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This article originally appeared in the Central & South America Guide. It has been extracted from its original format. To read the full guide, visit the digital edition.

Brazil is the giant of South America, not only its largest country—covering approximately 50 percent of the entire continent—but a gem of a country, with people to match. Travel plans usually start in Rio de Janeiro, with a scintillating mix of beach culture, big-city sophistication and seemingly nonstop joie de vivre played out against the heights of Corcovado and Sugarloaf Mountain, the islands of Guanabara Bay and that famous string of legendary beaches. From Rio it’s an hour by air to Belo Horizonte, gateway to the baroque Gold Cities of Minas Gerais state, while a longer flight heads northeast to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil’s spiritual heartland, captured in the Pelourinho, now a UNESCO-designed quarter of gaily painted houses, extravagant mansions, baroque churches and convents.

New air service to the northeast makes it easier to discover such places as Chapada Diamantina, a 376,000-acre national park in the heart of the state of Bahia. Dubbed Brazil’s “Taj Mahal of adventure tourism,” this park is a mountainous playground of waterfalls, caves, pools, cacti and orchids whose gateway is Lencois. And, of course, a trip to Brazil is not complete without a visit to the Amazon, and the travel choices here are many in and around the air gateway city of Manaus: river cruises, catering to different tastes in comfort and itineraries, and jungle lodge stays, ranging from remote and rustic to relatively luxurious. (

What’s New in Brazil

✘ In November, American Airlines will inaugurate daily service between Miami and Manaus.

✘ Marriott’s Autograph Collection debuts in South America with the addition of the Hotel & Spa do Vinho in Bento Goncalves, the wine-producing state of Rio Grande do Sul; the French beauty and spa company, pioneers in unique wine therapies, oversees the award-winning spa. (

✘ Newly introduced to the North American market is the southern state of Santa Catarina, where the pull is glorious beaches attracting sunbathers, swimmers and surfers. Adding spotting of southern right whales (July to October annually) to its superlatives list, Praia do Rosa recently won top-beach pick.

✘ This year, Iguazu Falls was officially announced as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, a designation celebrated with ceremonies taking place on both the Brazilian and Argentine sides of these incredible cascades.

✘ Carnaval Rio in 2013: Feb. 8-12

✘ Brazil has two big dates on the horizon: the 2014 FIFA World Cup, played out in 12 cities; and the 2016 Summer Olympics coming to Rio.

Up next: Chile