Places to visit in Brazil

Every time I think of Brazil, I smile thinking about the vibrant sunsets on Praia do Espelho, the genuine joy of the Cariocas (Rio dwellers) dancing on Copacabana beach, the celebration of Salvador de Bahía waiting for the new year, the colonial houses and colorful buildings of Paraty and the baroque architecture of Ouro Preto.

Brazil is more like a "continent country" where there are many nations in one. Each state has its history, food, personality, culture, music and gastronomy that differentiates it from the other. There is a state for each traveler: places with dreamy beaches; cities such as Sao Paulo with the best contemporary art of South America; colorful festivals and places to visit with a great variety and abundance of wildlife like Pantanal and Amazonas.

Brazil really has it all and it is a destination that I adore for the diversity of its landscapes, the culture in its cities and above all for its people. Having spent many years traveling around this extraordinary country, here is my choice for the best and most beautiful places to visit in Brazil.

Rio de Janeiro

Home to the world-famous Carnival, Rio de Janeiro has been officially named the World Capital of Architecture for 2020 by UNESCO. Its designation is a recognition of the historical and modern architectural heritage of Rio and aims to reflect on the future of architectural culture, landscaping and urbanism. Rio de Janeiro will also host the World Congress of Architects, an event that occurs every three years.

Known as the Cidade Maravilhosa (Wonderful City), the city is lined with white sand beaches, lush rainforests, and it is surrounded by massive green mountains. Rio de Janeiro has spectacular views from almost every angle. From the slopes of Corcovado Mountain, you will admire the striking 125-foot-tall Christ the Redeemer, which overlooks Rio's pristine long crescent beaches. Or you can reach Sugar Loaf summit with cable cars and have a great panoramic view of Guanabara Bay.

In Rio you will marvel at the largest street murals, find many local artisan workshops, excellent restaurants and a handful of unique fashion boutiques that showcase the extraordinary talent of Rio de Janeiro’s designers.

At night, you can listen to samba through the streets of Lapa district or you can visit a concert venue like Rio Scenarium and see live shows of local bands. And if you visit Rio in February, just in time for Carnival, you will witness Brazil's energetic carnival that draws people from all over the world.

Cristo Brasil

Paraty

Paraty is one of the best preserved and most beautiful 17-century colonial towns in Brazil. In addition, it is surrounded by dreamy beaches and secluded islands. This combination makes visiting Paraty one of the best things to do in Brazil. It is considered a getaway from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo since it is a 4 hour-drive from each of them. Most of the accommodations are small boutiques built into colonial homes. To me, it is a must-do if you visit Rio de Janeiro.

São Paulo

São Paulo is the largest urban center in the country and constitutes the most important economic center in all of Latin America. It concentrates a huge textile, chemical, metallurgical, iron and steel and food complex. It is also the commercial health and financial center and the most important communications center in the entire country.

When it comes to culture, São Paulo has some of the best contemporary art galleries and museums in the country (São Paulo Museum of Art is a gem), and you can excite your taste buds at one of the many international restaurants famous for fine cuisine.

Due to the intense traffic of the city, I recommend that you dedicate at least two days to visit its most important attractions.

Cataratas del Iguazu (Iguassu Falls)

Divided between Argentina and Brazil, the Iguazu Falls (Cataratas del Iguazu in Spanish) are one of the largest waterfalls in the world. The majestic falls are one of the most spectacular places in Latin America and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Due to its location in the middle of the jungle and the enormous volume of water and its many waterfalls, it is a must on any trip to Brazil. An experience that will always be remembered.

Iguazu Lado Argentino y Brasilero

TIP: If you have time, visit both sides of the National Park. Over the Brazilian side you will enjoy jaw-dropping panoramic views of the falls. While on the Argentine side, you can literally walk into the heart of the falls and have the best frontal view of the “Devil’s Throat”, the largest jump in the Iguazu Falls.

Pantanal (Mato Grosso)

For those looking for an adventure similar to that of an African safari, the Pantanal is the best destination in Brazil.

The Pantanal is the largest tropical wetland in the world and is home to the largest concentration of wildlife on the continent, with some calling it the best-preserved wetland in the world. Also, because the terrain is fairly flat with thinner and lower fauna than that of the lush Amazon, it is easier to spot jaguars, giant anteaters, green anacondas, and howler monkeys that call it home. You'll want to work with a travel specialist that can help you arrange transportation from Rio, São Paulo, or the nearby Cuiabá airport (a four-hour flight from Rio), several days of excursions, and staying at a lodge to explore the region.

The best time of the year to visit Pantanal is from May to early August to avoid the rainy season.

Ouro Preto

It is located 100 km southeast of Belo Horizonte, the state capital. It is part of the cultural heritage of humanity endorsed by Unesco. It is the center that brings together the best baroque heritage in Brazil, reflected in its temples and ancient mansions that belonged to those who were enriched with gold.

Brasilia (only for those interested in architecture)

If you travel between different regions of Brazil, you will probably have to make a stopover in Brasilia. Unless you are an architect or have a special interest in visiting the works of Oscar Niemeyer, I do not recommend that you go to Brasilia.

The capital of Brazil is an entirely planned city, established in 1960 as a centrally located seat for the government and based entirely in functionality.
For architecture lovers and brutalist aesthetes, it's a must visit: Brasilia is home to iconic buildings from Brazilian national treasure Oscar Niemeyer, who designed most of the city, including the Cathedral of Brasilia and its National Museum.

Manaos: Entry for the Brazilian Amazon

The city of 2 million people is located in the heart of the Amazon (it is right in the center of the largest jungle in the world). Manaus is one of the tourist attractions to see in Brazil for its colonial past, its markets, and for being the starting point for all jungle tours.

Salvador de Bahia

Salvador de Bahia is the cradle of colonial Brazil; it was the first capital of the country. The city is home to 365 churches, one for each day of the year. And of course, the colonial heritage is noticeable everywhere, including the strong African influence brought by the slaves. In addition, it is surrounded by beaches that will take your breath away. In short, one of the best places to visit in Brazil.

Porto de Galhinas

This beach town was classified seven times by Viagem e Turismo magazine as the best beach in Brazil. It is located one hour from Recife by road and it has 11 miles of white sand and turquoise water.

Porto de Galhinas is known for its pristine reef pools, best explored on a small “jangada” sailboat, promising fantastic snorkeling, diving, and warm-water swimming (average water temperature is around 79 degrees Fahrenheit). This northeastern seaside town is located 1 hour drive from Recife.

Trancoso (The best beaches of Brazil)

Perched on top of a cliff and surrounded by the exuberant beauty of the coast of the Brazilian state of Bahia, Trancoso is the ideal place to enjoy tranquil and scenic beaches well-suited for social distancing.

A former fishing village turned trendy Brazilian getaway, the modest 16th-century seaside town of Trancoso remains a hidden gem of preserved colonial architecture, lush greenery, and spectacular secluded beaches and natural pools with coral reefs.

Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Gisele Bündchen, Diane von Furstenberg, Neymar, Beyoncé or Will Smith are regulars of Trancoso and they own the best and most isolated houses in the place.

The most famous beach is Praia do Espelho, considered by many to be one of the most beautiful in Brazil. Other beaches near Trancoso that I highly recommend visiting are: Pitinga, Praia dos Coqueiros and Praia dos Nativos.

Fernando de Noronha

The archipelago of Fernando de Noronha is a paradise of great beauty and was declared a Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO. In order for the place to preserve its nature, the number of visitors is limited and an environmental preservation fee must be paid to enter the island.

It is very common to find some of its beaches among the most beautiful in Brazil and in the world, like Praia dos Porcos, Leões and Sancho Bay, twice voted the best beach on the planet by TripAdvisor's and Traveller's Choice Awards.

The easiest (and almost only) way to get there is by plane, flying from Natal or Recife (there are daily flights). There are no boat lines that cover the route on a regular basis.

Other recomended destinations:

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