The World Cup draw has been made and at last all those who are planning to go there for it can finalise the details of their trek up and down and across the great land that is Brazil. Travel agents are going to be busy this week, even on the weekend.
From an Australian perspective, I was speaking to a travel agent earlier in the week about prices to Brazil. She said that outside of Carnival (February 28 to March 4) and the World Cup (June-July) there are actually cheap tickets – round about $1450 economy return. But during the World Cup they can rise to as much as $5000! (I didn’t dare ask about prices in business or first class). Tickets from Australia to anywhere are never really that cheap, compared with prices in more competitive markets overseas.
Since most of my readers are in the US, UK or Australia, I shall have a quick look at what the World Cup has in store for those nations in particular but won’t ignore the rest.
The US have a really tough task in Group G, having to face Germany, Portugal and Ghana. Their matches will be in the north (steamy Manaus in the Amazon basin) and the north-east in Natal (my favourite Brazilian city) and Recife, which is a great holiday destination too – the historic town of Olinda, one of the loveliest in Brazil, is right next door. From a travel perspective, then, US fans are in for a treat. Portugal will play in exotic Salvador, Manaus, and the federal capital Brasilia, which I have heard mixed reports about. Some say it is rather sterile. However, colourful Salvador should compensate for that.
England likewise have a tough group, including former World Cup winners Italy and Uruguay, as well as Costa Rica. England also have to play in Manaus, plus the big cities of Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte. So it will be a case of going from the jungle to the concrete jungles. Around Belo Horizonte, however, there are some great historic towns (Diamentina, Congonhas, Ouro Preto, Tiradentes and Mariana, for example) and the state of Minas Gerais is blessed with many rivers and waterfalls. I spent a week or so in the area and it really impressed me. Belo Horizonte, too, is vibrant and certainly not as intimidating size-wise as Sao Paulo, which also has its attractions and green areas. The Sao Paulo coast is verdant and also makes a great spot to unwind or console yourself after your team has been knocked out of the World Cup.
Australia, the lowest ranked team of the 32 participating, drew the defending champions Spain, the beaten finalists the Netherlands, and a strong South American team, Chile, who could easily progress at the expense of one of the European giants. Australia’s matches are in the cooler south (Porto Alegre and Curitiba) and in the western interior (Cuiaba, where I heard that hotel rooms will be scarce). I read that the Australian team was considering using Vitoria in Esprito Santo as its base, which would have been a good choice – smallish, calm city, some nice beaches – but now I think Florianopolis would be a better choice. The beaches there are superb and it is within easy reach of Porto Alegre and Curitiba. I have been to Curitiba but not the other two venues. There is a great train ride from Curitiba down through the rainforest to picturesque villages and the coast, where the Ilha de Mel, or Honey Island, is the top drawcard. Curitiba is in Paraná, whose main attraction is the Iguaçu Falls on the western border with Argentina and Paraguay. If you are going, be sure the Falls are on your itinerary!
- Hosts Brazil don’t have fancied opposition in their group – Mexico, Croatia and Cameroon – but no game is easy at this level. Most of the matches are in the north or north-east, but the opening game of the tournament is Brazil v Croatia in Sao Paulo, provided it can get its stadium ready on time.
- Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan are in Group C, I guess the South American side will be the favourite but that’s a fairly even group. The weakest group is said to be E: Switzerland, France, Ecuador and Honduras. The Swiss play in Brasilia, Salvador (against France) and Manaus, the French team’s other games are in Porto Alegre and Rio de Janeiro.
- Brazil’s great local rivals Argentina face Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria in Group F, while to round things off in Group H are Belgium, Russia, Algeria and South Korea.
I didn’t watch the draw ceremony (it took place round about 3am or 4am Australian time) but heard that perennial carnival favourites Margareth Menezes and Olodum were among the performers at it. Here is one of my favourite songs of Menezes, a carnival hit from a few years back, Dandalunda. It has got the exotic African rhythms and flavours, but bear in mind that no recording captures the sheer excitement and pulse of the baterie (drums and percussion) that a live performance generates.
Here is a taste of Olodum:
- 2014 World Cup finals group fixtures (oddonion.com)
- World Cup 2014: Group-by-group schedules (latimes.com)
- Choose The Place To Stay Before Booking Tickets To Brazil For World Cup 2014! (seeyouinbrazil2014.wordpress.com)
- The complete travel guide to Brazil’s World Cup cities (theguardian.com)