Brazil Travel Guide
Brazil—the name evokes an intense mix of images, from beaches that span well past the horizon, dense and diverse jungles, dramatic waterfalls, cosmopolitan and impossibly large metropolises, and everything in between, visitors can explore this South American giant for a week or a lifetime. Whether it's off-roading through the wilderness or dune surfing off the Atlantic, partying well into tomorrow afternoon, indulging in a world of churrasco and other delights by the beach, or a little bit of everything, you're sure to see it all in Brazil. With such a massive country, it can be difficult to know where to start planning your trip. Thankfully, we've got you covered. Read on for our list of highlights of Brazil.
Rio de Janeiro
One of Brazil's most famous cities, home to many of its most iconic sights, is Rio de Janeiro. This former capital sports some 250 km of coastline (famed for its lively beaches and nightlife), over 100 islands and the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, amid a buzzing mix of massive stadia, colorful entertainment districts, and high end shopping. Sugarloaf Mountain is another famous local landmark, and the cable car ride is a great highlight, offering dramatic views over the city, the surrounding wilderness, and the ride up to the mountain. Just be sure to eat before heading up, as prices at the restaurants closer to the top are quite expensive. We recommend coming a bit before sunset to really get the most out of your trip, that way you are able to see the city by day, see the sunset and also see the city come to life at night.
Tijuca National Park
Tijuca National Park is one of Brazil's most ambitious projects, one of the most successful reforestation efforts in the world. By the 18th century, extensive deforestation for firewood, coffee plantations, and grazing land had made the city vulnerable to flash flooding and threatened their water supply. This led to the order of Dom Pedro II replanting a forest that today is some 39.58 square kilometers of urban forest. Now it is a great hotspot for hiking with waterfalls, caves and lookouts over the city. The best part? There is no entry fee.
O Cristo Redentor
The Christ the Redeemer statue is perhaps one of Brazil's most famous attractions, and is a must see for all who visit Rio. This statue is recognized worldwide and widely regarded as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Today, he towers over Rio at the top of the Corcovado Mountain in Tijuca National Park, a formidable sight for visitors and locals alike. The Corcovado train is a fun way to access this landmark, but alternatively, there are many special vans that also service the ride up to the statue.
The Selaron Steps are another highlight, their colors and intricate mosaic design drawing crowds to the beloved Lapa neighborhood. These are also a close walk to the iconic Lapas Arch, another great photo opportunity and attraction. These two attractions are also very popular with tourists, so plan ahead if you prefer to avoid crowds.
Ilha Grande is your getaway from your getaway, a three-hour ride via bus and ferry to this beach paradise. Here, tourists local and international envy the views on this island, the boat tour being of special note. There is also an extensive system of hiking trails featuring secluded overlooks, waterfalls, and forest paths, as well as year-round scuba diving in these lively and protected local waters.
A more daring and memorable way to see the heights and skyline above Rio is hang gliding. Only a twenty-minute drive from iconic Ipanema, Pedra Bonita is where visitors can take off with skilled and professional pilots certified by the Brazilian Hang Gliding Association. About $120 to $150 will buy you a flight over the city. If you’re looking for a great photo opportunity and an unforgettable way to see much of Rio and its surroundings from the sky, this is your bet.
Famous muse of artists and the song “The Girl from Ipanema,” gorgeous Ipanema Beach is home to an amazing surf, a mix of party, sport and community gathering, and a sunset that draws crowds daily. For all that there is to do around Rio, the beaches are a must, swimming, tanning, fun in the sun, and surfing well into the evening. There, visitors can turn to the many bars, boutiques, and ample nightlife of the neighborhood after watching the sun go down.
Museum of Tomorrow
A journey through the story of us, our planet, and the stars, the Museum of Tomorrow is an enchanting and immersive attraction. This museum gives a look into the innovation and scientific endeavors of the South American giant, as well as the complex belief systems and workings of Brazil's native peoples, and visions of life in the future, with green cities on other planets. Come explore Brazil's sense of wonder here at the Museum of Tomorrow.
Feira Livre Da Glória
If you're wanting to sample some of the best local fare, street foods, rare fruits, and crafts to take home, the colorful scene at the Feira Livre Da Gloria street market is of great interest. Atemoia, Carambola, Cachaça, Caipirinhas, Coxinhas, Pasteles, and more, for those who love the festive feel of a street market, you will love the Feira Livre Da Glória.
Chapada Diamantina National Park
For those wanting to explore Brazil's wilderness, the Chapada Diamantina National Park is another great attraction, some 587.42 square miles of pristine wilderness and breathtaking landscapes. While a bit of a trip from Salvador and urban Bahia (seven hours by bus) the trip is well worth it for those coming to the nation for its natural beauty. Come outside in the summertime to avoid the largest crowds and enjoy the mountains, hills, overlooks, and plentiful waterfalls in their full glory. The rainy season is of special note for those interested in the waterfalls, but make sure to pack for serious rain—raincoats, boots, and more!
The Poco Azul and Poco Encantado underground wells are a stunning sight of color and otherworldly wonder, great for photos and a snorkeling trip. Hiking up to one of the many high points such as the Morro Do Pai Inacio is a great way to view the sunset, while the Ribeirao Do Meio is a local favorite for swimming.
The Cachoeira da Fumaca is Brazil's second highest waterfall, a serious six-mile hike to the top. However, this hike comes with a formidable 340 meter drop and views over much of the park. The Lampiao Culinaria Nordestina is a great local stop for food, as well as the nearby open air markets for locally crafted jewelry, wares, and crafts. A perfect stop for a souvenir while you're around the park.
Foz do Iguacu
The Foz do Iguacu is not only Brazil's largest and most famous waterfall, but the largest waterfall system in the world. Some 275 waterfalls make up a stunning landscape spanning some 1.7 miles, the centerpiece of the Iguazu National Park. Boat tours such as the Macuco Safari are a great option, going underneath the waterfall, while the Parque das Aves is a renowned nearby bird sanctuary housing some 143 species of birds. The Itaipu Hydroelectric Dam is an engineering wonder in the area, and Marco Das Tres Fronteiras makes for beautiful scenery and frequent cultural presentations. The border location of these falls also makes it a great point for a quick crossover, for those who love collecting stamps in their passport, with the settlements on the Argentinean and Paraguayan side of the border not being too far away and also tourist friendly.
There is also the local Buddhist temple, featuring some 120 statues, constructed by Taiwanese immigrants in 1996, and today is one of the largest Buddhist temples of Latin America.
Salvador is another great destination of the nation, one of the oldest cities in the Americas and one of the first planned cities in the world, founded far back in the year 1549. Today, it is a capital for cuisine, music, and Afro Brazilian culture. The Fortim de Nossa Senhora de Monserrate is one of the highlights of the city, an iconic military structure dating back to the very earliest days of Brazil and this city, now remaining much as it did back then. This is a rare window into the very earliest days of Portuguese settlement in the Americas, and is a great stop for all interested in Brazilian history.
The Mercado Modelo is another ancient attraction, a longtime commercial area of the city where visitors can enjoy local fare and browse handicrafts. While traveling through the city, another point of interest is the Elevador Lacerda, its unique design carrying people from the upper level of the city to the lower portion of the city. This is also a very inexpensive way to get a quick view over the lower portion of the city, a thirty-second ride costing only 0.15 reais (less than three cents).
The Farol da Barra is another highlight, another ancient fort dating to 1698, sporting a nautical museum, towering lighthouse, and great vantage points to see the sunset. There is also the Pelourinho, another immersive window into the past, with its collection of 17th and 18th century colonial buildings, today maintained as a historical district and with museums of the city's history, all great ways to learn about early Brazil.
The largest city in South America, and the largest city in the Southern Hemisphere, Sao Paulo is Brazil's bustling, vibrant, and energetic response to the likes of Tokyo, New York, and London. The city is well known as the capital of commerce and industry of the nation, and is also known for its unpredictable weather.
The Sao Paulo Museum of Art is a great attraction, with the likes of Renoir, Van Gogh, Matisse, Manet, Debret, Picasso, Miro, and local talents such as Portinari and Di Cavalcanti. A visit to the Museu de Arte is a bold and proud introduction to all of the nation's work in creative expression, housed in a massive show of architecture. Aside from the collections of Brazilian art, indigenous artifacts, and works from ancient cultures around the world, there is also a rotating series of exhibitions with spotlights on Brazil and other scenes elsewhere.
The Parque do Ibirapuera is another great attraction of the city, where visitors can rent a bicycle and tour a number of monuments, museums, playgrounds, gardens, trails, and lakes amid some 400 acres. The lagoon and obelisk are two highlights of this park, great for strolls and dates, as well as the resident population of gorgeous black swans.
There is also the nearby Avenida Paulista, this massive main street of the city, home to many of the most iconic and frequented shops, theaters, galleries, and museums. With its many connections to attractions and transit throughout the city, this is another great addition to any itineraries as a central point.
The Se Cathedral is another wonder of Brazilian architecture, with ornate statues and stained glass works, a beautiful recollection of the history of Brazilian Catholicism. The crypt is another point of attraction, almost an underground church with its number of important monuments and tombs including figures such as Bartolomeu de Gusmao, Diogo Feijo, and the Cacique Tibiriçá. There is also the massive 10,000 pipe organ, as well as the nearby Teatro Municipal, a major city attraction that hosts many of the biggest names in music, performance, and dance.
Liberdade is another interesting note of Brazilian history, one of the largest populations of Japanese outside Brazil, and one of the largest communities of Asian Brazilians, where visitors can enjoy the indulgence of ramen, sushi, homestyle Japanese cuisine, as well as shop plenty of goods. During major holidays there are also cultural events and festivals showcasing music, dance, and martial arts. This is a great way to see another side of Brazil.
The Museum of Football cannot go unmentioned in this storied nation, famed for its many world cup titles and presence on the international stage, as visitors can tour the story of Brazilian soccer amid giants such as Pele, Neymar, and Ronaldinho.
The Mercado Municipal de São Paulo is another great stop for local produce and delicious fare, all in this historic establishment near the city center. This makes for a great group activity and photo opportunities with its many stalls, as well as a stop for any souvenirs.
Affectionately dubbed “Floripa,” this idyllic getaway is beloved by Brazilians across the nation for its calm character and natural beauty. The Ilha da Magia boasts some forty-two official beaches including the famous Praia Mole, a surfing hotspot and with its eclectic mix of bars and restaurants right by the water.
The Old Town is another point of interest, filled with stunning artwork and historic colonial architecture, amid highlights such as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Florianopolis, Mapa Church, and the striking Cruz e Sousa Palace. The Mirante do Morro da Cruz is free to enter and provides gorgeous views over almost every angle of Florianopolis.
The nearby sand dunes are also a major attraction, with dune buggies, sandboarding, and dramatic views. Extreme sports and unique views until the sun goes down are a great way to pass the day, surfing sand and waves here around the city.
All in all, Brazil is a country you don’t want to miss on your travels. Be sure to visit this South American gem next time you’re south of the equator.