The Amazon Rainforest, Iguacu Falls, Paraty, Rio de Janeiro - the list of Brazil's highlights reads like a top ten of must-see places.
There are few countries as beautiful and vibrant as Brazil with Nature so exuberant and people so welcoming. Thousands of miles of pristine and usually deserted beaches line the coast, some pounded by superb surf, others lapped by a gentle sea. They are backed by dunes the size of deserts or forests of swaying coconut palms. Jewel-like islands offshore offer some of the best diving and snorkelling in the South Atlantic; and warm shallow waters where Humpback whales gather to calf and spinner dolphins cavort in the waves.
The table-top mountains of the Brazilian interior are covered in medicinal plants and drained by mineral-rich rivers that tumble through gorges and rush over spectacular tiered waterfalls, up to 3 km wide. In the Amazon, virgin forest stretches unbroken for more than 2500 km in every direction and the earth is a tapestry of green broken by a filigree of rivers. These have islands too – the largest bigger than Denmark and wilder and more forested than Borneo.
The Pantanal, the world’s biggest wetland, offers the best wildlife-watching in the western hemisphere. Capybara, cayman, paca, agouti and coati cover the ground like fallen leaves in Autumn. Herons, parrots, cardinals and egrets fill the air like butterflies and there’s a hawk or eagle on every other fence post. The tiny cobble and whitewash gold-mining towns of Goiás and Minas Gerais contrast with the busy metropolises of São Paulo, Salvador and Recife, which offer the most exciting and surprising urban culture in Latin America.
And then there’s Rio - the jewel in the country’s urban crown, romantic Rio; with its bays and islands, boulder mountains, beaches and beautiful people. But best of all there are the Brazilians, in all their joyful diversity. Portugal, France, Ireland, Holland, and Britain all laid claims here and left their cultures to mingle with the indigenous inhabitants; Brazil is home to the greatest numbers of Africans, Arabs and Japanese in the Americas, and bierfests, sushi, bauhaus, rock music and rodeos are as much a part of the culture as bossa nova and football.
As yet, the country is undiscovered beyond the clichés, but Brazil is becoming big news – with a World Cup to host in 2014 and an Olympics two years later; so come before Brazil becomes yet another destination on the exotic travel circuit, and have it all to yourself; and the local people.