Brazil is a nation of amazing diversity, both through its land and its people. While some of its beaches are famous worldwide, there are plenty of other locations that reveal other elements of the city. Here are 16 places that locals know and love, illustrating just how diverse Brazil can be.
The most famous rainforest in the world is also one that has become an increasingly popular tourist destination. The main hub for departures to explore the Amazon is Manaus, a city in the jungle and the capital of the Amazonas state. There are plenty of tour operators willing to take travelers into the forest to see towering trees, or to the “meeting of the waters” where the Rio Negro and Rio Solimões come together, showing the two distinct colors of each river. Other tourist agencies promise contact with a local tribe, and while the influx of foreign cash is appealing to some, others believe the region is being exploited beyond sustainable means. To explore the Amazon without harming the ecosystem, consider visiting the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve located out of Tefé. The best lodging and tour agency there is Uakari Floating Lodge which employs biologists and local guides to help you explore their seasonally flooded forest region. Consider going on their Jaguar Expedition or a specialty Birdwatching Tour to discover the Amazon in a sustainable way.
Just outside of popular Paraty is a Trinidade, a costal area that the locals keep relatively quiet about because of the consistent swells. It’s is popular weekend getaway with surfers, though local traffic already congests the beaches and the roads, so locals prefer not to have an even greater influx of tourists. Trinidade might be best to visit during the week so you can explore its picturesque beaches of Cepilho, Ranchos, Meio and Cachadaço with less crowds. Wander through these gorgeous and through the Atlantic rainforest to discover several swimming holes. To get there, go to the Rodoviária Novo Rio (in Rio de Janeiro) and buy a ticket to Paraty, which is about a four-hour trip. Then in Paraty you’ll need to purchase the ticket to Trinidade, which is about a 40-minute ride. Check into a local pousada, like Hotel Garni Cruzeiro do Sul for a beachfront paradise, or consider the cozy Pousada Refúgio do Pirata.
Residents of Rio de Janeiro escape to Petrópolis to get their fill of refreshing mountain views and cascading waterfalls. This location has long been a refuge, as even Brazil’s former emperor, Dom Pedro II, built a palace there. It has a distinctly European feel thanks to the arching bridges over canals and delightful parks.
This island about the size of Switzerland is another hidden destination in Brazil. Tucked into the country’s northern reaches, Ilha de Marajó is actually the world’s largest fluvial island – an island formed within a river. The natural diversity here is breathtaking, with water buffalo roaming free across the region. The water buffalo are so much a part of the culture in Marajó that locals ride them for work to haul loads as well as for pleasure in festival races. Even the police have mounted the water buffalo in Marajó, and this animal has essentially replaced the horse in the community. Travelers in search of a seemingly timeless tropical paradise can get to Ilha de Marajó from Belém. There are ferries that leave Belém every day from the Terminal Hidroviário Pier 9, and arrive in Salvaterra, at the the port of Camará in three to four hours. There are vans and taxis at the port that can take you to your pousada. Once on the island take a trip through the forrested river inlets, igarapés, or watch a local potter create ceramics. And of course, there’s always the spectacular beaches.
Less than a 100 kilometers outside Brazil’s most iconic city of Rio de Janeiro is another “Rio” waiting to be discovered. Rio Bonito is just about the opposite of the bustling beaches you’ll find in Cidade Maravilhosa. Rio Bonito offers a lush forest retreat, with lots of trails to hike, flora and fauna to spot and waterfalls to discover. There’s a solid hang gliding ramp for adventure seekers and an 18th century in the middle of the town to top off this hidden destination.
This national park in the state of Goiás offers a different kind of natural beauty than the palm tree-lined beaches. One of the most stunning sights is an ancient plateau, which along with other rock formations, are believed to be some of the oldest on the planet. The park is located in Central Brazil and its open pastures have soil rich in rock crystals, leading some to make pilgrimages to the park in search of healing.
For six months out of the year, a beautiful island is revealed in a riverbed in the heart of Brazil’s forested region in the town of Alter do Chão. The Ilha do Amor – or Island of Love – is located in the River Tapajós and is actually a sand split, rather than an island. Alter do Chão also boasts other charms, like the surrounding Lagoa Verde, or Green Lagoon, perfect for a day of paddle boarding and hiking. Consider taking a cruise to the other nearby river beaches. After exploring, settle in at one of the beach bars where the chairs sit in the water and you can often find a relaxed crowd and some strumming guitars to welcome the sunset.
More than 100 waterfalls draw in visitors to this hidden gem in the Amazon jungle. Presidente Figueiredo is one of the few places to enter the Amazon jungle by car from Manaus, offering opportunities for hiking, kayaking, rafting, tree climbing and rappelling. This is an unparalleled opportunity to explore the Amazon without extensive travel via boat and there are even opportunities to spend a night in the treetops.
Brazil may not be known for its wine, but there’s a gorgeous valley that has become its very own hub of winemaking – appropriately named Vale dos Vinhedos, or Valley of the Vineyards. The area was colonized by the Italians and now has an excellent production of sparkling wines. Go for a tasting via a bike tour and explore this beautiful land.
A small town in southern Brazil, Urubiçi has become an eco and adventure tourism hub for the area. It boasts miles of trails through valleys and mountains, a waterfall you can zip line over and a host of other outdoor adventures. The town itself isn’t much so consider staying in the mountain cabanas at Il Rifugio, a gorgeous getaway with a slow-food restaurant that makes you savor both the food and the view.
There are beaches and towns throughout Brazil claiming to be a true paradise, but Fernando de Noronha easily deserves the title. This is a favorite destination for Brazilians who truly want to get away from it all. There’s barely any wifi on the island, so prepare to actually disconnect. What you’ll gain in place of texts are the most pristine beaches in the country. Venture out into the ocean for diving and snorkeling opportunities that are also among Brazil’s best.
Brazil has proudly turned out some of the world’s best surfers, with Praia do Rosa being one of the most sought after surf spots southern Brazil. It has a consistent swell of waves varying from a half a meter and up to three meters in height and the area has hosted numerous surf competitions in the past. Aside from the beautiful beaches and great breaks, the town has charming restaurants and shops and, of course, that laid-back surfer vibe.
Way up north on the border with Venezuela and Guyana is another of Brazil’s best natural sights, Monte Roraima. It’s an imposing tabletop mountain that is said to be among some of the oldest geological formations on Earth. Although there’s rain nearly every day of the year at Monte Roraima, the waters create stunning waterfalls that are also some of the largest in the world.
Silky white sands and seasonal rains create what looks like a desert oasis in Brazil’s northern state of Maranhão. Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses is not actually a desert, despite its miles of sand dunes. It’s located just outside the Amazon Basin and offers the travelers who make the trek there an otherworldly view of blue-green lagoons that form among the sand dunes.
While the Amazon rainforest may be the more well known of Brazil’s natural wonders, the Pantanal offers even better wildlife viewing opportunities and just as much adventure. This wetland area is the largest in the world and shows how private farmers and coexist with ecotourism successfully. Discover the natural habitat of storks to jaguars in this wetland paradise.
This tiny fishing village inspires the integration of man and nature every day. There are no cars, the electricity is just enough to get by and the trash clean up is a conscious community effort. The residents of Caraíva take pride in their home, where the river meets the Atlantic, and they love showing visitors that there’s a simpler, more sustainable way to interact with nature.