Brazil will be forever associated with samba, football, the Amazon and one of the biggest parties in the world: the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. But scratch the surface and gap year visitors to this huge and multifarious nation will discover so much more. Few countries offer such a melting pot of ecological and cultural diversity and travellers to the world’s fifth largest nation are in for a treat.
It’s not all about the well-known highlights such as the Amazon rainforest and beaches of course. The gigantic sand dunes of the Lençóis Maranhenses National Park are a sight to behold, while the Pantanal wetlands, the largest tropical wetlands in the world, offer a unique ecological experience. Watch out for piranhas though!
The music of Brazil is eclectic, exciting and compels you to get up and dance, especially after a caipirinha or two. Indeed music and dance are intrinsic constituents of life in Brazil and watching the samba school perform in either the quadras de samba or at the famed carnival itself is an experience not to be missed.
The vast otherworldly beauty of the Amazon rainforest and its winding lifeblood, the eponymous river, clearly represent a significant draw to nature lovers. There are numerous volunteer programmes relating to conservation of the rainforest itself or more specifically to particular species of flora or fauna.
Brazil is now the eighth or ninth biggest economy in the world (depending on which measure of GDP is used), and there are an increasing number of internship opportunities available to visitors in all areas of business.
Despite the wealth of the nation as a whole, there are still many people who live in poverty, for instance in the favelas in and around Rio de Janeiro. As such it is possible for gap year travellers to make a positive difference to Brazilians by volunteering for education or community projects in some of the bigger cities. You could even volunteer as a football coach on some programmes, though you might learn as much from the kids as they will from you!
Due to the size of the country (with an area of more than 3 million square miles) travellers and those on a career break might feel daunted. But with a reliable and extensive internal flight network and some efficient and very comfortable bus services, it is very possible to combine trips to some of the idyllic beaches dotted along more than 4500 miles of coastline, one or two of the vibrant cities of Rio, Sao Paulo, Recife or Salvador da Bahia, and some of the natural highlights such as Iguazu Falls (Foz do Iguaçu).
In terms of staying safe in Brazil, visitors will find most areas welcoming, relaxed and free from trouble. Of course, poverty can lead to petty crime in any country and Rio, Sao Paulo and other urban areas of Brazil are no different. Taking a few precautions should vastly reduce the chances of you falling victim to pickpockets or bag-snatchers. For instance, when visiting the tourist hotspots of Copacabana or Christ the Redeemer in Rio, don’t flash cash or expensive gadgets around, and take the usual precautions when walking around at night.
Depending on where you travel in Brazil you might need certain vaccinations or anti-malarial medication, so be sure to check with your local travel clinic when planning your trip. It also pays to take a good mosquito net if planning to venture into the more rural areas.