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When I think of Brazil, I imagine rugged, white sand beaches backed by rainforest, I picture vibrant, colorful cities like Rio de Janeiro (one of the best cities in the world, in my opinion), and I hear salsa music ringing in my ears which then makes me think of the nations biggest party – Carnival!
After spending a considerable amount of time in Brazil, I really believe it’s one of the most beautiful countries in the world!
As the largest country in South America, Brazil isn’t that much smaller than the entire continent of Europe. This is why deciding where to visit in this massive nation can be challenging, to say the least! Traveling to a country of this size (it’s bigger than Australia!) takes serious planning, as there are literally thousands of amazing things to do in Brazil!
Brazil is one of the most well-known and most-visited countries in the world, and for good reason. I mean, it’s home to the world-famous Iguazu Falls, the Amazon rainforest (aka the most diverse place on the planet), and plenty of epic hidden-gem destinations like Jericoacoara Beach, famous for its sand dunes and the hippy town of Pipa!
To see it all, I think you’d need at least a few months, but most people won’t have that long, so that’s why it’s essential you plan your vacation before you get here. To make your planning easier, I’ve come up with 15 of the best places we visited during our two months in Brazil! The list includes vibrant cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, as well as some lesser-known spots like Natal, Olinda, and Recife!
- Best Places to Visit in Brazil
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Best Places to Visit in Brazil
1. Rio de Janeiro
The obvious first entry on this list of the best places to visit in Brazil is Rio de Janeiro! Easily one of the most famous cities in the world. When I think of “Rio,” as the locals and many returnee visitors affectionately call it, I think of jampacked but stunning white sand beaches, a vibrant night scene, the colorful Carnival festival, and of course, the Christ the Redeemer Statue, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World!
Simply put, there is no city like Rio de Janeiro! And as you can imagine, there are a plethora of awesome things to do in Rio, and you’ll really need at least a week here to see this breathtakingly beautiful city at its best.
The most recognizable sight in Rio is, without a doubt, Christ the Redeemer. This huge statue is symbolic not only of Rio but of Brazil as a whole. It stands a whopping 98 feet (30 meters) tall, and its outstretched arms are 92 feet (28 meters) wide! Visiting one of Brazil’s top attractions (would you believe around 2 million people stop by every year!) is a must-do during your time in Rio. There are three ways to get to this iconic statue, which sits at the top of Mount Corcovado and overlooks the city.
Your first option is to take the bus or train to the top. This is a convenient and easy option as you get dropped at the entrance gates. Your next option is to join this guided tour (one of the best tours in Rio, in my opinion!) that visits Christ the Redeemer and other big-hitter Rio attractions like Maracana Stadium, Sugarloaf Mountain, and the Selaron Steps. It’s the most booked tour in Rio and starts at $62 USD, which I think is great value for money!
You can also get to Christ the Redeemer by hiking up through the forest to the top of Corcovado Mountain. The trail starts in Parque Lage and is mostly uphill for two hours. We didn’t have any safety issues when we did the hike, but we’ve heard increasing reports of robberies along the trail, so do be aware. Entrance to Christ the Redeemer is around 21-31 BRL ($4-8 USD) depending on the season, so remember to have cash to pay at the top.
Another one of the most famous sights in Rio de Janeiro is Sugarloaf Mountain, aka the huge mountain you’ll see in just about every photo of Rio de Janeiro! Conveniently, you can ride to the top of this stunning mountain on a sightseeing gondola, which costs $32 USD per person. Once at the top, you can walk around and savor the awe-inspiring scenery or treat yourself to a drink or a meal with a view at one of the restaurants here. But keep in mind the restaurants at the top are very pricey! Tip: the best time of day to get to the top is sunset – it’s honestly magical!
You can book the cable car ticket in advance at no extra cost. However, you’ll pay double the price if you want a “skip the line” ticket. If you want a more in-depth experience, you can also join a guided tour for $68 USD. On this 4-hour tour, you will ride the cable car and see lots of other famous spots like the unique Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian and the Sambadrome, where the famous samba competitions are held during Carnival!
As for one of the most unique spots in Rio, that title has to go to the Selarón Steps – a bright, colorful mosaic stairway in the Lapa Neighborhood, one of the best places to stay in Rio de Janeiro! The steps are named after the artist who created them, Jorge Selarón, and he used tiles gifted to him from across the world to create his masterpiece. As you can imagine, these photogenic steps have become Instagram-famous, so if you want to get a photo without crowds, aim to get here early in the morning!
As I said earlier, epic beaches and Rio de Janeiro go hand in hand, so if you’re a beach-lover (like us), you simply MUST make Copacabana Beach part of your Rio itinerary! This 2.5-mile (4 km) stretch of beach is home to white sand, glistening azure water, and probably the most vibrant and fun atmosphere of any beach anywhere in the world. Copacabana is where Rio’s most beautiful come to hang out when the sun’s shining – which is pretty much most days in this sunny city!
I’ll be honest though, you won’t be doing much relaxing at this famous beach! But we say if you can’t beat them, join them – grab a cocktail or beer from one of the local sellers and spend a day dancing and drinking with the locals!
Two of the best times to visit Rio are New Year’s Eve or Carnival. The end-of-year celebrations in Rio are epic, and Copacabana Beach puts on a spectacular fireworks display. And I’m sure you’re familiar with Rio’s Carnival, the world-famous event incorporating live music, giant parades with over-the-top costumes, and samba music! It truly is a bucket-list-worthy experience. Carnival in Brazil runs for 6 days, and the dates change every year, but it typically starts at the end of February and runs to early March.
2. Ilha Grande
Next up is Ilha Grande, one of the most popular day trips from Rio de Janiero but also an epic destination in its own right! For one, it’s among the most stunning islands in Brazil, and it’s a beach-lover’s idea of heaven with secluded beaches featuring crystal clear waters and soft sand!
Despite being one of the most gorgeous places in the country, Ilha Grande remains a bit of a hidden gem – which is what made us fall in love with the place. But I will add that getting there on your own (without a guided tour) is quite difficult!
One of the most popular beaches on the island is Lopes Mendes Beach, an easy day trip from Vila do Abraão, the island’s main town. It’s a great surf spot, but if you fancy just spending the day relaxing and swimming, that’s a great choice, too. Along the beach, you’ll see small vendors selling drinks, food, and renting surfboards. You will need cash, though, so be sure to have some with you!
To get to Lopes Mendes, you’ll need to either hike or hop on a high-speed boat. The hiking trail to Lopes Mendes will take around two hours and follows along the T10 trail that begins in Vila do Abraão. Alternatively, the fast boat costs 30 BRL (~$5.50 USD) for a flexible return ticket and takes just a few minutes. It’s a little more expensive (at $23 USD) for the comfy schooner shuttle, but you can buy your tickets in advance online and have a guaranteed spot.
If you’d prefer a guided tour, you can book this Lopes Mendes Beach and Trekking Tour, which also visits Praia do Pouso by foot. It’s really affordable at just $25 USD. During the full-day tour, you’ll get to relax on the beautiful Praia de Lopes Mendes and then hike over to Praia do Pouso, where you’ll hop on the boat back to Vila do Abraão.
One of the best things we did during our time on Ilha Grande was this half-day beach tour via speedboat. We spent a couple of hours exploring breathtaking beaches like Lagoa Verde, Lagoa Azul, Saco do Ceu Beach, and Praia do Amor, where we swam and snorkeled to our heart’s content. Our boat tour cost $90 USD per person (with four people) and, in my opinion, was so worth it! For a small extra fee, you can also rent snorkeling gear from your guide which we were glad we did.
Another awesome thing to do on Ilha Grande is to hike to Cachoeira de Feiticeira Waterfall, which is the biggest waterfall on the island. It’s a lovely hour-long hike from Abraao into the falls, and along the way, you’ll pass by a few scenic viewpoints as well as a natural swimming pool. When you reach the waterfall, you can choose to go for a swim, but keep in mind the water is pretty cold! Close to the waterfall is the glorious Praia de Feiticeira beach, which is typically crowd-free and quiet.
If you aren’t up for the hour-long hike, you can hop in a taxi boat to Praia da Feiticeira beach and then walk a couple of minutes to the waterfall.
Finally, another must-do hike in Ilha Grande is the hike to Pico do Papagaio (also known as Parrot Peak.) It’s popular because at the end you’ll be treated to the best view on the whole island! If you ask me, it’s one of the best hikes in South America! And if you can, aim to hike it at sunrise for the best view and you’ll avoid hustling with other hikers on the trail. But, keep in mind, it’s a very early wake-up call to do this – when we did it, we left Abraão at 1 am. And it took us just 3.5 hours, with a few short breaks.
If you’d prefer to do this experience with the help of a knowledgeable local guide, then this 9-hour tour offers the sunrise trek for $175 USD per person. Because it’s a private tour, you have the flexibility to set your own pace and have the undivided attention of your guide.
3. Sao Paulo
From one of the best hidden gems in Brazil to its biggest city. Sao Paulo can be an intimidating place to visit in Brazil as not only is it the largest city in the country, but also the biggest city in the Southern Hemisphere! In fact, it’s been nicknamed the “New York of South America” because of its huge size, densely populated neighborhoods, and expansive layout!
It’s highly likely that during your time in Brazil, you’ll fly into or out of Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport, as it’s a major hub and one of the biggest airports in South America. Many long-distance buses also stop over in Sao Paulo, meaning that spending some time in this huge and bustling city will probably form part of your Brazil itinerary!
Art is an important part of the city, and pretty much everywhere you wander, you’ll see some epic street art. Graffiti is everywhere in Sao Paulo, but the best place to see it is Vila Madalena, specifically Batman’s Alley, which features dozens of works by street artists all in one place. And the best part is this art is free and accessible to all!
Another one of the unmissable sights in Sao Paulo is the imposing Sé Cathedral in the square of the same name, Sé Square. The church is huge! Inside, it can fit up to 8,000 people, but it’s the beautiful stained glass windows and mosaics that really make the interior worth visiting. The cathedral is also home to the largest organ in South America.
If you tire of the hustle and bustle of the city, an escape to Ibirapuera Park for a few hours will be exactly what the doctor ordered. It’s the biggest park in the city and a popular hangout spot with locals. Here, you can wander around the manicured, lush gardens or stop into one of several museums located here, such as the MAM (Museu de Arte Moderna), the Afro-American Museum, and the Planetarium.
To truly appreciate the immense size of this sprawling city, head over to Mirante Sesc on Avenida Paulista. This viewpoint is located high up on the 17th floor, so you’ll be able to see some of Sao Paulo’s most well-known attractions from this prime vantage point. As well as the viewpoint, there is a vegetable garden and an excellent cafe (one of the best in the city, in my opinion!). But, best of all, entry to Mirante Sesc is free!
If you’re a sports fan, you’ll already know that soccer, or futebol, is Brazil’s national sport. So, if there’s one country I could pick to watch a soccer game, it would be right here in Brazil. And in the country’s biggest city, there are no less than four huge soccer stadiums!
Pacaembu Stadium is one of the most popular stadiums to watch a live game, and it’s a short Uber ride from the best tourist neighborhoods in the city, like Jardins or Av. Paulista. The “Museu do Futebol” (soccer museum) is located inside the stadium. It tells the history of Brazilian football in a fun and interactive way. Entrance to the museum costs 20 BRL (~$4 USD), and you can visit the stadium as part of your tour.
As for guided tours of Sao Paulo’s soccer stadiums, this specific tour comes highly recommended, and it includes a visit to two stadiums, Pacaembu Stadium and Morumbi Stadium, as well as the football museum! This is definitely a more premium tour as it lasts six hours and costs $176 USD. In addition, if you really want to see a match, you can also arrange for this to be included on your tour, provided you notify them in advance!
4. Ouro Preto
Next up on our list of the best places to visit in Brazil is the often-overlooked town of Ouro Preto in the state of Minas Gerais. A 6-hour drive from Rio de Janeiro will have you at this pretty, colonial town, which is so photogenic with its baroque-style buildings and winding cobblestoned streets.
Ouro Preto is a former gold mining town, and its past affluence is apparent in the many beautiful buildings, many of which were built during the Gold Rush. Today, Ouro Preto is a UNESCO-listed city and tops many travelers’ lists as the most beautiful town in Brazil.
The best way to see this town is on foot, but beware, it has many steep hills which may leave you out of breath! Start your day in Central Tiradentes Square, the town’s beating heart and home to a statue of the Brazilian Revolution Leader – Tiradentes, whom the square was named after. The square is lined with cafes and artisan stores and you’ll find a couple interesting museums as well. The Museu da Inconfidencia is dedicated to those who died in a failed rebellion movement for Brazilian independence from Portugal and is free to explore.
Continuing with the mining theme, the Mina du Veloso is another worthy attraction in Ouro Preto. It offers a fascinating insight into the gold mining boom in the area during the 18th and 19th centuries. The guided tours focus on the daily life of the enslaved African workers. Together with your experienced guide, you will explore more than 400 meters/1,300 feet of galleries.
Afterward, head over to the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, a short walk away and one of the prettiest churches in Brazil. Built by famed historic architect Aleijadinho, the church is believed to be his best work. To learn more about the church’s construction and its importance to the people of Ouro Preto, you can hire a guide outside the church. But remember, you may find it difficult to find an English-speaking guide at busy times.
Just outside the church is a handicraft market where local people sell mostly hand-made items made of stone. You can even watch the sellers carving the shapes into the stone as you wander around.
As for the best tours in Ouro Preto, this full-day private tour picks up from anywhere in Ouro Preto, and throughout the 6-8 hours, it stops by the city’s main attractions like the historic Musea da Inconfidencia and the city’s stunning churches like the Church of St. Francis Assisi. You will learn about the history of each site from your knowledgeable guide, and at the end, you’ll visit and explore the first capital of Brazil, Mariana. Prices for this well-rated tour start from $215 USD per person.
With a similar vibe to Ouro Preto above, thanks to its gold rush past, we just had to include Paraty on our list of the best places to visit in Brazil. It stands out with a gorgeous historical center, which is all cobbled streets and charming colonial-style whitewashed houses with brightly painted windows and door frames.
In fact, it’s probably one of the most aesthetically pleasing cities in South America and was given the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1966!
But it is not all about this town’s stunning historic center. Paraty’s setting at the base of steep lush mountains and on the shore of a sparkling bay makes it one of Brazil’s most memorable towns! I know, we were certainly wowed when we visited!
Nestled in between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo (it’s approximately a 4-hour drive from both cities), some of the best things to do in this lovely town include visiting the waterfront Capela de Santa Rita, a whitewashed church dating back to 1722. There’s also the family-friendly beach in Barra do Corumb which boasts calm, shallow water and is an excellent SUPing spot!
Despite the tough-to-walk-on cobblestone streets, downtown Paraty is a joy to explore – especially with all the colorful houses around to look at. Matriz Square is the center point of the town and is home to the best restaurants, bars, and cafes. We love grabbing a coffee here and just taking it all in!
Around 15 miles (25 km) from Paraty is Trindade, a lengthy sweep of gorgeous coastline. It’s home to some of the country’s most stunning beaches like the mountain-fringed Cepilho, soft white sand Meio, Ranchos, and Cachadaço, which has a lovely natural swimming pool. Buses to Trindade leave Paraty Bus Station every hour. Tickets cost BRL 4.25, and the journey takes 45 minutes.
Another memorable thing to do in Paraty is to join a boat tour out to the Saco de Mamangua, a gorgeous tropical fjord that’s 4.3 miles (7 km) long. This one is 5 hours long, and during that time, you’ll get to relax on white-sand beaches, snorkel with tropical fish, and, if you’re lucky, see dolphins and sea turtles from the boat. This particular tour departs at 9 am from Saco de Mamangua beach (so you will need to make your own way there) and includes a professional guide and your snorkeling equipment. It costs $64 USD per person.
Alternatively, hire a guide for the challenging 2 km/1.2 mile hike up Pão de Açúcar do Mamanguá for a jaw-dropping view of the bays and islands below.
And finally, Fazenda Bananal (Bananal Farm) is a unique park and nature reserve that houses 260 species of birds, walking trails, a mini-farm where you can visit cows, goats, and chickens, and a native plant garden with unique fruit trees. The real highlight, though, is the repaired 19th-century farmhouse, complete with a working waterwheel, where information boards trace the farm’s history.
Despite its popularity with tourists today, it wasn’t always that way, and up until a couple of years ago – Florianopolis in Santa Catarina State was well and truly an off-the-beaten-path destination. If you’re after crystal clear water, pristine beaches (there are over 40 of them here), a vibrant party scene, and great hotels, then look no further than “Floripa,” as the locals call it.
Conveniently, too, it’s located a short (and cheap) 90-minute flight from Rio de Janeiro!
Now, the layout of Florianopolis can be a little confusing to first-time visitors because half of it lies on the mainland and the other half on Santa Catarina Island (where we recommend staying!). In fact, many tourists call the island Florianopolis instead of using its proper name – Santa Catarina Island.
The island has been given the nickname “Magic Island”, and for good reason, no matter where you stay on the island, you’re within throwing distance of a magical beach! As I said, there are over 40 beaches in Florianopolis, which means you’re sure to find one to match your vibe. If you’re a surfer, be sure to check out Praia do Santinho, Praia Mole, and Campeche Beach.
If you’re keen to relax on an unspoiled beach, then Lagoinha do Leste is a great choice! It’s got the softest, whitest sand we’ve ever seen and is surrounded by subtropical forest. We should add that this particular beach is quite a trek to reach (around an hour each way), but that’s what keeps the crowd away. Plus, we aren’t the type to shy away from a scenic hike and this hike is pretty easy, by the way.
If you’d prefer to have some help navigating the trail, take this tour from Lagoa da Conceição to Lagoinha do Leste for only $54 USD. The guides who run the tour have done so for 20 years, so they have a wealth of knowledge to share, including meditation and ChiKung practices for a deeper connection to the nature you’ll be experiencing.
We also loved Barra de Lagoa beach, which is next to a small fishing village of the same name (Barra de Lagoa). We recommend staying in this area of Florianopolis as it is walking distance from the village to some stunning, lesser-known beaches!
Of course, the beaches in this coastal city are the big draw, but there are also plenty of non-beachy activities to bide your time here. If you want to escape the heat, pop into the Santa Catarina History Museum, which is part of the hard-to-miss pale pink Palace Cruz e Souza. Not only is the exterior beautiful, but the interior is a photographer’s dream, with exquisite 19th-century decorative work and paintings by famed painter Desterro decorating the walls. You’ll learn all about the history and culture of the state of Santa Catarina via the audio guides, which are available in 5 languages.
As for what to do after dark in Florianopolis, well, we loved sipping cocktails with a view at The Roof Bar, located high up in the Majestic Hotel. It’s possibly the fanciest nightclub in the city, and the tunes the DJ blasts are sure to have you dancing into the early hours!
7. Chapada Diamantina National Park
Brazil’s coastline gets all the hype, but for us, Chapada Diamantina National Park was really special and remains one of our favorite things to do in Brazil! It’s one of the lesser-known national parks in the country, and it really surprised us!
We just HAD to include it on our list of the best places to visit in Brazil. It’s the only national park (of the 72 in the country) that made the list. So, if that doesn’t pique your interest, we don’t know what will!
Chapada Diamantina National Park is filled with amazing places to visit, including several caves (some with turquoise pools to swim in), the second-tallest waterfall in Brazil, and breathtaking hikes. It’s a huge park and interestingly, the name translates to “Diamond Plateau” because of the large number of diamond deposits in the park. But, thankfully, diamond mining is now banned here.
To explore the park, you’ll need to get yourself to the town of Lençóis, aka, the gateway to Chapada Diamantina National Park. This is where almost all day tours and longer four-day tours of the national park depart from. Lençóis is 267 miles (429 km) from the closest large city, Salvador, and the journey by bus will take around 7 hours.
One of the most popular tours to Chapada Diamantina National Park, and the one we did is this 4-day tour, which is a little different than you think as it’s four separate day trips (no overnights). We visited the park’s top attractions like the peak of Morro Do Pai Inacio (our favorite stop!), Pratinha, Gruta Lapa Doce, Poco Azul, Poco Encantado, and Cachoeira da Fumaca (a 360-meter/1,181-foot waterfall.) It cost us around $268 USD each, which we thought was a bargain!
If you’re short on time, a full-day tour to Chapada Diamantina will do the trick, but keep in mind because the attractions in the park are quite spread out, you’ll likely only get to visit 5-6 attractions on your full-day tour! This particular full-day tour is 10 hours long, has excellent reviews, and takes you to both Poco Azul and Poco Encantado, as well as Morro Do Pai Inacio.
Poco Azul and Poco Encantado are underground wells filled with crystal-clear water that literally shines bright blue! It’s worth noting that you can’t swim at Poco Encantado, but swimming and snorkeling are allowed in nearby Poco Azul – and it’s a real bucket list experience! The water in this bright blue underground well is quite cold, and even though it’s a whopping 27 meters (88 feet) deep, it appears shallow because the water is crystal clear!
The last stop of the tour is Morro Do Pai Inacio, the best viewpoint in the park for sunset. As I said, this is one of the most popular tours of the national park and costs only $86 USD when booked ahead with Viator.
Why We Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Behind Rio, Salvador in Bahia state is my favorite city in Brazil. Why, you may ask? Sure, it doesn’t have the same kudos as the fun and vibrant Rio de Janeiro, and it’s nowhere near as big or has as many things to do as Sao Paulo, but its Afro-Brazilian culture, glorious beaches, and cool neighborhoods made me fall head over heels for this coastal city!
Salvador’s African influence can’t be missed, from the art, dance, and music. Salvador is easily the most culturally rich city that I visited in Brazil, and I loved it!
Your first stop in Salvador HAS to be Pelourinho, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the city’s historic center. It’s here you’ll find the city’s recognizable pastel-painted buildings and spy locals performing capoeira — an Afro-Brazilian martial art — in one of the squares.
It’s also in Pelourinho that you’ll find Salvador’s most interesting museums, like the Afro Brazil Museum, which unearths the various African rituals and traditions that influenced the Afro-Brazilian culture so evident in the city today.
Another worthy stop is Casa do Carnaval da Bahia, which, yep, you guessed right, houses all things Carnival-related. Through various themed immersive exhibitions, you’ll learn all about the importance and history of the Carnival festival to the city.
Afterward, make your way to Largo do Cruzeiro de São Francisco, a lovely town square lined with beautiful baroque buildings, like São Francisco Church and Convent, which is nicknamed the “a igreja dourada” or the golden church thanks to its stunning gilded interior.
A fantastic way to squeeze in many of the city’s top attractions in one day is on a city tour like this one! This private tour visits the Bahia Lighthouse and Fortress, Jesuit Basilica Cathedral, Pelourinho, and more! Plus, you’ll also learn the history behind each place from your guide. And because it’s only 4 hours long, it’s ideal if you’re short on time.
I mentioned that Salvador is a coastal city, so it’s no surprise that the top thing to do here involve sun, sea, and sand! There are heaps of stunning beaches close to Salvador’s city center, and there’s one for every type of traveler.
First up is Port da Barra, which was given the title of the world’s third most beautiful beach by The Guardian newspaper! What a feat, and as a result, it’s now one of the most-visited beaches in the state. Port de Barra is located 2.5 miles (4 km) from downtown Salvador, and because it’s such a long beach, it never feels too crowded! This beach is unsurprisingly one of the most popular spots in Brazil to celebrate Carnival on a budget!
Forte de São Diogo is also located here, and it played a pivotal role in Salvador’s history as it was built to protect the city from constant Dutch invasions. At this fort, you can also wander around the pretty and rustic Igreja de Santo Antônio da Barra (Santo Antônio da Barra Church), which boasts awe-inspiring views of the bay.
We also loved Farol da Barra Beach, which has been made popular by a beautiful lighthouse known as Santo Antônio’s Lighthouse. Dating back to 1698, the “lights” in this lighthouse were powered by whale oil for hundreds of years before electricity was installed in the 1930s. Now it’s one of the most striking monuments in Salvador’s history and part of a nautical museum that includes objects recovered from shipwrecks.
If you don’t have a rental car and want to fit in as many of Salvador’s awesome beaches as you can, then we urge you to book this beach tour. It drives past many different beaches but primarily spends most of the time hanging out at Praia do Forte and Guarajuba to enjoy the warm and clear waters and indulge in local cuisine. It’s a full-day tour at 8.5 hours long and comes with a local bilingual guide. It’s a very cheap full-day tour, too, at just $30 USD per person!
Related Read: Unfortunately, we were robbed at gunpoint during our time in Salvador. Read our story so that you can prepare yourself and know what precautions you can take so this doesn’t happen to you!
Recife is the capital city of the state of Pernambuco and is located along the country’s northeast coast. This large city has earned the nickname the “Venice of Brazil” because of its many rivers, bridges, connected islands, and peninsulas. One of these connected islands is Olinda, the historic old town center which dates back to the 16th century.
Most people (us included!) visit both Olinda and Recife together. You can choose to base yourself in one or the other and simply travel between as needed on day trips. We got here via bus by heading down the coast from Pipa, Brazil (next on our list!). You can also come from Natal or Salvador and there are lots of bus companies that offer routes on Busbud.com.
Conveniently, Olinda is only a 30-minute drive from the most touristic part of Recife city – Boa Viagem. This is our favorite part of the city as it hugs the coast and boasts a vibrant boardwalk. You can sunbathe, swim, or take a stroll along the large sandy beach here during the day, and then visit one of the beachside restaurants and watch the sunset with your drink of choice in the evening.
If you’re a shopaholic, then you’re in the right city, as many Brazilians will tell you that the best shopping can be found in this coastal city. If you want souvenirs or handicrafts, head to Centro de Artesanato de Pernambuco Unidade Recife.
Or, if you’re a serious shopper, you can book this shopping tour of Recife, where your guide will take you to local spots that have the best deals! Since transport is included, it’s a convenient and fun way to see Recife for only $51 USD. Handily, you won’t have to walk too far while carrying heavy shopping bags as your transport is on standby if needed.
As for one of the most unique things to do in Recife, you can get a taste of the “Brazilian Caribbean” in the nearby town of Maragogi, which is just a short drive away. It’s home to some of the best beaches in Brazil, and you can swim safely on the beaches here, unlike those in Recife, which are unfortunately renowned for shark attacks. Yep, beaches like Boa Viagem and Pina Beach in Recife are known to have some of the most shark-infested waters in the world!
Thanks to the large reef protecting Maragogi Beach, sharks can’t get in, so you can swim here without fear! Another of the most popular things to do in Maragogi is to take a boat to one of the natural pools created by reefs at low tide.
As I said, the old town of Olinda neighbors Recife and is well known as one of the cutest colonial towns in Latin America. Well-preserved rainbow-colored buildings line the cobblestone streets, which house quirky cafes, ice cream shops, and boutique stores. I reckon it’s the most colorful town in Brazil, and the photographer in me loved spending hours wandering the narrow streets and snapping photos!
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 headed up to the Alto Da Se viewpoint. Here, you can see most of Olinda and Recife from the viewing platform. It’s the perfect way to see the contrast between the old colonial streets of Olinda and the new skyscrapers in Recife.
This city tour actually visits both Recife and Olinda on a 7-hour excursion leaving from Boa Viagem. So even if you decide not to stay very long in either city, you’ll be able to see most of the highlights and learn about the rich Portuguese-Brazilian, African, Jewish, and Dutch influences that are part of their history. The tour stops by Praca do Arsenal Square, Madre Deus Church, Do Carmo Square, etc. – so basically all the top sights in both cities. The best part is that it only costs $17 USD!
Another heavenly destination in Brazil and ideal for those who want to escape the business of the larger cities is Pipa. This tiny bohemian town is located 84 km (52 miles) from the large city of Natal.
When I say it’s tiny, I mean it! In Pipa, there are just a few streets, and due to strict environmental laws, there are no highrise buildings here – which is why we loved it so much. It looks completely different from more popular Brazilian beach towns like Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, which are lined with highrise apartments and shopping complexes.
The small town is also within walking distance of some great, uncrowded beaches, most of which are popular with surfers. Praia do Amor, Lajão (for advanced surfers only), and Main Beach are the three best beaches for surfing. I surfed at Praia do Amor regularly during my time in Pipa, and conveniently, you can rent boards right from the beach. Overall, the surf here is great for all levels, but the waves can be intense on a windy day, so it’s best to leave the surfing to the pros on those days.
One of our favorite ways to explore this small town was by bike, and on this 3-hour guided tour, you can see the best of the region and get your blood pumping as you cycle past beaches and lagoons. It’s a small group tour, which means more personalized attention from your local guide, and pick-up is available from most Pipa accommodations. The best part is it costs just $32 USD for just under 3 hours.
Baía dos Golfinhos literally translates to “Dolphins Bay,” which makes sense, seeing as you can regularly spot dolphins here. The best time to see the dolphins is around lunchtime. To get closer to these super-friendly mammals, you can rent a kayak for around 60 BRL ($11 USD) per hour and paddle out to them. There are also boat tours to the bay, but we don’t personally recommend joining them as they disturb the dolphins and are one of the reasons why their pod numbers have declined!
As for my favorite hike in Pipa, it’s a short and sweet (20 minutes each way) hike up to Chapadao Hill. The best time to do it is at sunrise or sunset as it overlooks Praia do Armor, and honestly, seeing the sun rise or set here truly is like seeing a painting come to life. The trail starts from Praia do Armor, and there are some stairs carved into the rock that you will need to tackle, but as I said, it will only take 20 minutes, which is definitely doable for most.
Being a hippie town, Pipa is filled with yoga studios and hostels that offer yoga classes. During my stay in Pipa, I started every day with a free yoga lesson at our hostel called Lagarto Na Banana Hostel. I am a novice, but the classes were really good, and I was surrounded by nature! Some other great places to practice yoga include Surf Pipa and Sossego Surf Camp.
Related Read: Pipa is a popular spot with budget travelers and backpackers, and if you plan to backpack your way through this country, you may find our guide on backpacking Brazil helpful!
Even though Natal is a big city filled with plenty of excellent museums, hotels, and restaurants, many tourists opt to stay on the coast. After all, this city is most well-known for its beautiful beaches, like the famous Ponta Negra Beach and the hidden gem Camurupim Beach.
Natal has a population of close to one million, is the state capital of Rio Grande do Norte, and is one of the safest cities in Brazil. And now, let’s add into the mix the fact that it’s one of the most picturesque cities in the country, it’s surrounded by extensive sand dunes and the streets are lined with palm trees, and suddenly, Natal is looking like a very appealing place to visit in Brazil. Isn’t it?!
Ponta Negra Beach is the most famous beach in Natal, and it’s within walking distance from downtown. This 2.5-mile (4 km) long beach boasts calm waters, making it an ideal place to swim. Of course, being so close to the city, this beach can get very crowded. The shoreline is lined with restaurants and bars!
If that’s not your style of beach, then Camurupim Beach may be a better fit. This quiet stretch of golden sand is located 15.5 miles (25 km) from downtown, and because the beach is protected by a reef, it has some of the calmest waters in northeast Brazil, making it a popular spot for families.
This private history and beaches of Natal tour takes you through the city’s colorful past from the Portuguese invasion in 1415 to the city you see now. The tour passes by Ponta Negra Beach, Via Costeira, Areia Preta Beach, and Ribeira (a historic and beautiful neighborhood) and finishes with a 20-minute tour of Reis Magos Fortress. It costs $40 USD for 2 people including all transport in an air-conditioned vehicle.
During our time in Natal, we did this dune buggy tour, which turned out to be one of the best adventure tours we’ve ever done! Imagine exploring the surrounding sand dunes in a high-powered dune buggy, stopping along the way to sip coconuts, and then stopping for longer to enjoy a delicious lunch at a hidden oasis. This 7-hour tour works out at just $40 USD, which, considering all it includes, is excellent value for money.
Natal is also home to the biggest cashew tree in the world. Yep, a few kilometers from the city, you’ll find Cajueiro de Pirangi, which just means “Cashew Tree of Priangi” (the town it’s located in). If you didn’t know, cashew trees grow like a vine but with a solid truck and branches, so even though this famed tree isn’t tall, it’s huge – it covers an area the size of two football fields!
At Cajueiro de Pirangi, you can taste some cashew Cachaça (alcohol), cashew juice, and many different candy-coated cashews. You can also climb up to a lookout to get a birds-eye view of this massive tree.
Besides beaches, adrenalin-pumping dune buggy tours, and giant cashew trees, Natal has a fascinating history you can learn about during your time here. Fortaleza dos Reis Magos, a star-shaped fort that dates back to the 1600s, is a great place to get a sense of Natal of the past, as it was one of the city’s first structures. Amazingly, the fort’s walls are a couple of meters thick, and you can still see some canons on the rooftop. Entrance is free, but I will add that this spot could definitely use a little TLC, but overall, it’s worth a visit.
Another major city in Northeastern Brazil that we visited during our time in this special country was Fortaleza, the capital of the state of Ceará and now the 4th largest city in the country. Despite its size, we found it to be a very “local city” with only one tourist street – a boardwalk along the ocean. There are lots of great, cheap restaurants, bars, and cafes here, but keep in mind that not many staff speak English, so you may need to practice your Portuguese before coming to Fortaleza.
Although we didn’t have much time in Fortaleza, we did spend a full day visiting the Dragão do Mar Center, a huge art and cultural center that also has a planetarium, and a bit of shopping at the very busy Fortaleza Central Market.
12. Jericoacoara Beach
Brazil is renowned for its laidback vibes, but it doesn’t get much more chilled-out than Jericoacoara, or “Jeri” as it’s commonly known.
This remote beach town is a 124-mile (200 km) drive from Fortaleza. And with a relaxed and hippy atmosphere, Jeri has long been on the off-the-beaten-path tourist trail. It’s not until more recently that tourists from all over the world have started to visit here. This surge in popularity is mainly to do with “Sunset Dune,” aka one of the best sunset-watching spots in the country that I’ll tell you about below!
Jericoacoara is located within the national park of the same name (Jericoacoara National Park), which means that major developments are not allowed. In fact, over the years, little has changed here, and it still holds on tightly to its small fishing village origins. Electricity wasn’t available here until 2000 and interestingly too, there are no street lights in town so as to prevent light pollution.
Some of the most popular things to do here include windsurfing and kitesurfing the sand dunes surrounding the town or relaxing in the cool and photogenic hammocks at Lagoa do Paraíso. At this turquoise lagoon, the hammocks are a little different from what one might expect as they are suspended over the water.
Of course, the number one activity, and the reason many tourists flock here, is to catch the sunset from the aptly named Sunset Dune (Duna do Pôr do Sol), which is located to the west of the town. Jericoacoara is one of only a few west-facing beaches in the country, so watching the sun sink beyond the horizon is quite a big deal here!
Every day, hundreds (sometimes thousands) of people ascend this sand dune in time for sunset, and the traditional way to do it is to climb up its flattest side and descend its steepest side, ideally on an esquibunda, a type of wooden board.
Sadly, this sand dune is decreasing in size, mainly due to over-tourism. And back in the 1970s, it was as tall as 60 meters/197 feet, but today it’s only around 6 meters or 20 feet high!
13. The Pantanal
Spread over a whopping 42 million acres, the Pantanal is the biggest tropical wetland in the world. It borders Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia and is home to the world’s largest concentration of crocodiles. Yep, over 10 million caimans (a small alligator) call this pristine wetland home.
It’s also home to the world’s biggest parrot, the hyacinth macaw and not forgetting that this area also has one of the biggest populations of jaguars in the world. So, I think it’s fair to say if you’re a wildlife lover, the Pantanal simply MUST make your Brazil itinerary!
An impressive 1 million tourists visit the Pantanal every year, and if you plan to be one of those, it’s important for you to know that 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. The main area here is the Cuiabá River, and between July and September (when the water levels are low), jaguars hunt and relax along the river bank. Our tour guide told us that during this time of year, it’s not uncommon to see at least three jaguars a day.
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 a popular jaguar-watching spot!
In the north, you’ll also see cattle farms, which gives you an insight into traditional Pantaneiro culture. On these farms, the farmers, or cowboys (or peãos), typically don big straw hats as they herd their cattle on horseback or muleback. It’s like something from a Western movie.
This particular 3-day wildlife tour comes with very knowledgeable guides who have years of experience exploring this natural wonder! Expect to see jaguars, ocelots, river otters, giant anteaters, and southern tamandua as well as a huge variety of birds! It includes all transport and your accommodations, so all you have to do is show up. I will pre-warn you it’s a pricey tour (around $1,400 USD), but considering all it includes and that exploring the Pantanal is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, we think it’s worth it!
14. The Amazon (Manaus)
I think that no trip to Brazil is complete without visiting the Amazon! The best place to enter the world’s largest tropical rainforest is via the city of Manaus which sits along the Rio Negro River that connects with the Amazon River only 10 minutes downstream.
This striking city is the 7th largest in Brazil and is the capital of the state of Amazonas, which gives away the best thing to do in the region – explore the world-famous Amazon rainforest!
The Amazon Rainforest is the most diverse region in the world and is home to over half of the world’s plants and animals. Many of the plants found here cannot be found anywhere else on the planet! Interestingly, the Amazon is nicknamed the “lungs of the world” because of the fact it’s the largest expanse of forest on the planet.
I have been lucky enough to visit it a few times. The place is wild and sometimes scary, but one thing is for sure: you need to visit if you want to experience some of the best things to do in Brazil!
The best time to visit the Amazon is during its rainy season, which runs from December to May, as it provides better wildlife viewing opportunities. Hear me out: when there’s a break in the rain, the Amazon’s most famous residents, like jaguars, sloths, caimans, and capybaras, come out in search of food. Essentially, wildlife viewing is more predictable at this time of year. During the rainy season too, the trees grow fruits and flowers, which attracts monkeys and birds who love to eat them!
As you can imagine, there is a huge range of tours on offer from Manaus. In the Amazon, water transport is the best and easiest way to get around, so river cruises are the most popular way to explore the rainforest! These tours will take you down the Rio Negro and Amazon Rivers like this 8-hour Amazon Jungle Trek Tour, during which you will spend 3 hours exploring the Amazon jungle on foot and then visit the freshwater Anavilhanas National Park by river boat. Transportation and a traditional Brazilian lunch are included in this very highly-rated tour for $150 USD.
You can do a river cruise in the Amazon year-round, but during the rainy season (December to May), the rivers are fuller, and so the boats are up closer to the canopy, where you can see animals like monkeys and sloths.
Some of the other Amazon tours from Manaus that were highly recommended to us were this Indian Village and Meeting of the Waters tour, which takes you into one of the most famed attractions within the Amazon. The “Meeting of the Waters” natural phenomenon is where the Rio Negro and the Solimões River run parallel without mixing together! Next, you will head for an Indigenous village, where you will meet members of the Tucano and Dessano tribes and see how they live their lives in the middle of the Amazon jungle!
Then, it’s time to hop onboard a motorized canoe to travel deeper down the Amazon’s smaller tributaries, searching for local wildlife such as sloths, anacondas, and the infamous pink Amazon river dolphin. Along the way, stop for a traditional Brazilian lunch at a floating restaurant. This 8-hour tour includes hotel pick up/drop off to Manaus, all national park fees, and your lunch, and costs $150 USD per person.
Related Read: Another popular town in South America to access the Amazon is Puerto Maldonado in Peru. You can read all about this hidden gem in our guide to Puerto Maldonado, Peru here!
15. Iguazu Falls
Did I save the best ’til last?! Ending this list of the best places to visit in Brazil on a major high with Iguazu Falls, easily one of the most famous waterfalls in the whole world. This ginormous waterfall and I truly mean that, is actually made up of 275 waterfalls that stretch over 1.7 miles (2.7 km)!
The Iguazu Falls are divided between Brazil and Argentina, so you can explore this awe-inspiring natural wonder from both countries. In fact, around 80% of the falls are on the Argentinian side, while the remaining 20% is on the Brazilian side.
From Brazil, the town you must visit to see Iguazu Falls is Foz do Iguaçu. You can get flights here from Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo or take a long overnight bus. From Foz do Iguaçu, you can explore the falls yourself or join one of these organized tours. 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 Devil’s Throat.
One of the top-rated tours is this Iguazu Falls and Boat Ride Tour. The tour begins with a 1.9-mile (3 km) ride through the jungle where your guide will teach you about the native plant species and wildlife. Then you’ll walk or go by 4×4 (your choice) to take the cable car from the riverbanks to reach the boat dock. The boat goes right up to Iguazu Falls. You can choose the “wet tour” if you want to feel the spray from the falls – which is what we wanted! For $195 USD, it’s great value!
If you want to see both sides of the Iguazu Falls (the Brazilian and the Argentinian sides), this full-day tour that departs from Foz do Iguaçu is your best option if time is limited. Keep in mind due to time constraints, you won’t be able to fully explore each side. If you do have another day, there is a 2-day version of that tour, which visits each side for a full day. This is the option I would recommend most to not feel rushed!
To see the entirety of the falls (remember they’re massive!), you’ll need to join a helicopter tour over Iguazu Falls. It’s just 10 minutes long, but honestly, you’ll see more of the falls than you would on a standard day tour because of your prime vantage point. Your pilot will point out all the top sights, and you’ll get some unbelievable photos! It costs $157 USD per person for this bucket-list-worthy experience, but for what you’ll get to see, I think it’s worth splurging!
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We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!) While most travel insurance companies left people stranded, SafetyWing fully reimbursed us for our last-minute, pricey flights!
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Thanks for reading!
Well, what a list that turned out to be! While I was writing about the 15 best places to visit in Brazil, I was thinking back to our trip, and now I’m just itching to return to one of my favorite countries in the world! I really hope you’ll fall head over heels for Brazil, like I have!
Also, if you found this guide helpful, you can view all our Brazil blogs here or check out these related articles below.