The 2014 World Cup brings together 32 teams who will play a total of 64 matches in 50,000-seat stadiums in 12 cities across Brazil.

My partner Coen and I got to know these locales, and their highlights, during our two years in the country. If you’re traveling to support your team, make sure to also take time to see and experience the beach life, nightlife, culture, art, markets, outdoor adventures, and architecture in and around the host cities of this summer’s World Cup.

1

Recife: Snorkeling around coral reefs

Recife is a great base for exploring the surrounding beaches and ocean. Along the coast run several spectacular coral reefs (in fact, recife is the Portuguese word for "reef"). We camped on a beach and snorkeled for days on end; we could reach the reef by walking to it from the shore during low tide. In other places you can take a boat farther out, where you can both snorkel and scuba dive. It's also a place where it’s worth getting up early to take in the sunrise.
All photos: Coen Wubbels

2

Curitiba: Boating in Guaraqueçaba Bay

Curitiba is Paraná's capital and known as Brazil's ecological capital—an interesting contrast to its also being Paraná's industrial center. From Curitiba you can take the Litorina Train, which runs on a 110km track through rainforest. The journey goes through 13 tunnels and over 67 bridges, descending 900 meters and ending in the colonial town of Morretes. Here you can boat into Guaraqueçaba Bay, one of the most beautiful bodies of water we sailed in Brazil—if you’re lucky you will have dolphins accompanying you.

3

Porte Alegre: Absorbing daily life in Brique de Redençao Park

From a tourist point of view, Porte Alegre will end up low on the list of these 12 cities. But fear not, because it has one very simple attraction: Brique de Redenção Park, which is the place to go on the weekend. Try to find some local friends and join them. Bring a picnic and spread your blanket on the grass. Do as the locals do and bring a thermos with yerba mate. You'll see different types of street artists like musicians, artists making drawings on the pavement, and groups of capoeira dancers.

4

Rio de Janeiro: Taking in the view

Generally, when I take in a view of any city, I don't find it beautiful at all, but disturbing and scarily crowded. One exception is Rio de Janeiro. Looking down on the city standing next to the Cristo Redentor statue is simply mind-blowing. Rio de Janeiro lies hemmed between the forested mountains and the ocean. In the distance you see Sugarloaf Mountain, and climbing this is another worthwhile trip.

5

Natal: Indulging in seafood

The northeast of Brazil is well represented in the World Cup, with four host cities (the others being Recife, Fortaleza, and Salvador da Bahia). The region has one of Brazil's tastiest cuisines, especially if you like fish and seafood. Have a go at one of the crab dishes (often you can select your own crabs from a tank), shrimp which come in a variety of sauces, and arguably the most popular dish of the northeast, and definitely my favorite: moqueca. It's fish (or shrimp) cooked in dendê palm oil, coconut milk, and other ingredients.

6

Fortaleza: Kitesurfing, jeep rides, and sandboarding

Fortaleza is best used as a base for outdoor adventures on the surrounding beaches. You can drive along the beaches for hours, crossing streams on rickety hand-powered ferries. You can take jeep rides into the dunes, and sandboarding opportunities abound west of the city, where we took a kitesurfing course. Experienced kitesurfers can even do a 12-day kite safari here thanks to the stable winds.

7

Brasilia: Admiring modern architecture and landscaping

Architecture buffs will love Brasília, Brazil's capital built in the 1950s. Important government buildings, the cathedral, the theater, memorials, and the university were all designed by Oscar Niemeyer and often complemented with impressive gardens from the hand of Brazil's famous landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. Niemeyer himself said about his work here, "Go to Brasília—you may or may not enjoy my projects, but I dare you to find something similar." You can visit many of the buildings (weekdays only), and some of them provide guided tours free of charge.

8

São Paulo: Visiting the soccer museum

What better combination with the World Cup than a visit to a soccer museum? It's located in Pacaembu, one of São Paulo's stadiums, and is an interactive museum using the latest light and sound equipment to show everything about Brazil's soccer addiction and World Cup history. Kids (and grownups) can endlessly push buttons, watch games, and play soccer themselves. Learn about Brazil's 25 Baroque Angels (as they call their soccer heroes), listen to Brazil's greatest soccer commentators, and relive Brazil's biggest defeat in soccer: the loss against Uruguay in the 1950 finals, the last time the tournament was hosted here.

9

Cuiabá: Bird watching and wildlife spotting in the Pantanal

Cuiabá is the capital of Brazil's western state of Mato Grosso. The city is located in the geodesic center of South America, which was calculated as such by Marechal Rondon in 1909. It is visualized in a tall museum in the Praça Moreira Cabral. But the best thing to do from Cuiabá is to drive down through world's largest wetlands, the Pantanal, the place to go for bird watching or spotting giant otters, giant anteaters, and other wildlife.

10

Belo Horizonte: Strolling around Lake Pampulha

Of all the Brazilian cities mentioned here, Belo Horizonte is probably the quietest, cleanest, and most peaceful. Check out Lake Pampulha on the north side of the city with, among other architectural highlights and landscapes, this church. It dates from 1943 and was designed by Brazil's famous architect Oscar Niemeyer. Belo Horizonte is also a good base to explore national parks in the surrounding area and do some hiking, biking, and other outdoor adventures.

11

Manaus: Going to the theater and swimming with dolphins

Manaus is known for its century-old theater, which today still has some of the best acoustics in the world. There are concerts almost on a daily basis, and I enjoyed a big-band performance one night that paid homage to some of Brazil's famous musicians. From Manaus, it's a couple of hours driving to Novo Airão, where you can swim with dolphins. In fact, you can do this in several places around Manaus, but the one in Novo Airão operates under the supervision of IBAMA (a national organization in charge of protecting flora and fauna).

12

Salvador da Bahia: Sending winning energy to your team

Salvador da Bahia might be the best city to visit during the World Cup. Walk up to the Bonfim Church and join the tradition of tying fitas—or Bonfim ribbons, wish ribbons—around your wrist. You tie it with three knots (or better: have it tied by the person who gave you the fita as a gift), and with each knot you can make a wish. Note that you should wear the fita until it breaks naturally.

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