Brazil is one of the largest and most fascinating countries in Latin America and one which you could spend months exploring. I spent two weeks there 10 years ago and only managed to get a glimpse into its rich heritage and its colourful cultural past.
Since there are several international airports and connections, you can get to Brazil from many places as far away as South Africa or, of course, from the US and Europe.
Getting a Brazil visa is also easy and can be obtained on arrival for many nationalities. When there, especially outside of the main cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, prices are reasonably cheap.
If you only had a few days and wanted to do like me, these are three fantastic places to visit in Brazil.
1. Fernando de Noronha
If you ever dreamed of a laid-back, remote and beautiful island paradise that would have to be Fernando de Noronha. This UNESCO-listed island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is what dreams are made of, not least because the number of people who can be on the island at any given point is restricted and limited to lessen the environmental impact.
To get to Fernando de Noronha you need to fly from Recife or Natal on the mainland and you will have to pay a progressive daily fee while there, which deters long term visits as it becomes increasingly expensive to stay there.
When on the island you will be able to enjoy some of the most beautiful landscapes, see dolphins, turtles and humpback whales in the wild or observe several endemic plants and birds. This is where I first realised cashew nuts grow on trees and are the small piece holding a fruit to the branches.
2. Salvador de Bahia
You can’t talk about Brazil without talking about the colourful carnaval in Rio or the rich heritage of Salvador. The city was the capital of the Portuguese empire in the New World and the landing point for the slave trade coming from Africa.
This melting pot of cultures centuries ago has left an imprint which makes Salvador de Bahia one of the most fascinating parts of Brazil. Here you can feel as if you are in other parts of the Caribbean or even West Africa. A fusion of cultures so rich that it is hard to describe.
The city is sea-facing and the cobblestone streets lined with colourful Portuguese colonial buildings in the UNESCO-listed Pelourinho neighbourhood, where I stayed, will transport you a few centuries back. The sound of the drums fills the air at night and you may even spot some capoeira dancers as you tuck into fantastic street food which seems to remember its African past.
As I walked down some streets in the Pelourinho one afternoon, a dancing troupe in colorful outfits and loud drums was performing on a side street. They were recording an ad and their dancing and rhythm was hard to ignore. Salvador de Bahia is that, it is music, art, colour and a rich African heritage that has been preserved for centuries.
3. The Amazon
Nothing says Brazil like the UNESCO-listed, world famous Amazon river and rainforest which contains half of the world’s remaining rainforest. While you can easily visit Brazil and skip the Amazon altogether, a visit will be a highlight of your time in Brazil.
Brazil has 60% of the Amazon Rainforest within its boundaries with the remaining split among seven other countries from Suriname to Ecuador. Take a cruise down the mighty river or embark on a walking expedition, either way, this is a trip you will never forget. Did I mention toucan, piranhas, caiman and pink dolphins (like the ones in the Irrawaddy River in East Cambodia).
A trip to the Amazon is also a great way to discover the tribes that live in the area, some of which have had little contact with Western developments and still preserve their very traditional ways of life. So the Amazon is as important from a wildlife and nature perspective as it is from a cultural and human point of view.