Carnival in Brazil: It’s time to samba

As Carnival (or Carnaval in Portuguese) is upon us, now is a good time to write a little about it, even though it is a celebration that does little for me personally.

First off, Carnival is perhaps Brazil’s most important holiday and is certainly the longest.  Businesses tend to shut on Friday afternoon only to reopen at midday on Wednesday.  I still find this idea of going to work at lunchtime after 4 or 5 days of partying a strange concept although I suppose it does provide a little time to get over any hangovers.

The dates of Carnival weekend vary from year to year in the same fashion as Easter.  They are the last days to party before lent, meaning that Carnival celebrations are the weekend before Shrove Tuesday/Ash Wednesday.

Carnival – Rio de Janeiro

Carnival varies somewhat from city to city.  In Rio de Janeiro, the main event takes place at the Sambadromo, a 700m long avenue with spectator stands either side, on Sunday and Monday of the weekend between 9pm and approximately 3:50am.  Each day 6 different samba schools take their turn to parade along the avenue.  Each school has 3,000 to 5,000 people dressed in various costumes.  Additionally, each school usually has about 8 specially designed floats themed to the schools overall theme of the year.  You can find out a lot more here

Carnival in Rio

Carnival – Salvador

Perhaps the second most famous Carnival city is Salvador, where in true local style it starts on Thursday and carries on to Wednesday more or less all day and night long.  In Salvador they have many trios which are floats or trucks with bands/dancers that drive slowly around the city’s streets.  People can  follow a particular trio around, protected from the crowds by security guards, by buying a pass to become an abada. Another way is to buy a ticket in a camarote where you will have the comfort of food and drink.  The third way is to simply walk the streets and pavements.  This is called pipoca (usually translated as popcorn) and is the least comfortable and safe option.

Carnival Salvador

Other cities celebrate  may elect to celebrate Carnival on different days or even different weekends.  For example, Sao Paulo has a similar parade to Rio that takes place on Friday and Saturday.  Other cities, such as Belo Horizonte where I live, don’t have any major events, but instead have many smaller street parties or blocos, a smaller, less organised version of a trio.

Carnival Ouro Preto

Time to cool down in Ouro Preto 2012 – See more here

Another popular destination for Brazilians are the historic cities, such as world heritage listed Ouro Preto.  In Ouro Preto, most people stay in a ‘republic’ – a sort of dorm/hostel where facilities are shared among many.  The atmosphere is lively with various stages dotted around city’s cobbled roads and numerous churches. the .  It is a 4 or 5 day party with little sleep for most

28 February, 2014 | Written by Steve | Comments: Add comment

Foggy and Sushi



It’s not very easy to take a picture of the two together, but they were playing on the breakfast table this morning…

Sushi e Foggy

7 March, 2010 | Written by Eneida | Comments: Add comment

Must see places in Brazil

I’m often asked by friends and students “What do British people think of when they think of Brazil?”.  I have to say beautiful beaches and women, carnival, the amazon rain-forest and crime.

Dealing with the last first, there is undoubtedly serious crime in Brazil, particularly in the big cities.  However, and I hope it stays this way, I haven’t personally had experienced this.  In fact, I’ve been told several stories about people going to the UK and having things stolen that weren’t stolen in Brazil.  I think with some common sense and staying away from certain neighbourhoods, then there isn’t a huge amount to worry about.

Devil's Throat, Foz de Iguaçu

Devil's Throat, Foz de Iguaçu

With regards my other answers, they are true, but there is so much more that Brazil has to offer.  For example, the beaches aren’t just Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon in Rio de Janeiro.  Brazil has about 2800km of beaches and, in my experience, most of them are spectacular and many exceed the beaches I’ve seen in other parts of the world.

So, apart from the beaches, where would I suggest visiting.

Foz de Iguaçu/Itaipu

Itaipu Dam with spillway open

Itaipu Dam with spillway open

Foz de Iguaçu (or Iguazu in Argentina) should, in my opinion, be considered as one of the natural 7 wonders of the world, however, Itaipu Dam is considered by American Engineers to be one of the engineering world.  Where else, within a few kilometres travel, can you see TWO such sites.

Foz de Iguaçu is a huge waterfall which is over 270m long, consists of upto 275 individual falls with a drop of approximately 82m.  It is on the Iguaçu river which delimits the border between Brazil and Argentina.  The Devils throat is quite spectacular.  On the Argentinian side you can get almost to the very top of the falls, whilst from the Brazilian side you can take a boat and travel to the base of the falls.

The Itaipu Dam was ‘jointly’ built by the Paraguayan and Brazilian governments but was mostly funded and constructed by Brazil.  It dams the Paraná River just above where it meets the Iguaçu River.  The convolution of the 2 rivers marks the border between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, which is unique in the world as well!

The dam generates 20% of Brazil’s total electrical needs and all of Paraguay’s.  It is possible to take a tour of the dam which includes the control centre, a drive over the top and base of the dam.  If you are lucky, like we were. you can see excess water being released down the spillway, but this is only about 10% of the days.

For more pictures of both these sites, please see our photos.

Ouro Preto central square

Ouro Preto central square

Colonial towns such as Ouro Preto and Tiradentes

These are historic cities founded by the Portuguese colonizers which are in the state of Minas Gerais (where we live). They give a glimpse into early life of Brazil.  In my opinion, many of these towns and cities are quite similar but a visit to one or more is a must.

Ouro Preto (black gold) is today on Unesco’s list of world heritage sites.  It was the focal point of Brazil’s 18th century gold rush and gold can still be seen today decorating many of the numerous historic catholic  churches.  It is set in a valley and was once the state’s capital until Belo Horizonte was built.

Rio de Janeiro

Most people know of Rio so this is very brief.  It is really beautiful city and has many attractions such as the harbour, the lagoon, Sugar Loaf, beaches such as Copacabana and Ipanema and of course Corcovada (where the famous Christ the Redeemer is to be found).  There are many many other attractions, great restaurants.  I currently rate Rio as my second favourite city in the world.

The above are all places we have visited.  The ones below come highly recommended and are on our list of places to visit.

Fernando do Noronha

Fernando do Noronha is an island archipeligo about 350km off the northeastern coast of Brazil.  In many ways it is the Atlantic’s Galapagos with the upwelling of water drawing much marine life.  However, it doesn’t have as large a diversity of terrestrial animals as does the Galapagos Islands.  It is regarded as the best diving in Brazil, a fact I have yet to test.



A river in Bonito

Bonito is famous for its crystal clear rivers that are a result of a natural filtration.  It is being preserved to keep its pristine natural beauty.  Activities include walking/treking and swimming/snorkeling/diving in the rivers and caves to be found in the area.


The amazon is a river basin surrounded by rainforest and is located in the countries of Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana.  The region and diversity is so varied that I’ll mention only a few things that I’d like to see and do.  In no particular order, see the confluence of the Rio Negro and Amazon river, swim with the river dolphins and experience the rainforest and jungle.

The Pantanal

The Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland covering an area of around 140,000 sq km.   It is renowned for its bio-diversity.  It is also easier to spot the wildlife in the Pantanal than in the Amazon as there are less hiding places.  As Bonito, it is predominantly located in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul.  There are thousands of different vertebrate species to be found there.

Lençoís Maranhenses

Lençoís Maranhenses

Lençoís Maranhenses

This is a region covering 1000 sq km of in the northeastern Brazilian state of Maranhão.  Despite heavy rainfall, it is a region largely devoid of vegetation with many discreet sand dunes and lakes.

As and when we visit these places, we’ll write more.

So you see Brazil isn’t just Rio, beautiful people and crime.  It has far more to offer.

6 December, 2009 | Written by Steve | Comments: 1 Comment

Sunny Sunday in INHOTIMUm domingo em INHOTIM

inhotim 40

Have you ever heard so much about a place that you think it must be overrated? You’re sure you’re going to be disappointed when you finally see it. That was my feeling about Inhotim, an open-air contemporary art museum 60 km from our home in Belo Horizonte. Last Sunday we eventually managed to go there and I have to say that Inhotim is everything I heard about and more! We loved it.

When we got there, the place was very crowded, because we chose to go on a long weekend right after the opening of new exhibitions.  Later I read that on that day, Oct 11th, they had more than 4000 visitors, a record since the opening in 2006. So we stood in line for half an hour or so but we had decided to spend the day there.

The place:

Installations, sculptures and paintings by contemporary artists from the 1960s onwards are part of the permanent collection. Some are outdoors while others are housed in 16 pavilions scattered around the park. According to the museum’s website, there are 600 hectares of Natural Reserve, 45 hectares of gardens with botanical collections and 5 lakes. Nature in its exuberance, as you can see in the pictures below.




For us Brazilians, some names stand out like that of landscape designer Burle Marx, inspiration for the amazing gardens, and modernist artists such as Helio Oiticica, Amilcar de Castro and movie-maker Neville D’Almeida. I was also surprised to see an installation by Olafur Eliasson, whose work I’d seen in the Turbine hall at Tate Modern back in 2004. And Steve was very impressed with a sound installation by Janet Cardiff with music recorded at Salisbury Cathedral.

I want that bench!

I want that bench!

This is a place we are definitely going back, especially with our dear guests from out of state or overseas.

Centro de Arte Contemporânea de Inhotim

Opening hours:

Thursdays and Fridays: 9:30 – 4:30 pm

Saturdays, Sundays and National Holidays: 9:30 – 5:30 pm

Admission for adults: R$15.00

Click here to see how to get there.

16 October, 2009 | Written by Eneida | Comments: Add comment

2016 – Olympics coming to Rio

Looking down on Rio de Janiero from Corcovada

Looking down on Rio de Janiero from Corcovado

Congratulations to Rio de Janeiro for winning the right to host the 2016 Olympic Games.  But is it good or bad for Brazil?  What do Brazilians think?

It’s fair to say that there are mixed opinions about hosting the Olympics.  There are those that say the Games will boost tourism, improve infrastructure, and reduce crime.  Conversely, there are those that are worried about corruption.

Itaimbezinho Canyon in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul

Itaimbezinho Canyon in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul

Can anyone imagine a more beautiful location and stunning back drop than Rio de Janeiro?  Rio is a truly gorgeous city with great beaches, mountains and warm lively hospitable people.  But Rio is just one very small part of Brazil, there are other equally amazing places throughout the country that are little known outside of Brazil.  If the Olympics bring tourists to Rio, lets hope they find time to visit some of the other incredible places in Brazil (more about these in a later post).  Brazil’s tourism potential is sadly currently under-exploited.  Brazil boasts stunning natural scenery, in addition to beautiful (and cheap) beaches to mention but two.  In fact, those in the northeast of the country that are just a few hours flight from southern Europe and the United States.  The Games can only aid in the development of this potential.

There are undoubted concerns after the Pan-American Games of 2007 that the Olympics will be beset with allegations of corruption and wasted expenditure.  I have little doubt that there will be some of this, but what major project anywhere in the world doesn’t suffer similar problems (I’m sure Londoners would concur). I hope the various governmental authorities have learnt from the Pan-American Games and find ways to minimise this.  There is a deep-set belief among Brazilians that corruption is ever-present.  I think that this is in part due to history and in part represents the current behaviour of some politicians and companies.  It won’t be easy to convince them otherwise but, with openness and changed policies, maybe this perception can be gradually changed.

Another concern is Rio being left with “White Elephants” that are little used by the citizens.  I think if Rio/Brazil can use the games to tap into the potential sporting prowess of a growing population (not just for football/soccer), then this infrastructure will be used. However, it needs to be made available to all sections of society, hence it needs to be cheap to use.

Lastly, there are concerns that the money could be better spent on healthcare, education, housing and other important social issues.  This is more difficult to answer.  There is progress being made on these fronts, albeit slowly.  The problems in Brazil’s big cities are not trivial and there is no quick easy answer, but if the funding for the Olympics improves housing and educations and does something to improve the quality of life of the favela’s (slum’s) inhabitants in Rio de Janeiro, there will be long-term benefits there and, hopefully, elsewhere.  There is no doubt that crime is a serious concern and something which will need to be resolved prior to the Olympics in order to reassure the influx of tourists.

My personal opinion is that the Games represent a huge opportunity for Brazil to be recognised for what it is:

  • A huge country with enormous economic and touristic potential
  • A country with beautiful warm open people, stunning beaches and diverse cultures

So lets hope that the Olympics are a huge success and bring financial and social rewards to Rio and Brazil as a whole.

5 October, 2009 | Written by Steve | Comments: Add comment

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