So, after sixty-four years, the FIFA World Cup or simply, ‘A Copa’, returns to Brazil. Twelve cities across this vast country will play host, with the first of sixty-four games kicking off in São Paulo on June 12th and concluding on July 13th in Rio’s iconic Maracanã stadium.
Read our (tongue in cheek) guide to the twelve host cities below – indispensable if you’re lucky enough to have a ticket to one of the games !
In general though, what should you expect?
Visitors to Brazil will, as always, be very warmly welcomed by the locals – but with even more national pride than normal as this is very much their country’s moment. Expect excitement and noise to be at fever pitch intensity on days when Brazil plays its matches. Schools and government offices will be closed for these occasions (for the whole day, of course), as will virtually everything else, so best head to a bar where the TV will be playing and enjoy a ‘chopp’, a light thirst-quenching lager.
For those travelling, expect airport and traffic chaos on a monumental scale, and prepare to be patient. Remember that English isn’t widely spoken, especially outside of the larger cities, so mug up on some basic Portuguese (which you can expect to be well received).
Also diplomatically a good move to drape yourself in a Brazilian flag or perhaps sport the ‘canarinha’, Brazil’s team shirt, when your team isn’t playing. Be warned that prices are at near European levels, and have risen in anticipation of A Copa, so stock up on currency: the ‘real’, plural ‘reais’.
On a final, more serious note: not all Brazilians are as enthused with the World Cup as you might imagine. Opponents of the tournament argue that the billions of dollars that have been spent on it should have been used to improve the country’s poor infrastructure, public health and education systems.
But if Brazil wins – which is what is expected of their team – even these pressing and long-standing problems may temporarily be forgotten.
The Twelve Host Cities
Rio de Janeiro
No real intro required but the Cidade Maravilhosa is majestically located between mountains and sea. A city with real swagger and style which, superficially, has it all. The locals, or ‘cariocas’, have an immense pride and passion for their city which belie the harsh realities – for many – of living there. Visitors should absorb the frenetic atmosphere as best they can, and go with the flow. Trips up to the Corcovado, the Christ the Redeemer Statue, and Sugar Loaf mountain are de rigueur for good reason.
Our tip: Ipanema beach, to see the beautiful people – and pretty much all of the rest of life.
Vast sprawling metropolis, largest in South America, Brazil’s money-making centre. Yes, the Paulistanos all think they’re Ayrton Senna, or certainly drive like he used to. More helicopter ownership per capita here than anywhere in the world but with the traffic (100km queues to leave town are not uncommon), perfectly understandable. So take the metro, which is what the locals do. Best eating, drinking, culture and partying scene in the country. Vibrant, flashy, edgy, dynamic – and a huge rival to Rio.
Our tip: For culture vultures, pop into the Museum of Modern Art ‘MASP’, then a spot of shopping at the Shopping Eldorado centre, then dine at Fasano Restaurant.
Belo Horizonte, or ‘BH’
Capital city of Minas Gerais, or ‘General Mines’, the state from which much of Brazil’s mineral wealth was originally extracted. Well preserved colonial towns to the south, e.g. Ouro Prêto and Tiradentes, certainly worth a visit. Local food and drink is renown throughout Brazil. Try the cheese, or ‘queijo’, and wash it down with cachaça, sugar cane rum, Brazil’s national drink. The local ‘mineiros’ are known to be canny with their money and have a fondness for the beach, as their state has no coastline. Last but not least, this is where England lost a game of football to the USA in 1950.
Our tip: A trip to the vast open air market, with plenty of bargains, the Feira de Artesanatos (Sunday morning, Avenida Afonso Pena).
Only city of the twelve not known personally to our insider, maybe because it’s nearly 3000km from Rio! Hot, humid, sticky, equatorial (good luck, England), known as the ‘Gateway to the Amazon’. Large, mainly modern city of 2m, although a sightseer’s highlight is the Opera House, or ‘Teatro Amazonas’, completed in 1896 and built with money made from the late 19th century rubber boom. Take a river trip to see where the black waters of the River Negro merge with the much lighter waters of the River Solimões, whose confluence is the start of the Amazon proper as it heads east.
Our tip: drink guaraná, an Amazonian berry used in Brazil’s eponymous and ubiquitous soft drink, which tastes a lot better than it looks ( think tropical Tizer ).
The smallest of the World Cup host cities, with a population of 500,000 and certainly the least well known (even to Brazilians). It lies in the almost deserted Centre West region, which borders Bolivia to the west. Best known as the departure point for the ‘Pantanal’, an enormous wildlife-rich swamp that covers an area the size of France. If you have time, head south to Rio Bonito, where you can swim along with fish through underground caverns, or head to a jungle lodge where they will take you jaguar-spotting.
Our tip: if you tire of the Pantanal, visit the spectacular Chapada dos Guimarães national park.
Fast-growing modern high rise city of 2.5m on the country’s northern coast. Almost on the Equator, so warm or very warm weather guaranteed. Most activities outdoor and sport oriented. Fantastic and seemingly never-ending beaches with buggy rides on the (also high rise) dunes at Jericoacoara a highlight.
Our tip: Put on your havaianas and stroll along the famous Canoa Quebrada beach.
Means ‘Christmas’, as this is the day the city was founded. Sits on the extreme north-east point of Brazil, and the South American continent, so a constant – and welcome – breeze will blow. Unremarkable city centre but plenty of great places to stay further south, not least the trendy village of Pipa, about an hour away. Great beaches here, with kite-surfing, canoeing, buggy rides and dolphin-watching all recommended.
Our tip: Head to Ponta Negra for the local nightlife or down to the village of Pirangi do Norte, home of the world’s biggest cashew (‘caju’) tree.
Sprawling port city with population of 4 million, recipient of large amounts of both private and Government investment in recent years. Most visitors would be advised to stay in the more sedate neighbouring town of Olinda, one of Brazil’s largest and best preserved colonial towns. Well known for its arts and crafts, and Carnaval, this would make a good base for exploring the wonderful coastal resorts to the north.
Our tip: Visit Porto de Galinhas, ‘port of chickens’, a famous beach resort – and named after the derogatory term used for African slaves who were illegally brought ashore here.
Capital of the country and seat of the federal government, which superseded Rio in 1960. The city was built from nothing in the 1950s and is best known for its public the buildings designed by the late, great architect, Oscar Niemeyer.
Our tip: If you’re into architecture, visit the Palacio do Planalto and Catedral Metropolitana Nossa Senhora Aparecida.
Best known Carnaval outside Rio, and arguably more authentic. Capital city of the state of Bahia (‘bay’), where the Portuguese first made landfall and discovered Brazil in 1500, and its most overtly African. Tourist sights include the Pelourinho, or whipping post, an open square where slaves used to be punished; also the Elevado Lacerda, an Art Deco elevator that transports locals between the Cidade Alta and Cidade Baixa, the upper and lower towns. And don’t forget the wealth of wonderful tropical beaches to both north and south, some unspoilt, others packed and super-chic, frequented by Brazilian film and TV stars.
Our tip: Take a trip down to picture-postcard perfect Trancoso or Morro de São Paulo.
On more than one occasion voted the Brazilian city with the ‘best quality of life’ – to which a cynic might reply ‘because it’s relatively safe, things run on time and because there’s less going on there compared to the others’ ! Not for us at Go Brazil to comment, but it’s certainly a well ordered city with a strong sense of civic pride. For the adventurous, take a narrow gauge railway trip from close to the city. It’s a spectacular trip that heads off the plain, twisting and turning down steep mountains through tropical rain forest before arriving at the coastal city of Paranaguá.
Our tip: Take a ferry across to the Ilha do Mel or wander the sleepy colonial streets of Morretes and Antonina.
The most southerly and coldest (well, least warm) of all the cities on the list. Also, more importantly, the key entry point for visiting Brazil’s wineries, most of which have their headquarters in or near the town of Bento Gonçalves, a two hour drive north of Porto Alegre. Locals here are known as ‘gaúchos’ and, as well as a strong European heritage, are linguistically different from the rest of the country, being habitual users of the ‘tu’ (personal ‘you’) form of address, rather than the more common ‘você’. Although not far from the coast, the diet here is rich in meat, so visit one of the local churrascarias to try a selection of juicy beef and lamb cuts.
Our tip: no prizes for guessing, head up to the vineyards in the Vale dos Vinhedos near Bento Gonçalves and sample some wine at the cellar door.