Jaguar on a riverbank in the Pantanal area of Brazil.
Jaguar on a riverbank in the Pantanal area of Brazil.

by Lee Foster

The jaguar, crouching on the bank, watched as our boat motored past it on Brazil’s Aquidauana River.

I knew that observing a jaguar, one of the rarest and most endangered animals in Brazil, was an unusual and exceptional privilege.

I was content to enjoy the fecund bird life of this huge seasonal wetland, the Pantanal, in western Brazil.  In fact, I had just been observing five-foot-high jaburu storks, nesting in the trees next to the river.

But Luizao, our guide, a man of the river, who had the practiced eye of a savannah hawk, spotted the huge cat, resting on the bank, watching us pass.  He turned the boat around and we approached slowly.

The large jaguar rose slowly, looking at us with amused curiosity.  Then the spotted cat sauntered along the bank a few steps, showing its full profile, turning its head towards us, modeling its lavish coat.  I raised my camera and squeezed off several frames.  As if determining that the parade was complete, the huge cat slipped effortlessly into the jungle.

For an encounter such as this I had sought out the ultimate ecotour–an immersion in the rain forests, wetlands, and Amazon River of Brazil.

My trip started near Rio with a look at the Atlantic rain forest of Itatiaia National Park.  This type of forest has the greatest diversity of plant and animal species and is the most endangered, reduced to 10 percent of its extent when Portugal made contact with Brazil in 1500.

Then I ventured a few hours by plane northwest from Rio to the Pantanal, the largest seasonal wetlands in the Americas, supporting the most abundant wildlife, especially birdlife, on these continents.

Finally, I flew several hours north, over thousands of miles of uncharted jungle, to Manaus, the main city on the Amazon River.  From Manaus I went three hours by boat up an Amazon tributary to experience the river and the jungle.

Brazil’s natural environment is both beautiful and of primary importance to all of us.  Some truths about just one aspect of my journey, the Amazon, can whet the appetite of the potential eco-traveler:

*So huge is the rain forest of the Amazon, the world’s largest rain forest, that it provides 40 percent of the world’s oxygen exchange.  The Amazon’s fecund plant life absorbs a colossal amount of carbon dioxide and returns oxygen to the air.  The Amazon hosts almost half of the remaining tropical rain forest on the planet.

*So diverse is the flora and fauna in the Amazon as to inspire wonder.  There are over 2,000 species of fish, over 1,800 species of birds, over 300 different mammals, and some 630 types of trees.  Naturalists estimate that the Amazon hosts about 30 percent of all species of living things on earth, possibly five million species of living things.

*So abundant is the water flow out of the Amazon that it is the #1 river for water flow in the world.  Moreover, the Amazon’s outflow exceeds that of the next eight largest rivers of the world combined.  The Amazon outflows into the ocean more than 20 percent of the world’s fresh water.  The river is 200 miles wide at its mouth.  Ten of the tributaries to the Amazon are among the 20 rivers on the earth with the greatest water outflow.

In Brazil they call it Amazonas, as if it is another realm, which it is.  It is the Fresh Water Sea, the River of Entanglement, the Rio Grande, more grande than its U.S. cousin.

Atlantic Rain Forest

Travelers coming to Brazil will most likely fly into Rio, the main port of entry.  The Atlantic rain forest near Rio can be a first encounter with the natural resources of the country.

The Atlantic rain forest is the most endangered of the Brazilian rain forests because it is on coastal land of great potential use to man.  Land was cleared during boom times when markets were strong for timber, sugar, cocoa, coffee, and cattle ranching.  Less than 10 percent of the original Brazilian Atlantic rain forest remains today.  The web of plant and animal diversity in the Atlantic rain forest is especially extensive, making it one of the most productive environments on earth, not only for its biomass alone, but for its intricacy, due partly to its wide latitude and altitude variations.

Itatiaia, an original Brazilian word for “high, pointed peaks,” was named Brazil’s first National Park, in 1937.  Southwest of Rio, the park preserves the Atlantic rain forest in its lower areas and geological formations in its higher parts.  The park has become a symbol of the effort to save Brazil’s impressive natural resources.  Aside from much endemic flora and fauna, Itatiaia is noted for its waterfalls.

A two-night, three-day trip from Rio can acquaint you with Itatiaia.  Another day would allow for further walks in the forest.

The park was created before the modern environmental era, primarily for its scenic beauty.  Vistas along the trails in this high-altitude environment, with the ever-changing cloud cover, provide woodsy respite for the Brazilian elite from Rio or Sao Paulo who have an interest in nature.  The park appears to a walker as ever-changing layers of clouds and forest.

To see the park, you need a guide service.  Services can be arranged by a travel agent who contacts Varig, the national airlines, or the main ecotour operators.

Logistics is not a casual matter for any type of travel in Brazil, especially for an ecotour.  The park is two hours by road from Rio.  A native driver, rather than a rental car, is highly recommended.  Lodging and a secure food supply must be arranged at the park.

I found the Hotel Ype, my lodging, an excellent base of operations in the park, located right in the park, with marvelous views of the clouds and mountains.  The grounds of the hotel offer one of the loveliest views of the park.  A dance of clouds alternately reveals, then hides the features of the mountains.  The lodging consists of a central building, where food is served, and outlying chalet-type sleeping rooms.  The food is wholesome and home-made.  Hikes begin from the lodge.

With the expert identifying powers of my guides, the complexity of the Atlantic rain forest became apparent, seen as a whole, then surveyed for its individual parts, especially its birds, mammals, and plants.

Among birds, I enjoyed the lavish colors of the toco toucan, with its long orange beak and red-yellow breast.  Green parrots in great numbers flew in clusters through the forest.  Yellow tanagers showed against the green.  Several species of hummingbirds sought out the flowers for nectar.  Itatiaia boasts about 450 of the 600 species of birds in the Brazilian Atlantic rain forest.  With a competent guide a visitor can see and identify about 50 species of birds in a three-day stay.

The mammals most apparent were the howler monkeys and capuchin monkeys that ranged along the treetops.

The diversity of plants in the Atlantic rain forest is its greatest strength.  No single species dominates; rather, many species exist together.

Bromeliad-family plants are numerous and are of great importance in the forest.  Bromeliads catch rain water in their cup-like leaves, creating mini-ecosystems.  The bromeliad’s water may host a cluster of frogs.  In turn, birds and monkeys may feed on the frogs.

Heart-of-palm trees are prominent here.  From  this tropical tree the delicious vegetable is harvested.

The “wait a while” plant, plentiful along the trails, has filaments along the stalk.  In one direction, the filaments lie silky smooth.  In the other direction, the filament can rip the skin off your hand.

We hiked to Bridal Veil Falls, where a diaphanous cascade launches the Campo Bello River.

Itatiaia boasts one of Brazil’s few natural-history museums.  This is an old-fashioned museum where you can see collections of mounted specimens.  The blue morpho butterflies on display are especially lovely.  Many of the birds you see are mounted for easy identification.  The exotic quality of many insects, such as foot-long walking sticks, amaze the visitor.

Traveling to and from the park can be a depressing experience, on two accounts.

First, the pyramid of wealth in Brazil has money concentrated in the hands of a few.  A huge impoverishment lies at the base.  This disparity of wealth in the two major cities, greater Rio at 13 million and greater Sao Paulo at 20 million, contributes to the safety risk of travel to Brazil and to the low priority for environmental concerns.

Second, the destruction of the Atlantic rain forest along the two-hour route from Rio is extensive, due to various lumber, sugar, cattle, and coffee booms in the past.  Once the land is cleared, however, the rain forest can’t be re-created because the diversity of its inter-related plants and animals can never be re-installed.  The cleared land, unfortunately, has poor economic value.  The soil is thin and the terrain is steep, so erosion is enormous.  Potential crops, such as bananas, grow badly in the nutrient-poor soil.

Fortunately, however, one sizable chunk, Itatiaia National Park, has been saved.


Leaving Rio on the way to the Amazon, there is merit in stopping at the Pantanal near Campo Grande to witness another of the great biotic regions of Brazil.  There is no guarantee of seeing a jaguar, but there is certainty that you will see many species of birds, mammals, and reptiles.

The Pantanal, a wetland rather than a forest, is the largest fresh-water wetland in the world, covering some 85,000 square miles.  Most of the Pantanal is in Brazil, though parts are in Bolivia and Paraguay.  Seasonal rains cause the rivers to overflow, creating a huge marsh.  The plant life soars and the fish populations explode, attracting millions of birds.  After June, the land dries out to become a vast natural grassland.  There are six months of wetness, then six of dryness.  The word “Pantanal” means swampland, but the area is not a permanent swamp, rather a seasonal wetland.

All times of the year are intriguing here, but the experience will be sharply varied.  My visit in early October, at the end of the dry season, made bird and animal spotting easy.  However, more birds will migrate to the region in the wet season.  During the wet period, foliage will be luxurious and your mobility will be somewhat reduced.  Some concentrated wildlife, such as the local alligators, called caimans, will be dispersed.  Mid-March is the peak moment of lushness for plant and animal life in the Pantanal.

Scientists estimate that the Pantanal supports the most abundant wildlife in the western hemisphere, with over 600 species of birds alone.  No environment of my experience compares with its resources.  Only the grasslands of Kenya, with their huge herds of game, can compare on other continents.  The Pantanal is especially hospitable to large wading birds, who feast on the fish and snail populations that explode when the rivers overflow.

Logistics is not a casual matter here.  The plane ride takes you from Rio to Sao Paulo.  From there, by air, the trip is two hours northwest to Campo Grande.  Beyond that, either another small commuter plane ride or a 3-1/2 hour overland route takes you to Pousada Caiman, a reputable hostelry that can organize the support you will need to see the Pantanal–transportation, lodging, food, access to private land, and a competent naturalist-guide.

The Pantanal is not a wilderness park in the North American sense.  Rather, it is a huge grassland in private hands, where cattle ranching and wildlife have existed side by side for the past 150 years, as in Kenya.  Very little land, about two percent, is in public hands.  Support facilities for travelers on public lands are minimal.

A rancher and industrialist with an environmental interest, Roberto Klabin, set aside 7,000 of his 60,000 acres as a wildlife reserve and organized the Pousada Caiman lodge, which is actually four small lodges, for seeing the wildlife.  I stayed at the Baizinha lodge, built on stilts over a permanent lake, and at Cordilheira lodge, also on stilts over higher ground that is flooded in the rainy season.  Baizinha was my favorite because the presence of water guaranteed a show of wildlife all day and all night, even in the dry season.  The central lodge is the original hacienda-like Pousada Caiman building.  A fourth associated lodge is called Piuba.  Usually, stays of two-nights each in Baizinha and Cordilheira are coordinated.  A three-night, four-day trip to the Pousada Caiman lodges would be the minimum stay to see the area.  Additional days allow more diverse wildlife outings.  Pousada Caiman’s outlying lodges are thatch structures, comfortable but rustic.  The food was excellent, all prepared from scratch.  The most critical element, the naturalist-guided tours, with an English-speaking guide, was superb.

With the guides, I saw wildlife in several ways: on foot treks, on horseback, by jeep vehicle on day and night trips, by canoe on the lake, and by boat down a river.

Birds of many kinds offered the single strongest appeal of the Pantanal.  A checklist compiled for the Pousada Caiman property counted 256 species.  This compares, for example, with 219 known species of birds in all of Canada.

The jaburu stork is a kind of symbol of the Pantanal bird superlatives.  This tall, white stork, with its red throat, is the tallest of storks, third largest bird in the world, and the largest flying bird in the Pantanal (an ostrich-family bird that runs, rather than flies, called the rhea, is larger than the jaburu).  Even an amateur appreciator of birds, with a guide and a checklist, will see and learn to identify over 50 species in a few days.

Some of the most colorful birds are the blue macaws, with their brilliant blue plumage.  White-necked herons, yellow campo flickers, and yellow-beaked cardinals, with their bright red heads, were other memorable birds.

The mammals you see in the Pantanal are also remarkable, especially the world’s largest rodent, the capybara, which grows to over four feet long and weighs in at 120 pounds.  Capybaras could be heard rooting around at night in the mud outside my room at Baizinha lodge.

Foraging long-tailed coati, pampas deer, and howler or capuchin monkeys were numerous.  On a night outing, with a flashlight, I saw a lesser anteater and the South American raccoon.  Large tapir and the giant river otter are fairly secretive.  The most elusive creature of all is the jaguar.

The Pousada Caiman, or “alligator lodge,” is named after the signature animal of the region, the alligator-family creature called a caiman.  The caimans are concentrated by October at the water sources, whether in pools or along the rivers.  At the pools they gather by the hundreds, waiting for the rains.  At night, their eyes look like a procession of candles, the lamps of a caiman city.  During the day they open their mouths to control their temperature.  Caimans survive by eating the numerous piranha fish in the rivers and lakes.  Where fish are plentiful all year, especially in the rivers, caimans can reach nine feet in length and weigh 350 pounds.  They can live for over 50 years.

At the lake by Baizinha lodge you will see piranha fish swimming near shore.  It is likely you will experience the violent moment when a caiman catches a fish, opening its huge jaws and thrashing its powerful tail to lunge at the fish.  The piranha are delicious for humans to eat also, so you will likely enjoy eating these fish, whose ferocious reputation has preceded them.

The plants of the Pantanal are also a pleasure.  The yellow flower ype tree, purple blossom taruma tree, and pink bloom piuve tree are some of the visual treats. While hiking the woods, you will see red-leafed bromeliad-family plants, called caraguata, with their distinctive white flowers.

In October, ranchers burns the grasslands of the Pantanal and sections of the Amazon forest all the way north to Manaus.  Burning is the cheapest way for a rancher or farmer to control the vegetation.  Burning has become one of the main environmental issues in Brazil.

The Pantanal element that I experienced can be arranged by a travel agent through Varig airlines or through a tour packager.

The Amazon

A visitor of today arrives at Manaus, in the heart of the Amazon, by air.  Earlier travelers made the boat journey the thousand miles upriver from the mouth of the Amazon to Manaus.

My flight up from Campo Grande included stops in the hinterlands of Brazil, at Cuiaba, Rio Branco, and Porto Velho, ranching and gold mining towns, about as far from civilization as one can get.

The main first impression of the Amazon, both the river and the region, for a traveler, is the vast extent of the forest, which stretches uncharted for hours of air flight.  Then, near Manaus, the huge meandering arms of the river and its tributaries impress your imagination.  The rivers form an endless maze of staggering proportions in the jungle.  Man appears to cling incidentally to the edge of the jungle along the fringe of the rivers.  At Manaus the Amazon River is five miles wide.

In Manaus, the main sight to see is the Opera House, built in 1896.  About 20 families grew fabulously wealthy because the wild rubber trees in the region provided most of the world’s rubber supply.  In Brazil, the only successful mode of production was the tapping of wild rubber trees.  However, an Englishman, Henry Wickham, secretly exported rubber tree seeds to England, where the seeds were germinated at Kew Gardens.  The English then learned how to plant the rubber trees in efficient farms in Malaysia, breaking the Brazilian monopoly on the world’s rubber supply.  Such plantations were not possible in the Amazon, due mainly to properties of the soil.  By 1914 the boom in Manaus had gone bust.

Beyond the Opera House, see the floating docks, where all the boats wait for their trips going up and down the Amazon.  From Manaus, the adventure traveler can go a week up the river to Porto Velho on an open boat, sleeping in a hammock.  The world of the river is a scene unto itself.  The river is the only highway through many areas of the Amazon.

The central market in Manaus provides a colorful place to see the myriad of tropical fruits so delicious to eat in Brazil.  Manaus’ market is the largest such market in the Amazon.

Another interesting stop is the Indian Museum, run by the Salesians, a Catholic order interested in converting remote tribes.  In several rooms at the museum you can see the extent of the Indian culture, especially in their ceremonial clothing, basketry, and pottery.

Today Manaus enjoys relative prosperity because the government has declared it a Free Trade zone and encouraged many electronics giants, such as Sony and Phillips, with tax incentives, to locate production plants here.  There are now about 1.7  million people in Manaus.

At various points along the Amazon, the major employer is illegal gold mining.  Gold mining has been declared illegal by the government because forests are cut to clear mining terrain.  Also, mercury is used in the gold-separating process.  The fear is that mercury from mining will pollute the bio-system.  However, the government does not crack down on mining because there is no other source of employment for the miners searching for gold up and down the Amazon.

One place to stay in Manaus is the Tropical Hotel, a red-tile roof and hardwood-floor masterpiece with a cascading swimming pool.  The Tropical has a five-star standard that surprises for this remote location.  A private zoo on the property displays the major animals and birds of the Amazon, including the jaguar, capybara, and macaw.

For most travelers, Manaus will be the staging grounds for a trip into the jungle.  You go to Manaus mainly to pass through it to the jungle.  There are many operators of jungle trips, so a traveler should be careful to make a good choice.

My tour went for two-nights and three days to the Amazon Village lodge.  The trip included boat transit for three hours along the Amazon River and a tributary, the Puraquequara River, lodging in a thatched hut environment along the river, food that was both tasty and hygienic, and the expert nature interpretation of a guide who spoke good English.

My guide was part Portuguese and part Indian.  He had been serving as a guide for over 20 years and was intimately familiar with the fauna and flora, the political scene, and the Indians, since he had lived with remote tribes.

The main experiences a traveler should savor near Manaus are the immensity of the river and the plant diversity of the jungle.  Wildlife viewing is much more satisfying in the Pantanal.  The human population of subsistence fishermen/hunters in the Manaus region has reduced the amount of wild animals.

I boarded a small river craft, the Simon Santos, for the trip out to the Amazon Village.  The hustle and bustle of the embarcadero was considerable because this is a major ferry point for goods crossing the river.  When a road is built in the jungle, a ferry must eventually be arranged to carry the trucks across the river.

The small river craft seemed like a 19th-century boat out of a Joseph Conrad novel.  The steady thump of the engine, the overhead canopy to protect from the merciless sun, and the knowledgeable captain who somehow knew instinctively where he was going on the waterway set the scene.

About a half hour after embarking, I experienced one of the primordial moments on the river, the so-called “meeting of the waters.”  Here the black, acidic waters of the Rio Negro, one of the major Amazon tributaries, meet the tan, silt-laden waters of the Amazon.  For miles the two waters churn along beside each other before blending.  The acidic waters of the Rio Negro, incidentally, inhibit development of mosquito larvae, so mosquitoes and thus the potential of malaria are less along the Rio Negro.  Malaria pills should be taken by travelers to the Amazon to avoid the risk of this mosquito-born disease.

The small craft eventually arrived at the Puraquequara River and began toiling upstream.  Somehow, the captain was able to distinguish the channel in this maze of shallow waterways amidst the thick jungle. The river rises and falls as much as 40 feet a year.  Early October was at the end of the dry season.  The rising waters obliterate all landmarks and cause the submerged trees to temporarily lose their leaves.

I disembarked at an appointed landing and took a smaller canoe for the final stretch to the Amazon Village.  The resort consists of a central thatched structure for dining, plus smaller outlying thatch bungalows for sleeping. A total of 64 guests can be accommodated.  You walk to the bungalow with a flashlight at night.

A few such tourism enterprises around Manaus handle the foreign eco-travelers who make this jungle trip each year.  My guide rated the Amazon Village as one of the best for its lodging, guides, and safe food.  The grounds delight a traveler because of the colorful tropical flowers, a relatively tame woolly monkey, plus colorful macaws and parrots.  Decor on the wall of your bungalow might consist of a bow and arrows that an Indian would use to hunt birds and monkeys in the jungle.

Three excursions are provided during a typical two-night, three-day stay at the Amazon Village.  The trips are a trek in the jungle, a night alligator-viewing hunt, and a visit to local settlements to see how the river people live.

The jungle trek is a high point of the Amazon Village trip because here the plants, not the animals, are spectacular.  During this two-hour walk in the early morning, my guide pointed out numerous plants distinctive to the jungle and of use to the Indians who live there.   He estimated that there are about 150,000 Indians in the remote jungles of the Amazon who have had minimal contact with the outside world.

The lushness of the jungle was impressive.  We walked straight through it. There were no paths, only the guide with his machete cutting our way.  The jungle canopy was so high and thick that the floor was dimly lit.  Finding your way in such a jungle requires specialized skills.  An outsider would quickly become hopelessly lost.

My guide asserted that, per acre, the Amazon jungle has the densest biomass on earth.  The height of the trees, their intense competition for light, and the diversity of the forest species were major impressions.  In temperate region forests, such as Yellowstone Park, one might find a single species, such as lodgepole pine, dominating large areas.  In the Amazon, by contrast, hundreds of plant varieties exist side by side in a small area. Besides the lushness of the forest, the insect population is numerous.  Beautiful blue morpho butterflies flit about.  Inch-long carnivorous ants crawl along the logs.  Termites slowly process the fallen trees on the forest floor.

To the Indians, my guide explained, the Amazon forest is like a supermarket.  There are over 180 species of edible fruits known to the Indians.  He showed the gum tree from which chiclet chewing gum can be derived.  The “water climber” vine can be cut into sections and then drained of its drinkable liquid if you were thirsty.  The “mosquito tree” yields quinine from its bark, inhibiting malaria.  From the “mata mata” tree he stripped off bark that he subsequently twisted into a tough string suitable as a bow string or rope.  The “alligator tree” is used by the Indians for their small dugout canoes, which I noticed up and down the river. They can fashion canoes with only a primitive stone adze, now replaced with a metal adze.  From the “cururu vine” the Indians extract a deadly poison, which, when mixed with another venom from a certain spider, creates a powerful potion.  An arrow or blow-gun dart end dipped in it, then shot through a bird or monkey, results in instant paralysis of the prey.

My guide pointed out many magnificent tropical hardwood trees, such as 400-year-old “itauba” trees, whose wood is so resistant to water rot that it is a favorite construction wood for large boats along the Amazon.  While steel hulls rust, the itauba hulls require little maintenance.

Always, with the guide,  I was reminded of the superlatives of the Amazon region.  From a pharmacopial point of view, the potential treasures and uses of Amazon plants have been only marginally exploited, starting with the now-historical quinine for malaria.  If you ask which plant in the world has the largest leaves, the answer is an Amazon plant, the corcoroba.  Though there are 180 bird-eating spiders on earth, the largest, as expected, comes from the Amazon.  The reality of the Amazon continues to stretch the imagination.

The Amazon forest is more ancient than the forests of temperate climates, which re-started again after the recent glacial age, only 11,000 years ago.  Untouched by glaciation, the Amazon forest remained intact. Some scientists believe the Amazon forest dates from millions of years ago.

On the night alligator hunt, by boat, I cruised out on the waterway with my guide in the front of the boat, using a flashlight to spot the bright eyes of a caiman, or alligator, on the bank.  Once spotted, it is often possible to get quite close to the caiman at night, something that would be difficult during the day.   The guide snatched a small caiman by the back of the neck and brought it into the boat, where I could see the animal up close. One interesting feature of the caiman is that it has two sets of eyelids, one horizontal and one vertical.

The visit-a-local-settlement outing took me, again by boat, because there are no roads, to family settlements along the banks.  There are no villages, only individual family settlements widely spread out and located on the highest ground.  The local people are Indian and mixed-blood who survive mainly by fishing in their small dugout canoes.  They raise manioc, a root crop, in small patches, process the manioc, and sell their surplus in Manaus as a trade item.  One other plant at the settlements I visited was the red urucu, a fruit from which Amazon Indians get the red dye with which they paint their faces for ceremonial occasions.

Overall, a visitor leaves the Amazon River and rain forest amazed at its scale and fecundity.  The Pantanal wetland presents more visible wildlife than the Amazon rain forest near Manaus, but the Amazon offers the wonder of the vast river and the endless stretch of the jungle.

Rio de Janeiro

Since the airline connection to Brazil often passes through Rio, the pleasures of the city should be considered by an eco-tour visitor.

Brazil is huge, the fifth largest country in the world, the largest tropical country in the world, half of South America, larger in land mass than the contiguous U.S., bigger than all of western Europe.  The country has 25,000 miles of navigable rivers, more than any other nation.

There are 194 million people, making it the seventh most populated country in the world.  The language is Portuguese, not Spanish, with the arrival of the Portuguese dating back to 1565 in Rio.  Rio is the main tourism city, though not the capital, which is visionary Brasilia, carved futuristically out of the jungle in the 1960s.  The main industrial center for Brazil is Sao Paulo.

When in Rio, some of the main things to do are:

*Enjoy the two major panoramic views.  One takes you up to Corcovado, the hunchback.  The reverse view is from Pao de Acucar, the 1300-foot Sugarloaf.  From Sugarloaf, accessible by cable car, you look back on the city, savoring Copacabana beach.

Other monuments to see include St. Sebastian Cathedral, a modern concrete structure, and Floriano Square, with its Municipal Theatre and other government buildings.

*Savor the beaches.  Rio is a city built around beaches, reminiscent of Waikiki.  Walk along the beaches, such as Copacabana and Ipanema.  Beach life here is for everyone, with people in all shapes, sizes, and ages.  People use the beach here as a part of everyday public life.  School outings, soccer, and social life all occur at the beach.  Because the beaches are free, open to all, rich and poor, the beach becomes a kind of safety valve for the potential turbulence in the city.  Sensuality and enjoyment of life  is the essence of Rio.  Residents of Rio are called cariocas, and the beautiful carioca girls strut the beach in their tanga bikinis.

The residents of Rio think of their city as beautiful, “the marvelous city,” a sentiment that is appropriate.  Their saying is, “It took six days for God to create the world. The seventh was devoted exclusively to Rio.”

*Sample the food. In the restaurants, try the national dishes.  Feijoada is a stew of pork and black beans over rice.  Churrasco is barbecued meat of several kinds, served at special restaurants, such as Porcao, devoted just to this food style.  You begin with a buffet of vegetables and then wait at your table as waiters arrive with skewers of barbecued beef, pork, chicken, lamb, and sausages.  The meat is highly spiced, marinated, then barbecued. Seafood is also good in Rio, especially the sea bass.

*Dance the samba.  Samba music is everywhere.  It is said that the natives get the beat from the surf.  Samba is taken seriously.  All year long, samba schools practice for the Carnival parades in February.  On any given night you can take in an elaborate samba show at the Plataforma, where samba and regional folkloric dancing is the specialty.  The Plataforma gives you a glimpse of what the February Carnival is like, when the samba schools parade before judges in a special stadium, built just for the samba competition.

Besides the mentioned activities, shoppers may want to concentrate on semi-precious stones, a specialty of the country.

Rio plays soccer with skill and passion.  A stadium in the north part of the city can handle 200,000 spectators.

The city offers a full spectrum of hotels.  One dependable choice is the Hotel Meridien on Copacabana Beach.

Travelers should exhibit special caution for safety in Rio, not exposing watches, wallets, or cameras, and not walking at night.

All considered, if you’re looking for the ultimate ecotour, Brazil should be one of your first considerations.


If You Go: A Brazilian Ecotour

A knowledgeable travel agent can put together any or all of the ecotour elements mentioned in this article.  Don’t try to do it yourself, long distance.  The economies of packages for individual travelers, combining air and ground resources, are better than anything an individual traveler could arrange without professional assistance.

Health is a major concern for travel anywhere in the tropics, including Brazil, especially for the Amazon region.  Health requires reasonable foresight and prudence while traveling.  There are some who take no health precautions prior to travel and experience no problems.  On the other hand, it is sobering to know someone who has gotten life-threatening malaria. The most conservative estimator of health risk is the Center for Disease Control, in Atlanta.  Ask your physician his recommendation for malaria pills, a serum globulin dose, and an update for diptheria/tetanus.  While traveling, avoid the most frequent health problem, diarrhea, by drinking only bottled or boiled beverages and eating cooked food or peeled fruit.


  1. The problem with the Pantanal is that there is gold mining going on there, and mercury is used to extract the gold. The mercury is getting into the wetlands, and is affecting wildlife such as giant river otters, broad snout caimans, jabiru storks, wood storks, and roseate spoonbills.


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