Ahead of the World Cup 2014 draw, locals and experts from Brazil’s 12 host cities give the lowdown on the stadiums, the bars, what to take and where to go in between matches
State Rio de Janeiro
The stadium The Maracanã, which will host the 2014 final and six other World Cup matches, is the temple of Brazil’s unofficial religion. Home to Rio’s biggest club sides, Flamengo, Botafogo, Fluminense and Vasco de Gama, this is where footballing deities Pelé and Romario scored their 1,000th goals. It was also the scene of the most traumatic defeat (some would argue the most traumatic event) in the country’s history – a 2-1 loss to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup final that still rankles today. Back then, more than 200,000 spectators crammed into the stands. Today, the capacity is 78,000, after an expensive and delay-plagued refurbishment. The atmosphere inside, though, remains electric and access is convenient, thanks to a subway link to the city centre and the beach neighbourhoods of Copacabana and Ipanema.
Quick beer Get your chope (draft beer) among the small clusters of botecos, sports bars and restaurants to the west and south of the stadium. Order early as these places fill up fast. And check out this list of 10 of the city’s best neighbourhood bars.
The weather June and July may be winter in Rio, but the average high is still 25C, and some days nudge over 30C. This is the dry season, so leave the brolly at home.
What to pack? Flip-flops, beach towels, swimming trunks/bikini, dancing shoes, trainers and a sweater for the evenings. And bring a healthy bank balance – it’s one of the most expensive cities in Brazil.
What’s the city like? It’s not named the Marvellous City for nothing. Set among golden sands, stunning lagoons and mountain forests that are home to toucans and capuchin monkeys, the natural scenery is second to none and explains why Rio has become one of the world’s great playgrounds. As well as the strong carnival culture, this is the home of samba, choro and bossa nova music styles, of baile funk parties and the infinite variations heard in the bars and clubs of Lapa. But there is an edgier side. The colonial architecture of the port and city centre are reminders of the city’s long and ignominious history of slave trading. Inequality and crime remain serious problems, though the police “pacification” of dozens of hillside favelas – notorious for drugs, guns and gangsters – has made the streets a little safer. Several favelas are now opening up to tourists with hostels, restaurants and music venues – a welcome alternative to the over-priced restaurants and botecos of the swanky Zona Sul district.
Out of town Rio is a hiker’s paradise. For a morning excursion, climb the mountains of Dois Irmãos, Corcovado or Pedro Bonita, and you can still be back in time for a lunchtime caipirinha. More energetic visitors should take a three-hour bus ride to Petropolis (the 19th-century summer residence of Brazilian Emperors and aristocrats) and walk the two-day mountain trail to Theresopolis. Or take a boat to one of the many nearby islands.
Jonathan Watts, the Guardian’s Latin America correspondent, based in Rio
The stadium The 55,000-seater Estádio Fonte Nova will host six World Cup matches, including a last-16 game and a quarter-final. Home to Bahia, the city’s biggest but second best club (the best is Vitória), the stadium was completely rebuilt after one of the upper terraces collapsed in 2007, killing seven people. It’s easy to get to, within walking distance of the city’s main bus station and its famous old town. Uniquely, one end of the stadium is completely open, giving a view of the city’s dique (small lake) and, at night, the twinkling lights of the favelas.
Quick beer The stadium is only 15-20 minutes’ walk from the Pelourinho, the old town, which is packed with bars and restaurants and sure to be a hub of World Cup revelry. Many locals prefer the Rio Vermelho area for nightlife; have a beer at one of the outdoor bars in the square. Try an acarajé – deep-fried balls of black-eyed peas filled with dried prawns – which originated in Nigeria and are sold on street corners by women in traditional Afro-Brazilian dress. Their distinctive flavour is a bit like Marmite in the way it divides opinion.
The weather Be warned: it can rain for days on end in the June-August wet season. The good news is that temperatures never fall below 20C, so when it’s not raining the “winter” temperatures are perfect for enjoying the city’s many fine beaches.
What to pack? A brolly as well as a bikini, and bring your dancing shoes, too (see below).
What’s the city like? Funky town. If you’re going to Brazil to get a taste of the country as well as the football, Salvador is a great choice. This stretch of Atlantic coast is lined with beaches, but the quintessential city beach is Porto da Barra – at the entrance of the magnificent Baía de Todos os Santos, one of the largest bays in the world – where the water is calm and perfect for swimming. Salvador was Brazil’s first capital, from 1549 to 1763, and it’s rich in history and home to the finest collection of colonial architecture in South America – you could a spend a day or two exploring the Pelourinho. The self-styled capital da alegria doesn’t need much of an excuse to throw a party. Every February, Salvador puts on the biggest carnival in the world, with over two million people dancing in the streets for a whole a week. During the World Cup, the city will be putting on a scaled-down version to mark the event (dates not yet announced).
Out of town There are stunning, peaceful tropical beaches within easy reach of the city. Praia do Forte is 50 mile up the coast, but if you’ve got the time and are after a real taste of tropical paradise head for Boipeba. If it’s is raining, or you like walking, the Chapada Diamantina national park (the Diamond Highlands), an overnight bus journey or short flight away, is inland, away from the rain, and home to spectacular rock formations, crystal-clear lakes and waterfalls, and great trekking opportunities.
Gavin McOwan, Guardian Travel journalist and former Salvador resident
The stadium The brand new 46,000-capacity Arena Pernambuco, delivered just in time for this year’s Confederations Cup, is set to stage four group-stage games and one last-16 game in the World Cup. Nautico, one of Recife’s three major football clubs, now play their home games at the stadium. The venue is 20km from downtown Recife, on the western outskirts of the city near the town of Sao Lourenço da Mata. A recently revamped metro railway system serves the stadium.
Quick beer The Arena, as it is referred to by the locals, is located in a somewhat isolated, new development area, so pre- and post-match entertainment will be in the city itself. The upmarket Boa Viagem area (see below) has some good bars: try Ilha dos Navegantes, Companhia do Chopp and Biruta, which is right on the beach.
The weather Recife lies a mere eight degrees south of the equator, meaning the temperature is unlikely to drop below 20C, even in the “winter” months. However, the World Cup will be in the middle of the rainy season, and when it rains in Recife, it really rains.
What to pack? Beachwear, shorts and flip-flops, in addition to a sturdy umbrella, just in case.
What’s the city like? Recife is the capital of the state of Pernambuco and the centre of an extensive metropolitan area of almost four million. The city sports a splendid five-mile beach in the modern, upmarket area of Boa Viagem, the longest stretch of city seafront in Brazil. However, swimming is restricted due to the unusually high rate of shark attacks . Restaurants here include Entre Amigos, famed for its braised goat, hence the nickname “O Bode” (the goat); Spettus, perhaps the best of the all-you-can-eat churrascarias or steakhouses; and Bargaço, a sophisticated seafront restaurant serving regional seafood dishes. For something a bit more atmospheric, Recife Antigo, the old town, is a lively neighbourhood full of small bars and restaurants, best appreciated at night. If the weather is not cooperative, the city is rich in culture and history, having been colonised by both the Portuguese and the Dutch, the latter having left behind a rich architectural legacy. The neighbouring city of Olinda was listed as a Unesco world heritage site in 1982, and is easily worth half a day’s pottering about. Recife also hosts a huge carnival in February, played out to the local rhythm of frevo, and attracting revellers from all over Brazil and beyond.
Out of town An hour’s drive to either the north or south will take you to beautiful tropical beach towns, including Porto de Galinhas, repeatedly voted among the best seaside destinations in Brazil.
Jeremy Coligan, translator and Recife resident
The stadium The 67,000-seater Arena Castelão will stage six World Cup matches, including four group games, a last-16 match and a quarter-final. The stadium, which is home to rival clubs Ceará Sporting and Fortaleza Esporte, is one of Brazil’s biggest and was the first to be fully refurbished, but the £150m cost inflamed protests about poor public services during the Confederations Cup in summer 2013. Also known as the Gigante da Boa Vista, the stadium looks like a giant, shimmering sea anemone from the air, and is based in the south of the city, near the airport. Apart from the football, there are few reasons to venture out here and you may be better off finding at a base in the city centre or near Iracema beach, then travel by bus to Jardim Castelão or by metro to Parangaba, and take a taxi from there.
Quick beer Hotels, bars and restaurants are scarce in the poor, mainly residential part of town where the Castelão is based. If you are after a party atmosphere, your best bet would be to have a drink near the Dragão do Mar cultural centre or at a bar near the city beaches of Iracema, Mucuripe or Meireles
The weather Fortaleza is less than four degrees south of the equator and is almost always hot, though in June and July, the tail end of the rainy season, temperatures are eased by the strong wind, which draws surfers, windsurfers and kite-surfers to nearby beaches, such as Cumbuco and Praia do Futuro.
What to pack? Beachwear, hat and sun-lotion – and not too much else. Petty theft is high in Fortaleza, and you should take particular care when going out at night and travelling on public transport. You’re fine in the city, but if heading north towards Maranhão or the Amazon, you may need a yellow fever certificate.
What’s the city like? Fortaleza is known as the capital of forró, a style of dance and music that originated in north-east Brazil. Like much of life here, the all-night forró parties take place in the open air, mainly in vast, walled courtyards on the outskirts, and everywhere during the festas juninas (June festivals), which will be in full swing during the tournament. Architecturally, the city is not the prettiest, with a mixture of high rises and low brick houses, but the superb surrounding beaches more than make up for its less attractive urban areas. The area around the cathedral is a vast open market, with clothes and food stalls spilling on to the streets. Locals are still proud that Fortaleza was the first place in Brazil to abolish slavery, in 1884, and the history of people from the parched backlands, or Sertão, is remembered with permanent exhibitions and memorials.
Out of town Drive along the Ceará coastline for even more breathtaking beaches. Everyone has their own favourite but Canoa Quebrada and Jericoacoara are regularly named as among the best in the country, and even the world. Hire a dune buggy or go for a ride on a jangada (traditional fisherman’s boat) for the best views.
Jo Griffin, Guardian journalist, regular visitor to the city
State São Paulo
Stadium Disaster struck in late November when a crane collapsed, killing two building workers at the Corinthians stadium, which is due to hold the World Cup opening ceremony and first match of the tournament, featuring hosts Brazil, on 12 June. The stadium in Itaquera, one of the poorest regions of São Paulo, will host six matches in all, including a quarter- and semi-final. The stadium holds 48,000, but temporary stands will increase capacity to 65,000 during the tournament. The Itaquerão, as the stadium is popularly called, is the home of Corinthians, the country’s second-largest club, after Flamengo.
Quick beer The stadium is 20km away (though connected by train and metro) so most pre- and post-match socialising will be done elsewhere. There are clusters of bars all over São Paulo; one of the best areas is Rua Aspicuelta in the Vila Madalena area, which is crammed with cool but friendly botecos (neighbourhood bars). Do not miss São Cristóvão at number 533, a homage to Brazilian football, with memorabilia and more then 2,500 footie photos covering almost every square inch of the bar. It also does good food and has more than 100 cachaças to try.
The weather Pretty crazy – it can feel like summer and winter in the same day. During the World Cup, it will be quite cool – it can fall as low as 5C but may reach 20C. There is little chance of rain.
What to bring? Be prepared for changeable weather. Bring warm clothes as there’s no heating in most of the hotels, and comfortable shoes to walk around this enormous city.
What’s the city like? With around 22 million inhabitants in the metropolitan area, São Paulo is the largest city in South America and an economic powerhouse. It is also a gastronomic hub, with some fantastic bars and restaurants (see this article on the new Brazilian cuisine). The numbers are impressive; for example, it is estimated that 720 pizzas per minute are sold in the city. Besides food, São Paulo has a broad cultural menu, with exhibitions, concerts, theatres and samba schools. It also has dozens of parks; the biggest is the Ibirapuera, to the south of the city. During the World Cup, this wealthy city will be keen to show off to the world, and there will be celebrations and music festivals all over town.
Out of town São Paulo is not a coastal city but the port of Santos, where Pelé played for most of his career, is just 50 miles away and has some good beaches. But travel a little further, to the north coast of the state, for some really beautiful beaches, with a high concentration of surfers. Try Ilhabela or Ubatuba.
Emerson Vicente, deputy sport editor of the Agora São Paulo newspaper
State Mato Grosso
The Stadium The 45,000-capacity Estádio Verdão, or Arena Pantanal, is one of the smallest of the 12 stadiums and will host four group matches. Two teams will use the stadium after the World Cup, Cuiabá and Mixto, but both have relatively small fan bases.
Quick beer You don’t have to walk more than three blocks from the stadium to find plenty of bars and restaurants, all serving delicious espeto (barbecue skewers of various kinds meat served with manioc flour).
The weather The tournament falls in the non-rainy month, but it will be very hot during the day (with an average high of 31C in June) and cooler at night (occasionally as low as 10C) – but not cold enough to affect the nightlife.
What to pack? Walking shoes, hat or cap, binoculars (see below), swimming costume.
What’s the city like? The smallest of the host cities, Cuiabá is the capital of Mato Grosso, Brazil’s fastest-growing state due to a boom in local agriculture. It is one of the oldest cities in Brazil but was abandoned for almost two centuries after the decline of the gold. It has a unique culture: especially the language, which is influenced by indigenous people and Spanish-speaking neighbours; crafts (pottery and weaving); music (rasqueado, cururu, chamamé) and food (fish and beef jerky).
The best regional food is served at the Regionalíssimo restaurant, in the River Museum, which has a modest exhibition of craftworks. Peixaria Popular, a small restaurant in the centre of the city serves fish from the region’s enormous rivers. To meet the local fishermen and craft workers on the riverbanks, visit the Restaurante Porto Conceição, which is about 7km from the stadium. Last but not least, there is a wonderful ice-cream parlour, Sorveteria Nevaska (Rua Barão De Melgaço, 2169), near the War Arsenal, which serves amazing tropical flavours, such as limão, guava, Brazil nut and mango. Try cupuaçu (a relative of cocoa, from the Amazon) and bocaiuva (from a Pantanal palm tree).
Out of town Cuiabá is the best draw if you also want to see Brazilian wildlife, thanks to its privileged location at the intersection of three of the most important Brazilian biomes. The Cerrado of Chapada dos Guimarães is the watershed of large river basins, and offers spectacular landscapes. To the north is the start of the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest; to the south, the Pantanal, the world’s largest floodplain, with the greatest diversity of fauna in the Americas. For relaxation, there is no shortage of thermal waters, snorkelling, rafting and rappelling – all within 130km of the city.
Munir Nasr, director of Natureco, which runs wildlife trips to the Amazon and the Pantanal
State Minas Gerais
The stadium Estádio Governador Magalhães Pinto, or the Mineirão as it is more commonly known, has already been used to host games for the Confederations Cup and will host six matches during the World Cup, including one of the semi-finals. It holds 67,000 and is home to current Brazilian league champions Cruzeiro. While some supporters claim that the new stadium and increased ticket prices have priced out average Brazilians, the stadium, in the Pampulha neighbourhood, is truly a site to behold. Football historians should also visit the Estádio Independência, the site of England’s infamous 1-0 defeat by the USA in the 1950 World Cup.
Quick beer While there are bars close to the stadium, your best bet for a good drink is Savassi, home to many of BH’s famous bars and restaurants. All the bars have a similar drinks menu so you can’t go wrong, but for somewhere a little different (and not in the guidebooks) head to Bairro Preto and visit Rima Dos Sabores, a truly great place serving a host of national brews and a menu with treats such as ostrich and alligator. If you’re hungry after a long night out drinking, head over to La Greppia on Rua Bahia for the all-night buffet. Other great places can be found in Sion along Rua Pium. At night this quiet street turns into a madhouse where the sidewalks are full of people and the bars stay open until late. There is a reason that the unofficial motto of the Mineiros (people of Minas Gerais) is “The beach is too far, let’s go to a bar”.
The weather Down right pleasant nearly all year round. During the World Cup, it should range between 15C and 27C but it can get a chilly at night.
What to pack? No need for swimwear here, although it’s quite common to see the locals walking around during the day in clothing more appropriate for the beach. Men tend to dress casually, so jeans and a T-shirt are more than socially acceptable; women tend to dress up a bit more.
What’s the city like? The stadium is near the man-made lake of Pampulha, home to the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi designed by the great Oscar Niemeyer, and the art museum, but the majority of the action is close to the downtown/Savassi area. .
Out of town Minas’s beautiful colonial towns São João del Rei, Tiradentes and Ouro Preto are all worth visit (in fact, most travellers are usually heading to these places and merely passing through BH on the way to the airport or bus station). The first two are known for their great restaurants while Ouro Preto is known for its beautiful setting and number of baroque churches. Each of these towns is easily reachable by bus.
Hunter Peak, English teacher/language consultant and former BH resident
State Federal District
The stadium The enourmous 72,000-seater Estádio Nacional will host six World Cup matches, including a last-16 game and a quarter-final. The stadium was completely rebuilt and cost over £274 million, even though Brasília does not have any teams playing in Brazil’s top flight. It’s not too far from the main hotel sector – around 25 to 35 minutes’ walk.
Quick beer There’s nowhere close to the stadium, so go to one of the commercial court bars in the North Wing (closer to the stadium and more bohemian/less posh than the South Wing). Try Balaio Café for live samba and Afro-Brazilian rhythms. Another court which is very lively and has plenty of bars, as it’s near the university, is 408 Norte.
The weather It will be middle of the dry season in this region and it does get very dry, with humidity dropping to a throat-scratching 20% some days. Winter in this central region of Brazil can be quite tricky for tourists: very hot during the day but chilly at night, when temperatures can drop below 15C.
What to pack? Hats! To protect you from the sun during the sightseeing tours at Esplanada dos Ministérios, where at least 50% of the tourist attractions are located.
What’s the city like? Square. The planned capital of Brazil, built from scratch in the late 1950s, is today a metropolis searching for its own identity. So at first all you will see is the modernist legacy from urban planner Lucio Costa and the very organised “pilot plan” divided into sectors (there’s even a “fun sector” where the shopping malls are located!). But Brasília is much more than this, and the impressive architecture of the government buildings designed by Oscar Niemeyer, makes it the only 20th-century city to be given Unesco world heritage status. Don’t miss the guided tour of the Itamaraty Palace, the ministry of foreign affairs, and the paintings, sculptures and furniture at Planalto and Alvorada palaces are breathtaking.
For music Clube do Choro is home to authentic chorinho, a 19th-century genre born in Rio. For lunch or dinner try Mangai, which specialises in cuisine from northeast Brazil; Panelinha which does “comfort food” served in tiny pans at your table; and Beirute for Lebanese finger food, their own pilsner Beira beer and to mingle with the bohemian set.
Out of town The state of Goiás – where the Federal District is located – offers two different experiences for tourists. Pirenópolis (182km from Brasília) is a historic cobblestoned town full of charming pousadas and arts and craft shops. For adventure, the outstanding Chapada dos Veadeiros national park (229 km from the capital) is great for trekking and relaxing in the numerous waterfalls – some over 100 meters high.
Ernesto Magalhaes, journalist and Brasília resident
The stadium The 43,000-seater Estádio Joaquim Americo Guimaraes, known locally as Arena da Baixada, will host four group-stage matches and is easy to get to. The stadium is the home ground of Club Atlético Paranaense (CAP), currently third in the Brazilian league.
Quick beer Curitiba is proud of its watering holes and some of the best are around the stadium. Try Realejo Culinária Acústica (which often has live music), Don Max (a classic bar with great food and drinks) and Folha Seca –the nickname of Didi, one of the idols of Brazil’s 1958 and 1962 World Cup winning teams – a great place to watch football and eat bar snacks.
The weather Be warned: it can be very cold in Curitiba in June, with average temperature of 8C to 18C. June is dry season, though, and the crisp cold days can be quite enjoyable.
What to pack? A warm coat, as Curitiba is often the coldest state capital in Brazil in winter. Bring good trainers, too, as walking tours and cycling lanes are great features of the city.
What’s the city like? Locals say: “Our parks are our beaches”. Curitiba, known as Brazil’s Green Capital, is located in the highlands, far from the coast, but to compensate it has 30 municipal parks as well as dozens of squares, gardens and other green spaces. During the World Cup, the official FIFA Fun Parties will be held at Barigui Park, an icon of the city. The city is also known for being the most sustainable in Brazil with model public transport and cycle lanes that link the parks to local attractions, including the Oscar Niemeyer Museum, a contemporary art museum designed by the great Brazilian architect. Curitiba is also famous for its open-air food markets where you can try local cuisine from the many immigrants that have settled in the city, especially Polish, Italian, Japanese and other South Americans. The most famous markets are: Feira do Batel (Tuesdays on Rua Alexandre Gutierrez), Praça da Ucrânia (Fridays) and Feira do Largo da Ordem (Sundays).
Out of town Curitiba is the starting point for the most famous (and unique) railway road in Brazil. The Serra Verde Express train ride is a beautiful three-hour journey, through mountains covered in Atlantic rainforest, to the old colonial town of Morretes. The town itself offers great options for biking, hiking and kayaking. A short drive plus a boat ride from Morretes takes you to Ilha do Mel, where no cars are allowed. With pristine beaches and fishing villages, it is a great place to relax away from the big city. If you have more time – enjoy a few days in a jungle lodge in the Lagamar area, one of the most unspoiled and remote areas in southern Brazil.
Marta Dalla Chiesa, southern Brazil tour operator, Brazil Ecojourneys
State Rio Grande do Sul
The Stadium Home to the Sport Club Internacional, one of Brazil’s biggest clubs, the totally refurbished Esátdio Beira-Rio will have a total capacity of just over 51,000 seats and will host five World Cup matches. Its location, by the Guaiba riverside and inside a local park, makes this stadium unique in Brazil.
Quick beer Porto Alegre has three main neighbourhoods with great bars: the Centro Historico, Cidade Baixa (both more bohemian and traditional) and the flashier Moinhos de Vento. The Centro Historico (downtown area) is the closest to the stadium and has the very traditional Chalé da Praça XV, in the square of the same name, and the legendary Gambrinus restaurant and chopp Bar in the public market. The city has also many microbreweries producing great artisanal beers. Check out Toca da Coruja, home of the local Coruja beer, one of the best in Brazil, in the Cidade Baixa.
The weather Being late autumn in south Brazil, expect some cold days with minimum temperatures of between 5C and 20C. The good bews is that it can sometimes reach the late 20s too.
What to pack? Layers, as weather is changeable with frequent warm fronts.
What’s the city like? This is the capital of Brazil’s gaúcho country, so don´t miss the chance of visiting some local churrascaria (steak houses) or, for a more touristy activity, a gaúcho night. Na Brasa is often chosen the best all-you-can-eat barbecue house in Brazil, and Barranco is another local favourite. Other good restaurants include BAH, for a modern take on regional food, which is not far from the stadium. Porto Alegre is known as a business city but it is also very vibrant culturally, with some exciting new museums and art galleries opening up in recent years. Don’t miss the Fundação Iberê Camargo, which is by the riverside not far from the stadium, and the Santander Cultural, and Museu de Arte do Rio Grande do Sul, next to each other in Praça da Alfândega, the main square in the Centro Historico. To get around, use the city’s bike share system, Bike PoA
Out of town Within two hours of the city, you will be in the Vale dos Vinhedos, the best wine-producing region in Brazil. Less known than their Argentinean and Chilean counterparts, the wines from this region, in particular the sparkling, have been getting excellent reviews in recent years. For a more active break, go to the Aparados da Serra and Serra Geral national parks, which are great trekking areas and where you will find the largest (and greenest ) canyons in Brazil.
Marta Dalla Chiesa, southern Brazil tour operator Brazil Ecojourneys
The stadium The inspiration for the new Arena da Amazônia was the Amazon rainforest, which encircles the city. Its metallic latticed structure was designed to resemble a traditional indigenous basket and it is a masterpiece of modern technology and one of the greenest arenas of the World Cup. Located in the Ponta Negra district, near downtown Manaus, the capacity is 44,500 and it will stage four games.
Quick beer Adrianopolis and Cachoeirinha are the most lively bar areas with live music and entertainment. If you are looking for football bars, Touchdown and Cachaçaria da Dede are the best options. Dining out offers the opportunity to try Amazon gastronomy, based on exotic fruits, seeds and fresh fish such as tucunaré, tambaqui and the giant pirarucu. Head for the Banzeiro or Village Casa de Comidas.
The weather The temperature barely varies in Manaus, averaging 23-27C year round. It is hot and incredibly humid year-round, though the tournament falls outside the rainy season.
What to pack? Rain coat and mosquito repellent are essentials and, if you’re planning excursions into the jungle, don’t forget boots, long sleeve T-shirts, trousers and a hat. Before travelling, contact your GP to check the recommended vaccinations, and don’t forget your yellow fever vaccination certificate.
What’s the city like? The city’s annual festival, Boi-Bumbá (an Amazonian carnival that combines Brazilian rhythms with indigenous dancing) will coincide with the World Cup, and don’t miss the famous Manaus Opera House – a monument to the wealth created in the 19th-century rubber boom. You do not need to go very deep into the jungle to have a glance of the Amazon; in Manaus, a great jungle experience can be found at CIGS, the army training centre for jungle survival that has one of the best Amazonian zoos. The city is located at the meeting of two rivers, an amazing natural phenomenon where the dark waters of Rio Negro meet the light-brown waters of Solimões, which then run side by side without mixing for more than 6km. Take a boat tour, which will also visit the flooded forest, lakes of the giant Victoria Regia and the Janauari Ecological Park, right in front of Manaus.
Out of town You can’tcome all the way to Manaus, without getting deep inside the mysteries of the Amazon. There are all kinds of options: scientific clipper boats, and fantastic lodges like Uacari and Anavilhanas; or, if you want to feel like a real explorer, go on a canoe expedition or jungle survival programme.
Lenauro Mendonça, tour operator Terra Brasilis
State Rio Grande do Norte
The stadium The brand new Arena das Dunas holds 42,000, and will host four matches. Since there are few local football clubs to support the new arena, it has been designed as a multi-purpose structure.
Quick beer Around the stadium, you’ll find good options for eating and drinking: try Mangai for food, and Bar Original for drinking and football. But Ponta Negra, 9.5km outside the city, is the most popular place to go – a beach promenade with lots of bars, such as Decky, offering food and live music.
The weather Tropical climate – expect light rain from June to August (winter), but temperatures averaging 22C to 27C.
What to pack? Bring lightweight clothes, as Natal is very informal, and flip flops for walking on the sand dunes.
What’s the city like? Any mention of Natal must start with the forró – an amazing rhythm that originated in this part of the northeast and is now popular all over Brazil. You can´t escape a night of forró in Natal and, at places such as Rastapé and Forró do Turista, you can watch and learn how to dance with the help of a native partner. Natal is also famous for its sand dunes, beaches and warm, calm waters. There are two areas: Via Costeira, a long strip with hotels and resorts on the beachfront, and the popular Ponta Negra beach, which ends with the most famous dune at the city of Morro do Careca, where you can walk around the narrow streets and take in the markets and fairs with their beautiful handicrafts.
Out of town From north to south, there are nice beaches, but take a buggy ride to Genipabu where you will find the most remote and pristine examples: Touros, São Miguel do Gostoso or Galinhos. If you ride south, the most famous place is Pipa, an ex-hippie village, where you can watch the dolphins offshore. Head inland to discover the drylands – the Sertões and its unique culture.
Lenauro Mendonça, tour operator Terra Brasilis