Brazil's June Festivals are among the most spectacular celebrations in South America, combining exotic dance and music with local traditions, cuisine, handicraft and legends. There are few better ways to get to know northern Brazil better than to combine a visit to the festivals with some of the exciting cities, idyllic beaches and natural wonders of some of the country's lesser-visited regions, as well as a three or four night stay in Rio de Janeiro.
We take a look at a handful of the best places to attend Brazil's June Festivals and how each could form part of a tailor-made Brazil holiday. If you missed part one of this two-part article, click to learn more about Brazil's June Festivals.
Maranhão - São Luís
In the very north of the country is the UNESCO world heritage listed city of São Luís, where French and Portuguese heritage fuse to create a rich history. The city has been painstakingly restored and is now one of the most photogenic in the north of Brazil, with cobbled streets lined with historic buildings, covered with the gorgeous azulejos (tiles) commonly associated with Lisbon.
Not far from São Luís is the remarkable Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, whose towering white sand dunes constantly change form with the wind, creating a magical landscape that is on a par with the country’s other more well-known natural wonders, such as the Amazon Rainforest and the mighty Iguassu Falls.
Brazil's June Festival is celebrated in a memorable way, with local folk dances and songs providing the prelude to the vivid Bumba Meu Boi celebrations. The story of this strange custom centres around a pregnant Catrina, daughter of a rich landowner, and her secret partner Mateus, a slave owned by the father. When Catrina experiences a sudden craving for ox tongue, Mateus springs into action, fearing the potential consequences for his unborn child should he fail. Having located an ox, Mateus killed it and removed its tongue, triumphantly presenting it to Catrina. Unfortunately, the ox belonged to her now furious father, who called for the head of the perpetrator. The legend goes that the local people and priest crowded around the ox, slowly coaxing it back to life with prayers and rhythmic drumming, thus sparing the life of poor Mateus.
How to arrive: São Luís is a three and a half hour direct flight from Rio de Janeiro.
What else to do: São Luís is very much worth exploring in more detail and also has some excellent beaches nearby. A visit to Lençóis Maranhenses to witness the extraordinary sand dunes and rainwater lagoons is an absolute must.
June festival celebrations in São Luís (photo by Visit Brasil)
Bahia - Salvador & Armagosa
Out of all the places to see Brazil's June Festival, Salvador da Bahia is the one that attracts the most international visitors during the rest of the year. It is best known for the colourful houses of the Pelourinho district and its intoxicating Afro-Portuguese culture, embodied in its exotic cuisine, acrobatic Capoeira dancing and lively Olodum music. The arrival of the June Festivals lends a country air to Salvador, with eight stages spread across the city between 20th and 30th June. There are attractions for all the family, including the spectacular square dancing contest.
Visitors to Bahia can also choose to experience the June Festivals in Amargosa, 150 miles by road from Salvador. A visit here will give you the opportunity to dance the traditional forró, visit replicas of rural villages, sample the local cuisine (including the beloved sun-dried and salted meat dishes) and listen to traditional music of the north-east. The festivities attract some 60,000 each day.
How to arrive: Salvador can be reached via a ninety minute direct flight from Rio de Janeiro, or you can fly direct from Lisbon or Madrid. Amargosa is around 150 miles further inland.
What else to do: Visitors to Salvador can take a relaxing boat ride on the All Saint's Bay and venture into Bahia, relaxing on the beaches of Morro de Sao Paulo or Praia do Forte and hiking in the spectacular Chapada Diamantina, famed for its table top mountains and waterfalls.
Morro de Sao Paulo
Pernambuco - Recife & Caruara
Moving further north up the coast brings us to the state of Pernambuco, which was occupied by the Dutch in the 17th century. The state capital Recife is a thriving and dynamic city, spread over three islands and full of wonderful museums and with an interesting mix of old and new architecture. It is close to a popular beach and the attractive colonial town of Olinda. The city of Recife comes alive during Brazil's June Festivals, particularly between the 12th and 24th, when around 150,000 are thought to descend on the richly decorated streets and lively parties.
Pernambuco, and more specifically the town of Caruara, is the self-proclaimed capital of the forró dance genre that is so intrinsically linked with the June Festivals. That makes a visit to Caruara, around 80 miles from Recife, all the more appealing. As well as enjoying the dancing in its spiritual home, guests can also indulge in the 'giant food' festivals and look round a replica countryside town, buying souvenirs and trying local snacks.
How to arrive: Direct flights from Rio de Janeiro to Recife take around three hours and Caruara is a further 80 miles from Recife by road.
What else to do: Combine the festivities with a visit to the colonial gem of Olinda, walking its attractive streets and admiring the magnificent churches. The best beaches are found at Porto da Galinhas, around 90 minutes from Recife, the embodiment of Brazilian beach culture. Unwind in laid-back bars and hire a traditional jangada fishing boat.
Brazil June Festival in Caruara
Rio Grande do Norte - Natal & Mossoró
Beach lovers are spoilt for choice when visiting the state capital Natal, a wonderful place to combine the June Festivals with an idyllic Brazilian beach paradise. Natal itself is a fairly easy-going city, as languid as the sand dunes traversed by buggies on the outskirts of the city. The forró dance also plays a central role in the Natal festival, with the largest music competition in Rio Grande do Norte taking place here. As with all other celebrations throughout Brazil, the party also provides the chance to enjoy local cuisine and music and immerse yourself in the rich culture of the north-east.
180 miles inland from Natal is Mossoró, whose celebrations include an accordionist contest, guitar players and a play which relives the early 20th century confrontations between the brave townspeople of Mossoró and the dangerous brigand group with roamed these parts.
How to arrive: You can fly direct to Natal from Rio de Janeiro in around two and a half hours. From here it is a four hour drive to Mossoró.
What else to do: The most interesting thing to see in Natal is the Genipabu´s dunes and the three big natural lagoons. Elsewhere, beaches are the order of the day here. Around 50 minutes out of Natal is Praia da Pipa, whose sheltered coves and beautiful beaches attract dolphins, marine turtles and many a human visitor. Snorkelling, dune buggy trips and laid-back restaurants can be enjoyed from the comfort of nearby boutique hotels. Further afield, 220 miles out in the Atlantic Ocean to be exact, is Fernando de Noronha. This remote archipelago forms a marine national park and its Baia do Sancho beach has regularly been voted as the world's best beach. Fernando de Noronha can be reached on an hour long flight from Natal.
Genipabu Dunes, Natal (photo by Leandro Neumann Ciuffo)
If you would like to experience Brazil's June Festivals for yourself in 2018, then drop us a line or send us over an email to start discussing your options - we'd love to hear from you!