With 3.7 million people expected to travel throughout Brazil over the next month, World Cup 2014 is destined to become one of the world’s great spectator events. But that doesn’t mean travelers looking for more active experiences should feel left out.
“Brazil is an enormous country with different terrains, different ecosystems and different attractions,” said Adam Carter, president of Brazil Nuts, a tour company based in Naples, Florida. “There’s all sorts of things you can do in the cities, on the coast and in the savannah or jungle.”
From in-town experiences between games to back-of-beyond excursions in the Amazon and Pantanal, here are seven options for travelers who aren’t content to watch others have all the fun:
Hang gliding: Rio de Janeiro
Corcovado may be higher and Sugarloaf more dramatic, but the granite outcrop of Pedro Bonita in Rio’s São Conrado neighborhood may offer the bigger thrill for one simple reason: You can jump off its 507-meter (1,665 feet) summit and spend the next 10 to 30 minutes soaring over the city in a tandem hang glider. Ipanema, Copacabana, the aforementioned landmarks and the shimmering Atlantic — it’s all on stunning display a long, long way below your feet.
Sea kayaking: Paraty
Stretching south from Rio, Brazil’s Costa Verde takes its name from the juxtaposition of the verdant rainforests of the Serra do Mar mountains and the beaches and islands that dot Paraty Bay. Adventure central is the colonial port of Paraty, where local outfitters offer one-day to multi-day kayaking trips that visit secluded beaches, mangrove forests and Brazil’s only tropical fjord.
Beach buggy tours: Fortaleza
Brazil’s northeast coast is home to some of the most wildly scenic beaches in the country, the best of which are easily reached by beach buggy. One-day tours offer adrenaline-fueled tours of nearby dunes and lagoons; multi-day trips head farther out, traversing remote beaches and staying in small fishing villages along the way. “You motor along wild, windswept beaches by day and enjoy cold beer and hot shrimp at night,” said Carter. “It’s a great experience.”
“There are alligators and piranhas in the water and parrots and monkeys in the trees. Once you leave the pier, you’re in no man’s land.”
Amazon river trips: Manaus
Despite its reputation as a concrete jungle, Manaus has one thing going for it: It’s the gateway to the real deal, the vast tangle of rainforest and river channels of the Amazon basin. Local companies offer a variety of cruises that slowly traverse the waterways, including multi-day trips that add in canoe excursions, piranha fishing and wildlife viewing. “There are alligators and piranhas in the water and parrots and monkeys in the trees,” said Chicago-based travel agent Teresa Arellano Sanchez. “Once you leave the pier, you’re in no man’s land.”
Jungle lodging: Manaus
For travelers seeking an even more immersive Amazonian experience, nothing beats staying at one of the many jungle lodges scattered throughout the area. Some are rustic; others, surprisingly luxurious, and all offer a variety of activities and adventures. “There are jungle treks, visits with local villagers and swimming with pink dolphins,” said Carter. “It’s like summer camp for adventurous adults.”
Wildlife viewing: Pantanal
What the Amazon is to jungles, the Pantanal, in the southern state of Mato Grosso, is to wetlands, a vast floodplain that supports a dazzling array of wildlife, especially now, as the seasonal waters start to recede. Local outfitters offer tours by boat, jeep and horseback, and it’s not uncommon to see tapirs, anteaters and hundreds of species of birds. You may even see the region’s most celebrated resident, the jaguar, although it’s safe to say it’ll see you first.
Iguaçu Falls: Foz do Iguaçu
Some call it Iguaçu, others Iguassu, but everyone who sees it calls this thundering cataract on the Brazil/Argentina border spectacular. Comprising 275 individual waterfalls, some as high as 260 feet, it’s wider than Africa’s Victoria Falls and taller than Niagara. Visit the Brazilian side for panoramic vistas, Argentina for up-close-and-personal views from spray-washed catwalks or split the difference with a raft trip to the foot of the falls. As Timothy Chan of Toronto-based G Adventures puts it, “A trip to Brazil would not be complete without a visit to the falls.”