A recent report by Post Office Travel Money revealed that the pound is riding high and that a corresponding slump in the value of the Brazilian real makes holidays to Brazil better value than ever.
£500 exchanged for reals will net the lucky British traveller twice as much spending money as they would have got this time last year. With cheap flights to Brazil far more widely available than they were a decade ago, there has never been a better time to visit this fascinating country...
Of course, talk of holidays to Brazil conjures up images of Carnival; of the Girl from Ipanema and the golden beaches of Rio de Janeiro. This can all be found in Rio, of course, but Brazil is a vast country, and there is far more to be uncovered than just the well-worn tourist attractions of the southeast – such as the region known as Nordeste – the north-eastern tip.
Comprising nine separate states, the Nordeste can be seen on a map as the pointy bit of Brazil that juts off in the direction of Africa – and indeed it is this relative proximity to Africa that informs much of the region's history, culture and character. The north-eastern states of Brazil, particularly Bahia, were central to the country's slave trade, and the African can influence can still be seen in the people, music and cuisine of this part of Brazil to this day.
Perhaps the most famous musical and athletic export of Bahia is a case in point. Capoeira combines dance and martial arts, and stems from the days when slaves were forbidden from carrying weapons or learning to defend themselves. Through capoeira sessions, they were able to learn martial arts while appearing to do nothing more than dance.
The food of the region is based heavily on seafood and also has a very African flavour, thanks to the many herbs and spices it's cooked with, as well as lashings of coconut milk. Rice and jerk recipes are also very common.
The music of north-east Brazil is very different from the south – Brazil may be synonymous with samba, but in the Nordeste, forró reins supreme! Forró is a highly rhythmic and fluid style, with hip-swivelling dances to match, ranging from the slow 'xote' rhythm to the faster arrasta-pé. The primary instruments used are the accordion, zabumba and the triangle, although other instruments are frequently incorporated. Songs are often humorous in nature, detailing the exploits of foolish or funny characters. Forró is party music from the barrios.
A holiday to the Brazilian Nordeste usually involves flying in to one of the three main airports, Salvador International Airport, Recife International Airport or Fortaleza International Airport. Of the three cities, Salvador is perhaps the most holiday friendly, although all three are coastal cities with extensive beaches.
Once you are there, there's an incredible amount to take in. if you are lucky enough to be in Salvador for Carnival, you will find partying to match anything in Rio, and cities such as Recife also have massive Carnival parties.