From the wide sandy beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana on the Atlantic seaboard in the west, to the wild highlands of the Amazonian Pantanal on the region’s very eastern cusp, the host cities for this year’s 2014 World Cup are strewn right across the country in a truly haphazard fashion. What’s more, Brazil is unlike many other footballing destinations in terms of both size and scope, and visitors may find it a little more difficult this year to chop and change between stadiums – especially with some separated as they are by such daunting natural wonders as the Rio Negro waterways or grand Amazon Rainforest. So, here we’ll take a look at each of the host cities individually to see what they have to offer, and what would-be football (or soccer) fans can expect from the various corners of this vast and daunting country.
American fans among us will want to pay special attention to Recife, Natal and Manaus, as those cities will host the Team USA group games from June 12 to June 26.
While the nearby historical Portuguese colonial towns of Tiradentes and Ouro Preto ooze with all the bucolic mountain charm of the Minas Gerais, there’s nothing rustic and quaint about buzzing Belo Horizonte. Here, crisscrossing lanes of seething traffic and endless avenues of boutique shops, upscale restaurants and lively tavernas combine to create a truly cosmopolitan metropolis that’s now the third largest in all of Brazil. Guests should not be put off by the high-stacked central business district, because a recent makeover has worked wonders for Belo Horizonte culture and arts scene, while the dominating Estadio Mineirao is a gem of the city’s architectural modernism.
Legend has it that the 19th century Italian Saint Bosco foresaw the construction of a modernist megacity in the heart of South America. Today, the sprawling conglomeration of concrete complexes and meticulously planned city districts that is Brasilia, spreads out across the country’s south-central highlands, inscribed by UNESCO for its dominating fabric of hi-tech skyscrapers and futuristic architecture; the continent’s answer to Bosco’s visionary prophecy. Today, visitors here enjoy a wealth of sights on the Eixo Monumental walk, while the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha is set to host this year’s highly-contested third place playoff.
High in the dramatic Chapada Hills, on the western edge of the Brazilian Plateau, the smallest of 2014’s World Cup host cities can be found in its long-time enclave of economic prosperity. In the last 100 years, Cuiaba has gone from sleepy mountain town to sprawling metropolis, driven by the influx of prospecting gold pioneers and agricultural businessmen. Today, it’s the kingpin of soybean production in South America, but remains a staple on the Brazilian tourist trail for its unique position on the northern fringes of the Amazonian Pantanal – one of the most thriving natural biospheres on earth!
Efficient and innovative Curitiba is one of Brazil’s undisputed urban gems. In the late 1950s the forward-thinking city council recognized its potential to become one of the country’s leading metropolises, and instigated an ambitious series of regeneration projects that gave Curitiba one of the best urban infrastructures in all of South America, not to mention a whole new range of pretty green parks and open public spaces. The city is also home to a wealth of cultural centers, while art-hungry visitors should definitely pay a visit to the Oscar Niemeyer – the largest arts museum in all of Latin America.
Tourists both domestic and foreign flock to Fortaleza for one thing, and one thing only: The atmosphere. While even the downtown historic district of Centro lacks any of the overtly intriguing, post-colonial pieces of architecture and monuments that one may expect of a Latin town dating from the 1500s, the 20 kilometre stretch of coastline bordering the city offers up some seriously chart-topping beaches and no shortage of lively nightlife spots. Of these, the Praia de Iracema district is without question the most hedonistic, while it is Praia do Futuro to the east of the city that offers up the best sand.
As the capital of the wild and untapped region of Amazonas, the city of Manaus is something of an enclave of civilization that’s now used primarily as a jump-off point for further exploration into the fabled jungles of Latin America. For visitors looking to explore this world-famous region, there’s now a well-developed tour operating scene in the city, with a number of experienced guides offering excursions into the rainforests. Of these, boat trips to the confluence of the Rio Negro and Amazon are among the most feasible, when visitors can spot the murky sediments of the Andean hills disperse into the clear waters from the Pico da Neblina national park.
Safe, family friendly fun is the name of the game in the city of Natal. Perched neatly on the very nose of the country, at the tip of the Rio Grande do Norte region, it’s supremely located to offer a range of marine-based excursions, from boat tours to scuba diving, while the proliferation of clean beaches within easy reach of the center has made it a staple of domestic tourism for some decades. The centre itself is a hodgepodge of gastronomic treats and shopping centres, while underneath the surface there’s also something of a lively nightlife waiting to bubble up afterhours.
Porto Alegre is a pristine and picturesque city that’s retained much of the classical, colonial charm of its former years. Consequently visitors here enjoy some of the most authentic architectural sites in all of Brazil, ranging from the wide public market squares of the city centre to the impressive neoclassical cathedral facades found on the Praca da Matriz. This important transport and trade hub is also proudly different to most other Brazilian capitals, and the locals here have long prided themselves on their traditional culture, good wine and lively personalities!
Hedonism and high energy abound in Recife, a city that’s unfortunately often overlooked by visiting foreigners in favour of Salvador to the south. The urban fabric here is a patchwork of classical historic districts (like the Recife Antigo area) and heady urban nightlife spots, all presided over by a long coastal chain of residential neighbourhoods and picture-perfect city beaches. In general it’s a combination that makes for a lively and high-energy experience, and many choose to visit the supremely-pretty nearby town of Olinda for that much-needed respite from the crowds.
Prepare for sensory overload in this bubbling hot pot of human life, because Rio de Janeiro, home to the iconic Copacabana Beach, birthplace of Brazilian fiesta, is now the country’s second largest metropolis and without question its most-visited city. Accordingly, guests can expect all the bells and whistles of a truly energetic regional capital, from flaunting fashionistas at Ipanema, to wild bossanova-filled carnivalesque nights on the famous Lapa Street drag. But it’s not all party in Rio. The town is crowned by the pious statue of Christ the Redeemer (an unavoidable landmark), while it’s also noticeably threadbare on the corners, home to some of the world’s most shocking favela districts and slums.
The city of Salvador is one of Brazil’s most enduring architectural bastions of Portuguese colonialism. Its UNESCO-attested Old Town is still a palimpsest of grandiose churches and regal façades and was once the focal point for all expansionist settlement in Latin America. The city has also been hailed as the Black Rome (Roma Negra) for its curious integration of African culture and traditions, now evident in every nook and cranny of the metropolis – from the sprawling Mercado Modelo of downtown, to the makeshift food courts that assemble en masse in the tight-knit streets after dark.
Sao Paulo is a seething, breathing, bubbling Frankenstein of a city that’s been forged from the innumerable tendrils of Brazilian multiculturalism. The center is a seemingly endless conglomeration of big-business high rises, home to streams of purring cars that move ceaselessly through the traffic lanes both day and night. But, first impressions are nothing to go by here, because Sao Paulo’s real treats are hidden cunningly beneath the surface. At night, it’s the undisputed kingpin of trendy Brazilian nightlife, with super-clubs and beer bars that rumble on well past dusk. What’s more, there’s a wealth of exhibition centres and hipster cinemas, along with world-famous eateries and museums to boot.