Most countries take soccer―or football, as it is known in most nations―very seriously, and Brazil is no exception. This year, Brazil will host the world’s most renowned and important soccer competition: the FIFA World Cup. With five World Cup titles, Brazil stands as the number-one team in the world in terms of wins. The fierce competition that will no doubt come from the teams competing will be accompanied by fierce celebration among players and fans alike.
Brazilians are extremely passionate about their football,” says Giovanni Brassanini, a native Brazilian. “It gets very intense between rivalries. When it comes time for the Cup, practically every household that you walk into will have their TV on, and they’ll be watching the games.”
The 2014 FIFA World Cup games will take place from June 12 through July 13 in twelve different cities across Brazil, and each city will have one or more stadiums that host the games. No matter which area of Brazil you choose to visit during the World Cup, you are guaranteed to find a wide range of festivities in which to participate.
Brazil is a perfect place to host the games because of the easygoing nature of its people, the diverse range of its exotic destinations, and the abundance of its exciting celebrations. Travelers will be able to experience not only the various cultures coming together for the World Cup but also the unique opportunities found in the cities themselves. Brazil will provide the atmosphere for these cultures to fuse together in one rhythm to create an experience unlike any other.
Northern cities such as Recife, Fortaleza, Natal, and Manaus provide a dynamic experience for those visiting for the World Cup. Brazil hosts many celebrations that showcase music, dancing, and parades. One such celebration is Festa Junina, which takes place at the end of June in many northeastern cities, including Recife. Festa Junina was originally celebrated by Brazil’s Portuguese settlers to commemorate St. John’s day, though most Brazilians nowadays just use it as an excuse to gather with friends and family and celebrate in the summertime.
Brazilians celebrate Festa Junina with colorful decorations, traditional clothing, and a variety of foods. The music is generally forró music, which incorporates the accordion, percussion, and the metal triangle. Specific traditional dances accompany this style of music. You won’t want to miss this festival, as it is uniquely Brazilian.
Traveling to the central cities of the World Cup—such as Salvador, Cuiabá, Brasília, and Belo Horizonte? One celebration to check out is Boi Bumba, a Brazilian folk celebration centering on the tale of Boi Meu Bumba. Locals dress up in costumes and use giant puppets to tell the story of a bull who dies and is brought back to life. The story is accompanied by traditional drumming and dance. Although the city of Parintins hosts the biggest celebration of Boi Bumba, the city of Cuiaba also hosts a celebration. It will take place in June during the World Cup, so be sure to take part in this unique cultural experience.
With pastel-colored houses and the Pelourinho (the famous UNESCO heritage center), the historical coastal city of Salvador is one of Brazil’s oldest cities. Be sure to venture out at night to witness remarkable music: Afro-Brazilian drum groups often perform in the streets, going back to Brazil’s African roots. Many street artists draw inspiration from the beautiful surroundings and sell their artwork on the street. “If I could describe the culture in one word,” says Brassanini, “it would be exotic. Brazilians are comfortable and confident in themselves. It is a very colorful culture. There is always a lot of excitement.”
Salvador is also known for its serene beaches. The calm inlets of Salvador’s beaches are perfect for sailing, swimming, and fishing. The coast along Salvador is lined with coral reefs that create tide pools of stone that are ideal for wading in and exploring the sealife that Brazil’s coasts have to offer.
The southern coastal cities—such as Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Curitiba, and Porto Alegre—will likely be the most popular places to visit. Most of the events for the World Cup will take place in Rio, including the final World Cup game. While in Rio de Janeiro, be sure to check out Copacabana Beach. Travelers come from all over to experience the lure of the Copacabana with its expansive coastline and crystal blue waters. Recently, it hosted the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. World-renowned resorts and hotels such as the Miramar, the Sofitel, and Copacabana Palace line the beach, and there is plenty of beach volleyball to keep you occupied.
An area in Rio that will host many World Cup events is Lapa Street, home to the famous Escadaria Selarón, a uniquely painted staircase embedded with pieces of tile, ceramics, and mirrors. Artist Jorge Selarón expressed that this was his tribute to the Brazilian people. Lapa Street also has a thriving nightlife. Many restaurants, microbreweries, bars, and dance clubs line the street, and it is closed off to cars at night so pedestrians can wander and explore.
Emily DePaula, a college student whose parents emigrated from Rio de Janeiro, has traveled to Brazil on many occasions and highly recommends discovering the music played at night along Lapa Street. “There is such a variety,” DePaula explains. “You’ll walk by and there will be a place that is playing country music, another one that plays strictly techno, and another one that plays afro-reggae music. It’s the best place—it’s so much fun to go there.”
Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo share a love for a specific kind of dance: the samba. Known for its African rhythmic origins, the samba has been adapted to many different styles, but the rhythm stays the same. These dances involve elaborately decorated costumes that accentuate the samba’s quick movements, and the dancers exude an exuberant, flirtatious energy that reflects the energy of the Brazilian people. Samba schools in certain parts of Rio and São Paulo have frequent competitions. Try to catch one of these competitions while you’re in Brazil for the World Cup.
Rhythm and a zeal for life are embedded in Brazilian culture. As the world’s attention turns to the World Cup during those memorable days in 2014, those who travel to Brazil for the World Cup will have a chance to enjoy diverse cultures, exotic celebrations, unforgettable experiences, and new friends—becoming united all in one rhythm.
Past World Cup Highlights
South Africa, 2010
The South Africa 2010 World Cup theme was Wave Your Flag, an invitation to members of each nation to rally support for their country. The anthem used throughout the competitions was “Wavin’ Flag” (recorded by African singer K’naan). Another uniquely African aspect of this World Cup was the widespread use of vuvuzelas―a loud African instrument that fans around the world blew to cheer on their teams. In the final World Cup game, Spain beat the Netherlands 1–0 and took home the Cup.
The Germany 2006 World Cup is remembered for its tense final match between France and Italy. Minutes into that game, French player Zinedine Zidane put France ahead with a penalty kick. Italy soon caught up with a goal by Marco Materazzi, and the match ended with a tie at 1–1. Later, Zidane was suspended from the penalty shootout because of a red card he earned for headbutting Materazzi on the field. During the penalty shootout, Italy pulled ahead, winning 5–3.
Korea and Japan, 2002
Brazil made World Cup history in 2002 with a win in Asia. Brazil is currently the only country that has won the World Cup on every continent where the World Cup has been hosted. This particular World Cup was fraught with upsets, including Senegal’s unexpected win against France in the opening match. However, Brazil managed to work through the games to the final match against Germany, in which one of Brazil’s most famous players, Cristiano Ronaldo, scored both of the goals that earned them the 2002 Cup.