From colonial hillside gems and sprawling seaside settlements to shiny modern metropolises, Brazilian cities are full of vibrant local life and fascinating tales.

Rio de Janeiro is undoubtedly one of the continent's most beautiful places, straddled between huge forest covered granite peaks and the golden sandy beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. The best views are from Sugarloaf Mountain and from the statue of Christ the Redeemer, which stands high on Corcovado Mountain, looking over the city with arms open wide and ready to embrace visitors. Each year thousands of people come to celebrate carnival with an intensive, all-night, parade of music and dance from local Samba schools.

Northern Brazil is home to the state of Bahia famous for its pristine golden beaches and colonial cities, a melting pot of Portuguese and African cultures. Salvador da Bahia was once the Brazilian capital and during the eighteenth century generated huge wealth from nearby sugar-cane and tobacco plantations. Evidence of this golden era can still be seen in the grandiose colonial architecture. A unique blend of Portuguese and African cultures can be vividly seen in the bright colours of many townhouses and exotic rhythms of the renowned drum troupes of Olodum.

In contrast to traditional Salvador, the Brazilian capital Brasilia is home to the country's most modern and unusual architecture. Designed as 'the city of the future' on an empty plateau in the heart of Brazil, it was the brainchild of former President Juscelino Kubitschek who envisaged a perfect model metropolis, clean, ordered and, free of favelas, to represent a more modern and progressive country. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but Brasilia is a unique example of urban planning, quite unlike anywhere else in Latin America.

At the other end of the scale is Ouro Preto and its steep cobbled streets, full of history and adorned with beautiful churches, colourful facades and decorative fountains. To visit here is travel back to the 18th century when the city was the epicentre of the Brazilian gold rush and today it still boasts the finest examples of the work of the country's most famous sculptor - o Aleijadinho.

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