and language has a lot to do with it Brazilians understand Spanish, just about, but Spanish-speakers won¹t understand Portuguese. More importantly, though, Brazilians look different. They¹re one of the most ethnically diverse peoples in the world: in the extreme south, German and Italian immigration has left distinctive European features; São Paulo has the world¹s largest Japanese community outside Japan; there¹s a large black population concentrated in Rio, Salvador and São Luís; while the Indian influence is most visible in the people of Amazônia and the Northeastern interior.
Brazil is a land of profound economic contradictions. Rapid postwar industrialization made Brazil one of the world¹s ten largest economies and put it among the most developed of Third World countries. But this has not improved the lot of the vast majority of Brazilians. The cities are dotted with favelas, shantytowns which crowd around the skyscrapers, and the contrast between rich and poor is one of the most glaring anywhere. There are wide regional differerences, too: Brazilians talk of a "Switzerland" in the Southeast, centred along the RioSão Paulo axis, and an "India" above it; and although this is a simplification, it¹s true that the level of economic development tends to fall the further north you go. This throws up facts which are hard to swallow. Brazil is the industrial powerhouse of South America, but cannot feed and educate its people. In a country almost the size of a continent, the extreme inequalities in land distribution have led to land shortages but not to agrarian reform. Brazil has enormous natural resources but their exploitation so far has benefited just a few. The IMF and the greed of First World banks must bear some of the blame for this situation, but institutionalized corruption and the reluctance of the country¹s large middle class to do anything that might jeopardize its comfortable lifestyle are also part of the problem. These difficulties, however, rarely seem to overshadow everyday life in Brazil. It¹s fair to say that nowhere in the world do people know how to enjoy themselves more most famously in the annual orgiastic celebrations of Carnaval, but reflected, too, in the lively year-round nightlife that you¹ll find in any decent-sized town. This national hedonism also manifests itself in Brazil¹s highly developed beach culture; the country¹s superb music and dancing; rich regional cuisines; and in the most relaxed and tolerant attitude to sexuality gay and straight that you¹ll find anywhere in South America. And if you needed more reason to visit, there¹s a strength and variety of popular culture, and a genuine friendliness and humour in the people that is tremendously welcoming and infectious.