From the vibrant buzz of its megacities to quiet ranch retreats, secluded beaches to alpine hiking, there’s so much more to Brazil than Copacabana and Carnival
Brazil knocks many countries out of the park in terms of its natural appeal. Endless beaches, remote valleys, iconic cities and emerald rainforests are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Brazil’s major points of interest. Allow your awe to be struck by exuberant festas, eloquent cultural relics of the colonial era and by the Brazilians themselves. Your hosts are generally as open and fun loving as you’d expect. The natural diversity on display in Brazil is hard to beat too. There are a total of five ecosystems present, which translates to a huge variety of species scuttling, prowling, gliding and fluttering about in the many untouched corners of this vast nation. Mix up all the incredible things to do and places to visit in Brazil and the end product is a truly thrilling Brazilian holiday.
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The top things to do in Brazil
There are many wonderful experiences to be had in this magical country. For further inspiration take a look at the trip ideas put together by our trusted local experts, but in the meantime here are our top things to do in Brazil.
Experience buzzing Rio de Janeiro
Visit Rio de Janeiro and check off all the bucket list activities to do there... Take photos of the view from the feet of Christ the Redeemer, scale the colourful Escadaria Selaron, watch the sun set from Sugarloaf Mountain, admire the colourful street art and drink coconut water from Copacabana beach. The eclectic food scene also makes it well worth a visit for foodies, and if you want to visit in time for the carnival, then make sure you plan well in advance to ensure there is plenty of accommodation available.
Explore the Pantanal wetlands
Wildlife lovers must head to the Pantanal as this is one of the best places to see Brazil's most exciting flora and fauna. Whilst the Amazon is so thick it's almost impenetrable, the winding waterways here are open enough to spot caiman-hunting jaguars, blue macaws, capybaras (the world's biggest rodent) and more fascinating fauna. Taking a guided tour will increase your changes of spotting some of South America's most wonderful wildlife.
Admire the cascading Iguaçu Falls
See the spectacular Iguaçu Falls from all sides. Our expert local partner can arrange for you to visit the parks on both the Brazilian and Argentine sides. The waterfalls may steal the show, but the surrounding forests and the wildlife they house are equally wonderful. Trekking through the forest to the falls is the best way to experience the flora and fauna - keep your eyes peeled for countless colourful butterflies and birds, and keep your ears open for the distinctive calls of howler monkeys.
Discover the beating heart of Afro-Brazilian culture
Salvador do Bahia is a city bubbling with excitement and energy. Located on the coast alongside the Bay of Todos Santos, this intoxicating city enjoys a fabulous setting. The historic part of town, Pelourinho, sits high on a bluff overlooking the sea, packed with pretty cobbled lanes and brightly painted colonial houses. The streets are always lively with capoeira or drum performances, traditionally dressed traders and food stalls. When the Portuguese arrived in South America they established their first colonial settlement here, so there’s plenty of architecture to enjoy, but the most exciting aspect of Salvador is its cultural heritage. With the Afro-Brazilian mix of much of the population, the food, faith and lifestyle are distinct and compelling.
Go on an Amazonian adventure
When it comes to the Amazon, the statistics are mind boggling. 2.5 million species of insects crawling through over 40,000 species of plants in a forest 23 times the size of the UK - then a 4000 mile river winding through it. Despite its scale, it’s the little things that make a trip to the Amazon so special; fishing for piranha with the locals, sitting still and experiencing the sounds of the forest, or seeing a pink river dolphin raise its head. A highlight of the classic Amazon experience is seeing the ‘Meeting of the Waters’, where the dark blue flow of the Rio Negro meets the sandy waters of the Amazon itself.
Lesser-known things to do in Brazil
While there are many well-known things to do in Brazil, what about the lesser-known highlights? Our local experts have shared some of their top tips for where to go and what to do if you fancy a bit of an alternative Brazilian adventure.
Find heaven on earth in Fernando de Noronha
Want to know where beach heaven is located? About 200 miles off the coast of Northern Brazil. The 21 islands of the Fernando de Noronha archipelago are simply perfect. Only one of them is inhabited, and even then only by a few thousand people. The whole area is strictly protected because of its environmental importance, and dolphins and turtles abound in its waters. Anyone lucky enough to visit should count themselves very blessed.
Enjoy sublime views in Lencois Maranhenses
In the far north, on the Atlantic coast, an otherworldly landscape of rare beauty is waiting. An expanse of undulating white sand dunes shelter pools of sparkling fresh water, and at first sight the views over the gleaming white, scattered with blue, are simply amazing. The area is protected and remains perfectly pristine. No one is allowed to build or live in the park other than the handful of families who have lived there for generations. The pools are actually rainwater lagoons, only seasonally filled and usually at their most impressive from May to September.
Wander the golden hills of Minas Gerais
Looking out across a landscape of rolling green hills and pretty whitewashed villages, you could be forgiven for thinking you were actually in rural Portugal, so evocative are the colonial villages of the region. Minas Gerais is an easygoing place to travel, laden with impressive art and historic architecture, but beyond that there is also the scenery, the renowned food and the famous coffee. The most memorable highlights of Minas Gerais are its historic cities, such as Ouro Preto and Diamantina. These towns grew up in the hilly landscape that surrounds them because of the search for gold.
Commune with nature in Chapada dos Veadeiros
The beauty of the Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park is simply mesmerising. This pristine landscape in central Brazil is prime hiking country, with dramatic hills, great sandstone canyons and tumbling waterfalls. The parks borders are far reaching, so vistas across this almost primordial landscape are expansive, while glinting river pools offer a cooling dip after a day’s hike. The power of the area’s natural beauty has attracted a growing New Age community, and eco-tourism is the name of the game here… tread lightly.
When is the best time to visit Brazil?
Brazil has enough climatic variety to sustain travel throughout the year. Expect humidity in the equatorial north, with heavy rain in the Amazon basin from December until May when river levels rise significantly. The famous Amazonian pink river dolphin can be spotted – with a bit of luck – all year round.
Although the coastal regions northward are generally sunny, from Rio southward there are noticeable seasonal changes, with the coldest months from July until September. Temperatures can drop to 10°C (50°F) even at sea level in the far south.
Top tips from our trusted local experts
Being local, our experts have an extensive knowledge of the secrets to experiencing the 'real' Brazil. Here are a few of their top tips - ask them for other recommendations when you enquire to ensure you have the most in-depth experience whilst on holiday!
Make time for Sao Paulo…
"If your international flight lands in Sao Paulo, think about spending a few days in the city. Filled with great museums, bars, restaurants, and an incredible music and arts scene, it’s a real culture-vulture capital."
"‘Carnaval’ is probably the most widely celebrated event in the country, so don’t limit yourself to spending it in Rio de Janeiro, another great destination is Recife."
Welcome to Brazil…
"Brazilians are very affectionate people and will greet you with a hug and a kiss or two on the cheek. If you'd rather avoid this greeting you will not be considered rude, just get in quick with a handshake instead."
Interesting facts about Brazil
India is a fascinating, multi-cultural country. But did you know any of our top three facts about it?
- There have been recent estimates that over 60 indigenous tribes who have never come into contact with the modern world remain in the remotest areas of Brazil.
- Brazil has borders with almost all the other South American countries - 9 out of 11. Only Chile and Ecuador do not share a border with Brazil.
- Ethnically, Brazil is a true melting pot – it is home to the largest population of Japanese people outside of Japan, while Sao Paulo has more Italians than Rome, and a good portion of Germans too. There is also a huge population of African descendants.
What to read before you go to Brazil
'Heliopolis' by James Scudamore
Set in contemporary Sao Paulo, this novel by award-winning British writer Scudamore tells the story of a young favela boy transported to the high life in Sao Paulo. However, this is not a straightforward rags-to-riches story.
'The Violent Land' by Jorge Amado
This modernist classic written by acclaimed Brazilian author Amado in the 1940s, tells the story of a feuding pair of families under the wider setting of Bahia’s vast and contentious cacao plantations and industry.
'A Death in Brazil' by Peter Robb
Having lived there for twenty years, author Robb experienced a broad spectrum of contemporary Brazil. In this sparkling travelogue he combines history, culture and personal experience to great effect.
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