Located on the hillsides next to the sprawling urban jungle of Recife, Olinda is a small colonial town with cobbled streets lined by leafy trees, quaint colonial churches, vibrantly colored houses, and the refreshing salty smell in the air from the coastline below. It is a creative hub where artists and musicians draw inspiration from their surroundings and channel into unique, regional art. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a sleepy town though; in February when Carnival comes, the pounding of the steel drums pick up the pace as the streets fill with boisterous crowds, large Carnival puppets, and non-stop music and celebrations.
When to go: February. Skip Rio de Janeiro in favor of Olinda for Carnival.
In the southern state of Santa Catarina is Blumenau, one of the state’s many cities founded and developed by German settlers who have left a distinctive European stamp on the area with telling signs of German architecture and traditional food such as kassler and eisbein on the local restaurants’ menu. However, what really attracts people to the area is the annual Oktoberfest that is the second largest festival in Brazil after Carnival and involves several days of extravagant beer-drinking, typical German food, and all the fun and energy you’d expect a large Brazilian festival to bring.
When to go: Blumenau is great any time of the year but October is the best for the Oktoberfest spirit.
Located in the state of Paraíba, you’d be forgiven if you haven’t heard of Campina Grande. As the main technological, educational, and industrial hub of the northeast of Brazil, it barely registers so much as a flicker on the tourist radar yet there is more to Campina Grande than meets the eye. It’s not only the abundance of museums and theaters nestled between plenty of heaving bars and restaurants that are the main attractions, although they are certainly worth checking out, it’s the fact that Campina Grande hosts the largest Festa Junina (The June Festival) in Brazil with an extravaganza of typical Festa Junina foods, live shows, dancing, and plenty of forró and other regional music.
When to go: Go any time in June to make the most of the Festa Junina parties.
A city that coexists and largely depends on the Amazon rainforest for trade, the main appeal about Belém for tourists is its location as the gateway to the southern regions of the jungle. Other than that, it is mostly inhabited by locals in the area and few expats or tourists linger for a long. That’s not to say it isn’t worth it as Belém is a special city, especially when it comes to life in October for the Cirio de Nazare festival, Brazil’s largest religious celebration that takes places alongside the Amazon river. Centered around the statue of Our Lady of Nazareth, the celebrations see the statue being carried from the Cathedral of Se to the Basilica in Icoaraci as its surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of dancing crowds and colorful floats with endless singing and music in the air.
When to go: October to experience the Cirio de Nazare festival.
Located in Amazonas, a northern state near to the Amazon rainforest, Parintins is relatively small when compared to Brazil’s major metropolises and it largely depends on agriculture as a means of economy. There is not a lot going on here for the average tourist checklist but that changes at the end of June when the town transforms to become the host of one of Brazil’s largest annual festivals – the Parintins Folklore Festival. Held over the course of three days, the event is centered on the legend of a resurrected ox with two large teams battling it out to retell the story in a series of parades, floats, and extravagant costumes.
When to go: The end of June to visit Parintins when it is most alive; during the Parintins Folklore Festival.
It’s remarkable to think that a city considered the ‘Dubai of Brazil’ is not a place many tourists go to or have even heard of but Balneário Camboriú is pretty much non-existent on travel itineraries. It’s not necessarily underrated – it’s more unknown – yet a city with a year-round mild temperature that is edged by golden coastlines and peppered with affluent neighborhoods with trendy bars and quality restaurants provides a dynamic weekend trip away. The main appeal here for visitors will be the nightclubs; Balneário Camboriú is home to two of the most thumping, pounding, electric clubs in Brazil – Warung Club, and Green Valley Club, known for the best electronic and dance music in the country.
When to go: any time of year although Brazil’s summer time – from November onwards – has the best weather for beach days.
Like the well-known and much-beloved Rio de Janeiro, Natal rests on the edge of Brazil’s spectacular coastline, giving Natal the best of both worlds with the home comforts and facilities of a vibrant city – although on a smaller scale than Rio – and the relaxation and seclusion of sunny days on Natal’s golden beaches and dips in its warm, calm ocean. There are a fair few interesting attractions to keep your curiosity piqued such as being the home to the largest cashew nut tree in the world, the breathtaking natural beauty of Maracajaú – a beachside town just north of Natal known for its crystal-clear waters, squeaky clean sands, and abundance of marine life – and the Natal Dunes state park known for its rolling, white sand dunes.
When to go: Between December and February for the best weather.
Itatiaia National Park
Brazil has dozens of wild national parks that cover kilometers of vast land, comprising jungles, mountain ranges, sandy deserts, and fertile wetlands. The Itatiaia national park is Brazil’s oldest national park and features some of Brazil’s highest mountains – the Prateleiras and the Agulhas Negras peaks – which are challenging yet rewarding opponents for experienced mountaineers. The park will bring immense joy for bird watchers – with over 350 species of birds calling the park their home, it is a prime spot for bird-watching.
When to go: The winter is a good time to go as the rain from the summer months can make the paths dangerous and increase the chance of flash-flooding. For bird-watching, it depends on the species.
Chapada dos Guimarães
While you have the Itatiara National Park for the winter months, save the summer months for exploring the Chapada dos Guimarães in Mato Grosso, a sprawling national park that hosts some impressive features such as Brazil’s largest sandstone cave, several cascading waterfalls, wide-reaching canyons, and an extraordinary collection of fauna and flora. One of the most notable characteristics is the abundance of aquatic fossils in the region, a telling sign that the area was once submerged under the ocean, and the preserved cave paintings reveal our ancestors roamed the land many years after.
When to go: The summer is the best time to go as it’s warm enough to bathe in the waterfall pools.
A city built around water, all the main attractions in Caldas Novas are water-based in some form or the other. In addition to water parks – including Hot Parks, the largest in Brazil – with traditional features such as the lazy river ride and hair-raising waterslides, there are the region’s natural hot springs, a total of 86 active wells to be precise, with a water temperature that varies between 35 and 56 degrees Celsius. It is also a relatively unknown yet outstanding nature area with the nearby Serra de Caldas ecological park peppered with tumbling waterfalls, forest trails, and timid wildlife.
When to go: In the winter – between June and August – to enjoy the hot springs in the cooler climate.