The Best Destinations to Visit in Brazil

Youll be awestruck by the stunning flat-topped mountains of the Chapada Diamantina
You'll be awestruck by the stunning flat-topped mountains of the Chapada Diamantina | © Cavan Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Sarah Brown

Brazil boasts more than 70 national parks and dozens of monuments, including one of the Seven New Wonders of the World – Christ the Redeemer, in Rio de Janeiro. Together, these attractions create one of the most appealing and exciting destinations in South America. People come from every corner of the world to discover the superlative coastline, sprawling metropolises and thick jungles, which are home to monkeys, jaguars and river dolphins. So where to go in Brazil? The vast landscape holds many prized spots, but the places below are some of the very best.

1. Rio de Janeiro

Architectural Landmark

Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado, with Sugarloaf Mountain ahead of it in Rio de Janeiro
© David Wall / Alamy Stock Photo
Where to go in Brazil first? Naturally, we’ll start with its most famous city. Known for its stark contrasts, Rio de Janeiro perfectly blends golden shores, lush forests and bustling urban life to create a home for its 6m residents and an exotic holiday destination for millions of annual tourists. Besides the obvious attractions such as Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain and Copacabana, don’t miss the more off-the-beaten-track spots such as the unforgettable TransCarioca 180km-long (112mi) hike, or the mesmerizing sunset at Arpoador. If you love music, then you don’t need to wait until Carnival for a samba hit; head to the samba schools for their all-year-round samba shows, including live music and jaw-dropping dancers.

2. Belo Horizonte

Architectural Landmark

Belo Horizonte is known for its bar scene rather than thumping nightclubs, which comprises dozens of bars packed together to create the ideal late-night drinking spot for socializing and winding down at the end of the week. For food, you’ve come to the right place as everything from mobile stalls to sophisticated restaurants serve up classic Minas Gerais cuisine molded around home comfort and slow-cooking. If art is more your thing, hire a car to Inhotim, a large interactive art gallery set within a botanical garden.

3. São Paulo

Architectural Landmark

They don’t call São Paulo the concrete jungle for nothing. This often misunderstood city, home to over 12m people, is regarded as the business and financial capital of Brazil. Yet that sweeping definition overlooks the quirks and curiosities that make São Paulo the buzzing cosmopolitan city that it is. For culture, it has some of the country’s finest art galleries and museums, and you can excite your palate at one of many international restaurants celebrated for their haute cuisine. For a change of pace, head to Praça Roosevelt for hipster bars and an alternative, liberal crowd. Pace yourself, as you’ll need stamina for the nightlife here, which gives São Paulo its reputation as a city that doesn’t sleep.

4. Olinda

Architectural Landmark

Founded in the early 16th century by Portuguese settlers, Olinda is a small colonial town neighboring much larger Recife. Its collection of baroque churches, 18th-century convents, and vibrant houses cling to the hillside, coupling exquisite architecture with sweeping ocean views. The local bohemian crowd have restored many of the buildings into artistic hubs, creating a center of art galleries, museums and open studios. Come here in February to experience one of Brazil’s most traditional and lively carnivals.

5. Fernando de Noronha

Natural Feature

Tide rolls in on the sandy Baia do Sancho on Fernando de Noronha
© Diane Stoney / Alamy Stock Photo
Escape from it all on this picturesque and exclusive island gem. Located 350km (217mi) off the coast of Brazil, you have to take a flight from Recife to get to the volcanic archipelago of Fernando de Noronha. With jagged coastlines, unspoiled scenery and shallow seas brimming with tropical fish, sharks, turtles and dolphins, this protected area grants several opportunities for relaxing on golden beaches and getting close to wildlife. The ecological sanctuary limits the number of visitors per year, which is why it still boasts some of the most breathtaking natural landscapes in Brazil.

6. Florianopolis

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

Located in the south of Brazil, Florianopolis, the capital of Santa Catarina is known for its picturesque beaches, pastel-hued sunsets and popular holiday resorts. Enjoy the many sun-kissed beaches on 54km (34mi) Santa Catarina Island. Or pick up the pace at Lagoa da Conceição, a saltwater lagoon with strong winds ideal for windsurfing and pleasant boat trips.

7. Foz do Iguaçu

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

Down in the south of Brazil, straddling the border of Argentina and Paraguay, is the small town of Foz do Iguaçu, one of the most visited spots in the country. That’s because it’s home to the Foz do Iguaçu waterfalls, one of the world’s largest waterfall systems, comprising hundreds of mighty cascades. Venture out onto the wooden platform that juts over the 80m-tall (262ft) Devil’s Throat fall, where mist clouds the bottom on a rainy day. Then marvel at the exotic feathered friends at the bird park, which has several ongoing conservation projects. Other highlights include a trip to the Itaipu Dam, an imposing hydroelectric dam, and quick bus trips over to the border towns of Argentina, and Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, known among savvy shoppers for its cheap and cheerful shopping opportunities.

8. Bonito

Natural Feature

Bonito is located in Mato Grosso do Sul, on the border of the Pantanal, and comprises crystal-clear freshwater pools and deep abysses, which create a unique ecosystem. Nutrient-rich rivers such as the Rio da Prata nourish hundreds of freshwater species and grant pleasant snorkeling opportunities among tight-knit shoals of brightly colored fish. From stalactite-carpeted caverns and underground lakes, to a depression in the earth that houses nesting macaws, Bonito is a place that impresses with its ecology and beauty alike.

9. Chapada Diamantina

Park

Take a walk through the wild at Chapada Diamantina National Park in Bahia. In addition to rocky landscapes of flat-topped mountains and deep canyons, the area is dotted with incredible natural wonders such at the Cachoeira da Fumaça, one of Brazil’s tallest waterfalls, where the water lacks sufficient volume to reach the bottom and turns into a cloud of mist. Two of the most striking features in the area are Poço Encantado and Poço Azul – deep, underground cavities. The two pools contain water so clear that it appears the crevices are empty and the sunlight that enters gives each pool a striking electric-blue hue.

10. Mount Roraima

Natural Feature

Thick mist surrounds the rugged, block-like Mount Roraima
© Image Source / Alamy Stock Photo

This imposing mountain swallows up the border with Venezuela, but also stretches out to Guyana and Brazil. Located in the far north of Brazil, it’s remote and hard to get to, which makes it even more appealing to adventurers and hikers. Those who make the effort to go there will enjoy solitude and nature in its rawest form, with untouched rocky landscapes, mind-boggling heights and sweeping views that capture three countries at once. All this without a soul in sight.

11. Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

Park

The name Lençóis literally translates as “bed sheets”. When you are stood on the top of a rolling white sand dune in the Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, this baffling name suddenly makes sense. Known for its striking scenery, this northern national park comprises an endless stretch of sand dunes, like someone gently shaking a large white bed sheet. After the rainy season is the best time to go, when the dips between the dunes fill up with deep blue pools of fresh water. It’s a landscape like no other; take a guided tour to enjoy the solitude and splendor of the area.

12. Pantanal

Natural Feature

Three members of a capybara family stand on a small sandy mound in the Cuiaba River, with many green trees in distance
© reisegraf.ch / Alamy Stock Photo
If you are considering where to go in Brazil for an adventure that will throw you into the heart of the wild, you’ll cherish a visit to the Pantanal, the largest wetland in the world. Located in the center of the country, this vast wetland includes spectacular natural landscapes that are home to one of the world’s most unique and complex ecosystems. Take a guided tour to explore this remarkably preserved natural habitat and keep your eyes peeled for caimans, capybaras, hundreds of bird species and even the occasional shy jaguar.

13. Amazon

Natural Feature

One of the most striking ecosystems in Brazil, the vast Amazon rainforest continues to be an imposing, mysterious jungle, despite deforestation and illegal mining in the area. This complex ecosystem comprises hundreds of species that co-exist in a network unlike any other in the world. Sustainable tours in the region are actually good for the forest, providing an income to resource-lacking locals who come to depend on tourism instead of hunting endangered animals. It also gives you the chance to explore a magnificent part of the world that river dolphins, monkeys and brightly colored tree frogs all call home.

14. Manaus

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

A few people walk by the grand salmon-painted exterior of Amazon Theatre, which has a dome roof in Brazilian national colours
© Oliver Wintzen / Alamy Stock Photo

It may not be many people’s first thought of where to go in Brazil, yet that makes it all the more appealing. Manaus is a city in the northwest of Brazil, and sits on the banks of the Negro River. Check out the nearby natural phenomenon known as the “meeting of the waters”, where the dark, nutrient-rich waters of the Negro River flow into the brown, murky waters of the Solimões River, creating one, long stretch that is half black, half brown. Linger by the riverbank at sunset for a wonderful visual treat and explore the elegant Amazon Theatre for a spot of culture.

15. Curitiba

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

For a country of more than 210m people, it’s easy to forget that Brazil is not all like Rio de Janeiro, and Curitiba is a good reminder of that. Located in the south of the country, Curitiba is hailed as being among the top cities in the world when it comes to urban planning, including examples of sustainable architecture, leafy parks brimming with trees and an efficient recycling system. With its efforts to address homelessness and create organized public transport links, it’s a safe and functioning city in which to sit back and soak up the culture.

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