Thousands of supporters from all over the globe will converge to Brazil for a festival of football as the World Cup kicks off in June. As a soccer-mad country, you would expect the 200m residents to be in party mood, dancing to the beat of the Samba in anticipation – but this may not be the case.
With well-documented social conflicts, locals are frustrated that the competition’s budget has spiralled to three or four times its initial estimation. Sections of the population have been up in arms with the rising costs from public taxes to host the tournament. Simon Williams, from tour operator, Bespoke Brazil, believes the protests are justified.
He said: “In some ways this has been a good thing as the social issues need to be addressed in Brazil and the World Cup is a bit of a money spinner for certain people and that money needs to be passed down to the normal Brazilian – probably it won’t – but hopefully with a bit of protest something may change. I think there probably will be a few protests during the World Cup itself; how big they will be, I don’t know.
“The protests which you saw during the Confederations Cup in June and July were very large but you probably didn’t see the really big protests, especially the 500,000 peacefully protesting in Rio, but you saw ten people fighting with police and setting fire to cars and that is the story the media is interested in because nobody’s interested in a few thousand people walking down a street; the media wants to show us fighting and firebombs. The movement was in large very peaceful but there were fractious elements which will always take place, just as there was during the London riots a few years ago.”
Fractions aside, Brazil is a spectacular place, and away from the main attractions of the beaches of Rio de Janeiro and the captivating Amazon, there’s plenty to attract visitors in other areas of the country.
Simon added: “Salvador is very popular. It is the blackest part of Brazil due to the slave trade in the 19th century and brought over a huge number of west African immigrants which created a hugely different and diverse city with a very fun vibe; so it is great to walk around on the streets with a Caipirinha (Brazilian cocktail) and chilling out on the cobbled streets with pastel-coloured buildings. There’s some lovely beaches close by in the state of Bahia. While inland, there’s a fantastic national park called the Chapada Diamantina which has big canyon lands and is great for trekking.
“My favourite part of Brazil is on the north coast, near a place called Fortaleza, there’s a little stretch of beach called Jericoacoara; you can’t get there by regular transport and have to get a four-wheel drive to drive over the sand dunes which cut off the town from the mainland as it were. There’s no roads there just sand on the streets and it has a beautiful backpacker vibe as well as being one of the world’s top kitesurfing destinations. There’s luxury hotels and backpacker resorts there so there’s something for everyone there and it’s a fantastic place.”
Many forget that Brazil is a gargantuan area spanning over 8.5m km² and getting around will not be easy for those who are hoping to see the whole country when there’s no scheduled football. “It is ok in terms of flying from destination to destination but because it is a huge country, by in large you will have to fly to most places but flight connections in Brazil are not amazing,” warns Simon.
“Where England play their group games, firstly in Manaus which is in the Amazon and a four-hour direct flight from Rio, then they are in São Paulo, which is a four-hour flight from the Amazon and then in Belo Horizonte which is a six-hour road trip from São Paulo. Six hours is actually about the shortest travel you will have between two cities by driving or bus, but there’s some big distances and travellers have to be aware of that.”
For more on what to see in Brazil apart from the football, check out the video interview from Simon below:
For more details about Bespoke Brazil’s programme, and their World Cup tour, click here.