Rio de Janeiro’s dynamic nature and immense diversity are not confined to the city itself. Nearby, there are several wonderful weekend getaways, each with their own defining features and unique experiences. From coastal party towns and untouched beaches to colonial architecture and regal reminders, you don’t need to go far to find something new – all of these weekend getaways are just a car or bus trip away.
The Cariocas’ (people born in Rio de Janeiro) preferred summer escape, Petropolis’s location in the mountains provides relief from the stuffy heat in Rio’s hottest months. The town itself is a pleasant region featuring attractions that date back to Brazil’s imperial era, such as the Imperial Museum, which was once the emperor’s summer house and Santos Dumont’s house, the former residence of the man who was the first to fly an aeroplane. There are also forest trails to explore and fabulous viewpoints in the surrounding Serra dos Órgãos National Park.
Petropolis, State of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
What was once a sleepy fishermen’s village, Buzios became the hottest weekend retreat in Rio after a visit from Brigitte Bardot and her boyfriend in 1964 put the town on the map. Since then, Buzios has become known as the St Topez of Brazil, attracting Rio’s elite with its fine dining and exquisite beaches, as well as the young and single who go to enjoy Buzios’s pumping nightlife. With over 20 gorgeous beaches, impossibly blue waters, and plenty of entertainment, it’s an ideal tropical getaway coupled with a touch of class and sophistication.
Buzios, State of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The definition of a tropical paradise, Ilha Grande is an island off the coast of Rio de Janeiro that proudly boasts some of the best beaches in the whole of Brazil. Soft white sand and startlingly blue seas are standard characteristics of the island’s coastline, and the fact that it is a completely motor-free zone adds to the simple, natural charm. Other appealing attractions include an abandoned prison, forest hikes, refreshing waterfalls, and panoramic viewpoints with sweeping island views.
Ilha Grande, State of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The idyllic coastal town of Paraty combines colourful colonial architecture with a stunning coastline and boat trips to dozens of islands. The town’s cobbled streets are for pedestrians only and are flanked by small, charming buildings that house boutique restaurants and artisanal stores, creating a pleasant setting for a casual stroll. Head to the port to admire the ocean views, and take a boat to nearby uninhabited islands that present sublime snorkelling opportunities. Day trips from Paraty include the nearby forest where visitors can explore jungle hikes and take a dip in hidden waterfalls.
Paraty, State of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Although Ouro Preto demands a long car drive there, it’s worth the journey for breathtaking colonial architecture, a laid-back pace of life, and mouthwatering food. Star attractions include 18th-century churches, a museum dedicated to the life and works of Brazil’s most celebrated baroque artist, Aleijadinho, and a pleasant park for an afternoon stroll. Located in Minas Gerais, a state neighbouring Rio that is known for its home-style cooking, Ouro Preto is an excellent option for foodies looking to try some of Brazil’s finest cuisine.
Ouro Preto, State of Minas Gerais, Brazil
A natural retreat in the north of the Rio de Janeiro state, Aldeia Velha remains a secluded getaway that rarely registers on the tourist or Carioca radar. A small village of just 800 people, it is an ideal trip for those who want to get off the grid for a couple of days. The village is not built for tourism, so overnight stays require a tent and a personal supply of home comforts. For nature lovers, however, it’s a dream destination with untouched forests, cascading waterfalls, meandering rivers, and an abundance of wildlife, all without a soul in sight.
Aldeia Velha, State of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
In the north of Sao Paulo state lies Ubatuba, a stunning coastal town fringed with superb beaches, wild forests, and crystal-clear waters. It takes a few hours to get there from Rio de Janeiro, but for natural beauty and untouched beaches, there is nothing quite like it. Surfers will be in their element at Itamambuca Beach, a spot known for its big waves and excellent surfing conditions. Head to the TAMAR visitor centre to learn more about local turtle protection, and visit the feeding area on Anchieta Island to catch a glimpse of these magnificent creatures in the wild.
Ubatuba, State of Sao Paolo, Brazil
Arraial do Cabo
Arraial do Cabo is the ultimate beach retreat with its white sandy beaches and jaw-dropping blue seas. The region is much quieter than neighbouring Buzios and less pricey, providing the ideal retreat for those looking for a low-key yet tropical getaway on a budget. The main appeal at Arraial do Cabo is the beaches, with Praia Grande – a beach that stretches out for 23 kilometres (14.2 miles) – Praia do Farol, and Praia do Forno being the three most popular and stunning. There are also boat trips that take visitors to explore different beaches and nearby islands.
Arraial do Cabo, State of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil