Brazil is huge. In terms of population, it’s the fifth most populated country in the world. In terms of land area, it sits in fifth again; owning to a whopping 8.51 million square kilometres of land. It also plays home to much of the world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon.
Its ridiculous size, and huge number of people make it an extremely diverse country to visit. I don’t claim to even have scratched the surface of Brazil. I don’t think there are many people that could claim to, either.
However, we did spend almost 6 weeks in this beautiful country, and got to grips with its fantastic food, stunning coastline and wonderful people. We didn’t get to grips with Portuguese, but that’s a story for another day. I’ve tried to narrow this country down into 26 letters. It was a chore, but someone has to do it 😉
A – The Amazon
I have fallen at the first hurdle: The Amazon is somewhere we didn’t get chance to visit. I regret that almost every day. We met so many people who had been and said it was a life-changing experience. If you get the chance, begin in Manaus. On the banks of the Negro River in north-western Brazil, it is the capital of the vast state of Amazonas. It’s also the place from which many Amazon tours depart.
Another ‘A’ in Brazil for me is Acai bowls. I lived on the things. Although they’ve become a part of the health craze in the UK, Acai bowls in Brazil are on another level. The acai palm is native to Brazil and only a few other countries in the world. An Acai bowl is a Brazilian dish made up of the acai berries which come from the palm and are then frozen and mashed. Topped with a multitude of fruits and guarana syrup (and sometimes granola if you’re feeling fancy), an acai bowl is perfect for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They’re available all over Brazil and are often best when bought from a roadside seller. And, they’re good for you!
B – Beaches
It would be silly of me to write a post about Brazil and not mention its beaches. With one of the longest coastlines in the world, Brazil certainly isn’t short of beautiful white sand and blue waters. We visited a significant number of beaches whilst in Brazil, but favourites for me include Florianopolis (pictured above) and Morro de Sao Paulo.
C – Caipirinhas
Brazil’s national cocktail. I woke up with one too many a hangover on the back of drinking these deliciously dangerous drinks. Made with cachaça, sugar, and lime, they reminded me a little of the Peruvian Pisco Sour, though a little more bitter. Cachaça, also known as caninha is Brazil’s most commonly distilled alcoholic beverage. These things are available everywhere!
Another ‘C’ is coconuts. Available in most regions, we drank fresh coconut water straight from the fruit almost daily. There is nothing more refreshing and nothing as tasty. And for a cool equivalent of no more than 50p a pop, they’re extremely economical too!
D – Dance
A significant fixture in most Brazilian’s cultural calendars at some point in time, dancing in Brazil is part of its tapestry. Most commonly known, and most widely performed is the Samba. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to experience much of Brazil’s nightlife, as we were at the end of a six month trip and funds were dangerously low, but we did get to see Samba in some of the parks and streets along the way. We did also head to a dance club in Sao Paulo with some of the guys from our hostel which was an experience I’ll never forget. It was rammed, everyone was dancing the samba, and drinks were free-flowing. It was amazing.
E – Entertainment
There certainly isn’t a shortage of things to do in Brazil, and there wasn’t a day that went by that there wasn’t some sort of street party, market, community event or live music being played. Most of the entertainment we found was free, though there were a few paid experiences that stand out. From sitting on a mini boat party in the middle of the sea in Paraty, to walking tours through Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has an abundance of things to see and do.
F – Florianopolis
This was one of my favourite places in Brazil, and so it gets a letter all to itself. The capital of southern Brazil’s Santa Catarina state, Florianopolis is made up mostly of 54km-long Santa Catarina Island. Famous for its beaches, it’s also the place we both got the worst sunburn of our lives. Top tip: don’t fall asleep in the sun for two hours without sun cream on. You will pay for days and days and days afterwards. It was that bad, we couldn’t even carry our backpacks. That aside, Florianopolis was the perfect place to kick back and relax. The beaches were incredible, the bars and restaurants around the lagoon were great, and it was also the place I had the best acai bowl in the world.
G – Gamboa
The lesser-known part of Ilha de Tinhare, Gamboa is more or less round the corner from the very well-known Morro de Sao Paulo. We stayed in the Pousada & Hostel Gemeos which I couldn’t recommend highly enough. We stayed in a private room and it made our stay here. It was so authentically synonymous with island life, complete with outdoor enclosed balcony shower, mosquito net around the bed, and lizards (one of which we had to get removed from our room one evening as we were too scared to touch it…) It was also the place we had breakfast on the beach each morning, on multiple occasions being joined by the island’s resident monkeys. This place was magical.
H – Hills
Man, Brazil is hilly. Even on the coast we were regularly faced with huge hills to climb (perhaps both physically and metaphorically!) Sao Paulo was the hilliest place I think I’ve ever been, our hostel in Rio de Janeiro was up a hill so huge that our taxi driver struggled to get up it on the day we arrived, and to get to any of the beaches in Itacare…you guessed it – more hills!
I – Itacare
Another strong favourite, Itacare was quite literally paradise. The beaches weren’t the best we’d ever seen, but it didn’t matter. Itacare had a charm like no other place we visited. Just a small beach town, the main street was extremely quaint and full of incredible places to eat and drink. One of the best meals we had in South America was in Itacare, at an understated restaurant named Jiló Bar e Restaurante. On the waterfront, the service and food were out of this world. Our pousada here had a pool, so we spent a day relaxing there, time at the beach, and time eating even more acai bowls.
J – Juices and Smoothies
Brazil is the first country in the world in terms of biodiversity. It is Brazil’s diversity that allows for the huge range of fruit and vegetables it grows, which then create some of the best fresh juices and smoothies I’ve ever tasted. A preference of mine was anything with passion fruit. The passion fruits in Brazil are supersized compared to those we get in the UK. They’re beautifully sweet, and go nicely with Brazil’s famous champagne oranges.
K – Kilo Restaurants
Kilo restaurants are no laughing matter. I don’t know who came up with the idea, but they are everywhere in Brazil. From roadside cafes to city centre eateries, kilo restaurants are one of the most economical ways to eat. The concept is simple. Fill your plate with whatever you desire and head to the cashier. They will weigh your plate, and you’ll pay for whatever it weighs. Foods included meat, salads, potatoes, pasta and so much more. And dessert too. Most of the food at kilo restaurants is surprisingly good, too and are great on a backpacker budget!
L – Language
Portuguese is the national language of Brazil. Portuguese in my opinion, is hard to learn. After five months in Spanish-speaking countries, we thought the transition to Portuguese would be easy. We thought wrong. I have never struggled to grasp a language so much in my life! English is spoken in a number of places, though not widely. And it’s not polite to arrive in a country and try and speak your own language anyway. My advice would be to download Duolingo to learn a little Portuguese before you arrive, and have Google Translate at the ready to help once you get there. Don’t forget to check out some other useful apps to download while you travel.
M – Morro de Sao Paulo
Morro de Sao Paulo was another incredible waterfront destination. The beaches here are stunning – the white sand and clear water type. It is also very popular with both tourists and locals, which unfortunately increased the cost of everything here. Food and drink were extortionate. The town is beautiful, and well worth a walk around. It was accessible by boat from Gamboa where we staying, and also by walking if the tide was out.
N – Neymar
We cannot discuss Brazil without mentioning one of its greatest exports. Neymar is Brazil’s boy wonder. Football is very much within the country’s DNA. If it’s not people walking round in Brazil’s national shirt (predominantly with Neymar’s name on the back), it’s kids playing in the middle of the street, and local teams drawing big crowds. Football is life here.
O – Olympics
It may seem like a distant memory now, but it was only 2016 when Rio de Janeiro hosted the summer Olympics. São Paulo graffiti artist Eduardo Kobra took street art to another level for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Along the Boulevard, Kobra has painted a 32,300-square-foot graffiti wall in pursuit of the Guinness World Record for the largest public mural. It depicts people from across the world. They represent humanity’s common ancestors, including the indigenous people from America, Asia, Europe, Africa and Oceania.
Another ‘O’? Obrigado, which is ‘thank you’ in Portuguese. Always one of the most useful words to know in another language!
P – Paraty
There is a common theme here – Brazil has beautiful beach towns. Paraty was a great experience, our hostel had an incredible vibe, and the town is very picturesque. Paraty is a small town backed by mountains between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Its Portuguese colonial centre has cobbled streets and 17th- and 18th-century buildings dating to its time as a port. It is beautiful. The restaurants are great, and our boat trip around the surrounding islands was one of the highlights from our time in Brazil.
Q – Queijo
To put it simply, cheese. Pão de queijo in particular is what I want to highlight. It’s a Brazilian cheese bread and is delicious. We found a small bakery in Vitoria which did the best Pão de queijo. Extremely cheap, filling and tasty, these snacks got us through on our diminishing budget.
R – Rio de Janeiro
It’s hard not to mention one of Brazil’s most famous cities. We spent almost a week in Rio de Janeiro, with a packed schedule everyday. I’ll be honest, it didn’t grab me like I know it has others. It actually felt quite unsafe in some areas, although it was fine at the major tourist sites. Ipanema Beach and Copacabana were extremely busy, though had a certain charm, and the city is certainly not short of places to go. The underground system makes it easy to get around the city, and most trains even have a female-only carriage.
Another ‘R’ for Brazil would have to be its national currency, Reais. The exchange rate for us was relatively favourable, though I’m not sure I could say the same for the UK given its current economical climate. Thanks, Brexit.
S – São Paulo
São Paulo was a mixed bag, some parts we loved, other parts…not so much. With 20 million residents, it’s safe to say this is a busy city, though the area we stayed – Vila Madalena felt quite chilled out and was an attractive and leafy neighbourhood. It’s where the Beco de Batman is – a haven of graffiti art and a big tourist attraction. São Paulo is also the location of the aforementioned hills. Bring comfortable walking shoes!
Salvador is another ‘S’ which stands out for me in Brazil. It’s where our South American adventure ended, and will always hold a special place in my heart for that exact reason. Salvador has a chilled out vibe, its Caribbean influences evident throughout. We were only here for 36 hours but I’d love to return to explore more.
T – Time-zones
Brazil has four different time-zones. If that doesn’t illustrate the size of Brazil, I don’t know what will. We only shifted time-zones twice, but there was a time following daylight saving in both Brazil and the UK which meant we were only 2 hours behind, yet 10,049km away from home. The world blows my mind.
U – Uva
Or as it’s known in English; grapes! Brazil is a major producer of a particular type of grape, being practically the only country in the world to grow them on a commercial scale. They are harvested the moment they reach the perfect balance between sugar concentration and acidity. Brazil is also home to uva juice, made with said grapes and is something we became heavily hooked on whilst we were there. It’s sweet, tangy and really refreshing when it’s 35 degrees outside.
V – Vitoria
Vitoria was only a stopping off point for us, to break up the long journeys by bus. We stayed for two nights and it proceeded to rain for most of our time there. It is home to a stunning Metropolitan Cathedral with stained-glass windows, and some good places to eat. The hostel we stayed in was really cool, with a nice balcony and spacious common areas. The beds on the other hand, were not comfortable at all. I’d recommend a visit to Vitoria, even if it’s just for a short stopover.
W – Waterfalls
One of the most insane experiences of our entire trip was our visit to Iguaçu Falls. Iguazú Falls/Iguaçu Falls are waterfalls of the Iguazu River on the border of the Argentine province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Paraná. Together, they make up the largest waterfall system in the world. We visited from both the Argentinian side and the Brazilian side to get both perspectives, and I’d highly recommend doing the same. Although you can get up close and personal with the falls from the Argentinian side, the Brazilian side allows you to see the full scope of the falls, and is the best for photo opportunities. If you’re ever in Brazil or Argentina, do not miss this.
Y – Yellow
After Brazil’s defeat to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup, Brazil decided a new kit should be designed to incorporate the colours of the flag. Having worn white up to this point, a competition was held for a new kit. The yellow symbolises gold, which Brazil counts as a vital natural resource, the blue stands for the skies, and the green represents the forests and the jungles. Now, it’s one of the most influential and prominent kits in the world.
Z – Zzz
Sleep – not something we got huge amounts of in Brazil thanks to noisy roommates in some places. Having said that, Brazil’s hostel and pousada game is much stronger than some of its South American counterparts. Favourites include the Terra Brasilis Hostel in Rio for its views, the Viva Hostel Design in São Paulo for its comfort, and the Pousada Ilha Verde in Itacare for all-round comfort and style. For tips on how to survive living in hostels, I have you covered!
All in all, Brazil’s vast size and diversity make it a great place to travel, and I’m not sure how I’ll ever find the time to see as much of the country as I’d like, but I’ll give it a good try!