Brazil ’s southernmost state, bordering Argentina  and Uruguay, Rio Grande do Sul is also—along with Bahia  and Minas Gerais—one of Brazil’s most distinctive regions, with a climate, culture, and regional identity all its own. In fact, it is the only Brazilian state where a separatist movement exists.
With some very good restaurants and topnotch cultural venues, the capital of Porto Alegre  is a pleasant enough city, but much more interesting is the mountainous Serra Gaúcha  region of the interior. Only two hours from Porto Alegre lie the picturesque resort towns of Gramado  and Canela , renowned for their alpine landscapes and German immigrant traditions.
Those in search of all-out wilderness can take to the hiking trails that crisscross the magnificent Parque Nacional de Aparados da Serra , famed for its series of spectacular canyons covered with lush vegetation and waterfalls. If you’re on your way to or from Argentina or exploring all of the South from São Paulo  on down, 3–5 days spent in this unique Brazilian region is definitely worth your while.
The fierce independence and distinctiveness of the modern-day Gaúcho (inhabitant of Rio Grande do Sul) dates back to the region’s beginnings as a type of Wild West frontier zone between the Spanish and Portuguese colonial empires. As early as the 18th century, cowboys, traveling solo or in small bands, earned their livelihoods driving immense herds of cattle across the high plains of the Pampas. Fearless and ruthless, they also worked as mercenaries for powerful landowners and colonial governments, who were constantly seeking to expand and defend their territories.
Products of miscegenation between Indians, Spanish and Portuguese settlers, and African slaves, these “Gaúchos”—a pejorative term of indigenous origin—and their rough and tough lifestyle became the stuff of legends, as synonymous with Rio Grande do Sul as cowboys in Texas.
The term Gaúchos became synonymous with all residents of Rio Grande do Sul during the Guerra dos Farrapos, a failed war of independence that pitted Rio Grande do Sul’s free-thinking rebels against imperial forces. Lasting from 1835 to 1845, this series of battles constituted the longest war ever fought in the Americas.
During this period, Rio Grande do Sul became a short-lived autonomous republic, and its citizens defiantly adopted the “Gaúcho” moniker that was used as in an insult by monarchists in Rio . Subsequently, the courageous Gaúcho became a symbol of the state as well as a popular hero who would subsequently be idealized in local literature, music, and art.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the Gaúcho way of life began disappearing. In the mid–late 19th century, German and Italian immigrants arrived en masse, establishing efficient farms and bustling towns. As the century wore on, cattle farming became increasingly industrialized and the Pampas was taken over by cash crops such as soybeans.
Today, it is only in small towns deep in Rio Grande do Sul’s hinterlands that Gaúcho traditions—performing in rodeos, wearing typical bombachas (baggy trousers), ponchos, felt hats, and leather boots—still persist. Yet other legacies, such as drinking bitter erva maté and eating churrasco—the wandering cowboys’ staple of slow-cooked, charcoal-grilled cuts of beef seasoned with rock salt—are now part of the proud lifestyle of all Gaúchos.