Exploring Brazil

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Brazil offers a wide range of adventure vacations. Since most major cities are on the coast, the country's best beaches are within easy reach. Visitors who want to experience unspoiled wildlife can find it in remote areas of the Amazon and the interior.

The Coast:

For travelers who want a convenient escape from the urban sprawl of Rio de Janeiro and S Paulo, there are two options located midway between the two cities.

Ilha Grande:

This island off the southern coast offers the best of tropical Brazil in one compact area (300 km sq). Ilha Grande offers more than a hundred pristine beaches, a extensive network of hiking trails through its lush interior rainforest, and rumors of buried pirate treasure. Especially recommended is the trek to the ghost town of Praia da Parnaioca, once a fishing village. Its residents were scared away a few years ago after a string of escapes from a now-closed prison that was located nearby.

Itatiaia National Park:

Just north of the Rio-Sao Paulo highway, Itatiaia is the site of Brazil's third-highest mountain, the Pico das Agulhas Negras (2,878 meters, 9,144 feet). The park is also home to over 250 species of birds, which attract birdwatchers from around the world. The terrain varies from tropical to temperate according to elevation. At the highest elevation, where temperatures sometimes drop below freezing, the desolate landscape is dotted with bizarre rock formations, the result of temperature extremes and heavy rainfall. Some of the most famous are the Pedra de Taruga (the Turtle) and the Pedra de Mca (the Apple).

The Amazon:

Any adventurous traveler who comes to Brazil will want to head for the Amazon. Most travel in the Amazon region is by boat (the smaller the better). The trip from Benjamin Constant, on the border with Colombia, to Manaus, the bustling center of the region, takes four days. In this narrowest stretch of the Amazon, boats pass houses built on stilts along the river and passengers can hear the screeches of monkeys and birds in the forest. At Manaus is the famous "meeting of the two rivers," where the dark Negro and the yellowish Solimoes, both tributaries of the Amazon, run side by side without mixing waters.

Camping in the forest offers a whole different perspective on the region. Since many of the area's most fascinating animals are nocturnal, the best way to view wildlife here is on a night walk. Armed with a strong flashlight or headlamp, visitors can get up-close looks at tarantulas, tree frogs, bats, spiny rats and snakes (most of which are non-poisonous).

The Pantanal:

This enormous marshy plain, which spreads out along Brazil's western border with Paraguay and Bolivia, is famous for its abundant wildlife. Its flat, open vistas are perfect for spotting alligators, jaguars, anacondas, spider monkeys and gibbons--not to mention flocks of tropical birds (toucans, parrots and macaws, among others). There are outlying bases for exploring the Pantanal, the most serviceable being the towns of Cuiaba, Campo Grande, and Corumba on the Bolivian border. Visitors should allow at least two nights at lodges or camping grounds further inside the park. Canoe trips down the Pantanal's small rivers are the best way to see animals up close. Rides in small planes and hot-air balloons give views of the wildlife from above. Among the activities not to be missed: piranha fishing.

Iguacu Falls:

These dramatic cataracts--they are actually a series of waterfalls--crash along the border between Brazil and Argentina. Broken into 275 inlets and drops, they form a horseshoe-shaped rim. The most violent drop is the Garganta do Diablo ("Devil's Throat"), which marks the border between the two countries. The best overall view is from the Brazilian side, where trails cut into the side of the riverbank offer a grand panorama of the main section of falls. Argentina, however, offers the ultimate close-up experience: there one can walk out on pasarelas, catwalks built a few feet above the river at the very edge of the falls. The roar of the water, the sudden dramatic drop, and the shakiness of the catwalk will quicken the pulse of even the most jaded traveler. Boats take visitors to the crashing waters at the bottom of the falls and to more tranquil nearby pools for swimming.

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