When most people think of Brazil, the first things that come to mind are the Corcovado—the giant statue of Christ over Rio de Janeiro, the miles and miles of white beaches, the snake-like wildness surrounding the Amazon river, and Carnival. These are certainly worthwhile attractions for any tourist, but there is much more to see in the world’s fifth largest country (in both size and population).

Brazil is a traveler’s paradise, offering a variety of activities, cultural and historical sights, and a warm and open society, at affordable (yet, increasing) prices. Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro are the usual jumping off point for most visitors, and are the most modern and cosmopolitan cities in the country. The northeast coast of Brazil is generally regarded as having the best beaches, best weather, and the city of Salvador is the seat of much of Brazilian history and culture. The Amazon river and rainforest is one of the Earth’s most valuable natural resources, and certainly one of Brazil’s most interesting features. Southern Brazil–the states of Parana, Rio Grande de Sol, and Santa Catarina—boast the highest standard of living, alongside more moderate temperatures, as well as a more relaxed, European lifestyle.

Perhaps the most interesting and culturally exciting (and certainly the most historical) city in Brazil is the one called “Black Rome” in the northeast part of the country. The city, of course, is Salvador de Bahia, or just Salvador.

Long before Rio and Sao Paolo came on the scene, Salvador was the most important city in Brazil, and perhaps all of the Americas. Founded in 1549 by the Portuguese, Salvador wasted no time in becoming a major sea port, sugar manufacturing center, and seat of economic, political, and religious power. Unfortunately, it also became a major player in the slave trade.

Salvador was the first capital of Brazil until Rio replaced it in 1763. During Brazil’s fight for independence, Salvador was a key part of the movement, and now remains as Brazil’s center for all things cultural and historical. Salvador is the birthplace for many of the things that Brazil is renowned for. Samba, Carnival, and capoeira (a form of Brazilian martial arts mixed with dance) are all parts of the local heritage. Salvador’s downtown has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and is one of the safest parts in all of the country.

Rio and Sao Paolo
Salvador’s decline through the years was brought on by the rise of a new center of economic power, seated in Sao Paolo and Rio. Situated a short 6 hour drive from each other, the two cities are currently Brazil’s most important, industrialized, modern, and cosmopolitan destinations. Rio is by far the more interesting from a tourist perspective, but Sao Paolo, too, holds a certain charm, although Rio is certainly the more aesthetically pleasing and charming of the two.

Both cities are extremely diverse, boasting large populations descended from Germany, Italy, Arabs, Jews, and Asians. Of course, the largest groups are the Portuguese, Africans, and Mulattos.

Hordes of tourists visit for Carnival, but any time of the year will have plenty of cultural events, and much lower prices. During Carnival, it’s not uncommon to pay up to ten times more for hotels, apartments, and transportation. Although, these two weeks are certainly the most exciting and exhilarating of the year, they may not be for everyone, and tourists looking for a chance to take in more of the sites, and see the city at a more leisurely pace, should make arrangements for a month other than February or March.

Cutting across roughly the top fifth of Brazil is the largest river, and the largest tropical rainforest in the world. Comprising 1.2 billion acres, the Amazon Rainforest is the home to staggering numbers of species: 2.5 million insect species, 2000 birds and mammals, 40,000 plants, and 75,000 types of trees. All this combines to make the forest the largest collection of diverse life in the world.

A trip to the Amazon is a trip into the beauty and majesty of nature, as well as a sobering trip into man’s inability to conserve and protect. Since 1977, around 15% of the forest has been cut down, and some projections state that within 20 more years, 40% of the forest will have been lost.

Still, traveling there is wonderful opportunity to relax, take in the beauty of the natural world, and see an important–and threatened—part of the world. Travelers with time to spare can take a cruise from Manaus, to the mouth of the river in a ferry. The trip can take up to a week, and it is not for the faint of heart, nor those who prefer a luxurious journey, but to see the river and forest up close, this is a must for adventure tourists.

Brazil is a huge and diverse country, and to only spend a week in the urban centers is to miss out on a wonderful opportunity to see one of the most intriguing places in the world, along with some of the friendliest and open people that can be found.