We are packing our bags for Brazil, on a journey that will take us from some fabulous beaches to the unspoiled depths of the Amazon rainforest, not to mention one of the biggest festivals in the world.
Roughly the size of the continental United States, there’s a lot more to Brazil’s geography than meets the eye.
The Amazon rainforest covers about half the country, but there’s plenty of room left over for savannah, wetlands, and some of the most amazing coastlines you’ll ever see.
No wonder that’s where the majority of Brazilians live, in cities that are both historic and modern.
The country’s largest and wealthiest city: Sao Paulo.
The commercial hub of Brazil, Sao Paolo also competes for the title of cultural center with its northern neighbor, Rio de Janeiro.
But you can’t really blame them for the rivalry.
Rio’s got to be one of the most exciting cities in the world.
For a breathtaking view of it, take the cog railway up to the top of Corcovado Mountain, where the 130-foot statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooks the city.
From there, you can see out across Rio, Guanabara Bay, and over to the city’s famous beaches.
At spots like Ipanema and Copacabana, the beaches become the city’s great equalizer.
Here, you’ll find rich and poor, old and young, locals and visitors all coming to enjoy the sun and the sand.
But like anywhere you go in the city, crime can sometimes be a problem, so make sure you don't attract unwanted attention from thieves.
Keep your valuables and your passport back at the hotel.
And as tempting as those moonlit walks on the beach may be, stick to the beaches in the day.
In the evening, Rio’s busy nightlife awakens to the sounds of samba.
The musical style is a Rio original, and can be heard throughout the city.
Especially, at Carnival.
For four days before the start of Lent, cities across Brazil host Carnival festivals, but Rio’s is the most famous, and the largest.
Its six million residents, known as Cariocas, combine with over half a million tourists to transform Rio into a city wide street party.
It culminates with the Samba Parade, where samba schools compete with elaborate floats and costumes.
The festivities go on until dawn, when the crowds finally go home…before beginning to plan for next year’s Carnival.
Moving inland from the coast, the city sounds melt away.
This is ranch country.
Brazilian cowboys, called pantaneiros, lead their herds across the vast savannahs.
But with the coming of the seasonal floods, an area the size of France becomes the world’s largest wetlands, called the Pantanal.
It is a safari spotter’s paradise, with alligators, jaguars and macaws.
It would rank as Brazil’s richest landscape, if it wasn’t overshadowed by its larger neighbor to the north: The Amazon.
Nearly one-fifth of the world’s free-flowing fresh water runs through its river basin.
Its bottom is so deep, large sea vessels can journey up river for over a thousand miles.
It is without exaggeration referred to as the “Ocean River.”
Many places along its banks make excellent jumping off points for jungle treks.
The rain forest’s crowded canopy hums and buzzes with life, if you are quick enough to spot it.
It’s estimated that one in ten mammal species on the planet live in the Amazon.
Many native tribes still live in the forest.
Some allow guests to experience their way of life.
Here, time slows down to the rise and fall of the river, in a place found nowhere else on Earth.
When planning a trip to the Amazon, the best times to come are during the dry season, which varies north and south of the Equator.
In most other places, the tourist high season is during Brazil’s summer, between December and February.
Many people speak some degree of English, but if you want to meet the locals, don’t forget to pack that Portuguese phrasebook.
If you’re on a schedule, the best and safest way to check out sites around the cities is by taxi, and the best way to get around the country is by plane.
With more time on your hands, you can hit the road or take a trip down the river.
But no matter how much time you’ve got, a trip to Brazil will make the most of it.