Have you been itching for lush rainforests, fantastic cities, tropical islands, and heavenly beaches? Then you’ve been itching for a Brazilian adventure. You’ll find colonial towns that will make you feel that you’ve stepped back in time, red-rock canyons that will make you feel that you’ve stepped onto another planet, and awe-inspiring waterfalls and jungles that will make you wish you could stay forever. Brazil is the country of Carnaval, a celebration that takes over every city and every soul. You won’t believe the human capacity for fun and joy until you experience this festas. Ask yourself what you want in your next holiday, and Brazil is guaranteed to have it on offer. Diverse ecosystems, with rare and wild plant and animal species unique to all other places on earth, kayaking through rainforests, horseback riding, whale watching, snorkelling in coastal reefs, samba dancing, all-night DJ’s, white sand beaches, history, culture, and big, full-power cities. Let’s explore the best places to visit in Brazil!
1. Rio de Janeiro
There’s just no other place like Rio. Welcome to lush mountains, brilliant beaches, over the top nightlife, and fanatic football fans. Known as Cidade Maravilhosa, the Marvellous City, Rio is ringed by green mountains while the coast stretches for miles. Most people come first for the beaches. The cariocas (locals) consider the beach a home away from home and so much happens here that you could never leave and still have a complete vacation. You’ll love biking on the beach, hiking in Tijuca rainforest, hang gliding, rock climbing, and sailing to one of several small islands just off the coast. Music is everywhere in the city – with the most popular being the African influenced samba vibe. If you want to explore the nightlife, head to Lapa, the cities red-light distinct. You’ll find live music and street parties every night.
Located in the state of Bahia, Salvador has a phenomenal energy that’s notable even for Brazil. Most known for being Portugal’s New World capital, it maintains a great deal of its colonial architecture and you’ll find the historic centre of the town in the Pelourinho neighbourhood. Here you’ll find large squares with small cobblestone alleys leading away, multi-coloured buildings, and churches like São Francisco with gilt woodwork and other baroque features. There’s an amazing arts movement here. You’ll find Olodum drummers on the streets, along with Capoeira martial artists, and crazy festivals happening everywhere you look. The culture here is decidedly Afro-Brazilian and you’ll see that in the incredible food, religious ceremonies and rituals, and dance.
3. São Paulo State
Another in the long list of incredible things about Brazil is São Paulo state. It offers some of the best of the best that the country has to offer. São Paulo city is the current Boom Town – everything here is growing: commerce, industry, culture, finance, and, of course, tourism. But you can also leave the city for a bit and head to Serra da Mantiqueira. Use this stunning mountain range, with its 2500m peaks, as your cosy mountain getaway. There’s also Ilhabela, to be used as your posh island escape. Or try Iporanga in the midst of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. You’ll also find great beaches with the rainforest as their backdrop – try the lovely Ubatuba for a relaxing few days.
4. Sao Paulo City
The heartbeat of Sao Paulo State is Sao Paulo city. It’s the largest city in Brazil and one of the largest in the world. It’s a bit of a melting pot, with all kinds of ethnic groups calling it home, including the largest community of Japanese outside of Japan. You’ll find unbelievable art galleries and experimental theatres, as well as fantastic fine-dining restaurants and upscale bars. If you want a taste of sophisticated city life, this is your stop. With 20 million people, Sao Paulo is a mammoth city, and does come with a lot of big city hassles, but for those willing to look a little closer; there is a vibe here that rivals New York City.
Built in the 1960’s, Brazil’s capital is a thoroughly planned and intricately organized city. Brasilia’s landmark infrastructure is laid out in the form of an airplane. Each section of the plane is a different district like residential, government, finance, culture, and commerce. The architecture here attracts tourists and professional architects alike. Be sure to check out the Three Powers Square. Here you’ll find the Supreme Court, Congress, and the Presidential Palace.
Another of Brazil’s big cities is Fortaleza. It’s best known for an energetic cultural scenes, great beaches, and even greater shopping. If you’re going for the beaches, check out Meireles, Mucuripe, Iracema, and everyone’s favourite, Praia do Futuro. Spend your mornings strolling through Centro, the oldest part of the city, and then spending your evenings in Praira de Iracema, a neighbourhood densely packed with hotels, restaurants, and nightlife. Once you’ve had your fill of Fortaleza beaches, use it as starting point to discover the quaint fishing villages and rolling dune beaches of the Ceará coast.
One of the most popular stops for tourists is located along Brazil’s Green Coast in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Paraty is bursting with waterfalls, emerald green sea, giant coastal mountains and tropical forests. Once a Portuguese colony, the heart of the town is still the historic centre. Complete with multicoloured colonial buildings and cobbled streets built in the 17th century during the height of the Brazilian gold rush. Many of the houses have been converted to bed and breakfasts’ which the locals call pousadas. The entire historic district is great for strolling as the lanes are closed to cars. It really feels like you’ve stepped back in time. Don’t forget to check out the colonial forts – many that still have their original cannons – and Capela de Santa Rita, a lovely 18th century church.
There is nothing not to love about the “Venice of Brazil.” Inside the city is a network of waterways, bridges, islets, and peninsulas, and just outside are tropical rainforests with rivers and islands to explore. There is a wonderful historic old town here, as well as incredible culture and fantastic beaches. The old town is known as Recife Antigo and is located on its own island near the harbour. Most would agree that Boa Viagem is the most popular beach in town due to the white sands and coral reef. Recife is a large city with lots to offer – including an awesome place to spend Carnaval.
Six kilometres from Recife is Olinda, is a 16th century Portuguese colonial town. The historic old town sits on a hill surrounded by trees and filled with churches, museums, and restaurants. In 1982 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. The rest of the town is no less charming with tons of 18th century architecture, monasteries and convents, and fantastically painted houses. Once a leader in the sugarcane industry, Olinda has transformed into a small artists’ colony; full of artists, workshops, studios, and other creative types. Check out the pousadas in the old town if you’re interested in using Olinda as a base to enjoy Recife. And Carnaval is slightly different here. Celebrated primarily during the day with the music and dance focused on traditional African culture.
Considered by many as the gateway to the Amazon Rainforest, Manaus sits on the Negro River. The capital of Amazonas and one of the largest cities in the country it has incredible landmarks like the Rio Negro Palace and the Amazonas Opera House. If you’re in the mood for some phenomenal nature, check out the Meeting of the Waters, a three mile stretch where the Solimões and the Negro Rivers run side by side without fully mixing. Eventually, both rivers converge to form the Amazon. Most people come here as a stopping point on their way into, or out of, the Amazon. If you’ve got time, check out the zoo that lets many of the animals roam free, and a little beachside museum just outside the city centre.
11. Iguazu Falls
This stunning natural wonder runs for 2.7km along the border with Argentina. Iguazu Falls is a series of waterfalls along the Iguazu. The combination of luscious green forest, exotic wildlife, and breathtaking waterfalls is intoxicating. Use the city of Foz do Iguaçu as your base camp as you enjoy cascades like the 80 metre Devil’s Throat. With hundreds of fall’s to discover, you might consider a tour in one of the tourist rubber boats called zodiacs.
Bonito is a one-street town full of charisma. It serves as an ecotourism model for Brazil and as a hub for the surrounding areas. If you’re an outdoor adventurer and water enthusiast, then this is your spot. Discover Abismo Anhumas, a gigantic cavern covered in stalactite where you can dive and swim in an underground lake as well as do some abseiling. Or how about snorkelling in the crystal clear Rio da Prata? If you’re a bird lover you won’t want to miss the macaws that nest deep in the Buraco das Araras. To top it all off, explore the Serra da Boduquena National Park.
13. São Luís
The historic centre of São Luís has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its well-restored colonial mansions. There are so many museums, crafts, and galleries to explore while here. São Luís maintains a largely Afro-Brazilian culture and you’ll find both reggae and Bumba Meu Boi music festivals. While you’re here be sure to catch the Centro de Cultura, a museum with exhibits on the three major Brazilian festivals. You might also like the Archaeological Museum and the Casa das Tulhas, a 19th century market building. When you’re ready, cross the Baía de São Marcos for a quick day trip to Alcântara to see this historic town as it slowly slips into tropical decay.
14. Jijoca de Jericoacoara
This hidden gem is one of the spectacular beaches in Ceara, Brazil. Named by the Washington Post as one of the Top 10 Most Beautiful Beaches in the world, you’ll find calm seas, white sand dunes, and gorgeous blue lagoons. It’s a nesting spot for large turtles and therefore was declared an Environmental Protection Area; it’s also been a national park since 2002. Thanks to all that, the area has remained largely isolated and untouched. They’ve had electricity for less than 20 years in Jeri and thanks to local ordinance; the streets can only be lit by the moon.
This thoroughly urban capital of Paraná state is a well-known performance centre. Visit the Wire Opera, a steel tube building with a see-through roof, as well as the Guaíra Theatre for some great programs. Curitiba is also well known to urban planners across the globe as one of the most efficient cities ever built. You’ll find a six-block stretch designated as a pedestrian zone, tones of parks and trees, innovative solutions to urban problems like pollution and poverty. It’s a unique place to recharge before ending your Brazilian adventure.