Brazil’s “Sul,” or “South” consists of three states—Paraná, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul—which stretch south from São Paulo towards Brazil’s frontier with Uruguay and Argentina. This region is not what most international travelers have in mind when they think of Brazil. The climate and vegetation are more Mediterranean than tropical, and the population—descendants of German, Italian, Polish, and Ukrainian immigrants—is distinctly European (which accounts for so many natural blonds).
Life is much more organized and efficient than in other parts of the country, and because it has Brazil’s highest standard of living, you’ll see fewer favelas and a lot less of the have/have not reality that is so visible in much of the rest of the country. The South may lack the more pungent history and exoticism of the rest of Brazil; however, the pretty, patchwork farming communities of its interior and the attractive capitals of Curitiba, Florianópolis, and Porto Alegre provide pleasant distractions. Moreover, the South boasts some spectacular natural getaways unlike anywhere else in Brazil.
The coastline of Paraná entices with its handful of colonial towns, luxuriantly forested mountains, and the idyllic islands of the Bay of Paranaguá. Meanwhile, backed by native Atlantic jungle, the sweeping coastline of Santa Catarina is one of the most captivating in Brazil. The dozens of beaches that rim the picturesque and increasingly hip island city of “Floripa” have made the Catarinense capital a radical sports mecca for practitioners of surfing, paragliding, windsurfing, and sandboarding.
As for Rio Grande do Sul, while its coastal pleasures are scant, it more than compensates with the varied attractions of its interior. Its varying landscapes run the gamut from the magnificently rugged Aparados da Serra National Park—a hiker’s haven—to the alpine charms of Gramado and Canela, which, in winter, are reminiscent of quaint Swiss villages. Land of the proud Gaúcho, Rio Grande do Sul is also known for its unique cowboy culture. Barbecued beef—the famous churrasco—is in abundance and will send carnivores’ salivary glands into overdrive. And the local wines are getting as good as some of those made in neighboring Argentina and Chile.
Of course, the number one reason that most tourists visit the South is to glimpse the world’s largest and most impressive waterfalls: Iguaçu Falls. Words don’t do justice to this natural extravaganza. Iguaçu is not just one big cascade, but a series of 275 falls that rush over a 3-km-wide (2-mile-wide) precipice. In comparison, Niagara Falls is but a piddling stream.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition