It's not just about the football

Monday 9 June 2014 03.57 PM

So the World Cup is upon us. Most of the football fans who have spent a fortune getting over there will probably see little outside of the host cities, but a few must be tempted to extend their stay. To make the effort to explore some of this enormous country (10% bigger than Australia), and possibly sample some of its outdoor activities.

So the World Cup is upon us. Most of the football fans who have spent a fortune getting over there will probably see little outside of the host cities, but a few must be tempted to extend their stay. To make the effort to explore some of this enormous country (10% bigger than Australia), and possibly sample some of its outdoor activities.

But that’s the thing: despite all the hype and intense media attention, most people would be hard pressed to think of a sport (other than football) or an outdoor pursuit (other than hanging out at the beach) associated with Brazil. It’s a bit of an enigma.

So what’s here? Thousands of miles of tropical and sub-tropical coastline for a start. Then there's the mind-bogglingly vast interior, shared by the Amazon rainforest and an area of ranching land-cum-savannah about half the size of Europe. It’s one of the few countries in South America not touched by the Andes, but there are  some verdant mountain ranges close to the coast - relatively low, but often beautiful.

Some of the best (and most developed) areas for walking are in the national parks, such as Itatiaia, that occupy what remains of the Atlantic rainforest between Rio and São Paulo. Trekking is also enjoyable on Ilha Grande just west of Rio, and around the fabulous Iguazu Falls on the borders with Argentina and Paraguay – along with various other adventure activities such as rafting and rappelling.

Up in the north near the city of Salvador, the rocky Chapada Diamantina highlands have some exciting hiking and mountain biking trails. At the other end of the country, the cool forested highlands near Porto Alegre are an interesting and scenic area for hiking – definitively outside of the tropics and populated by an unusual mix of German and east European settlers who came here 100-150 years ago and who preserve their cultural traditions.

The majority of Amazon rainforest hikes are arranged from Manaus, and involve a riverboat trip into the jungle. It’s an enormous area and the possibilities are practically endless. Canoeing along a tributary to the main river is one of the best ways to get close to the wildlife.

Brazil isn’t a great road cycling destination, with poorly surfaced roads, oppressive tropical heat and a dangerous driving a real hazard. For the intrepid, though, there is the 180-mile Curitiba to Miracatu bike route along the Atlantic coast in Parana and São Paulo states: see www.tour.tk/pdf/biking-beaches-in-brazil.pdf for details.

The surfing season is just getting underway now: it’s popular in and around Rio, but the best surfing spot on the Atlantic coast has to be Santa Catarina island, 150 miles south of São Paulo. For other beach sports such as paragliding, wind-surfing and kite-surfing, the Brazilian resorts are the places to come – with Rio de Janeiro leading the way: a real thrill is to be had gliding over the city. Dune surfing is a big deal on the endless dunes between Natal and Fortaleza in the northeast of the country.

Prime diving spots include Fernando de Noronha island, off Brazil’s most northeastern point, and the coral reefs of the Abrolhos archipelago off the coast of southern Bahia. To the east of Rio de Janeiro is Cabo Frio, and in the other direction are the resorts of Angra dos Reis and Parati. And the swimming is wonderful almost anywhere on the coast.

(By the way, I predict that England will draw all their games: 1-1 with Italy, 0-0 with Uruguay and 0-0 with Costa Rica. I can see it being a ridiculously tight group. But I’m terrible at predicting football results.)

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