Brasilia: Brazil’s Fantasy Island

South America is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world.

The continent is home to twelve independent countries (and three territories). The countries (from roughly north to south and east to west) are:

Venezuela, capital Caracas
Guyana, capital Georgetown
Suriname, capital Paramaribo
Colombia, capital Bogotá
Brazil, capital Brasilia
Ecuador, capital Quito
Peru, capital Lima
Bolivia, capital La Paz
Chile, capital Santiago
Argentina, capital Buenos Aires
Paraguay, capital Asunción
Uruguay, capital Montevideo

Nature lovers come here to see the vast array of birds and wildlife, particularly along the Amazon River which runs roughly east-west, mostly through Peru and Brazil, with many tributaries which reach out into Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela. Several companies offer tour boats to take passengers up and down the river for birding and wild-animal viewing.

Archaeology and history enthusiasts come to South America to view the many Incan ruins. Machu Picchu, located in Peru, is perhaps the most famous of these. It was built in 1450, abandoned in about 1550, and unknown (except to natives indigenous to the region) until it was discovered by an American historian, Hiram Bingham in 1911. While Machu Picchu is the most famous, it is certainly not the only Incan ruin in South America which draws the curious traveler.

People are fascinated by the architectural remains of these Incan ruins, built over 500 years ago with a precision that astounds the modern day tourist who find it difficult to believe that “primitive” people could construct buildings of such magnificence.

But when it comes to a modern-day wonder, Brasilia, the capital city of Brazil, has got to be on the list.

Capital Cities

Most cities have both an “old town” – the site of the original area of the city, with buildings hundreds of years old; and then acres and acres of new buildings, roads and so on which are built gradually over the course of time, with the roads meandering here and there and no planning to it.

Of all the capital cities of the South American countries, that of Brasilia, capital of Brazil, is unique. It’s the only city that was actually planned, with the entire layout of the city being designed by an architect.

The centers of all three branches of the federal government of Brazil are in Brasília, including the Congress, President, and Supreme Court. The city also hosts 124 foreign embassies. Brasília International Airport connects the capital to all major Brazilian cities and many international destinations, and is the third busiest airport in Brazil.

The city has a unique status in Brazil, as it is an administrative division rather than a legal municipality like other cities in Brazil. The name ‘Brasília’ is commonly used as a synonym for the Federal District through synecdoche; However, the Federal District is composed of 31 administrative regions, only one of which is Brasília proper, with a population of 209,926 in a 2011 survey; Demographic publications generally do not make this distinction and list the population of Brasília as synonymous with the population of the Federal District, considering the whole of it as its metropolitan area. The city was one of the main host cities of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Additionally, Brasília hosted the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup.

Brasilia: Planned Beauty

There are many reasons to visit Brasilia, of course, but the main reason is to take in the beauty of the design and see how it has grown and evolved over the 55 years since its founding. In 1987, UNESCO acknowledged the uniqueness of Brasilia by making it a World Heritage Site.

Brazil is the largest country in South America, and until 1960 its capital city was Rio de Janeiro. In that year, the brand-new city of Brasilia was named the capital.

Brasilia didn’t spring up overnight. The new city took four years to build, beginning in 1956.

It was planned and designed by three Brazilians: architect and urban planner Lúcio Costa, architect Oscar Niemeyer who designed the government buildings, and landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx.

The city is built along the Monumental Axis, or main avenue running the width of the city, with six lanes running north and six lanes running south. Most of the government buildings, as well as dozens of monuments and memorials line the Monumental Axis, and it is this avenue that will enable the tourist to get the full impact of this unique city.

The residential areas of the inner city are arranged with precision into “superblocks,” each one consisting of several apartment buildings and schools, retail stores, and parkland to serve the inhabitants.
Brasilia features a metro (or Underground), and is served by buses and of course taxis, for those who don’t wish to drive themselves. The city is served by the Brasília-Presidente Juscelino Kubitschek International Airport.