1,576km (979 miles) NW of Rio de Janeiro, 1,321km (815 miles) NW of São Paulo

The capital of Mato Grosso state, Cuiabá is a modern, pleasant town of 430,000 that sits in the middle of Brazilian cattle country. The city serves as the main gateway to the northern part of the Pantanal -- the Transpantaneira Highway starts just 98km (61 miles) away -- and as the jumping-off point to the Chapada dos Guimarães.