Brazil's top off-the-beaten track spots
Sun, samba and football are usually the first words that come to mind in a conversation about Brazil.
But folks often forget just how massive the South American giant really is - in fact, it clocks in as the world's fifth largest country, sandwiched between the USA and Australia.
There is a lot to see that isn't named Rio de Janeiro!
The world's largest freshwater swamp is the best place in Brazil to encounter all sorts of wildlife you thought only existed in cartoons and on cereal boxes.
The 145-kilometre Transpantaneira Highway (the name is a bit ambitious, it's actually a dirt road) offers a cornucopia of exotic flora and fauna on a minute-by-minute basis before dead-ending in jaguar country!
Brazilians love to talk trash about their futuristic capital - they associate it with dodgy politicians after all - but the ambitious project of architect Oscar Niemeyer, urban planner Lucio Costa and landscape architect Burle Marx is an architectural and urban planning wonderland and an absolutely fascinating place to visit.
FERNANDO DE NORONHA
Brazil's island Eden, the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, is located 545 kilometres out to sea from Recife and it's an absolute paradise.
Here you'll find Brazil's top three most beautiful beaches, its best diving and its best surfing; and the number of visitors is controlled, so you rarely have to share any of it!
This small town not far from the Pantanal is one of Brazil's most unique destinations and a world-class ecotourism model for the country.
Diving into Bonito's crystal-clear river waters is like swimming in a giant exotic aquarium. Water activities here - snorkelling, diving, flotation etc - are astonishing.
VALE DOS VINHEDOS
Few folks - including Brazilians - realise Southern Brazil is home to a small but gorgeous wine country that's not only beautiful, but garnering accolades for its wine as well.
Blink twice and you'll swear Rio Grande do Sul's Vale dos Vinhedos is Tuscany!
Generations of Italian-descended winemakers have been producing juice here since 1875 without a beach or jungle in sight.
In the heart of Minas Gerais, tiny Tiradentes is a gorgeously-preserved village that harbours a secret within its cobblestoned streets and whitewashed colonial walls: It boasts the most starred restaurants per capita in Brazil - six for a sleepy population of just 7000 - according to Guia4Rodas, Brazil's most respected culinary Bible and a soul mate to France's Michelin guides.
It's a wonderful place to eat well and walk it off!
PARQUE NACIONAL DOS LENCOIS MARANHENSES
This otherworldly landscape of towering, windswept sand dunes peppered with cerulean freshwater lagoons is named for the Portuguese word for bed sheets - it's said seeing the park from the air resembles bed sheets flapping gracefully in the wind.
These 1550 sq km of pristine sands and crystal-clear lagoons stretch all the way to the Amazon.
Paraty, which sits halfway between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo along the Costa Verde, is one of Brazil's most cinematically preserved colonial gems.
The view of the town's postcard-perfect baroque waterfront, dominated by 1772's Capela de Santa Rita, needs no filter.
The capital of Southern Brazil's Santa Catarina state, Florianopolis is Brazil's most livable city, sitting on the picturesque Ilha de Santa Catarina within earshot of 42 beaches that run the gamut, from wild and windy to idyllic and unadulterated.
In between, the surrounding village and towns offer a potpourri of Brazilian culture in a handy-sized island.
Few beyond businessmen pay much attention to Brazil's biggest city - and that's a mistake.
The city is home to one of the best gastronomic scenes in all of the Southern Hemisphere and enough culture (over 150 first-rate museums and cultural centers, 420 experimental theatres and cinemas, etc) to leave you destination-dizzy.
Kevin Raub is co-author of Lonely Planet Brazil (RRP NZ$49.99). Discover more at lonelyplanet.com/world-cup.