Rio de Janeiro
A city known for its stark contrasts, Rio de Janeiro perfectly blends golden shores, tremendous forests, and a bustling metropolis to create a home for its six million residents and an exotic holiday destination for its millions of annual tourists. Besides the obvious attractions such as Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf, and Copacabana, don’t miss the more off-the-beaten-track spots such as the unforgettable TransCarioca 180-kilometer hike, or the mesmerizing sunset at Arpoador. If you love music, then you don’t need to wait for Carnival for a samba hit; head to the samba schools for their all-year-round samba shows including live music and jaw-dropping dancers.
Belo Horizonte is known for its bar scene rather than thumping nightclubs that comprise 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.
They don’t call São Paulo the ‘concrete jungle’ for nothing. The often misunderstood city is home to over 13 million people and 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, visit some of the country’s finest art galleries and museums before treating your palate at any of the international restaurants celebrated for their haute cuisine. For a change of pace, head to Praca Roosevelt for hipster bars and an alternative, liberal crowd. Pack your stamina for the nightlife that helped give São Paulo its reputation as a city that doesn’t sleep.
Originally founded in the early 16th century by the Portuguese settlers, Olinda is a small colonial town neighboring the much larger Recife. Its collection of baroque churches, 18th century convents, and vibrantly-colored 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. Go there in February to experience one of Brazil’s most traditional and lively carnivals.
Fernando de Noronha
Escape from it all on this picturesque and exclusive gem. Located 350 kilometers off the coast of Brazil, you have to take a flight from Recife to get to this volcanic archipelago. With jagged coastlines, unspoiled scenery, and shallow seas brimming with tropical fish, sharks, turtles, and dolphins, this protected area grants several opportunities for relaxation 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.
Located in the south of Brazil, the capital of Santa Catarina is known for its picturesque beaches, pastel-hued sunsets, and popular holiday resorts. Enjoy any of the sun-kissed beaches on the 54-kilometer long Santa Catarina Island. Pick up the pace at the Lagoa da Conceição, a saltwater lagoon where strong winds glide across, making it ideal for windsurfing or pleasant boat trips.
Foz de Iguaçu
Down in the south of Brazil, straddling the border of Argentina and Paraguay, is the small town of Foz de Iguaçu, one of the most visited spots in the country. That’s because it is home to the Foz de Iguaçu waterfalls, one of the world’s largest falls comprising hundreds of mighty cascades. Venture out onto the wooden platform that juts out over the 80-meter tall Devil’s Throat fall where a mist clouds the bottom on a rainy day. 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.
Bonito is located in Mato Grosso do Sul on the border of the Pantanal and comprises crystal clear freshwater pools and deep abysses that 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 supports the nest of flocks of macaws, Bonito is a place that impresses with its ecology and beauty alike.
Take a walk through the wild at the Chapada Diamantina National Park in Bahia. In addition to rocky landscapes of flat-top mountains and deep canyons, the landscape is dotted with incredible natural wonders such at the Cachoeira da Fumaça, one of Brazil’s largest waterfalls where the water lacks volume to reach the bottom and turns into a cloud of mist. Yet one of the most striking features in the area is the two deep, underground cavities—Poço Encantado and Poço Azul. The two pools contain water so clear that it appears the crevices are empty and the sunlight that enters gives the pool a striking electric blue hue.
This imposing mountain swallows up the border of Venezuela but 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 alike. 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 in one. All this without a soul in sight.
Lençóis Maranhenses National Park
The name ‘Lençóis’ literally translates to ‘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.
If you are ready for an adventure that will throw you into the heart of the wild, you will cherish a visit to the Pantanal, the largest wetland in the world. Located in the center of Brazil, 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 the remarkably preserved natural habitat and keep your eyes peeled for caimans, capybaras, hundreds of bird species, and even the occasional shy jaguar.
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. The complex ecosystem comprises hundreds of species of flora and fauna that co-exist in a network unlike any other in the world. Sustainable tours in the region are actually good for the forest by 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 where river dolphins, monkeys, and brightly-colored tree frogs call home.
It may not register on everyone’s itinerary yet that makes it all the more appealing to go there. Manaus is a city in the northwest of Brazil that sits on the banks of the Negro River. Check out the nearby natural phenomena known as the ‘Meeting of the Waters’ where the dark, nutrient-rich waters of the Negro River flows into the brown, murky waters of the Solimões River creating one, long stretch of water that is half black, half brown. Stay by the riverbanks at sunset for a wonderful visual treat and explore the elegant Municipal Theatre for a spot of culture.
For a country of over 220 million people, it is 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 Brazil, Curitiba is hailed as being among the top cities in the world when it comes to excellent urban planning, including examples of sustainable architecture, leafy parks brimming with trees, and an efficient recycling system. With its efforts to address homelessness issues and create organized public transport links, it is a safe and functioning city to sit back and soak up the culture.