If you’ve ever attended a concert or been a fan of music, there’s little doubt you have wondered what goes on backstage. You’ve probably even tried to sneak back there! Although there’s much more to this privileged world than you might think (and we know what you might think), if you were the third installment of Lollapalooza Brazil, which parked itself at Brazil’s Formula One Grand Prix racetrack, Autódromo José Carlos Pace (commonly referred to as Interlagos) in São Paulo last weekend, the answer would be: Not a whole helluva lot.
As recently as just three years ago, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a beer in Brazil that wasn’t watered-down lager serving a single purpose: Beat the tropical heat with a buzz. Brazil’s most common beers (Brahma, Skol, Antarctica, Nova Shin) are all about as interesting as television static, despite being drunk in copious amounts by millions of Brazilians on a daily basis; in bars, at the beach, at barbeques – wherever you are in Brazil – you’ll find the majority of Brazilians quite happily content with more or less tasteless lagers, served on draft in small cups at least half full or more of foam (the entire country has been duped into believing a massive head keeps the beer cold longer - it doesn’t; it’s a lie perpetuated by Brazil’s biggest breweries and immortalized by bars the country over so they may serve the population half a beer for the price of a whole one!). For a beer country, it was all so distinctly average.
Whatever toots your horn: Hiking, biking, diving, mountains, canyons, flora, fauna, dunes, rivers, oceans, caves or prehistoric rock paintings – the list is exhausting, actually! – Brazil has got a reason for you to ditch the Havaianas and get out and about with some sort of nature that doesn’t involve caipirinhas on the beach and sand in your sunga (that’s Portuguese for those Speedo-type bathing suits!).
Over 15% of Brazil is under environmental protection, clocking in at 1.3 million sq km to be exact. Between Atlantic rainforest, tropical rainforest protected wetlands and the most amphibian, bird, mammal, reptile, and vascular plant species on Earth (according to Mongo Bay, one of the world’s most respected environmental science and conservation news sites), Brazil is the world’s most biodiverse country, which leaves a wealth of national parks to explore beyond Ipanema and Copacabana – nearly 70 in total. Here are our five favorites:
Sushi is everywhere in Brazil’s biggest city. As I’m sure you’ve no doubt read, São Paulo is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, centered in and around the fascinating neighborhood of Liberdade (we’re not even sure if that fact has ever been substantiated but there you go). The problem is, the majority of it is unimpressive, sold as all-you-can-eat extravaganzas from bad buffet restaurants whose fish selection rarely extends beyond imported farmed salmon six different ways. Não, obrigado.
Why subject yourself to a bad Brazilian experience when you can have an authentic Japanese one in Brazil? There are some serious, serious sushi joints in São Paulo. If you know the right places to go, you’ll do a double-take and check your passport as you enter.
Architects notwithstanding, Brazilians don’t tend to be too impressed with their space-age capital, carved out of nowhere in the 1950s by then-President Jucelino Kubitschek, architect Oscar Niemeyer, urban planner Lucio Costa and landscape architect Burle Marx.
Most think it’s boring (it’s not), too hot (that’s true), too confusing (only at first), tourist-unfriendly (it doesn’t have to be) and an urban symbol of the country’s ills – corruption and bureaucracy, for example – and not the futuristic capital of the country of the future it was built to symbolize (well …). Most tourists (who aren’t architects or budding architects) dismiss it as skippable (it’s hard to tear yourself away from those beaches, after all) and that’s a shame. For as confusing and polarizing as Brasília is, it’s nothing if not fascinating.
It’s not often we speak of American ruins – after all, the country isn’t old enough to have had anything crumble under the weight of history. You might think, anyway. But deep in the Amazon rainforest, Henry Ford and his Ford Motor Company, on the front end of the 20th Century, took a wildly ambitious yet woefully overreaching idea to task: Build a perfect prefabricated American industrial town – complete with fire hydrants, golf courses, front porches, water towers and sassafras tea – in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, where everyone could ride a carrot-dangled wave of rubber riches to the promised land.
Photo: Foto by Rudy Huhold, courtesy of EMBRATUR
The annual rivalry between the football teams from the universities of Georgia and Florida may bill itself as the World’s Largest Cocktail Party, but anyone who knows anything about Carnival in Brazil would only laugh at such sentiments. There is no party on Earth that rivals Carnival in Brazil, especially in Rio de Janeiro, where millions of revelers fill the streets for days on end. Exultant mayhem is the only way to describe it – and it must be experienced to be believed.
The Southern Hemisphere’s largest city is about as intimidating as cities come: A mindblowingly immense concrete jungle of cloud-kissing skyscrapers, intertwining streets and avenues sprouting in all directions with no rhyme or reason, 21 million people going about their hard working, hard playing lives, eating at 12,500 restaurants, drinking 15,000 bars and going home to their houses, condos and high-rise apartments in 96 different neighborhoods, most of which are home to more people than entire cities elsewhere.
It’s a beast.
If you show up in São Paulo without a local to lean on, you’re likely to be overcome with a sensation of “I’m Not a Celebrity but Get Me Outta Here!” very quickly. It’s a city that chews you up and spits you out like no other I have ever visited. But now that I live here, I navigate the streets like I own the place. You can too!
Photo: Fogo de Chao
Almost every carnivore who visits Brazil finds themselves – probably on the first day or two – in a showdown with a Brazilian churrascaria. These all-you-can-eat meat restaurants, where waiters dance around the room carrying long spits of fresh-off-the-rotisserie meats of dozens of varieties which are carved onto your plate until you cry, “Uncle!,” is one of the most typical experiences you can have in the country. If you’re a novice, though, this whole beef bonanza can be more overwhelming than a ménage à dix!
Photo: Mae Natureza Ecoturismo
Most folks assume they need to make a choice when debating a trip to Brazil: Beach or jungle? The Amazon rainforest; or the beaches of Rio de Janeiro and beyond? To say nothing of the fact that Brazil offers so much more than sun and sand or flora and fauna, the reality is that in Alter Do Chão, you can have both!