Home to exotic wildlife, rainforest-clad sandy beaches, otherworldly national parks, charming colonial towns and the intoxicating Rio Carnival, it’s no wonder that Brazil is a highly sought-after destination for daring backpackers and adventure-seekers.
We’ve handpicked the best places to go, things to do, and all the mouth-watering foods tempt you to pick Brazil as your next travel destination. Guys, get ready for your senses to go into overdrive.
When to go to Brazil
Brazil is a year-round destination, but you may want to have a think about what exactly you’re looking for from your trip. Travel from December-March and you’ll get the hottest weather from Rio de Janeiro to the northern regions such as Salvador.
Across the country, November-March make up the warmest months of the year. The Amazon’s wet season runs from Jan-Jun.
Looking for wildlife in The Pantanal? Your best bet for finding wildlife on the rivers and grasslands will be to travel using the dry season from May-October. For more unusual wildlife spotting opportunities, you can also visit in the wet season, just like in the Amazon.
Where to go in Brazil
Rio de Janeiro
Travel crush alert. There is so much to do in Rio alone that you’ll be spoilt for choice. Head over to Santa Teresa, the Lisbon of Brazil with its colourful buildings and mosaic tiles. Climb the iconic Lapa steps designed by Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón and limber up for a hike up Dois Irmaos. Wander Muerta de Urca, Rio’s oldest neighbourhood, and relax in the luscious Parque Lage, which has its own hiking trail.
Be sure to taste the delicious pastries in Confeitaria Colombia, one of the oldest coffee shops known to Rio. Bar do Adao is potentially the most famous haunt for these delicacies, but equally a trip to the Feira Da Gloria farmer’s market is worth it for their ha-yuge pastries (sharing recommended, but definitely optional). Pfft, no problem.
And as for culture? Rio’s Museum of Tomorrow, boasting a cutting-edge design by Marx, examines climate change, sustainability and looks ahead to the future of our planet. History buffs, it’s on to the National History Museum to see roughly 349,000 different artefacts (or, you know, you can just dip in). Delve into Brazil’s indigenous history in the Museum of the Indian. Art fans, look no further than the National Museum of Fine Arts to admire around 20,000 diverse works of art. For Contemporary art (and another wacky building), the Museum of Contemporary Art is a sight in itself.
In the evening, it’s cocktail time. No doubt about it. For a traditional Brazilian meal and a top-notch caipirinha, Bar do Mineiro is a safe bet. Head to Palaphita Kitch for tropical vibes and great cocktails. Or, soak up your caipirinha with a sumptuous burger at Burger at Comuna. After you’re all fed and watered, it’s time to shake your hips like Shakira at a samba club. Shimmy up to Democraticos, a local’s favourite, or Salsa Fusion, an all-time-classic – shaking things up for more than 20 years.
Insider tip alert! Head to a Salgueiro samba school carnival rehearsal where you can get a sneak preview into Rio carnival preparations. Watch locals practicing their complex dance routines and join in with the fun at the end of the rehearsal.
Lovers of the outdoors come closer as Ilha Grande is blooming beautiful. This tropical island, whose name literally translates as “Big Island” is a car-free zone, home to gorgeous beaches and sun-kissed waters. The combination of verdant vegetation, undulating hills and forests against white sandy beaches makes for a stunning setting made up of visual contrasts.
And, with 13 hikes available on the island, it’s not all about beach bumming (although it can be if you want, no judging here). The Dois Rios trek is one of the most popular trails, and the lung-stretching Papagaio Peak summit arguably the most challenging feat. The second highest peak on the island, this baby will take you two to three hours to climb. And if you really want to buckle up, you can even make your way around the whole island by foot – this will take you roughly four days and will open your eyes to some of the more secluded beaches.
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Vogue once voted Ilha Grande’s Lopes Mendes beach to be one of world’s most beautiful, and for good reason. Currents can be strong here, but it’s a great hub for surfing and sunbathing. Ilha Grande has a pretty beaut waterfall as well, ‘Cachoeira de Feiticeira’ just four kilometres from Abraão. It boasts its very own pool for bathing.
Go diving, snorkelling, take boat trips to visit the smaller islands and hit up a local bar for some beer and live forro music (a traditional Brazilian genre). Oh, and fancy visiting an abandoned jail? They’ve got one here too. The remains of Candido Mendes lie near to the Dois Rois, a former maximum-security prison for some of Brazil’s most dangerous criminals. Fact.
Home to a plethora of museums, art galleries and scenic public parks at your fingertips, innovative Sao Paolo is your quieter Rio with plenty of culture. Visit the Sala Sao Paulo Concert Hall, an old train station come classical music venue renewed in 1999, and discover a former brick factory which is now an art centre, “Casadas Caldeiras”.
For a spot of contemporary art in an avant-garde building, head to the Museum of Modern Art designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemayer. The Museu Afro Brasil, home to paintings, sculptures, documents and prints explores Afro Brazilian culture from an African perspective. The Pinoteca gallery is another all-time favourite, located in the old centre.
At a loose end come evening time? Perfect. Enjoy some live music in Boteco São Bento or head to the 30th floor view Bar in Jardims. In general, the bars in the Villa Madalena area are swanky. Food is also a MAJOR attraction in Sao Paulo and for good reason. Must eats: sweet, tasty pasteles and feijoada, Brazil’s wholesome national dish, composed of black beans and a variety of salted pork and/or beef.
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Salvador was formerly one of Portugal’s biggest slave trade centres and one of the first colonial cities in the Americas. Learn all about Afro-Brazilian culture in this cosmopolitan town, known to be the music and cultural centre of the country. Make sure your camera finger is primed and ready guys.
Just walking around Salvador will give you a good feel for this charming coastal city. Cruzeiro de Sao Francisco is one of the most picturesque streets, boasting the ornate Sao Francisco Cathedral at the end (its interior is pretty stunning guys, it’s worth having a nosy). Take another scenic walk on the promenade surrounding Praia do Porta da Barra Beach. As for museums, there’s the Palacete das Artas, home to Rodin sculptures, and the Modern Art Museum of Bahia, featuring over 1000 works of leading artists. Even though it’s super busy and touristy, Brazil’s first colonial capital, Pelourinho, is also definitely worth a wander for its pastel coloured buildings. Tip: it’s also a good spot for live music and evening drinks. And as for the food? Must tries include moqueca (a type of traditional fish stew) and acarajé (a fried bean and shrimp street snack).
Iguazu National Park
Whet your appetite with this outdoorsy adventure. This UNESCO-listed National park on the border of Brazil and Argentina is world-famous for good reason. The name itself “Iguazu” comes from the Tupi/Guarani language and means “big water”. This marvellous park spans around 169,695 hectares and is home to 275 waterfalls which are over 150 million years old (quite old, then?). These crashing falls have recently been marked as one of the new seven wonders of nature. Head on a tour to witness the mighty falls and make your way to the observation footbridge known as the “Devil’s throat” to see these babies live in action.
And, the rainforest delta encircling this immense natural wonder is home to a staggering 2,000 species of plants. If you’re lucky you may even be able to see some Coatis, the local residents.
What to eat in Brazil
Get ready for a sensory treat.
Hit up the food markets and little stalls of Brazil and you’ll be amazed at the range of the local delicacies up for guzzlin’. Pao de quijo is a sort of cheesy bun that you can munch on with a cup of coffee in the morning for your breakfast. Fancy something super wholesome? Acai na tigela is your best bet, filled with smashed açaí palm fruit and most often accompanied with chopped banana and crunchy granola. A bowl of pure goodness.
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And for a tasty lunch (or snack, anything goes), Bolinho de Bacalhau is a great option. This is a crispy fried fish dish best eaten with chilli oil. While nursing a hangover, hunt for Coxinha: a deep-fried dumpling stuffed with shredded chicken that’s crispy on the outside. Pretty damn tasty. Street food in Brazil is your ultimate guilty pleasure without being too damaging on the wallet.
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Calling all halloumi fans! Coalho is a cheese just like halloumi, but served on a wooden stick and the BEST snack out there. Speaking of cheese (we love cheese), Canastra is one of Rio’s first wine bars and serves cheese as well as fresh oysters on a Tuesday.
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How to get around Brazil
Getting around Brazil isn’t too tricky, you just have to have your wits about you – like anywhere really!
Taking the local bus is fairly straightforward, if you make sure you travel in daylight and don’t flash any valuables around (or have any on you if possible). Avoid taking the more informal buses in Rio and in other urban areas, they are known to be targets for attacks. For longer-haul overnight journeys, the buses operate on a 4-tier system: ‘Convencional, Executivo, Semi-Leito/Semi-Cama, or Leito/Cama’ The latter is the most luxurious, with seats that can recline at an 80-degree angle.
Now – onto taxis. Taxis are a great, cheap way to get about but hailing a taxi is not a good idea, as there are a lot of unregistered taxi drivers about. Download the 99 Taxis app where you can be guaranteed that a registered driver will come your way, or order an Uber (now highly used in Brazil and a safe option). Alternatively, if you’re female, a relatively new app has come out called “Lady Driver” which connects female drivers with female passengers. And as for hiring a car? It is doable. The major roads aren’t too bad, but you have to be wary of heavy traffic. In more remote areas, the driving conditions definitely aren’t optimum. Also, take note that you have to be minimum aged 25 to hire a car.
Flying domestically is also fairly common, and can be just as cheap as taking a long-haul bus if you study your options carefully enough. Trains? There aren’t many of them in Brazil, but they’re a fairly good option for long journeys. The metro tends to be safer and cleaner than buses, and is of regular use in both Rio and Sao Paulo.
Now, as for hitchhiking… Hitchhiking isn’t too safe here, so we wouldn’t recommend it. The exception being some more rural areas where access to transport is challenging. If you do hitchhike, make sure that you do so in groups and to offer to contribute to the cost of gas as a matter of courtesy.
Now, you’ve probably gotten all inspired, but what next? Here’s an example itinerary from Rio to Salvador which include some of the above destinations, and some alternatives to get your teeth stuck into. Stops include the UNESCO-listed Ouro Preto, a former mining colonial town, futuristic Brasilia and the marvellous Chapada Dos Veadeiros National Park. You’ll round off in the colonial town of Salvador da Bahia where you can stroll in the historic centre and opt to visit one of the many pretty churches. If this blog has made you Brazil-hungry, be sure to check out our other amazing Brazil itineraries to get you inspired.