With the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the upcoming Rio 2016 Summer Olympics this year, Brazil has proven to the world that it’s become a world-class venue for some of the most awaited international events. But more than tourism, Brazil has aspired for its monumental place in social change. Brazilian mega cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo have made their mark in the LGBT+ community as two of the most LGBT-friendly urban spaces in the world.
As one of the top destinations for gay travelers, Brazil has a lot to offer. A shop for every occasion, a craft for every curiosity, and a festival for every person. If each city is its own kingdom, then Brazil is a nation of nations. A stage for all colors of the world.
Here are the 10 best things about Brazil—10 things that have put Brazil on the map.
- Gay Pride
Pride parades have always been political but the São Paulo Gay Pride Parade is an extraordinary case. Government-supported and secured, it’s one of the very few gay pride parades in the entire world that has the government on its side, to the point that politicians and government officials themselves appear on the floats. From 2,000 participants in 1997, the year of the parade’s founding, participation has ballooned to millions—5 million, to be exact, in 2013. Held on a Sunday, Pride isn’t just a statement to local society but Brazil’s proud stance to the world at large—a joyous celebration of acceptance, integration, and empowerment in a legitimate tourism event that draws in an audience from all parts of the world.
- Beaches, beaches, beaches
With 4,600 miles of coastline—the 16th longest in the world—it’s no wonder that Brazil boasts of a robust beach culture. This is, after all, the home of Havaianas footwear—founded in the 1960s to cater to the surfer lifestyle and designed specifically for sand and salt. If you’re looking to visit just one beach in particular—forget about it. Ask the locals and you’re likely to get a variety of answers. From Pipa, Rio Grande do Norte (a surfer colony before surfer colonies were even a thing), to the cinematic rock formations in Paraty, Rio de Janeiro, to the getaway of cosmopolitan São Paulo in São Sebastião, and the laidback beaches of Praia do Mole, Florianópolis, there’s a stretch of sand out there for anyone and everyone.
- Carnival’s lust for life
Brazil’s Carnival festival is known the world over. Imagine: New Orlean’s Mardi Gras parade—staged on a national scale. With the samba school-led festivities in some parts of Brazil and the sheer pageantry of dance and music everywhere in the country, you wouldn’t think that this was originally a religious celebration. Staged just before Easter (Brazil is predominantly Catholic), it’s a celebration of life that disobeys religious solemnity and invites everyone—regardless of creed—to dance to a rhythm that’s uniquely Brazil.
- Extraordinary street food
Post-colonial countries tend to be culturally diverse and for a country the size of Brazil, its cultural diversity spans many corners of the world. Portuguese, Italian, German, Japanese, Arab, African—it’s a wonderful weave of different origins that manifests itself in one universal language: food. Street food in particular. Delicious, inexpensive, and ubiquitous. We can start with the coxinha, a golden deep-fried gem of a treat made with chicken and mashed potatoes; the brigadeiro, a sweet morsel that’s Brazil’s version of the chocolate truffle made with condensed milk, cocoa butter, and chocolate sprinkles; the açaí, traditionally native to the Amazon, made with purple berry, frozen sorbet, granola, and a variety of fruits; the tasty pão de queijo—quite simply, a cheese bread originating from the state of Minas Gerais, made with tapioca flour; and the pastel, an empanada-like deep fried mouthful of cheese or beef (or both).
- Historical architecture
Architecture has transcended its functional purpose by combining two cultural elements that always try to withstand the passage of time: art and history. Architecture becomes a symbol of an era and, in many cases, an icon of a people. The same is true in Brazil, where history has been ingrained in the stones of great structures—for art and for permanence. Take the Amazon Theater of Manaus, for example, done in the style of belle epoque architecture by Portuguese colonials situated near the mouth of the Amazon river; the Inca temple of Coricancha; the colonial town of Ouro Preto, the capital of the 17th century gold rush in Minas Gerais; and the old town of Olinda in the northeastern coast.
- Electric night life
Some of Brazil’s hot spots have been the subject of songs—Ipanema, Copacabana, and Rio, just to name a few—and with good reason. Brazilians know how to party. In fact, they’ve made a statement out of the very spirit of celebration. There are different kinds of establishments out here, from watering holes to favorite haunts. There are the boticos, the small street-corner type, no-frills and no-pretense. There are the bars and clubs for the young professionals where consumption cards are issued to every guest upon entrance—like a library card, but for alcohol. Lots of it. Then there are the bar restaurants and street parties. Then, the baile funk parties usually held outdoors and dominated by a feverish mix of hip-hop, dance, electro, and freestyle.
- Adventures in the Amazon
It’s hard to visualize the Amazon unless you look at a map of South America. Others have called it a snake, twisting through land and finding no resistance. It spans eight countries and supports an ecosystem that’s as diverse and enigmatic as the mythology that surrounds the Amazon rainforest. More than a snake, it’s a piece of thread that binds these countries together. No trip to Brazil would be complete without it. On Brazil’s side of the Amazon, you can start at its mouth near Manaus, where jungle lodges are the best kind of accommodations for this setting. Expect the constant buzz of robust wildlife during the night—animal sounds of various species. But you can’t enjoy the place unless you experience it up close. Take a river boat with trips between five to ten days—experience pitch dark at night, and lush greenery during the day. Take side trips to the Mamirauá Reserve and even a rubber plantation by the river to appreciate the magnanimous display of nature and the futile human ambition to make its mark on a place unconquerable.
- Natural beauty of national parks
Iguaçu Falls National Park, source: www.en.wikipedia.org
Speaking of natural beauty—the Amazon isn’t the only natural attraction that Brazil is proud of. With 57 national parks, the country maintains the breathtaking marks of paradise on earth. Let’s start with the very best—Iguaçu Falls National Park on the border of Argentina and Brazil. It’s a breathtaking view at the height of 82-meters (at its highest) in a grand, powerful cascade of the Iguaçu River. For something in a lower elevation, there’s the Lençóis Maranhenses National Park that combines wide swathes of undulating sand dunes and the sparkling water of blue lagoons. The Chapada Diamantina National Park, named after the diamonds found there in the 1800s, is a huge expanse of valleys, hills, cliffs, and caves. Close to the wonderful seascape of Brazil is the Fernando de Noronha National Maritime Park, an archipelago of 21 islands in the Atlantic Ocean, that was made into a UNESCO World Heritage Park for its wonderful marine life.
- Revolutionary art spaces
Not to be outdone is Brazil’s stellar art scene. Next to the classic art spaces like the National Museum of Brazil and the Museu Imperial de Petrópolis—originally built as a summer palace of Portuguese emperor Dom Pedro II in the mid-1800s, other alternative art spaces are on the rise. One of them is the Inhotim museum in Minas Gerais, a 250-acre open-air museum—one of the largest of its kind in the world. Designed by landscape artist Roberto Burle Marx, Inhotim is the happy confluence of nature and art, displaying more than 500 masterpieces of contemporary artists both local and foreign. Another art space sculpted into the landscape is Jardim do Nêgo in Rio de Janeiro, where giant art pieces are carved out of stone in a fantastic display of wonder and legend.
- Passion for football
In Brazil, football isn’t just the most important sport—it’s a religion. There’s little wonder why its hosting of the 2014 FIFA World Cup wasn’t just a display of touristic capacity but also a labor of love. The Brazilian national team has won five World Cups and the country boasts of some of the best football players of their generation. A total of twelve host cities participated during the World Cup, each with its own world class stadium—Rio (The Maracanã, seats 78,000), Salvador (Estádio Fonte Nova, 55,000), Recife (Arena Pernambuco, 46,000), São Paulo (Itaquerão, 48,000), and so on. Even when you don’t love the sport, watching a football match is a must when you’re in Brazil. You don’t have to go to the World Cup stadiums. A football game out on the street or a nearby park would be enough. Feverish celebration turns any match into a party, and the best way to see local culture in the tightest collective throes of adrenaline and passion for the sport.