Brazil is the largest country in South America, encompassing around half of the continent’s land area and population. Spread out over a large landmass, the country packs in very diverse landscapes and experiences: from the rainforests of the Amazon to the wetlands of Pantanal and beaches of Rio.
If you are planning a trip to Brazil, this article will tell you everything you need to know about visas, climate, safety, transport and more. Then it’s time to plan the itinerary.
Putting together an itinerary for Brazil can be quite a challenge. Distances between locations are vast, meaning you won’t be able to do and see it all. The places you choose to visit will depend on if you are looking for a tropical escape, a cultural excursion or a trip into the rainforest and wetlands.
This Brazilian Bucket list features some of the best destinations in Brazil, and will either help you decide where to go, or make it much harder by introducing you to amazing places you hadn’t yet considered visiting in Brazil.
Rio de Janeiro
Rio is an unmissable destination in Brazil.
Rio de Janeiro is one of the most vibrant and culturally-rich cities in the world, famous for its Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, the Christ the Redeemer statue atop Mt. Corcovado, Sugarloaf Mountain, and its Carnival festival.
2 – 3 days in Rio is the perfect amount of time to explore all the city has to offer. See my guide to Rio in a weekend.
Iguazu Falls (or Iguaçu Falls in Brazilian Portuguese) is a remarkable set of waterfalls on the Iguazu River at the meeting point of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.
The falls are 2.7kms wide and are made up of 275 separate waterfalls, making them the largest waterfall system in the world. The longest drop is 82 metres long.
The falls were voted as one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World and it is really no surprise why.
Visitors can view the falls from the Brazilian or Argentinean side (or both!) and have no shortage of vantage points with catwalks, bridges and a viewing tower offing breathtaking views from every angle.
This is one of the destinations in Brazil and is high on my bucket list.
Christ the Redeemer
You can’t miss Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. It’s the cultural icon for both Rio and Brazil.
The grand statue of Jesus Christ sits at the top of the 700 metre-high Mount Corcovado in the Tijuca Forest, offering one of the best views of Rio.
You can take a taxi to the top, or you can take the Corcovado train. The Corcovado train costs 80 BRL return. You can book the train in advance to secure your spot. I suggest arriving at 8 am to avoid the masses of tourists.
Bonito is a town and ecotourism hub in southern Brazil’s Mato Grosso do Sul state. The area surrounding Bonito is known for crystal-clear rivers such as the Rio da Prata, a snorkelling destination abounding with fish. The Abismo Anhumas is a huge, stalactite-covered cavern that offers abseiling and diving in an underground lake.
Sugar Loaf Mountain/ Pao de Azucar
The Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pao de Azucar) is a peak in Rio de Janeiro and another of Brazil’s iconic landmarks.
You can take the Sugarloaf Cable Car from Praia Vermelha to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. The cable car stops in at Morro da Urca along the way where you can enjoy a coffee or snack before taking the second cable car to the top, 396 metres above sea level. From the top, you can expect breathtaking 360-degree views of the city and the surrounding beaches, mountains, forests and sea.
The cable cars run every 20 minutes and has a total of 4,000 visitors each day (during peak season) —so come early to avoid the lines! The Sugarloaf mountain cable car costs 99 BRL for an adult.
Pantanal is the world’s largest seasonal wetland and Brazil’s wildlife capital. Almost 700 species of birds can be found here, along with 80 mammals – but you’ll need to have a guide to point out capybaras, monkeys and hyacinth macaws. Porto Jofre is also the best place in the world to see habituated jaguars. If you love wildlife and bird watching, this is one of the destinations in Brazil that you must add to your bucket list.
Looking for more national parks to explore in Brazil?
The beaches of Rio are alive with a plethora of bars and cafes, volleyball courts and soccer fields and beach chairs available to rent. As you sit on the beach you will be approached by countless locals selling water, snacks, hats, sunglasses and even Caipirinhas.
Pack your beach bag and spend a day on the powdery sands, before settling in with a caipirinha to watch the sunset – Ipanema’s one of the best places to watch the sun setting over the city.
Copacabana, along with it’s other Rio counterpart, Ipanema, is one of the most famous beaches in the world. The four kilometre-long crescent-shaped beach is perfect for sunbathing and swimming and is lined with hot-spot shops, bars, restaurants and hotels.
Manaus and the meeting of the river
Manaus sits 1,000 miles inland, at the point where Rio Negro and the Amazon River meet. The city began as a strategic Portuguese fort and only grew after they discovered practical uses for the rubber plant, which grows all over the rainforest. Manaus is home to the only bridge in the Amazon river system, and a new football stadium, used for the 2014 World Cup.
These colourful stairs in Rio attract masses of tourists, all looking for that perfect Instagram shot.
They are the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón who claimed it as “my tribute to the Brazilian people”. Selarón started the project as a small scale renovation of the steps that ran outside his house up into the Santa Teresa district. But the part-time project became his life work. He changed the tatty path, tile by tile, into a blaze of colour and a globally recognised symbol of Rio. This was one of my favourite destinations in Brazil.
Gramado is a mountain resort town in Brazil’s southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul. Influenced by 19th-century German settlers, the town has a Bavarian feel with Alpine chalets, chocolatiers and artisan shops. Gramado is also known for its Christmas light displays and for hydrangea blooms in spring. Lago Negro offers boat rentals and forest walks, while the Serra Gaúcha mountains have hiking and climbing trails.
Salvador da Bahia
Pebblestone streets with pastel coloured facades are just the start of what Bahia has to offer. By the evening, the streets are filled with the rhythm of the drums, capoeira dancers and locals to the cozy squares. Grab a caipirinha and enjoy.
Bahia is also home to many tropical beaches at Morro de Sao Paulo.
Salvador da Bahia is also an excellent hub to discover one of Brazil’s most amazing National Parks: The Chapada Diamantina.
Fernando de Noronha
Fernando de Noronha is an archipelago of 21 islands in the Atlantic Ocean, 354 kilometres from the coast of Brazil. It is famous for its pristine white beaches and fabulous landscapes of ridges, coves and lush vegetation.
Not only does the archipelago form one of Brazil’s most striking natural wonders, the wildlife is also a sight to behold. The island is home to one of the biggest sea-bird breeding colonies in the Southern Atlantic, and you can also find manta rays, moray eels, sea turtles and dolphins gliding in its waters.
It should come as no surprise that Fernando de Noronha is a diver’s paradise, but even if you prefer to stay above water – the beaches and laid-back island lifestyle are worth the trip alone. Fernando de Noronha is one of the most exclusive Destinations in Brazil.
Ilha Grande is a beautiful Brazilian island, located 150 kilometres from Rio de Janeiro. The island is full of stunning beaches, perfect snorkelling and diving conditions and abundant hiking trails – something for everyone.
Parati (also spelled Paraty)
This beautiful city is a former Portuguese colony established on the shores of the Bay of Ilha Grande, featuring tropical forests, waterfalls, emerald sea and coastal mountains. The heart of Parati is its historic centre with cobbled streets and multicoloured colonial houses. You can happily stroll the streets of the pedestrian-friendly, car-free historical centre, and can visit the popular colonial defence forts that still boast original walls and cannons.
The island, dubbed “Floripa” for short, is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil and is very popular amongst surfers. The island is 33 miles long and offers travellers tasty seafood, white beaches, show-stopping nightlife, and quiet Azorean fishing villages. If you love surfing, this is one of the best destinations in Brazil for you!
Natal is the capital city of the state of Rio Grande do Norte, on Brazil’s northeastern tip. It’s known for its extensive coastal sand dunes and star-shaped Forte dos Reis Magos, a 16th-century Portuguese fortress at the mouth of the Potengi River. North across the river, Genipabu is an area of towering dunes with a freshwater lagoon.
The metropolis of Sao Paulo is a bucket list destination in Brazil for those who love exquisite culinary experiences. Fine dining options are in abundance. Outside of Sao Paulo is perhaps my favourite destination in Brazil, Camps Do Jordao.
Campos Do Jordao
Brazil’s best-kept secret. A sweet country escape just a few hours from the metropolis of Sao Paulo. In Campos Do Jordao you will find hiking trails and an abundance of outdoor adventures.
Maragogi is a resort town on the Atlantic coast in eastern Brazil. It’s known for its long beaches such as Burgalhau, near the mangrove-lined Dos Paus River. Offshore coral reefs and sandbars have created a shallow lagoon, which acts as a natural pool. South of Maragogi is São Bento, a fishing village with a palm-edged beach. The coast here is part of the Coral Coast protected area, which is rich in flora and fauna.
With its many rivers, small islands and over 50 bridges, Recife is often called the Venice of Brazil. It’s a buzzing city like Rio with a vibrant cultural scene and interesting historical centre. Outside Recife, the beach of Porto de Galinhas has been repeatedly awarded the title of best beach in Brazil while the historic centre of Olinda charms all who visit.
One of Brazil’s best-preserved colonial cities, Olinda is located on the Atlantic Coast in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. Perched on a picturesque hilltop surrounded by trees, Olinda’s historic downtown is a treasure trove of colonial churches, colourful old houses, restaurants, museums and numerous artisan studios.
If you plan to cover all of these Bucket List Destination in Brazil, you will need months to do so! It certainly isn’t a small or easy country to get around.
My top destinations in Brazil are:
- Rio De Janeiro
- Ilha Grande
- Parati (also spelled Paraty)
- Campos Do Jordao
- Fernando de Noronha
- Iguazu Falls
I recommend booking flights in advance to get the best deals.
Book a tour in Brazil
Other tips for planning an itinerary for Brazil
Be aware of the size of the country and leave yourself enough time to get from A to B. The best way to travel is by plane, but this is also the most expensive. If you are travelling by bus, expect long overnight bus rides.
Sometimes it is best to see less but do more. You don’t want to travel to Brazil for one month but spend 10 days in transit. If you only have a shorter period of time, you may be best to travel South Brazil, or North Brazil, as opposed to trying to do it all.
Keep your budget in mind. Brazil is an expensive country to travel around, so keep this in mind when planning your itinerary.
Don’t forget to check out this article on planning a trip to Brazil for EVERYTHING you need to know.
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