Let us introduce you to fifth largest country in the world and a land full of rich culture, amazing scenery and fun people. Brazil is a tropical destination with plenty of charm and is well worth a visit once in your lifetime. It’s very unlike its South American neighbours and is absolutely enormous, making travel between destinations difficult. However, this also means that you’ll uncover hidden gems off the tourist trail if you’re willing to adventure a little further!
If you’re planning a trip to Brazil and are wondering where to explore, check out our list of the best places to visit in Brazil below. From north to south and everything in between, each location has something special to offer!
Rio de Janeiro city
Rio de Janeiro is probably the most famous destination in Brazil to foreigners, known for its mysterious limestone cliffs that overlook stunning bays of beaches. It’s lively, colourful, picturesque and often regarded as a must-visit for any traveller. On the downside, it does have issues with crime that give it a bad rep, however recent years have seen a turnaround in the crime rate and most travellers visit without any issues at all. We included Rio at the top of our list as it’s one of the easiest and cheapest places to fly into, and is well worth a visit! We recommend staying for a few days and then moving onward to explore the nearby beach areas or jetting off to another part of the country. Top things to do here include a stroll by the magnificent beaches, cable car ride between its limestone cliffs and a hike to the top of a mountain to check out the famous Christ the Redeemer statue.
Only a 3 hour drive and short ferry ride from Rio de Janeiro, Ilha Grande is one of the best places to visit in Brazil to escape the hustle and bustle of the busy cities for some quiet beach relaxation. It offers the beauty of Rio city without the extravagance and crowds. Stay in a basic but beautiful beach guesthouse and spend your days embracing Brazilian beach life with a Caipirinha cocktail or going on a mini adventure. Boat trips and hikes into the forests of Ilha Grande are a great way to see the nature of the island. We recommend visiting Ilha Grande for 3 or 4 days and combining it with a trip to other parts of Rio de Janeiro state. Paraty is just a short drive away!
Armação dos Búzios
Another beach resort only a short drive from Rio de Janeiro city is the lively resort town of Búzios, complete with stunning bays, cool rock formations and plenty of beaches to visit. The entire coastline from Rio to Cabo Frio to Búzios is a nice place to explore if you like beaches. They’re less crowded than the beaches of Rio, a cheaper place to stay and a welcome escape from the city. On an evening, venture into the centre of Búzios town for a fun nightlife scene with lots of dancing and spend your days going for a dip in the pool or playing volleyball on the beach. You can get to Búzios by bus from Rio, but you may wish to rent a car and explore the south-east coastline yourself. We recommend visiting for a long weekend.
Surrounded by colourful mountain forests and a coastline of sandy white beaches, the old town of Paraty welcomes tourists to its beautiful colonial centre. The entire town is pedestrianised, so it’s perfect for sightseeing tourists to walk around, checking out the vibrant houses and churches on the cobbled streets. The main draw of Paraty is its wonderful architecture, however it’s also a great place to sample Brazilian culture. Attend a street party, dance outside a bar with the locals or dine outdoors in one of many traditional restaurants. Paraty is a town we recommend visiting for any trip to Brazil and it’s around a 4 hour 20 minute drive from Rio. Stay in town or rent a car and stay in a nearby beach resort, where you can visit Paraty for a day or two.
Note: Ilha Grande, Buzios and Paraty are all within driving distance of Rio de Janeiro city and can be combined into a single itinerary. They’re a great combination of destinations for first-time visitors.
Lençóis Maranhenses National Park
Lençóis Maranhenses National Park is famous worldwide for its unusual ‘bedsheet-like’ sand dunes that stretch for miles. Spanning from the beaches of the north coast and 50km inland, these vast dunes are a spectacular site to see when touring the north of Brazil. If you’re lucky to arrive just after it’s rained, the dunes will form cascading puddles and lakes of water that reflect in the sun, often attracting birds and other wildlife. It’s one of the best places to visit in Brazil for anyone that loves the outdoors and it’s best coupled with an onward trip to the beach resort of Jericoacoara. Fly into Sao Luis, rent a car and explore the north-coast of Brail at your leisure. Aim to spend at least a half day at Lençóis Maranhenses.
Speaking of Jericoacoara, also known as ‘Jeri’, this is another must-see location in the north of Brazil. It’s nestled in a notoriously hard to reach location, sandwiched between a national park of sand dunes and the vast Atlantic Ocean. You’ll probably need a 4×4 jeep to cover the dunes to get here. Once you arrive, you’ll be given a warm welcome into a sleepy beach town and most of the impressive beach scenery you can imagine. For such a hard-to-reach town, it oozes atmosphere and you’ll find plenty of bars, restaurants and shops to check out, coming alive at night under the moonlight. The water here can be very shallow and stretches for miles! Simply snuggle up on an over-the-water hammock and let time pass pass… Jeri remains one of our favourite beach locations in Brazil!
Unlike the nature and beach inspired destinations on our list of the best places to visit in Brazil, São Paulo is very different. As a sprawling metropolis and main business hub of Brazil, it has a vastly different vibe to the coastlines, mountains and jungles. Home to over 12 million people, the city is a melting pot of many nationalities. Things to do here include museum visits, botanical gardens, shopping malls, exhibitions and other city-esque attractions that you’d expect to find in a city of its size. The hotels, bars and restaurants of downtown Sao Paulo are some of the best that Brazil has to offer and it has a touch of class. Spend 3 full days sightseeing, getting lost in the foodie scene and enjoying nightlife that rivals Copacabana in Rio. Oh, and don’t forget to check out a local football match – the atmosphere is electric!
Fernando de Noronha
If you ask a Brazilian what one of the most spectacular and best places to visit in Brazil is, there’s a high chance they’ll say Fernando de Noronha. Set back way off the coast of north-east Brazil, this exclusive island destination limits the number of people that can visit at one time, thereby preserving the beautiful nature. You’ll encounter an island rich with tropical forests and wildlife, coupled with some of the most gorgeous coastlines that Brazil has to offer. In fact, out of the 5 beaches that Brazil’s tourist agency rates 5 stars, 3 of them are based in Fernando de Noronha! It’s a must-see location for anyone and attracts everyone from the rich and famous to budget travellers that want to capture its beauty in person. Book your flights and accommodation well in advance to secure a place on this limited-capacity island and expect to pay higher prices than the rest of Brazil. Trust us – it’s worth it!
Manaus and the Brazilian Amazon
A holiday to Brazil wouldn’t be complete without a stop by its largest attraction – an attraction that can be seen from outer space and remains the largest ecosystem on planet earth! The Brazilian Amazon is a rich jungle environment with over 390 billion trees and countless species of animals. Start your adventure into the rain forest from the central hub of Manaus, the city you’ll fly into. You’ll then spend days, or even a full week, exploring this beautiful forest. Encounter wildlife, stay in a cool eco-hotel, hike through the humid forest grounds and take a boat ride down the Amazon river. We recommend booking a multi-day Amazon tour that starts in Manaus for the best experience. It’s a difficult location to navigate yourself and you want to experience it to the fullest! The Amazon is one of the best places to visit in Brazil for nature lovers, adventurers and wildlife enthusiasts.
Salvador and Bahia state
The state of Bahia with its capital of Salvador shares a culture that’s different to the rest of the country and one of the definite best places to visit in Brazil. Its strong African heritage has influenced its music, food, festivals and pretty much everything that gives it its unique sense of culture and pride. Start your Bahia journey in its capital of Salvador. This multi-cultural melting pot is loud, colourful and you’ll always find someone singing or dancing, literally everywhere you go.
Marvel at the colonial architecture, taste the local African-inspired dishes and take part in the Brazilian martial art of Capoeira, a unique form of combat and dancing. There’s a lot to be uncovered in Salvador and each of your senses will be enlightened. After a few days in the city, head out to explore the rest of Bahia state. Nature trails, heritage sites and secluded beaches and diving spots are a vast contrast to the hustle and bustle of the Salvador and you’ll be spoilt for choice with activities. Chapada Diamantina National Park is a breath-taking attraction alone!
You’ve probably already heard of Iguazu Falls. It’s the largest waterfall in the world and on the bucket list of nature lovers across the planet. The falls itself sits on the border between Argentina and Brazil, with chains of waterfalls cascading across an area covering 3km. Gaze at the impressive façade of the falls and capture its beauty from different viewpoints, before exploring other areas of this national park. It’s alive with different species of animals and plants. A trip to Iguazu is well worth it during your time in Brazil, however we recommend a fleeting visit as the falls is the only attraction in the area. Catch a budget flight from Rio or São Paulo, stay for one night and two full days, and then continue your Brazilian adventure elsewhere. Foz do Iguaçu town has plenty of accommodation options for all budgets.
Natal / Fortaleza
Natal is the gateway to north Brazil for those seeking beautiful beaches. As a popular holiday destination for Brazilian families, this large city has plenty of tourist attractions focused around a traditional beach holiday. Water sports, beach buggies, promenades of restaurants and a lively nightlife scene are all attractions that you might want to check out. Whilst action-packed, the true beauty of the north-east lies just outside of Natal, so we recommend staying for a few days, renting a car and then touring the coastline of beautiful beaches.
Similar to Natal and quite competitive in terms of nightlife, activities and nice beaches, Fortaleza sits further to the north. Both cities are large and full of activities for a traditional beach holiday. We recommend visiting one or the other so do your research to see which one you prefer ? We’re undecided…
Olinda is one of, if not ‘the’ most preserved colonial cities in Brazil and a memoire of its Portuguese influence. A stark contrast to the vast cities of most states in Brazil, this charming Pernambuco village is on a much smaller scale and is very traditional. Experience ‘old Brazil’ and wander the cobbled streets taking pictures of historic churches, colourful houses and dining in corner cafes. Life in Olinda is peaceful, even during carnival when they host their own version of this country-wide celebration. Visit Olinda for its historic past, quaint beauty and unique story of Brazil. It’s often overlooked but well worth the visit. You can get there by flying into the much larger city of Recife and catching a transfer 10km north up the coast.
Our top tips for visiting Brazil
- Learn some of the Portuguese language before arriving. English is spoken in large cities such as Rio and Sao Paulo but it isn’t as widely spoken as you’d think. A few helpful phrases will go a long way! Plus, the locals will appreciate you trying to speak their language. We recommend downloading the free Duolingo language app before you travel.
- Many people think of Rio de Janeiro when planning a trip to Brazil. Rio is great and a definite must-see, however you should plan to venture out to other areas of the country too. The north-east is often overlooked, yet it has some of the best beaches in the world, and it’s much cheaper than Rio.
- Everyone underestimates how large Brazil actually is and what looks like a short drive on a map will likely take hours. The traffic in cities is also very bad. Plan extra time for trips and don’t pack too much into one itinerary. We recommend picking an area/state of Brazil and exploring it within 2 weeks.
- Brazilians are fun and happy people. Embrace the Brazilian culture and say yes to as many activities and adventures that you can! Locals are friendly, approachable and will help you out if you need directions.
- Unfortunately, some areas of Brazil are unsafe, particularly in large cities. Take usual safety precautions such as avoiding waving expensive possessions in public, go out at night with other travellers and avoid areas with a bad reputation. Most visitors to Brazil get by without any issues but you do have to be more alert compared to other destinations.
The above is a list of the best places to visit in Brazil in our opinion, although there’s plenty of other smaller towns, beaches and nature parks that narrowly missed the highlight reel. As Brazil is such a large country with endless coastlines and natural scenery, there’s a good chance you’ll be back to sample more of it. We recommend choosing three or four nearby areas to explore within a 2-week trip. We’re confident that the Brazilian culture will have you booking your next flight back very soon!