Brazil is a vast and diverse country, home to one of the world’s richest biodiversities. It’s the largest country in South America, covering almost half of the continent’s land area.
From idyllic beaches to tropical rainforests to waterfalls to coral islands to colonial cities, there are numerous places to explore in Brazil. Everywhere, you’ll find a relaxed, enjoyable and a laid-back attitude, part of the character of the Brazilian people.
Read on to discover things to do and places to see in Brazil, the country of football (soccer), carnival and samba.
1. Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro is the most famous of the largest Brazilian cities, not only because of its annual carnival, but also because of its breathtaking landscape, which includes the mountains of Corcovado and Sugarloaf (Pão de Açúcar), as well as the sandy beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.
2. Foz do Iguaçu
Located on the Argentina-Brazil border, Iguazu Falls, known as Foz do Iguaçu in Portuguese, are one of the most impressive attractions in South America, renowned for their visual and acoustic beauty. Taller and much wider than Niagara Falls, Iguazu Falls is a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site consisting of over 250 cascades surrounded by a lush forest filled with exotic wildlife.
The subtropical forest of National Iguazu Park features an elaborate system of walkways, footbridges and balconies, allowing visitors to get very close to the falls. Chances are you’ll spot colourful toucans and other birds while walking in the park. A boat ride is another way to experience the spectacular flow of water.
With more than 300 days of sunshine each year, Fortaleza is one of the main tourist destinations in Northeast Brazil. The main things to do here include watching the sunset on Iracema beach, diving in the waters of Porto das Dunas, and enjoying the famous crabs and coconut water on Praia do Futuro.
As the state capital of Alagoas in the Northeast Region, Maceió is the entry point to some of Brazil’s best beaches, natural pools, and reefs a few metres off the coast. The Alagoas cuisine is also an attraction: shrimp, lobster, fresh fish, seafood, cattleman’s beans (feijão-tropeiro), fried banana (banana da terra frita), are some of the specialties to sample in Maceió.
Salvador is Bahia’s state capital, and the largest city in the Northeast Region. Founded in 1549, it was Brazil’s first capital city, and one of the birthplaces of the Brazilian culture. Combining Portuguese and African influences, Salvador offers architectural heritage, beautiful beaches and landscapes, a rich cuisine, and the Latin American rhythms. Salvador is also home to one of the world’s biggest carnival celebrations.
Florianópolis is the capital of the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, and one of those places to visit at least once in a lifetime. Known for its beautiful natural scenery, there are numerous beaches along the extensive coastline of Santa Catarina Island, ranging from urban beaches to wild and exotic beaches.
7. Fernando de Noronha
Fernando de Noronha is an island and an archipelago, located about 350km (218mi) northeast of Natal in mainland Brazil. Part of the Fernando de Noronha Marine National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the marine ecosystem of this wonderland is maintained by restricting the number of daily visits.
Nature-based highlights include the Dolphin Bay (Baía dos Golfinhos), the Pig Bay (Baía dos Porcos) where corals and sea urchins give colour to the transparent waters, Praia da Atalaia, a beach and also a natural refuge limited to 100 people per day, and the stunning Praia do Sancho.
Located in the heart of the Amazonas state, Manaus is the capital of the world’s largest rainforest, and a city that invests heavily in the concept of nature tourism. The “meeting of waters” is probably the most well-known attraction in Manaus, a phenomenon that occurs when the Negro and Solimões rivers meet after running more than 6km (4mi) side by side without mixing. Other highlights include the municipal market, inspired by Les Halles, the Museum of the Indian, and the Opera House locally known as Teatro Amazonas.
Nicknamed the “Brazilian Venice” because of its numerous waterways and bridges, Recife is the capital of the Pernambuco state. Consisting of islands, peninsulas and mangroves, the city offers a historic centre, beaches and a vibrant culture.
A Dutch colony during the seventeenth century, Recife’s historic centre retains many of the old buildings, including several baroque churches. Recife’s beaches are considered some of the best in Brazil, especially Praia da Boa Viagem, protected by a natural barrier reef. The Carnival, very different from the one of Rio de Janeiro, is multifaceted and begins on Saturday with the departure of Galo da Madrugada, the world’s largest carnival block.
10. São Paulo
São Paulo is Brazil’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, offering an array of museums, concert halls, theatres, restaurants and bars. It’s also a melting pot home to Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Spanish, Lebanese and Arabic communities. Not being an obvious tourist destination, São Paulo is nonetheless a city worth exploring for its idiosyncrasies, the cultural life, and a rich cuisine.
The historic centre and Avenida Paulista, with an architecture that combines the new and old, are definitely places to explore, as are the museums, in particular the Ipiranga Museum and the Memorial of Latin America.
To get a sense of this huge city, Concrete Jungles offers four different free walking tours of two hours each; all you have to do is book online and show up at the meeting point:
- The São Paulo History Walk covers historic locations downtown.
- The São Paulo Urban Walk focus on Avenida Paulista’s remarkable architecture, including its impressive skyscrapers.
- The São Paulo Graffiti Walk begins at the Italia Building, and you’ll see your first graffiti from the top of the Copan Building.
- The São Paulo Cultural Walk explores the area of Bom Retiro on Saturdays, when the Pinacoteca and the Sacred Art Museum are free to visit. Bom Retiro is also the pinnacle of multiculturalism in São Paulo: Italians, Jews, Greeks, Koreans and more recently Bolivian have found a home here.