26 things not to miss in Brazil: the most visited country in South America today
Thank you so much for reading the blog! Brazil is a big country and I am happy that you are able to add it to your South America backpacking route. There are many things do to in Brazil but in this post, I am only going to give suggestions on what not to miss. For further research, you can check out my Brazil travel guide.
Have a nice time in Brazil and I hope you’ll have fun!
#1: Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro
Situated in central Rio de Janeiro is a mountain with a pretty famous statue on atop its granite peak. Corcovado is home to the famous Cristo Redentor. Cristo’s open arms await you on top and so does stunning panoramic views of the whole city. Visitors can easily hop on one of the electric trains to get to the top or go on a guided tour in a van. The more adventurous ones can take on the challenge of climbing to the top on foot. The hike up is not for the faint-hearted and should not be taken lightly. But hiking through a tropical forest definitely has its own rewards.
#2: The Amazon Jungle
Sixty percent of the Amazon can be found in Brazil. This includes the mouth of the great Amazon River and the largest chunk of the Amazon basin. This is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet so expect to see flora and fauna that you have never seen before. The Brazilian Amazon is also home to a large number of indigenous tribes who have inhabited the area for hundreds of years. Some of them, to this day, have not had contact with the outside world. Take a river cruise and witness the Meeting of Waters or go chase after some waterfalls. Go on a tree-climbing trip and see how alive the forest canopy is. Look for guided trails and hikes where you can get up close and personal to the flora and fauna. You could even learn a thing or two if you participate in a jungle survival course. It’s the Amazon. You really will not run out of things to do.
Known as the top eco-tourism capital of Brazil, Bonito lives up to its name and its reputation. Located southwest of the country near the Bolivian and Paraguayan borders, Bonito is a haven for people who love the outdoors. Expect to see crystal clear bodies of water full of life and surrounded by lush forests. Visitors can rappel down caves with otherworldly stalactite formations into a lake at the bottom (you can snorkel!). Mystical sinkholes and enchanting waterfalls? You’ll find it in Bonito and its surrounding areas. This well regulated and well-maintained attraction stands as a glimmer of hope for the future of ecotourism.
The Brazilian gold rush of the 18th century brought about an influx of Portuguese settlers literally waiting to strike gold. They settled mostly in the state of Minas Gerais and today its popular for its well preserved colonial towns. One of the state’s most famous towns is Tiradentes. Its remote location in the mountains helped preserve this charming town littered with picturesque homes boasting Portuguese architecture. Walk along its cobblestone lined roads. Maybe ride a horse-drawn carriage. Visit Ireja de Santo Antonio and bask in all its golden glory. Go for a hike in one of the trails in the surrounding mountains. You’ll satisfy both the history buff and nature seeker in you. Visit on a weekday to avoid crowds and you will live out your storybook fantasy.
#5: Pao de Acucar
Pao de Acucar or Sugarloaf Mountain is another destination where you can embark on an adventure when you spend time in Rio de Janeiro. Atop its peak, you will be rewarded with unobstructed views of the city, Copacabana, and Christ the Redeemer. Visitors can take a cable car to the top or take a more active route and hike up. There are about 40 different trail options for climbers of every level. Costao is the easiest. It’s also famous for being one of the largest urban climbing areas in the world. All year round rock climbers take on the challenge and enjoy hundreds of routes. Near the mountain is a beach called Praia Vermelha where visitors can sit back and relax before or after their ascent to the peak. It’s a great day trip within the confines of Rio de Janeiro.
Salvador is located in the state of Bahia and is the first ever capital of Colonial Brazil. Today, it is a city that happily marches to the beat of its own drum. Deep colonial culture, the heart of the Afro-Brazilian community, this distinct dichotomy is what makes Salvador so vibrant and alive. You can only imagine how much energy is pulsating all throughout the city. Impressive European architecture and streets dotted with colorful pastel-colored buildings and colonial churches can be seen in Pelourinho. Visit the local markets and get a chance to see the strong African spirit still present in this Brazilian community. Let’s not forget that this place is in Bahia. Beaches in and out of the city are aplenty. As the locals say, “Sorria, voce esta na Bahia!” (Smile, you are in Bahia)
#7: Ilha Grande
Needing a break from the hustle and bustle of Rio de Janeiro? Ilha Grande is an absolute must and an absolute tropical paradise. Despite its proximity to a big metropolis, this paradise has no big chain hotels or any cars for that matter. Why? It’s an unintended outcome of its unique history of being a former pirate’s lair, leper colony, and formerly housing maximum security prisons. Beach hopping, trekking, all kinds of water activities, Big Island offers it all and you can access everything on foot or, better yet, a boat. After hiking the different trails scattered all across the island, you will be rewarded to some of Brazil’s most spectacular and pristine beaches. Better enjoy it while it lasts.
#8: Blumenau Oktoberfest
Beers? Brazil? You might sound confused but Brazil is actually home to a number of breweries and crafts a pretty great selection of beers. Brazil welcomed thousands of European immigrants both in the 19th and 20th centuries and a lot of them settled in the state of Santa Catarina. Go to Blumenau and the German influence will be very apparent in the people, culture, and architecture of the city. The city’s Oktoberfest celebration is a huge event that lasts for 18 days. If you are an avid fan of beer, you can visit different factories and artisan breweries and learn about the intricate process that goes through making this well-loved beverage. And of course beer drinking is mandatory.
#9: Fernando de Noronha
Fernando de Noronha is an archipelago comprising of 21 islands and sits off of the coast of Brazil. Its beautiful white sand beaches, hikes with the most scenic ocean views, and healthy marine wildlife are some of the things that make this protected area worth the visit. Visitors can enjoy a multitude of water activities such as snorkeling, scuba diving, and surfing. Renting a buggy is also a fun and cool alternative to getting around the island. The area is well preserved and activities and foot traffic are well regulated making it as much of a paradise as your wildest dreams could imagine. It’s a place that puts the demands of the wildlife at the forefront. Note that it’s not an ideal destination for budget travelers. But if you are willing to shed out the money, the archipelago will surely reward you tenfold.
Carnaval do Rio Janeiro is undoubtedly one of the biggest celebrations in the world. It’s an annual four-day event before Lent full of exciting blocos or block parties, masquerades, lavish parades, glitzy balls, lively music, caipirinhas, and lots and lots of samba. Carnaval is something that is difficult to put into words because words will never be able to describe this feast for the senses. You have to live it. Clad yourself in the most outlandish costume, put on your dancing shoes, and prepare to partake in the biggest show on earth.
#11: Iguaçu Falls
All the pictures that you see online are legit. Iguacu Falls lives up to its hype. Literally meaning “big water” in the indigenous Guarani-Tupi language, this is the world’s largest waterfall system and it lies at the border of Brazil and Argentina. Shrouded in mysticism and wonder, legend has it that an enraged deity sliced the river and formed the waterfalls to punish the woman he intended to marry who escaped with a mortal lover in a canoe thus condemning the lovers who escaped to an eternal fall. But, really, this immense waterfall system was created when a huge volcanic eruption cracked the earth. It’s undeniable brilliance and sheer majesty will surely leave you speechless.
#12: Rio nightlife
Besides being known for the Carnaval and Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro is also famous for its unrelenting and energetic nightlife. What do you wanna do tonight? What kind of music do you prefer? Whatever tickles your fancy, Rio de Janeiro will have it for you. Samba clubs, underground clubs, multi-floored dance clubs, outdoor live musical performances, a speakeasy, a pub, high-end bars with craft cocktails, beer on the street a local band playing, you got it. Notable neighborhoods for cool and quirky parties are Centro, Botafogo, Lapa, and Copacabana.
#13: The Pantanal
The Pantanal is another one of Brazil’s best-kept secrets. The region is considered to be the world’s largest inland tropical wetland area. At 42 million acres, this wetland sprawls across the nations–Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. Pantanal is the place to see wildlife in its pure, unaltered, unapologetic form. It’s a biodiversity hotspot and is home to an incredible array of flora and fauna. The largest concentration of both caimans and jaguars can be found here. You’ll also be able to spot the world’s biggest parrot here, the hyacinth macaw. Anacondas can be found in abundance. And that’s just to name a few. Best way to see the place is through a motorboat. You can get a chance to get up close and personal and you can also sneak in a little piranha fishing. Wildlife spotting is at its height from June to September.
14: Sao Paulo nightlife
Being the largest city in Latin America and being one of the world’s most globalized cities, Sao Paulo is full of life and diversity. It has a big population of both Italian and Japanese immigrants and a large indigenous reserve within the city limits so you can just imagine how this city is a cultural melting pot. With this in mind, you can be assured that Sau Paulo nightlife is one that is bustling with energy. It’s blessed with a wide range of sophisticated genres and styles. Just like in Rio de Janeiro, whatever you feel like doing that night, you will be able to satisfy your need. Famous neighborhoods are Itaim Bibi, Jardins, Vila Madalena, and Vila Olimpia. Other areas known for their nightlife are Baixo Augusto, Centro, and Barra Funda. Have fun!
15: Parque Nacional da Tijuca
Parque Nacional da Tijuca is all that remains of the Atlantic forest that once surrounded the big city of Rio de Janeiro. It’s a perfect day trip for people looking for a quick breather from all the frenzy that is Rio. There are a number of well-marked trails that will give you a peek into Tijuca’s biodiverse landscape. You’ll be treated to encounters with different bird species, monkeys, iguanas, and butterflies. A side trip to one of the park’s waterfalls is also a must. Experienced climbers can take on the challenge of Pico da Tijuca. Families can enjoy picnics and visit monuments and chapels. And, yes, successful man-made reclamation of land is possible.
#16: Northeast Beaches
If your main goal in visiting Brazil is to experience its world-famous beach lifestyle then the Northeastern coast of the country is where you have to go. From Sao Luis to Salvador are some of the best beaches you thought only existed in your wildest dreams. The Northeast also offers a number of islands that you could visit and enjoy. The coast also will entertain you with a multitude of activities for the water lover in you. Snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing, kitesurfing are some of the most famous options here. Rest assured, you will not run out of beaches to go to and you will probably find a place that will best suit your needs. Don’t miss out on Praia do Forte, Morro Branco, Morro de Sao Paulo, Jericoacoara. Spend a couple of weeks in the area and surely you will find it hard to leave.
#17: Ouro Preto
Historically the center of gold mining and government, Ouro Preto is one Minas Gerais’ most picturesque towns. This city is full of history and beautiful Baroque Portuguese colonial architecture. Situated at the feet of the Serra do Espinhaco, the town is home to winding, steep cobblestone slopes. Take pit stops at the various plazas, museums, and churches scattered all over town. Learn more about the Brazilian gold rush in Mine du Veloso. Satisfy your craving for the outdoors and go on a hike in Itacolomi State Park not too far away from town. Ouro Preto today is a city with education and arts at its center meaning the whole place is abuzz with youthful energy. Note that this small town also celebrates Carnaval and would be a nice alternative to the craziness of Rio. All in all, Ouro Preto gracefully balances old and new in a way that’s uniquely Brazilian.
#18: Florianópolis beaches
An island city with a lively metropolitan area and 560 kilometers of coastline and 42 beaches, Florianopolis is a haven for beach lovers and city dwellers alike. It’s enchanting landscape and the thrilling vibe is evident once you set foot. Azorean culture is deeply weaved into everyday life so you will find fishing villages and a seemingly never-ending supply of fresh seafood. The best beaches are found in the south as well as the island’s energetic surf culture. Lagoinha do Leste, Praia Galheta, and Ilha do Campeche are must-sees for those seeking not only water adventure but seaside tranquility as well. The island also offers great hiking trails with scenic ocean views. Dubbed as Ilha da Magia or the Magic Island, Floripa definitely lives up to its name.
Imagine a place where an Atlantic rainforest cascades into a colonial town sitting beside a beautiful bay. Too good to be true? That’s Paraty for you. Paraty’s authentic colonial charm stems from being one of the most valuable ports during the Brazilian gold rush. Its historical center perfectly illustrates the town’s rich heritage as it’s filled with, colonial churches, cobblestone streets, and whitewashed homes with colorful doors and windows. Besides majestic white sand beaches and coves and spectacular hiking trails, Paraty also offers unique sights such as the Jabaquara Mangroves and Saco do Mamangua (a fjord-like place in Brazil!). Enjoy the best of Costa Verde in Paraty.
#20: Parque Nacional Chapada dos Veadeiros
With more than 300 waterfalls and great hiking trails, Chapada dos Veadeiros is one of the best spots near Brasilia. This national park is a feast for the eyes. Sitting on top of an ancient plateau, the whole area within the national park is home to a web of canyons and otherworldly rock formations. Note that it’s properly regulated and well maintained and only 400 people can visit in a day. Choose a trail, ideally get a guide to learn more about the national park and the surrounding flora and fauna (rare species can be found here), walk through lush vegetation and rolling hills, and finally cool off in a majestic waterfall or take a dip in a mystical swim hole. And repeat this the following day. You might as well give yourself a day or two to really take in all the beauty and grandeur that this park has to offer.
#21: Candomblé Celebrations
First off, what is Candomble? Literally translating to “dance in honor of the Gods,” Candomble is an Afro-Brazilian religious tradition practiced mainly in Brazil. Despite forceful conversion to Catholicism and despite being ostracized for their beliefs, the African slave trade population in Brazil covertly kept their traditions alive and incorporated it into their new lives and environment. Candomble today can be defined as a medley of those African beliefs, elements of Roman Catholicism, and indigenous American traditions. It is widely celebrated all throughout the country and has millions of practitioners. Salvador in Bahia is home to Candomble and many festivals are celebrated here annually. Try to see Festa de Yemanja and Lavagem do Bonfim. Get ready to be drawn into hypnotic drumming, entrancing vocalizations, mesmerizing movements, and invigorating aromas. Prepare to have your senses awakened.
#22: Cristo Redentor
Cristo Redentor is undeniably one of Rio de Janeiro’s most iconic symbols. Standing 30 meters high with arms wide open atop Corcovado Mountain, the statue is an Art Deco wonder. Built with the intention to rekindle the country’s faith in God after independence, Cristo Redentor is a long-lasting reminder of the country’s strong Catholic ties. Today, the statue serves as a welcoming embrace to anybody who visits the city. Visitors can choose from three options when visiting the statue–fuss free car ride, a short but sweet train ride, or an adventurous hike. Best to go real early in the morning to avoid crowds or near dusk when the city lights come to life.
#23: Pedra Azul
Pedra Azul is a massive granite rock formation that is tinted with a blue moss that changes hues depending on the way sunlight is hitting the rock face. Located in the state of Espirito Santo, it towers over its namesake state park. More so, Pedra Azul is more than a picturesque destination. It also offers and array of outdoor activities and is considered a haven for avid rapellers. Two famous hiking trails can also be found within the confines of the park. One will lead you to the top of the mountain and the other will take you through natural swimming pools.
#24: Recife and Olinda
People are drawn to the neighboring cities of Recife and Olinda mainly because of its Carnaval. Both are a playful take on the annual Brazilian celebration and will showcase the local spirit and local musical genres and styles. Here, you will be introduced to frevo, a local dance style inspired by polka. Olinda is famous for its giant puppet attractions that makes its rounds in the city’s massive block parties. Visually stimulating and highly energetic, the Carnaval in these cities are great alternatives to the more popular Carnaval destinations. Another thing is as long as you’re in a coastal town in Brazil, you can be sure that there are beaches to go to in and around the area. A bonus is you can easily jump from one city to another.
#25: Parque Nacional dos Lencois Maranhenses
Hands down, this is one of Brazil’s most beautiful areas. Lencois Maranhenses’ jaw-dropping, expansive dunes will leave you utterly speechless. Note that this place is not a dessert. It receives too much annual rainfall to be considered one. Nevertheless, it’s an unbelievably dramatic and beautiful location. Come June, July, August when rain filtered through the sand dunes will create thousands of crystal clear freshwater lagoons all throughout the area. The blue waters provide an aesthetically pleasing contrast to the sweeping white dunes. You can make your way through these dramatic landscapes via a 4×4 or might as well live up to the whole experience and do everything on horseback. Honestly, just Google the place and you will instantly be sold.
#26: Trekking in the Chapada Diamantina
Brazil just doesn’t seem to run out of otherworldly landscapes. Chapada Diamantina is another one for the books. Literally translated into English as Diamond Plateau, it got its name in reference to the numerous exploration of diamonds done in the area. Treat yourself with glorious mountain views and towering rock formations, enchanting caves, and unlimited cerrado and caatinga views. It’s a trek lovers paradise and it offers trails of all levels. The underground is also just as breathtaking as the landscape above. The crystalline pools are so picturesque no filters are needed. Swimming and diving is offered in some areas. The park is so huge that trying to get around in a day is farfetched. Camping would be the best option and you’ll also be rewarded with glorious stargazing.
Have you been? What are the best things to do in Brazil?
What did you do in Brazil? Where did you stay? What did you eat? Leave your ideas, thoughts, and suggestions in the comment box below to help others plan their trip!