Brazil is quickly becoming one of the most visited nations in South America, home to incredible food, lovely beaches, wealthy wetlands, thick jungle and cultured towns. Here’s our 10 favorite cities in Brazil.
Many Brazilians’ favorite destination for celebrating the extravagant Carnival season, Salvador is a more petite, windier street version of the country’s beloved Rio de Janeiro. Attractive for its mass of colorful Portuguese colonial architecture, picturesque coastline and joyous culture, Salvador is fast becoming one of Brazil’s tourist hot-spots. The locals are some of the friendliest, most welcoming urban-dwellers you’re likely to meet. Tucked up in the northeastern state of Bahia, Salvador is just a short flight or a lengthy but beautiful bus journey from both Rio and São Paulo. Go for the vivacious Afro-Brazilian culture, the lively arts scene, and the nighttime street gatherings.
El Bonito may be a tiny town compared to its seemingly gigantic neighbors, but snorkelers and nature-lovers will quickly become transfixed by this modest yet idyllic town. Surrounded by caves and tropical fish-filled rivers, ample adventures await in aptly named Bonito. Each hotel, hostel and guesthouse has a list of the various snorkeling opportunities available to travelers. They are able to arrange taxi transfers to and from the starting points too. Although some of the experiences verge on the pricey side for Brazil, a snorkeling trip down Rio Sucuri is both affordable and unforgettable. Take a camera to catch a snap of the cheeky monkeys playing in the trees along the river bank. Then, marvel at the unspoiled nature while floating face-down along the tranquil river.
A common overnight stop between Rio and São Paulo, Paraty is a welcomed pocket of calmness between the two imposing cities. Surrounded by impressive mountains and beautiful coastline, it’s the perfect place for a short break away from city life. Rich in Portuguese colonial architecture, the town’s cobbled streets and little doorways make for a pleasant shopping experience. The recognizable landmarks around the edges of the town are best enjoyed during a morning’s stroll.
Quite possibly one of the most idyllic places on earth, llha Grande is the perfect destination for escaping the monotony of daily life and the constant pressures of the digital age. Here, internet is virtually non-existent, supermarkets are minimarts, and there isn’t an ATM to be found. Instead visitors are blessed with an abundance of waterfalls, jungle scenery, and Lopes Mendes beach – one of the most beautiful in existence. The best way to travel around the island is by boat, and the best food to eat is barbecued. Don’t worry about having to make your own either, most hotels and hostels will feed you for a nominal charge. One warning though – you won’t want to leave.
Rio de Janeiro
The iconic symbol of Brazilian culture, Rio de Janeiro is the city so many dream of seeing and the one that few people leave Brazil without visiting. Hardly surprising given the host of activities and attractions to experience here. Spend a morning hang-gliding off of a mountain top and landing on the sand below, take the funicular up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain for fabulous views across the city, or take a walk or bus up to the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue. Back down at sea level, sunbathe on Copacabana Beach, take a tour through the barrios and spend an evening drinking chopp in a local bar.
Arguably the most-loved backpacker’s destination in the whole of Brazil, Florianopolis has tempted many a fleeting visitor to stay for weeks longer than they originally intended. It’s a beachside town with plenty of unusual and exciting activities to keep even the most seasoned travelers entertained. Florianopolis is known for its delicious oysters, its host of contemporary art galleries, the brilliant nightlife, and an unusual variety of cachaca. Another favorite spot at which to spend carnival, the entire town bursts to life in an explosion of bright colors, loud music, and crazy dancing during the weeklong spectacular in February each year.
A seaside escape just a short bus ride from the urban metropolis of São Paulo, São Sebastião is the perfect day trip or weekend break for those eager to leave the busyness of city life behind. Loved by surfers and colonial architecture buffs alike, Maresias Beach is often referred to as ‘the Ipanema of São Paulo’. The historic town center is full of original buildings dating back hundreds of years to the colonial era. With so many beaches to explore and so much history to uncover, many choose to stay in São Sebastião for three or four days. If São Sebastião isn’t quite as idyllic and uninhabited as you envisioned, the beautiful beach-laden island of Ilha Bela is just a 15-minute ferry ride away.
A nature-filled archipelago situated four miles off the coast of Sao Paulo, Ilha Bela is an unspoiled example of wild beauty. Take a trip here to enjoy a break from the grinds of daily life and relax on the golden sands reading, writing, listening to music or whatever else you normally struggle to find the time to do. Those looking for a more active break away will rejoice in the ample adventurous opportunities that await on this little island. Dive shipwrecks, go hiking through the thick jungle, try windsurfing or sailing, partake in an invigorating 22km jeep rally, go mountain biking, or hire a surfboard and hit the waves – there’s no end of adventures to be had on Ilha Bela.
The starting point of an unforgettable journey into Brazil’s iconic wetlands, Campo Grande is the last little snippet of modernity travelers to the Pantanal will see until their return. Not much to look at itself, it’s a great place to have one last restaurant meal and to stock up on treats and snacks for the next few days. Once you are in the Pantanal, the only thing slightly resembling a shop requires a 10-minute walk through snake-infested grasses to a small local community overrun by squawking chickens. It’s worth heading to this shop just for the experience, but stocking up on supplies beforehand is still very much recommended. Despite the rusticity of living in the Pantanal, visitors are blessed with a wildlife experience like no other. Capoeboras, caiman, piranhas and snakes are all common sights and the only method of travel is by tin can-style motor boats. Fish for your supper, go hiking in the remotest of places, and come face-to-face with animals that just don’t exist in other lands.
Foz do Iguaçu
The gateway to some of the most mesmerizing waterfalls in the world, Foz do Iguaçu is an unassuming city famed for its vicinity to Iguaçu Falls. It is located in southern Brazil and most travelers looking to take a day trip to the waterfalls or to pass into Argentina will find themselves driving through Foz do Iguaçu. As well as its proximity to the falls, the city is also home to a terrific bird park where visitors are able to watch and handle some magnificent South American birds. But take care, the birds fly free within the enclosures and have been known to poo over heads, on cameras and anywhere else that takes their fancy.