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New Year's fireworks on Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro | © Leandro Neumann Ciuffo / Flickr
New Year's fireworks on Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro | © Leandro Neumann Ciuffo / Flickr

The Best Ways to Spend New Year’s Eve in Brazil

Picture of Euan Marshall
Updated: 16 November 2017

New Year’s Eve in Brazil is one of the most special days of the year. Either for religious, spiritual, or purely personal reasons, Brazilians take the welcoming of the new year very seriously, holding large celebrations and taking part in a number of rituals and traditions. What’s more, December is a summer month in the southern hemisphere, and Brazil’s gorgeous weather and stunning natural beauty make it a superb destination for a New Year’s holiday. Here are some of the best places to visit in Brazil on December 31.

Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro

One of the world’s most famous New Year’s parties takes place right on sand of the iconic Copacabana beach, in the south zone of Rio de Janeiro. The biggest New Year’s beach party on earth (attracting revelers in their millions each year) always includes lots of live music, with some of Brazil’s biggest acts performing to massive crowds, and a breathtaking 15-minute fireworks display at midnight.

While they are often looked down upon and even persecuted during most of the year, the Afro-Brazilian religions of Candomblé and Umbanda hold special significance for Brazilians at New Year, especially at Copacabana. Bringing in the New Year on the beach began as a Candomblé and Umbanda tradition, with devotees wearing all white and leaving offerings for Iemanjá, the goddess of the sea.

Over time, these practices extended to people outside the Candomblé and Umbanda religions, and almost everyone at Copacabana’s New Year’s celebrations will wear all white, a color which, according to the aforementioned religions, wards away evil spirits. After midnight, revelers take part in another ritual, which is to enter into the sea and jump seven waves. It is believed that by doing this, one will invoke the powers of Iemanjá for the year ahead.

Alter do Chão, Pará

Known as the Brazilian Caribbean, the beach at Alter do Chão is widely regarded as the most beautiful freshwater beach in the world. Located on the Tapajós river in the northern state of Pará, its pristine white sand and warm, brilliant blue water make it one of the most relaxing places imaginable. At any time of year, it’s a must-visit for anyone coming to Brazil, especially those heading to the Amazonian region.

On New Year’s Eve, for the last four years Alter do Chão has hosted one of the best parties in the country, Vai Tapajós. With the celebrations starting on December 27 and going right up to New Year’s Day, complete with some of the best live music Brazil has to offer, it’s a truly unmissable experience. On New Year’s Eve itself, the organizers take all the party goers down the Tapajós river to a secret beach, where they bring in the new year and party until the wee hours of the morning.

Litoral Norte

The Litoral Norte coastline, which spans part of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro state is vastly underrated and a unique part of the country. With an incredible mix of ecosystems, from the Serra do Mar mountain range, rolling down into the native Atlantic Forest and then onto the gorgeous Litoral Norte beaches, the entire region throws up some jaw-droppingly beautiful landscapes. There are countless secluded beaches surrounded by imposing mountains covered with thick jungle, a combination which is hard to find anywhere else.

Visiting the Litoral Norte, you are never short of options on where to go. The colonial town of Paraty is a classic tourist destination and always holds large New Year’s celebrations. For a bit of a younger crowd, the nearby beach village of Trindade is a paradisiacal destination with three beautiful beaches. Further to the southwest is Toque-Toque Pequeno, which has the peculiar honor of being one of the very few coastal beaches in Brazil which faces southwest, meaning it is bathed in sun for the whole day, and beachgoers get an unobstructed view of the sun setting into the ocean.

Garopaba, Santa Catarina

While the northeast and southeast regions of Brazil are more popular with tourists coming from across the Atlantic Ocean, the southern coast of the country is one of the hottest spots for visitors from other countries in Latin America, particularly Argentinians and Chileans. Florianópolis, the capital of the state of Santa Catarina, is the main draw. The cultural capital of Brazil’s south is surrounded by beautiful coastline, and part of the city itself is the expansive island of Santa Catarina. A little further south from the state capital is the charming town of Garopaba, which is fast becoming the hottest New Year’s destination in the entire region. For the last 10 years, the Virada Mágica party has attracted a young, trendy crowd to the gorgeous Praia do Rosa beach to bring in the New Year, with the main attraction being the breathtaking sunrise.

Visconde de Mauá, Rio de Janeiro

Although you may be mistaken for thinking as much, New Year’s parties in Brazil are not restricted to the beach. In fact, many Brazilian families prefer to avoid the coast at the end of the year, instead fleeing to the interior of the country for some peace and quiet, surrounded by nature. The southeast of Brazil, particularly around the borders between the states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais, is ideal for this type of getaway, with its lush scenery, countless rivers and waterfalls, and superb local food.

Visconde de Mauá, which straddles the border between Rio and Minas, is located in a gorgeous river valley and offers an excellent backdrop for an unforgettable countryside New Year’s celebration. There is plenty to see and do during the day, such as hikes up into the mountains of the nearby Itatiaia National Park, or walks on the Rio Preto uncovering beautiful secluded waterfalls. The town itself is charming, full of friendly dogs who were once abandoned but are now cared for by the local community. At night, there are plenty of options for your New Year’s Eve supper, such as the excellent Italian cantina D’Corleone.

Porto Seguro, Bahia

If the Copacabana beach party is Brazil’s most famous New Year spot, then Porto Seguro comes in at number two. Behind the city of Salvador, Porto Seguro is the next most popular destination in the northeastern state of Bahia, attracting holidaymakers all year round with its impressive beaches and ample infrastructure.

While other New Year’s parties around the country will play a mix of different music styles, mainly Brazilian pop, in Porto Seguro there is one genre and one genre alone—axé. A mix between Brazilian rhythms frevo and forró, as well as Afro-Caribbean styles such as calypso, with a bit of a cheesy pop sheen thrown in for good measure, Bahia is the undisputed home of axé, and spending the New Year in Porto Seguro spells axé, axé, and a bit more axé.

While there, it is also worth taking a few days to visit the rest of the region, such as the Coroa Vermelha beach in Santa Cruz Cabrália, which is where the Portuguese first landed in Brazil, or the gorgeous beach town of Trancoso.

Chapada dos Veadeiros, Goiás

Another popular New Year’s itinerary for Brazilians who love the great outdoors is to spend several days trekking around the Chapada dos Veadeiros, the beautiful national park in the state of Goiás. An ancient plateau with rock formations and caves reckoned to be over a billion years old, Chapada is a must-visit for anyone in Brazil, and visiting its stunning waterfalls is a great way to bring in the New Year.

Cachoeira Santa Barbara, Chapada dos Veadeiros | © Aline Fortuna / Shutterstock

Jericoacoara, Ceará

A Brazilian New Year’s Eve on the beach does not necessarily have to be a crowded, action-packed affair. In fact, bringing in the New Year in the remote fishing village of Jericoacoara, on Brazil’s northeastern coast, may just be one of the most laid-back and relaxed New Year’s imaginable. It’s not the easiest place to get to, requiring a 4×4 ride over the sand dunes from the nearby town of Jijoca de Jericoacoara (which is very secluded itself), but the effort is worth it.

On the evening of New Year’s Eve, be sure not to miss Jeri’s legendary sunset, best seen from the top of the Duna do Pôr do Sol, where visitors can often witness the notorious “Green Flash,” a natural phenomenon where the setting sun turns a brilliant shade of emerald green before disappearing over the horizon.

São Miguel dos Milagres, Alagoas

The stunning turquoise waters and gorgeous sands of São Miguel dos Milagres beach make it one of the most popular destinations in the northeastern state of Alagoas. At New Year, the Réveillon dos Milagres festival is five days of partying with some of Brazil’s most popular DJs in a beautiful setting.

Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais

The colonial gold mining town of Ouro Preto has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since the 1980s, thanks to its wonderfully preserved Baroque architecture and its importance to the history of Brazil during the 17th and 18th centuries. It remains a charming city to visit, and walking around its sloped streets feels like a true journey back in time.

Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais | © Curioso / Shutterstock

Ouro Preto is also a popular destination at New Year, with the local government organizing a stunning fireworks display at midnight and many of the town’s restaurants holding private celebrations for tourists.