15 Brazil Highlights – The Best things to do in Brazil
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In this travel guide, we show you all of the best things to do in Brazil – that we call our Brazil highlights. It’s filled with the best attractions in Brazil, places to visit, and all the info you need to visit for yourself!
Traveling Brazil was a dream come true. The sprawling beaches, beautiful weather, and Brazil’s party culture far exceeded my expectations! To be honest though, planning our trip was a little daunting.
Brazil is a huge country! In fact, it’s bigger than Australia (a fact I didn’t until I arrived.) Traveling a country of this size takes serious planning as there are literally hundreds of amazing things to do in Brazil!
Luckily for us, we got to spend over two months traveling Brazil. That gave us time to explore, travel without a strict itinerary, and as such, find some amazing hidden gems.
Most visitors, possibly like yourself, won’t have two months. This means you’ll need to plan most of your trip before you arrive. To make that task a little easier, we want to share with you the best things we did in Brazil – so we’ve come up with our 15 Brazil highlights!
This list includes the best things to see and do in Brazil as well as the cities and towns you simply must visit on your trip!
1. Fall in love with Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro is Brazil’s most famous city and overall the highlight of my Brazil trip. This huge bustling city is filled with Brazil’s history, food, and top attractions. If you come to Rio de Janeiro it’s important you get out and enjoy the Brazilian culture.
I spent a total of three weeks in Rio and I visited the city on three separate occasions. I welcomed the New Year on Copacabana Beach, spent a week partying during Carnival, and enjoyed some time exploring the city.
Of course, Carnival and New Years were amazing and I highly recommend them. However, exploring the city on any normal day is also a must. Some of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro include:
Head up Sugarloaf Mountain: Taking the cable car up Sugarloaf Mountain was my favorite activity we did in Rio de Janeiro. We headed up just before sunset to catch amazing views of the city and the surrounding mountains. Honestly, this is a must-do in Brazil!
Visiting Christ the Redeemer: This is one of the most popular things to do in Brazil. Honestly to me, it wasn’t that amazing and a little bit of a tourist trap. However, it’s one of the 7 Wonders of the World so it’s worth a visit. We actually hiked up instead of taking a bus and really enjoyed the walk. We saw monkeys along the way and save ourselves some money too!
Explore Copacabana Beach: There isn’t a beach in the world with the atmosphere of Copacabana Beach. It really has to be seen to be believed! Be sure to give yourself an entire day here and head down for coconuts, cocktails, or beers on the beach. Of course there are plenty of other amazing beaches in Rio de Janeiro to check out, so make sure you explore.
Without a doubt, Rio de Janeiro lives up to its reputation as one of the greatest cities in South America and a highlight of traveling Brazil.
2. Visit the magnificant Iguazu Falls
Iguazu Falls is without a doubt the most amazing waterfall I have ever seen. This massive (and I mean massive!) waterfall is actually made up of 275 waterfalls that stretch over 2.7 kilometers. Those 275 waterfalls are then surrounded by lush, green jungle.
The picture above and below are only fractions of what you’ll at any given time. To view the entirety of the falls, you’ll need to join a helicopter tour over Iguazu Falls. If we had the money at the time we most certainly would have done one (especially since they’re only $115 USD!)
Iguazu Falls is located in the very south of Brazil and sits on the border with Argentina. The falls stretch across both Brazil and Argentina and as such, you can explore Iguazu Falls from both countries.
Brazil’s side of Iguazu Falls is best for great landscape views. However from the Argentinian side of Iguazu Falls, you can get closer to the falls and stare into what’s called the Devils’ Throat.
Opinion: I often get asked what side of Iguazu Falls is the best – Brazil or Argentina? To me, the Argentinian side is the best. The reason? Well, there are over 8 kilometers of hiking trails that visit many different waterfalls so you definitely get to see more. For that reason, if you only have time to visit one side of Iguazu Falls, head to Puerto Iguazu (the town on the Argentinian side) to explore.
From Brazil, the town you need to visit in order to see Iguazu falls is called Foz do Iguaçu. You can get flights here from Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo, or you can take a long overnight bus. From Foz do Iguaçu, you can explore the falls yourself or join one of these organized tours.
Before visiting Iguazu Falls I had no idea just how beautiful and memorizing this place would be, and I was left speechless. Over two days we explored all of the viewpoints of the falls and got pretty wet while doing so! Iguazu falls is picture perfect and exploring the falls was without a doubt a highlight of my Brazil trip.
3. Explore Chapada Diamantina National Park
Chapada Diamantina National Park is a little-known national park six hours by bus east of the city of Salvador, Brazil. The park is filled with amazing places to visit including several caves (some with turquoise pools to swim in), breathtaking hikes, and lots of waterfalls.
On a visit to Chapada Diamantina National Park, there are several popular tours you can join. These include visits to Morro Do Pai Inacio, Pratinha, Gruta Lapa Doce, Poco Azul, and Cachoeira da Fumaca (360-meter waterfall.)
The tour we booked visited all of these places over three separate day trips and cost us R$640 ($120 USD.) My favorite place we visited was Morro do Pai Inacio as the views were so breathtaking!
These package deals can be altered to suit your specific taste. For instance, you can choose to visit Buracao Chapada Diamantina Waterfall (which we regretted not doing after our friends showed us the photo above!) This waterfall is a highlight of the park but it takes a long time to get to which meant lots of time driving. Buracao Chapada Diamantina Waterfall is best visited on a 2-day 1-night tour.
For many people, a trip to Brazil is centered around the coast. Don’t get me wrong the coastline is beautiful but seeing some of Brazil’s inland landscapes such as Chapada Diamantina National Park was really special and one of the best things to do in Brazil!
For more info: We have an awesome guide to Chapada Diamantina National Park to help visitors plan there trip. Be sure to check it out if you plan on visiting.
4. Experience Carnival in Brazil
Brazil is home to the largest party in the world… Carnival! Held every year towards the end of February, Carnival is the craziest party you can imagine x10. You can celebrate Carnival all over Brazil and over the 6 days the entire country and thousands of tourists celebrate.
I personally spent Pre-Carnival (yes, Carnival is celebrated many weekends before the actual Carnival starts) in Salvador. Then I headed to Rio de Janeiro for the actual week of Carnival craziness. It’s hard to say which I preferred as each place was unique in its own way, but overall you can’t beat Rio!
For those who don’t know, Carnival is celebrated with what Brazilians call “bloco” parties and parades. These are completely free and located on the streets of the cities. In Rio for example, there can be 30 bloco parties all over the city in one day, with some starting as early as 7 am.
Bloco parties usually involve a marching band and the party moves throughout the streets like a parade as everyone follows. There will be a start and an endpoint, and at that endpoint, there will be another big party. After that, well, it’s time to find another bloco party that’s likely around the corner!
The Sambadrome, however, is where the professional samba dances perform with all the colorful costumes. These dancers do not parade through the streets and this competition is taken very seriously by the professional samba schools that compete.
The Sambadrome isn’t free and tickets should be bought in advance. The busiest nights are on the weekend of Carnival as this is when the best schools compete. The Sambadrome is amazing to see but one night is honestly enough.
If you do want to celebrate Carnival in Brazil then you’ll need to plan ahead. The celebration sees thousands of Brazilians flood the cities and accommodation almost entirely books up. Although a little crazy to plan, Carnival is not only a highlight, but arguably the best thing I did in Brazil!
Hot tip: You need to book accommodation for Carnival as soon as possible. The best places to stay book up first so be sure to plan accordingly. Booking.com is a great place to book as they often have great free cancelation policies.
5. Beach hopping on Ilha Grande
After partying a little too hard in Rio we were in need of some rest and relaxation. So we did what many Brazilians do and headed to the island of Ilha Grande near Rio de Janeiro.
Ilha Grande is truly an island paradise surrounded by pristine beaches and crystal clear waters. From Rio, it takes around 3 hours to reach the island first via bus and then ferry. Once on the Island you can join lots of different tours, enjoy short or long hikes, and also party if you’re up for it.
We stayed six nights on Ilha Grande and loved it! The best tour we did was this boat tour of the north side of the island. On the tour, we visited so many stunning beaches all while enjoying a few drinks on our boat. The tour was just what we needed.
Ilha Grande is the most famous island near Rio. The pristine beaches and fun atmosphere make one of the best places to visit in Brazil!
For more info: There’s lots to know about visiting Ilha Grande. For that reason, we wrote this huge guide to Ilha Grande, Brazil. It includes the best things to do, getting there, and more!
6. Two Brothers Hike in Rio
Brazil isn’t well-known for hikes and to be honest, I didn’t do many while I was there. However, there was one hike I did that became a highlight of my trip and that’s the Two Brothers Hike in Rio de Janeiro.
The Two Brothers Hike (also known as Morro Dois Irmãos) is a short hike that leads to a stunning viewpoint overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro and more specifically, Copacabana Beach. From here you can see so much of the city and the views are a must-see in Rio!
From the start of the trail, it takes around 40 minutes to reach the Two Brothers Viewpoint. Along the way, you’ll be able to enjoy other views such as the view of Rocinha Favela –the second largest favela in the world.
The Two Brothers Hike isn’t your typical hiking trail though. The hike starts at the top of the Vidigal favela. Despite being in a favela, Vidigal is a rather safe neighborhood and hiking the trail is a very popular thing to do in Rio de Janeiro.
I personally hiked the Two Brothers trail at sunrise on this guided tour. The tour included transport up through Vidigal before we began the hike. Afterward, we toured through the favela and learned lots about its history.
I highly recommend doing the Two Brothers Hike at sunrise but only on a tour. After dark, it’s best to not wander around Vidigal.
To get to the start of the trail get a cab to the Vidigal favela and tell the cab driver you are doing the Morro Dois Irmãos hike. The cab will drop you at the entrance to the favela near the Sheraton hotel. From here, walk into the entrance of the favela and to the moto-taxi stand. Here a moto-taxi can take you up the favela to the start of the trail.
If you don’t want to go at sunrise but still want to do a tour then this guided tour is the best option!
7. Race around the sand dunes in Natal
Northeastern Brazil is well off the beaten path for most visitors. But for those who do venture this far, you’ll be able to enjoy a very unique a beautiful culture (and also much cheaper prices!) This is because Brazil’s northeast is a much poorer region in comparison to the south but the culture, good vibes, and fun are very much alive.
One of the best tours we did in northeast Brazil was in Natal. Natal is a small city with a huge area of sand dunes nearby that are a large playground for dune buggies.
On the dune buggy tour, we raced through the sand dunes to explore the area. The tour was so much fun and along the way, we sipped coconuts and enjoyed lunch at a hidden oasis!
If you head north I highly recommend joining a dune buggy tour in Natal. These tours are one of the best adventure activities in Brazil.
Learn more: For more information about Natal and the dune buggies check out our things to do in Natal, Brazil blog.
8. Wander the vibrant streets of Salvador
Salvador was my second favorite city in Brazil. But why? Well, I simply loved the culture here. The African influence in Brazil is really easy to see in Salvador. From the art, dance, and music, Salvador is easily the most culturally rich city that I visited in Brazil, and I loved it!
We enjoyed pre-carnival celebrations in Salvador, but even without that, there were tons of awesome things to do. Pelourinho is the old part of the city and the area we suggest staying in. Here you can wander stunning colonial streets, enjoy lots of live performances, visit museums, and enjoy dinner and drinks out.
Of course, it is a coastal city so you can also take a day trip to nearby Salvador beaches such as Arembepe Beach. This small beach is located 45 kilometers from Salvador and is home to a small hippy village.
Salvador is a Brazil highlight simply for the history and culture, and when you visit for yourself, you’ll see exactly what I mean!
9. Beaches, Beaches and more Beaches in Florianopolis
The city of Florianopolis is like nothing else in Brazil. The majority of the bustling coastal city is located on Santa Catarina Island, so it’s surrounded on all sides with pristine coastline. No matter where you go in the city, you’re never far from the beach!
The beaches here are some of the best in Brazil and with over 40 of them around, you can find some as vibrant or as secluded as you want.
Lagoa da Conceição is the most popular area to stay and although it is a short bus ride from the beach, it’s a small town with everything you need for a great holiday. Alternatively, and where I wish I had stayed in Florianopolis is in Barra de Lagoa. This is one of the best beaches around the city and it’s also walking distance to other great, more secluded beaches.
Be sure to visit Lagoinha do Leste too which is considered one of Brazil’s most un-spoilt beaches. To reach the beach you’ll need your hiking shoes and a good few hours, but that’s part of the fun that keeps others away! You can do the hike yourself or take this tour from Lagoa da Conceição. Seriously, this is one of the best things to do in Brazil!
For surfers, you’ll want to stay close to Praia do Santinho and Campeche Beach. These are some of the best surf spots on the island and home to large beach breaks.
Regardless of where you stay though, you can get around the island by public bus or taxi. So if you’re ideal holiday involves sipping cocktails or coconuts on beautiful beaches, then Florianopolis will be one of your Brazil highlights as it was mine!
10. Experience Churrascaria (Brazilian BBQ)
Churrascaria is a traditional Brazilian BBQ and while in Brazil you simply must try it! I myself was lucky enough to enjoy Churrascaria many times at hostels with other Brazilian guests, and even at a Brazilian family’s house (that was nice enough to invite us!)
A few things you’ll notice between a typical western BBQ and a Churrascaria is that they love to use coals instead of a flame, and they cook the meat over the entire day. That’s right, instead of feasting at one time, Brazilians love to cook small amounts of food over the entire day and drink beer or Cachaça while they’re at it.
In all honesty, I love the way they do it because you skip that tired feeling after eating a big meal and just snack the entire day on delicious Brazilian meats!
For those traveling for a short time, you can enjoy Churrascaria on the streets or in restaurants. Although you won’t get the exact same experience, you’ll be able to sample lots of Brazilian favorites!
11. Enjoy the rich culture in Olinda
Olinda is another city in northeast Brazil. The old town of Olinda is well known as one of the cutest colonial regions in Latin America. Well preserved colonial architecture lines the cobblestone streets and small cafes, ice cream shops, and viewpoints of the ocean give visitors plenty to do.
On my visit, we did the Olinda free walking tour and learned all about the city. We visited some very interesting markets, watched live performers, and even enjoyed an ice cream with the best view in the city.
Olinda neighbors the larger city of Recife. Although I enjoyed Recife (that’s where our hotel was) we spent most of our time in Olinda. If I had my time again, I would have stayed in Olinda as the area is just that beautiful!
Olinda isn’t the most popular place to visit in Brazil but it’s that off-the-beaten-path experience that makes visiting this hidden gem so worth it – and a highlight of Brazil!
More info: Read our complete blog about all of the great things to do and see in both Olinda and Recife to help plan your trip!
12. Visit Manaus in the Amazon Jungle
You can’t come to Brazil without visiting the Amazon jungle, and the best place to do that is in Manaus. This small city is the capital of the state of Amazonas and it’s the perfect base to explore the jungle.
The town sits on the Rio Negro River, which conects with the Amazon River only 10 minutes down stream. For the location’s sake, Manaus is perfect!
From Manaus, you can join a huge range of tours that will take you down the Rio Negro and Amazon River. You can join tours such as guided walks, boat tours, Pink Dolphin tours, bird watching tours, and more.
The Amazon Rainforest is the most diverse region in the world and I have been lucky enough to visit a few times. The place is wild and sometimes scary, but one thing is forsure, you need to visit if you want to experience some of the best things to do in Brazil!
13. Relax in Pipa
For those wanting to escape the cities or busy tourist towns, Pipa is the perfect choice. This tiny hippy town is home to only a few bumpy streets and is only stone’s throw away from the beach.
The beaches here are mostly uncrowded and for those who surf the nearby surf beach has plenty of good waves.
There isn’t much to do in Pipa but that’s kind of the point. With little major attractions except for relaxation, yoga, surfing, and regular visits by dolphins to the bay, it keeps most tourists away.
I personally loved Pipa and would recommend it to the backpacker or hippy type. I guess it’s no fancy holiday destination, but to me, it was a highlight of my Brazil trip!
For more info: If you want more info on Pipa then check our complete guide to Pipa. It has all the info you need to visit this small but beautiful town.
14. Get wild in the Pantanal
The Pantanal in Brazil is the world’s largest wetlands. This very unique place to visit is often overshadowed by the Amazon, but make no mistake, it is a highlight in Brazil!
The Pantanal is split into two sections, the north and south. In the south, the town you need to head to is called Campo Grande, and in the north, it’s Cuiabá. From both towns, you can join lots of different tours to the Pantanal.
The south Pantanal is more of a flood plain and getting around here is a little more difficult. In fact, many lodges use planes to get guests out to the hotels. For this reason though, I chose to visit the north Pantanal.
In the north Pantanal region, it’s a little easier to explore with one main “highway” called the Transpantaneira Highway. This gives you access to lots of accommodation and tours for much cheaper. Most overnight tours will camp on the water and run daily tours from there. The northern area of the Pantanal is also the place to spot jaguars!
Within the Pantanel, you can spot a huge range of wildlife and stay in hotels completely surrounded by water. There are also lots of different tours including game fishing, bird watching, and jaguar spotting.
In all honesty, it’s best to book package tours to the Pantanal if you want to stay at a remote place. That way you don’t have to do any of the planning. EcoVerde Tours is a great company that runs multi-day tours in the northern Pantanal.
15. Wander Vila Madalena in Sao Paulo
Last but certainly not least is to visit and stay in Vila Madalena in Sao Paulo, Brazil. This bustling neighborhood in Brazil’s largest city is filled with trendy bars, nightclubs, cafes, restaurants, and an array of street art.
I spent a few days in the area and enjoyed lots of awesome cafes and simply explored. To be honest, I was a little nervous about visiting Sao Paulo just because of its huge size. But after staying in Vila Madalena I fell in love with the city.
My number one recommendation is to take a walk and check out all the street art. Batman Alley is a really cool place to check out and it’s filled with street art. Batman Alley is located in Vila Madalena and also one of the best things to do in Sao Paulo! For a free self-guided tour check out this GPS My City tour. These tours just give you a route to follow that takes you to popular attractions.
Vila Madalena is the perfect place to stay to get to know the city of Sao Paulo, which at times can be very daunting!
Before you go…
Brazil really is one of the best countries to visit in the world! If this list of the best things to do in Brazil hasn’t got you excited, then I don’t know what will.
Thanks so much for reading, I hope this Brazil highlights travel guide has helped plan and inspire your upcoming trip to Brazil. If you have any questions about our time in Brazil or anything else, leave a comment below and we will get back to you.
Also, if you found this guide helpful you can view all our Brazil blogs here or check out these related articles below!
July 27, 2020