With the 2014 World Cup fast approaching, it’s time to get well acquainted with the country that is arguably the most synonymous with soccer (after all it has won five World Cups, the most by any country).
The great thing about this year’s World Cup is that the games will be played in twelve host cities, spread across the country’s vast territory, which means you’ll be able to experience and embrace Brazil’s diverse and rich culture firsthand.
Host city: Belo Horizonte. Stadium: Mineirão
Less famous than its sister cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Bela Horizonte (Portuguese for “beautiful horizon”) is perhaps best known as being the “bar capital” of Brazil. With over 12,000 bars to choose from, you’ll have little trouble finding a watering hole to suit your tastes. And if you thought it was all play and no work in Beagá (the city’s nickname from the Portuguese pronunciation of its initials), Google has its headquarters located in the city!
Host City: Brasilia. Stadium: Estádio Nacional
As the national capital of Brazil, Brasilia is not only the country’s third capital (initially it was located in Salvador, then Rio de Janeiro before its current location) it didn’t even exist as a city until 1956! Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the city is home to some of the most amazing architectural structures you will ever see, such as Oscar Niemeyer’s Metropolitana Nossa Senhora Aparecida cathedral, the Praça dos Três Poderes (Three Powers Square), and the Espelho d’agua (mirror of water).
Host City: Cuiabá. Stadium: Verdão
Though it has the smallest stadium of any of the World Cup host cities (42,968 capacity seating), Cuiabá (nicknamed the “Green City”) is situated at the intersection of three key Brazilian ecosystems: Amazonia, Cerrado and Pantanal. Whether you’re in the mood for thermal baths, snorkeling, rafting or rappelling, adventure seekers will feel right at home at the “Southern Gate to the Amazon” (yet another nickname for Cuiabá).
Host City: Curitiba. Stadium: Arena da Baixada
Curitiba (Portuguese for “pine nut”, because of all the pine nut trees in the region) is not only one of the oldest cities in all of the Americas (founded in 1653 by the Portuguese) it is also one of the most environmentally progressive cities as well: two thirds of all city refuse is recycled, buses account for half of all public transportation (some buses can carry up to 270 passengers) and sheep are employed to trim (that is, eat) the city’s pristine lawns.
Host City: Fortaleza. Stadium: Castelão
As the center of the forró dance craze, June may be the best time to visit Fortaleza as festas juninas (June festivals) will be in full effect by the time the World Cup begins. The city also holds a very important distinction as being the first place in Brazil to abolish slavery in 1884.
Host City: Manaus. Stadium: Arena Manaus
Once the world’s epicenter for the rubber trade, Manaus became such an extraordinarily wealthy country that rubber barons commissioned the construction of the Teatro Amazonas, a replica of the famous Grand Opera de Paris in 1896. Manaus is not only a host city for the 2014 World Cup but it also hosts the world’s largest samba festival, with more than eighteen bands and a hundred thousand people in attendance each October.
Host City: Natal. Stadium: Arena das Dunas
Natal (Portuguese for “Christmas”) is home to the largest cashew tree in the world, estimated to be over a thousand years old and yielding over 60,000 fruits each year. Covering an area greater than 8,400 square meters, the Maior cajueiro do mundo or Cajueiro de Pirangi (“World’s largest cashew tree” or “cashew tree of Pirangi”) has a base circumference measuring 500 meters (1,600 feet). Due to a genetic mutation, the branches grow outwards instead of upwards, disallowing roots to properly form which accounts for its immense size.
Host City: Porto Alegre. Stadium: Estádio Beira-Rio
Known as the center of gaúcho country, you’ll be sure to find some of Brazil’s best steakhouses here such as Na Brasa and Barranco. Don’t forget to stop by the Central Market for a great selection of homemade fruit jams, cheeses and specialty meats, as well as red and white wines native to the northern gaúcho mountains.
Host City: Recife. Stadium: Cidade da Copa
Originally colonized by the Portuguese in the early 16th century, the city is renowned for its outdoor sports and beaches, including the Boa Viagem, a five-mile beach front which is the longest in Brazil. Another interesting fact: due to the Dutch-Anglo war, many members of the original Jewish community of Recife were forced to flee, some relocating to New Amsterdam (modern day New York) resulting in the first Jewish settlement of the United States.
City: Rio de Janeiro. Stadium: Maracanã
As Brazil’s number one tourist location, the Cidade Maravilhosa (“The Marvelous City”) boasts many attractions including Christ the Redeemer statue, Copacabana Beach, and Tijuca National Park. Rio de Janeiro (Portuguese for “River of January”) will host the largest World Cup matches at its famous Maracanã stadium (90,000 capacity seating).
Host City: Salvador. Stadium: Fonte Nova
A city of interesting contrasts, Salvador or São Salvador da Baía de Todos os Santos (“City of the Holy Savior of the Bay of all Saints”) opened the first slave market in the New World in its Largo do Pellourinho square in 1558 (a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985). Today, it hosts the largest outdoor party in the world, attracting more people to its Carnival festival (averaging a million and a half people each year) than not only any other city in Brazil but also in the entire world!
Host City: São Paulo. Stadium: Morumbi
With a population over 22 million, São Paulo is not only the largest city in South America but also the third largest city in the world. Paulistanos (nickname for São Paulo residents) love to dine out too, eating on average a million pizzas a year! And you won’t see any billboards around since the city passed the Clean City Act, effectively banning them in 2006.