Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hidden Gems for Brazil holidays

When you think about Brazil holidays, there are some classic images that pop into your head. Perhaps it’s the famous view over Rio and the Guanabara Bay from the statue of Christ the Redeemer; perhaps the grand sweep of the Iguazu Falls; or perhaps you dream of the long lazy curves of the Amazon... What’s almost certain, unless you’ve already started researching a holiday in Brazil, is that you won’t be thinking of the epic terrain of the Chapada Diamantina, the colourful vistas of the Pantanal, or the deserted sand dunes of Lençois Maranhenses.

Outside of Brazil, most people haven’t even heard of these areas, despite the fact that they offer some of the most fascinating and unique experiences you could wish for. There’s no denying the appeal of Rio or the awesome scenery offered by Iguazu Falls, but when you’re planning your Brazil holidays it’s worth taking the time to at least think about some of those areas of Brazil that are just a little off the beaten track...

The enormous Pantanal wetlands

Wildlife in The Pantanal

We’ll start with one of the undisputed hidden gems that Brazil has to offer – the enormous Pantanal wetlands. Covering a huge area roughly the size of France, the Pantanal forms part of Brazil’s border with Paraguay and Bolivia, and constitutes the largest area of wetlands on earth. A maze of small streams and larger rivers cut through areas of savannah-type grasslands, reed marshes and semi-tropical forest, all of which are home to different types of wildlife. In fact, it’s a little-known fact that the Pantanal is actually more diverse than the Amazon rainforest! The range of wildlife available here is, quite simply, breathtaking, and the fact that the scenery is largely open means that it’s also much easier to see the wildlife – on Brazil holidays in the Amazon (great though it is) you do tend to spend a lot of your time peering through dense foliage and trying to get your camera settings right – in the Pantanal, you can just relax and enjoy the experience!

Trekking in The Chapada Diamantina

Moving on the North-East of Brazil, the Chapada Diamantina is an example of the range of landscapes that Brazil has to offer. Where the Pantanal is low, flat and watery, the Chapada Diamantina is high, dry and rolling. Named for the diamond mines which formerly provided most of the work in this remote part of Brazil, today it is a trekking paradise, with many of the former miners now working as guides for the tourists who want to get away from the crowds and see something of the Real Brazil on their holidays in Brazil. There are a range of different treks available, from short day treks out from the pretty colonial town of Lençois, to full-on multi-day expeditions camping out on the mountains. Whichever you choose, the epic nature of the landscape is sure to impress you – a vast range of rolling hills which seems to go on forever, largely covered in scrub forest but cut through with babbling mountain streams, waterfalls and natural swimming-pools: perfect for cooling off at the end of a good day’s trekking!

"...and natural swimming-pools"

Sao Luis and Lençois Maranhenses

Staying in the North-East, but offering something wildly different again, is the northern state of Maranhão. Easily accommodated together with Brazil holidays visiting the Chapada Diamantina, the small colonial town of Sao Luis is a favourite with anyone who has visited it – small, cobbled streets lined with galleries and cafes, and home to some of the oldest Afro-Brazilian traditions, it’s a slice of living history and great fun to boot. Even better, is that a few miles away you have what must be one of the most bizarre landscapes on earth...

"one of the most bizarre landscapes on earth..."
The Lençois Maranhenses National Park covers over a thousand square kilometres and at first sight, looks like an honest-to-goodness Lawrence of Arabia-style desert, with sweeping sand dunes as far as the eye can see. Once you look more closely, however, you realize that this desert landscape is dotted with thousands of small lagoons in ranges of iridescent blues and greens.  In fact the area is not technically a desert at all – there is a regular rainy season at the start of the year which fills the valleys between the dunes with fresh water. These then evaporate slowly over the course of the year, until they are replenished again by the new rainy season. What’s even more bizarre is that many of these lagoons actually contain fish! It’s generally believed that passing seabirds deposit eggs every year, although being born into an ever-shrinking home can’t be a great deal of fun for the poor fish concerned!

Any of these destinations would be a worthy addition to any holiday in Brazil, and you’ll also have the pleasure of having them largely to yourself – so make sure you enjoy them while you can, and before everyone else catches on!

Dan Clarke works for Real Brazil Holidays, and spends most of his time counting down the days until he can get back to Sao Luis and enjoy some kite-surfing in Lençois Maranhenses...

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