Brazil is a happening travel destination in 2014, as soccer fans and vacationers head south for the FIFA World Cup soccer championship this summer. But whether you’re a soccer fan or not, there are plenty of great reasons to visit Brazil this year. Here are just 9 of them, in no particular order.
1. Flora & fauna: Nearly 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest, and 25 percent of the world’s rainforests are located in Brazil. Nearly 4 million plant and animal species are found in Brazil, including more species of monkeys than anywhere else in the world.
2. Diverse, amazing geography: From the winding Amazon River and surrounding rainforest to more than 4,600 miles of coastline to savannas and grassland in south-central and southern parts of this vast country, which makes up nearly half of South America.
3. Brazilian people: Brazil is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. Brazilians can trace their lineage to pre-contact indigenous peoples, Africans who were brought to Brazil as slaves, and anglo-European settlers (particularly Germans and Italians), more than 4 million of whom arrived between 1880 and 1930. Its official language is Portuguese, but 180 native languages are still spoken in different regions, as is German and Italian.
4. Multicultural cuisine: Like its demographics, the cuisine of Brazil is a mix of native dishes paired with the influences of European and Japanese cultures. The result is a diverse cuisine that covers everything from the Latin-Caribbean staple of rice and beans and root vegetables to grilled churrasqueira meats to pastels, similar to Spanish empanadas but Japanese in origin.
5. Rich culture: While Brazilian culture is largely derived from that of Portugal, it is also heavily influenced by indigenous peoples, and African and other European immigrants. The result is a vibrant mix of music and dance, most typified by the Samba.
6. Coffee: Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors introduced a new beverage, coffee, to Europeans back home. And today, more than a third of the world’s coffee is grown in Brazil, and much of it is consumed by Brazilians! Coffee culture is thriving—Sao Paolo alone has more than 25,000 coffee bars—and your coffee might come with a piece of chocolate or a small cookie.
8. Carnival: The pre-lenten festival of carnival takes places all over the world, but no place does it like Brazil. The parades, elaborate costumes, pulsing samba music and partying virtually shut down business in major cities for 6 days. The Rio de Janeiro Carnival is perhaps the most famous, drawing nearly 5 million revelers per year.
9. Soccer! We can’t list superlatives of Brazil without mentioning soccer! The 2014 World CUp is just the latest prize for this soccer-loving nation, whose national team has won the World Cup five times—more than any other country. Soccer great Pele hails from Brazil and still reigns as the top-goal scorer of all time. If you’re lucky enough to be in Brazil from 12 June to 13 July 2014, try to score a ticket to what promises to be the hottest World Cup in years.