Rio Grande do Sul is the southernmost state in Brazil, bordering Uruguay and Argentina. It is in some sense a unique region that merges clearly identifiable elements of Brazilian culture, the culture of Pampas region which also includes Uruguay and a large portion of Argentina, as well as the culture of German and Italian immigrants.
|Central West |
Famous for paleontological tourism along the "Paleorrota"
|Central East |
A major center of gaúcho culture, hosting the state's most important art event in the city of Santa Cruz do Sul
Contains part of the Serras Gaúchas, with a rich Italian heritage, and part of the Aparados da Serra National Park
Contains the Sete Povos das Missões, a collection of Jesuit ruins, one of them a World Heritage Site
|Grande Porto Alegre |
The most visited part of the state, containing the capital city Porto Alegre, the popular destinations of Gramado and Canela in the Serras Gaúchas, and the state's most popular beaches
The Patos and Mirim lagoons, the Taim Ecological Station, and very tranquil beaches
The vastness and cultural richness of the Pampas region on all its glory
- 1 Porto Alegre - The state capital and home of the World Social Forum, is a vibrant metropolis with a buzzing nightlife.
- 2 Caxias do Sul - The second largest city in the state, has a rich Italian heritage and traditional wineries in the region.
- 3 Bento Gonçalves - Charming city with Italian heritage, with many vineyards and exuberant food culture. Brazilian capital of grapes and wine.
- 4 Canela - Often visited as a side-trip from Gramado but with enough attractions to visit on its own, it's a great area for ecotourism.
- 5 Gramado - With cool weather, a picturesque city center and lots of family activities, it's where Brazilians go to feel like they are in Europe.
- 6 Santa Cruz do Sul - A city with a rich heritage left by German immigrants, it is home to Rio Grande do Sul's Oktoberfest and ENART, the largest gaucho art and culture event in the state.
- 7 Uruguaiana - Where Brazil and Argentina meet and mix with each other.
- 8 São Miguel das Missões - Containing the Ruins of São Miguel das Missões, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- 9 Santa Maria - A city in the heart of the state, surrounded by hills, where has important paleontological sites.
- 10 Torres - A seaside town with beaches surrounded by impressive rocky cliffs. Torres is home of Ilha dos Lobos, a small uninhabited island on the coast that welcomes sea lions throughout the year.
People born in Rio Grande do Sul are called gaúchos. The state has a unique history that sets it somewhat apart from the rest of the country. It was initially settled by Spanish Jesuits in the 17th century, which founded there seven Jesuit missions, the Sete Povos das Missões. The region would become subject of violent disputes between Spanish and Portuguese settlers, often using local indigenous tribes as proxies. While the Spanish eventually were expelled, they left strong marks in the Rio Grande do Sul's culture, culinary and language, renewed by the continuous interaction between the region and its Spanish-speaking neighbouring colonies (which would eventually become the countries of Argentina and Uruguay).
Rio Grande do Sul is the only Brazilian state which managed to obtain de-facto independence for some period of time. A few years after Uruguay became independent from Brazil, the state, during the 1835-1845 Ragamuffin War (Guerra dos Farrapos), rebelled against Brazil's Imperial government, and formed the Riograndense Republic, which existed for 9 years. Although it was defeated, the revolution and its commanders such as Bento Gonçalves and Garibaldi remain a strong source of pride and of regional identity for gaúchos, as well a source of inspiration for Brazil's South Region timid separatist movement.
After the Ragamuffin War in 1845 and until the beginning of the World War II in 1939, the state received a large number of immigrants, especially from Germany and Italy, to settle in the state's rural areas. The cultural impact of those immigrants remains strongly felt, especially in the northern half of the state, with some towns still speaking dialects of German and Italian, and interestingly, has contributed to strengthen, rather than dilute, the gaúcho unique regional identity.
Rio Grande do Sul is a state known for its beaches on the coast, its canyons and cities influenced by European immigrants, the ruins of the old Jesuit missions in the northwest of Rio Grande do Sul and its rural culture, which has the gaucho (the typical South American cowboy) as a cultural icon. Due to being a state with a very strong rural culture, mainly inland, Rio Grande do Sul is sometimes referred to as the Texas of South America.
Rio Grande do Sul gets much less foreign visitors than its beach-famous neighbouring state Santa Catarina. However, its mountainous region of Serra Gaúcha north of the capital Porto Alegre, which contains the municipalities of Antônio Prado, Caxias do Sul, Gramado and Canela, is very popular among Brazilian tourists, due to its cool weather, beautiful nature, legacy of German and Italian immigrants, and excellent wineries. Still in the region of the Serras Gaúchas, the municipalities of Bom Jesus, Cambará do Sul and São José dos Ausentes still has its impressive canyons.
Outside the Serra Gaúchas, tourist infrastructure is limited, and it might be more difficult to enjoy what the region has to offer without speaking Portuguese or Spanish, or at least without having a local guide. It is, however, certainly worth visiting for those interested in the proud and unique gaúcho culture, including traditional dances and arguably the best BBQ meat (churrascos) of Brazil and the Chimarrão, the typical drink. South and west of the capital, a vast portion of the state is covered by the Pampas Gaúchos, a mostly rural area with culture more close to the neighbouring countries of Argentina and Uruguay, famous for the high-quality cattle production. A good point to get to better know the culture of the region is the city of Bagé, near the border of Uruguay, which hosts several gaúcho events such as the Festa Internacional do Churrasco.
The coast of the state is entirely lined up with sand beaches, but the state is not a famous beach destination due to the seawater, which is considered cold by the locals and has a brownish color (nicknamed by the locals "chocolatão", big chocolate). Only the city of Torres gets some fame from its beaches, due to its beautiful basalt cliffs. Finally, the capital Porto Alegre is also not a popular tourist destination, although it's a large, bustling metropolis, and there are plans to renew the city's under-utilised wharf and turn it into a lively promenade.
Due to its geographical location, most of Rio Grande do Sul has a humid subtropical climate, with well defined seasons and well distributed rainfall throughout the year. Winters are usually cold and often have frost. Average minimum winter temperatures are usually 10º C (50º F) on the coast and 9º C (48º F) inland, and maximum temperatures are usually between 17º C (63º F) and 20º C (68º F). However, there are times when temperatures are above 30ºC (86ºF) in mid-winter. This phenomenon is called by the locals "veranico" (Indian summer). In the region of the Serra Gaúchas, the altitude greatly decreases temperatures during winter, reaching less than 0ºC (32ºF). Summers are very hot and humid, making temperatures sometimes close to 40° C (104° F) in many cities, although in the Serra Gaúchas region, altitude makes temperatures cooler than that.
Rainfall is well distributed throughout the year and is sometimes intense, with average annual rainfall around 1200mm on the coast (47.2 inches) and 1700mm inland (66.9 inches). Cities with altitude between 900 and 1400 meters, such as Cambará do Sul, Bom Jesus and São José dos Ausentes, often have snow in winter.
The state has two types of winds: the pampeiro and the minuano. The pampeiro is a very strong wind that comes from Argentina, causes rain, quickly lowers the temperatures and causes frosts. The minuano is the most famous wind in the state. It is a wind of polar origin that occurs after the passage of cold fronts.
Natives of the state typically speak the Gaúcho Portuguese dialect, strongly influenced by the Spanish of the Pampas region. The dialect is notably different from standard Brazilian Portuguese, has many unique words and expressions (such as "bah!" and "tchê!" used to express amazement) and is remarkably recognizable by using the pronoun "tu" instead of the "você" (you) widely used in the rest of Brazil, an influence of the Spanish colonization. However, but gaúchos will generally switch to a more regular Brazilian Portuguese when talking to Brazilians of other regions.
As in the rest of Brazil, English is not widely spoken, except in big cities like Porto Alegre, where younger people probably will have a good knowledge of English.
In the border areas with Argentina and Uruguay, Portunhol — that is, a mixture of Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish — is commonly used as a lingua franca among Brazilians and their Spanish-speaking neighbors.
Local dialects of German (Riograndenser Hunsrückisch) and Venetian (Talian) are spoken by some communities of German and Italian descendants in Rio Grande do Sul, although one needs to go to smaller towns and rural communities to ever hear them, for instance Nova Petrópolis or Serafina Corrêa.
The best way to get to Rio Grande do Sul is to fly to Porto Alegre (Salgado Filho International Airport) from São Paulo-Guarulhos or Rio de Janeiro-Galeão airports, where most international flights to Brazil arrive. However, Porto Alegre also receives international flights from other cities in the Americas, such as Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Santiago de Chile, Lima and Panama City.
From Porto Alegre you can get anywhere else in Rio Grande do Sul by rental car, or by taking a guided tour. From Salagado Filho International Airport, you can take the commuter train (Trensurb) to the Historic District of Porto Alegre or get off in the Rodoviaria Station (Central Bus Stations) from which you can continue to many other destinations - the buses are pretty safe and comfortable.
Rio Grande do Sul can be easily accessed by land from several roads coming from Argentina and Uruguay. Depending on the checkpoint, visitors may have to pass through two segregated immigration facilities (one to emigrate and another to immigrate), or they may be co-located. The state has two cities, Santana do Livramento and Chuí, which are in full conurbation with the respective cities of Rivera and Chuy in Uruguay. In these cities, as well as others on the Brazil/Uruguay border, people can freely cross the border between the countries as long as they remain in the conurbation, but are still required to pass through regular emigration/immigration formalities in order to venture any beyond that. For example, a visitor with legal permission to stay in Uruguay who is in Rivera can walk to Santana do Livramento and move freely there, but visitors who want to go to any other place in Brazil must pass through emigration/immigration formalities.
Buses are available from Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, and other parts of Brazil. Porto Alegre is the big transportation hub.
As when you travel by car, if you are going from Uruguay to Brazil or vice versa, make sure to pass through the emigration/immigration checkpoints in both sides of the border. If you're taking a direct bus from Uruguay to Brazil, the bus company should take your passport and do the border formalities for you while you stay on the bus; if there are any issues they'll wake you up so you can address them. If you're taking a bus to a border town and then crossing the border and taking another bus from the other side, it's your responsibility to make sure you go to passport control. The bus driver should stop there for you if you ask.
The state is well connected by bus. Porto Alegre is the largest hub of road transportation, with a long-distance bus terminal (Estação Rodoviária de Porto Alegre, Porto Alegre Bus Station) that serves several cities in the interior of the state. The cities of Porto Alegre, Canoas, Esteio, Sapucaia do Sul, São Leopoldo and Novo Hamburgo, in the region of Grande Porto Alegre, also have a surface subway line known by the local habitants as Trensurb (abbreviation in Portuguese for "Urban Trains").
The state of Rio Grande do Sul has one of the worst road networks compared to the more developed Brazilian states, such as the state of São Paulo, or even the neighboring state, Santa Catarina. Few highways are duplicated (most of them federal highways close to Porto Alegre) and many can have an bumpy lane. This is especially true on state highways (which begin with the initials RS, e.g.: RS-118, RS-122, RS-020). Some may have potholes in the track or poor signaling conditions and may have sinuous curves, especially in the mountains of Serra Gaúcha. Highway traffic can also be high, particularly on long weekend holidays. Caution is recommended when driving on highways in the state.
Flying within the state may not be a viable option, as flight schedules are limited to a few flights per week and it can cost more to fly than traveling within the state in a comfortable, air-conditioned bus. The only airports of the state with regular flights departing from Porto Alegre International Airport are the airports in Bagé, Santa Maria, Santa Rosa, Santo Ângelo, Pelotas and Uruguaiana.
- See also: Brazilian cuisine
For many Brazilians, Rio Grande do Sul is synonymous with churrasco, the Pampas-style barbecued beef, and as the state is a large producer of cattle, it is easy to be spoilt in terms of options of barbecued meat restaurants. The state was the place of foundation of the Fogo de Chão Brazilian restaurant chain, although the chain has far more branches in the United States than in Brazil, and no branches at all in Rio Grande do Sul. Every year, the city of Bagé hosts a festival dedicated to churrasco, along with typical gaúcho music and dance.
Other famous gaúcho dishes are the charque (dried salted beef), the arroz carreteiro (a sort of risotto based on charque) and the galeto ao primo canto (grilled spring chicken).
Rio Grande do Sul's trademark beer is the Serramalte, known for its strong malt flavour and bitter taste, and commercialised by the Ambev conglomerate. The state is also known for its variety of craft beers and for producing the best wines of the country - according to the Il Sommelier magazine, no less than 13 of Brazil's 16 best wines are from Rio Grande do Sul. Most of these wines are produced in the Italian-settled area of the Serras Gaúchas, in particular, the triangle formed by Bento Gonçalves, Pinta Bandeira and Garibaldi. Not surprisingly, this area should be the starting point for enotourism enthusiasts.
Chimarrão, also known as mate, is a hot beverage made from yerba mate leaves and drunk through a metal straw, distinctive to Rio Grande do Sul and neighboring areas such as Uruguay, Argentina, and to a lesser extent Santa Catarina. You'll see the distinctive chimarrão gourds everywhere, and unlike in Uruguay and Argentina, here they range in size from small ones that only hold a couple of gulps to very large ones that you could sip for a while.
- Santa Catarina, the state north of Rio Grande do Sul, with popular beaches and German- and Italian-influenced culture
- Uruguay has a lot in common with Rio Grande do Sul, including gaucho culture and mate (their version of chimarrão)
- Misiones, Argentina, with ruins of missions and half of Iguaçu Falls (the other half is in the state of Paraná, Brazil)