Ready to spend the perfect 10 days in Brazil? Plan your dream trip, charting vibrant cities, beaches, and national parks along the way.
It’s been more years than I care to admit since my first visit to South America. But my experiences in Brazil as a young traveller helped lay the groundwork for my career and everything I love about travel.
Stepping off the plane and into the endless multicultural neighbourhoods in São Paulo or seeing the skies turn deep shades of red and orange behind Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro from Sugarloaf Mountain are experiences I’ll never forget.
But the country also offers abundant wildlife and natural beauty, like the world’s largest waterfalls at Iguaçu and unspoiled white sand beaches in Ilha Grande, which you have to add to any Brazil Itinerary.
I know how hard it is to strike a perfect balance when planning a trip – especially to a country as large as Brazil. No worries – this itinerary will help you enjoy the natural beauty and urban charm of this spectacular country. Let’s go!
10 Days in Brazil Itinerary
Days 1-2: São Paulo
Sometimes visiting large cities can be a bit overwhelming, especially when you only have a couple of days. But São Paulo stimulates the senses in the best possible ways with its action-packed nightlife, rich cultural and artistic traditions, and diverse neighbourhoods.
Keep your eyes open for street art in Little Italy, the twin spires at the neo-Gothic São Paulo Metropolitan Cathedral, and the beautiful art installations and architecture in Ibirapuera Park.
I won’t lie, you’re not going to see everything São Paulo offers in 2 days. It’s a city of 22 million people covering over 1425 square km (550 square miles) with cultural landmarks dating back to the 16th century.
But you’ll cover some of my favourite spots in the city, and I promise you’ll leave wanting to come back.
Things to Do in São Paulo
Head to Ibirapuera Park
Sauntering through the lush and verdant expanse of the Parque do Ibirapuera, it’s difficult to believe you’re in the midst of one of Brazil’s busiest cities. Built to commemorate the 400th anniversary of São Paulo, it was designed by the world-famous architect Oscar Niemeyer and landscape artist Roberto Burle Marx.
That’s great and all, but it’s the tranquillity that really draws in the crowds – well, that and the cultural institutions housed within the park’s borders. The Museum of Modern Art, the Afro Brazil Museum and the Oca exhibition space are all situated within the park. Plan to spend at least half a day in them and the park itself.
See the Street Art in Batman’s Alley
Beco do Batman got its name back in the 1980s when the now graffiti-covered walls first featured drawings of the famed comic book character. It’s a long 3 blocks in Vila Madalena celebrating the street art, local culture, and expressing political views, and a must-see on your visit.
Bixiga (Bela Vista) is another excellent neighbourhood for street art, especially on Avenida Paulista. You can take a taxi in about 20 minutes from one area to another.
Marvel at the Catedral da Sé de São Paulo
São Paulo’s cathedral is a wondrous neo-gothic affair – and visiting doubles up as a peek into the city’s history. Officially named the Metropolitan Cathedral of São Paulo, it was completed in 1954.
The exterior is nothing short of stunning – a complex tapestry of intricate carvings with two statuesque towers. The interior is no less impressive: large enough to house up to 8,000 people, its stained glass windows are some of the largest in Brazil.
Be sure to head into the crypt to see the resting place of historical figures such as the indigenous chief Tibiriçá.
Visit the Museum of Art of São Paulo
If you want to discover the finest collection of Western paintings and sculptures (with some excellent Brazilian artwork as well) visit this gorgeous museum designed by Lina Bo Bardi. Even the facade is worth stopping by to admire. It features large red pillars holding up the long, glass and concrete building.
Inside, you’ll find works by Van Gogh, Monet, and Cézanne, among 8,000 others, in the enormous collection.
Party it Up at Night
I’m not going to lie, the nightlife in São Paulo is popping – so it would be a shame to spend time in the city and not make the most of one of the most vibrant after-dark scenes on the whole continent. From chic cocktail bars to pulsating nightclubs, it’s the perfect playground for your nocturnal adventures.
Love classic cocktails? Head to Frank Bar. Named after none other than Frank Sinatra, it oozes with old-school charm – a charm that extends to the expertly-made drinks served with a creative twist.
More of a clubber? D-Edge is a cool spot with cutting-edge electronic music and a futuristic design. Add to that a state-of-the-art sound system and a roster of well-known international DJs and you can see why it’s a winner.
Shop and Eat at a Market
You can find some incredible street markets in São Paulo, showing rich Asian, Middle Eastern, and Latin American heritage through food, gifts, and clothing items. Mercado Municipal and Japan Town’s Liberdade Market are 2 of the best.
If you can only hit up 1 of the markets, Mercadão is the most famous, and it’s in a gorgeous building with vaulted glass ceilings home to around 300 stalls.
Getting to São Paulo
You can fly into Aeropuerto Internacional de São Paulo-Guarulhos (GRU) from locations across the world. Then, take a taxi to most hotels downtown for £18 to £26 ($20 to $30).
H4 La Residence Paulista offers casual but comfortable accommodations in Jardins, near many of the top attractions on your itinerary. Enjoy the on-site breakfast, outdoor pool, and fitness centre between sightseeing.
Days 3-4: Iguaçu Falls
If you’re flying to South America, few places boast the stunning natural beauty of Iguaçu Falls. Spanning not 1 but 2 countries (Argentina and Brazil), it’s one of the most beautiful waterfalls you’ll ever see.
What if I told you that Iguaçu Falls are twice as big as Niagara Falls… facts. The towering rapids feature a ridiculous 275 different falls, with the iconic Devil’s Throat featuring a jaw-dropping 80-metre fall (262 feet).
Hiking, sightseeing, and photography are all musts during your time here.
Things to Do in Iguaçu Falls
Take a Boat Ride Under Devil’s Throat
The 150-metre (490-foot) wide Devil’s Throat is one of the highlights of any trip to Iguaçu Falls, But a boat ride underneath the gushing waterfalls offers an up-close glance like no other.
Hike on the Brazilian Side of the Falls
If I told you that 80% of the waterfalls were on the Argentina side, you might think the one hike through Brazil isn’t worth it. Wrong. Brazil’s side of Iguaçu offers first-rate views of many of the waterfalls, including Devil’s Throat.
Nature Hike in Iguazú Falls National Park
On day 2, cross the border to Argentina and visit the other section of Iguazú Falls National Park.
You can choose from 6 trails, but I think this moderate trek is the best. You’ll get excellent views of some of the 2.7 km (1.7 miles) of waterfalls and chances to see monkeys, jaguars, and hundreds of birds in the park.
Dinner at Empório com Arte
One of the best restaurants in the bustling tourist town of Foz do Iguaçu is Empório com Arte, which offers excellent Brazilian fare in a rustic but fashionable space.
Order a caipirinha and try vegan or meat-filled pastries like the delicious Coxinhas (similar to croquettes).
Getting to Iguaçu Falls
Most visitors find it easy to get to the park, with an international airport and convenient bus system connecting the 2 areas.
Fly from São Paulo to Foz do Iguaçu International Airport (IGU) in a little under 2 hours. Once you land, it’s only 12 km (7 miles) to Foz do Iguacu, where you can find plenty of accommodation options.
From there, you can take a bus, taxi, or private tour to either side of the park.
I recommend splurging on a taxi or private transfer as they run from around £50 to £100 ($60 to $125) round trip and can save you hours.
Stay at Hotel das Cataratas, A Belmond Hotel in Iguaçu National Park, which offers 5-star accommodation just minutes from the Brazil side of the park.
The rooms are as nice as you’ll find near the falls, and the hotel shuttle conveniently gets you to the bus station for either side of the park.
Days 5-7: Rio de Janeiro
When it comes to Rio de Janeiro, what’s not to love? The thriving city between the Atlantic Ocean and tree-lined cliffs like Tijuca Peak and Sugarloaf Mountain is one of the greatest vacation destinations in the world.
You’ll see famous landmarks like the 30-metre (98-foot) Christ the Redeemer statue up on Corcovado Mountain and hidden gems like the dark orange sands and mountain vistas from the beach of Praia Vermelha.
Of course, you can’t leave Rio without experiencing the party. So take time to explore the nightlife in Lapa and dance the samba until the sun comes up at Rio Scenarium. Trust me.
Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro
Take a Cable Car up Sugarloaf Mountain
The short ride up the 391-metre (1,283 foot) peak in Rio de Janeiro isn’t cheap at R$160 (£24), but you won’t find better panoramic views of Guanabara Bay, Downtown Rio, and Christ the Redeemer Statue anywhere. If you can visit around sunset, you’ll get the best views of the statue.
Walk a few blocks west from Praia Vermelha, one of my favourite beaches in the city.
See the Escadaria Selarón
Visit Escadaria Selarón to see how Artist Jorge Selarón turned what was a rather plain staircase in the Lapus and Saint Teresa neighbourhoods districts in Rio de Janeiro into the iconic 710 metre (2,330-foot) Escadaria Selarón using the colours of Brazil’s flag. It’s stunning.
Do the stairs look familiar? They featured in the classic Snoop Dogg video for Beautiful with Pharell Williams and Mr Charlie Wilson.
Soak Up the Nightlife in Lapa
Lapa makes a strong case as the best place to grab a cocktail, watch a live concert, or dance to Samba in the country. Go to my favourite spot, Rio Scenarium, and dance until the sun rises while listening to the iconic Samba music.
Sunbathing on Ipanema Beach
Grab some upscale beachwear at Forum de Ipanema before laying out on the sand and sun tanning or taking surf lessons at this beautiful stretch of beach made famous by “The Girl from Ipanema,” from Bossa Nova legend João Gilberto.
Try Feijoada at Bar do Mineiro
Looking to try the national dish of Brazil? Bar do Mineiro in Rio de Janeiro is one of the most popular places to taste it.
For over 30 years, hungry locals and tourists have enjoyed the Brazilian specialty in a small but lively setting in the Santa Teresa district. It’s a fun place to have a cocktail and see what all the fuss is about with the slow-cooked black beans, pork, and beef at the local stand by.
Getting to Rio de Janeiro
Getting to Rio de Janeiro from Iguazú Falls is a breeze. Fly into Galeão International Airport (GIG) from Foz do Iguaçu International Airport (IGU) in about 2 hours, and take a taxi to your hotel, which usually takes around 30-45 minutes.
Stay at Arena Ipanema Hotel, which features an outdoor pool and restaurant with rooftop views just steps from the iconic Ipanema Beach.
Days 8-10: Paraty and Ilha Grande
Paraty is the coastal village that many tourists use as a hub when visiting Ilha Grande, but it’s a cool destination in its own right. Picture a stunning colonial town with clear (and often tragic) influences from its time as part of the Caminho do Ouro, or Gold Route to Europe and you’re on the right track.
You’ll find whitewashed buildings and cobbled streets along the 18th-century town on the Atlantic coast alongside great restaurants and bars like the popular Refúgio Restaurante offering inexpensive (and delicious) caipirinhas.
But the UNESCO Site of Ilha Grande is literally a tropical paradise, which is saying a lot, considering that Brazil is home to the Amazon Rainforest, Iguaçu Falls, and over 2,000 official beaches.
You’ll discover secret stretches of coastline tucked away in places like Parnaioca Beach or Lopes Mendes Beach, where the warm, clear waters and white sands are enough to make you never want to leave.
But there is more to do here than swim and sunbathe (not that I think you need many other reasons to visit). The hiking trails will appeal to nearly any outdoor adventurer, with gems like Parrot Peak offering a bird’s eye view (hehe) of the tropical paradise below.
Things to Do in Ilha Grande
Hang Out in Paraty
Paraty is now one of the most beautiful areas in Brazil, with idyllic shores like Vermelha Beach that offer kayaking, swimming, and surfing. Explore the Centro Historico neighbourhood or take a swim in the tranquil pools below the Cachoeira da Pedra Branca waterfalls before heading to Ilha Grande.
Hike to the Top of Parrot Peak
One of my favourite hiking trails in Brazil, this 6-mile out-and-back trail offers incredible panoramic views of the quiet beaches and lush forests that make up the island.
If you can muster up the energy and have a good torch, hike up to the top for the best sunrise views.
Soak Up the Sun on Lopes Mendes Beach
There are many, many great beaches on Ilha Grande (around 100), but Lopes Mendes is the one that put this island on the map. Regarded as one of the most beautiful beaches anywhere in the world, the secret is out on the calm blue-green waters and white sands framed by rolling green hills and coconut trees.
Diving at Sitio Forte
Scuba divers will want to pack their gear for Sitio Forte, where you can check out tropical fish, sea horses, and the Navio Pingüino shipwreck off the coast of Ilha Grande.
Getting to Ilha Grande
Ilha Grande is about 150 km (93 miles) from Rio de Janeiro. Head to Angra dos Reis by bus or taxi and take a ferry to Ilha Grande, which takes around 30 minutes.
Located on Praia Vermelha beach, Pousada e Mergulho Dolce Vita is a chill spot that’s ideal for travellers who want low-maintenance beachside accommodations at a reasonable price.
Opt for a sea view suite, where you can overlook the Atlantic Ocean from a private patio on your hammock between adventures.
Have More Time? Add These To Your Itinerary
If you can expand your Brazil itinerary past 10 days, by all means, do it. There are so many cool places you can add as a day trip or overnight if you have enough vacation time saved up.
Want a couple of my favourites? For starters, Salvador is one of the coolest cities anywhere in South America.
The Afro-Brazilian shops and restaurants and Capoeira performances in the parks in neighbourhoods like Pelourinho are great places to see the unique culture of Bahia, Brazil.
But if you’d rather spend your time chilling on the beach, explore Northern Brazil. The coastal sand dunes in Natal and crystal clear waters at Ipioca Beach and Praia do Gunga near Maceió are welcome additions to your Brazil itinerary.
If you have more than a few extra days, Pantanal is a must. The Amazon Rainforest may get more acclaim than this large national park on the border of Bolivia and Paraguay. However, exploring the lush wetland forests and rivers in Pantanal gives you the best chances to see wildlife like crocodiles and jaguars.
Handy Tips for Planning Your 10 Days in Brazil
What to Pack
No matter when you visit, most of the spots in this Brazil travel planner are warm year-round. As such, you’ll want to pack beachwear, some nice dresses, slacks, lightweight shirts, and comfortable footwear like these everyday walking shoes.
Best Time to Visit
What’s the best time for this Brazil itinerary? September and October are my favourite because you’ll have the best wildlife viewing opportunities at Pantanal, and the crowds are smaller in the cities and at Iguaçu Falls.
But I can’t blame you if you want to go to Carnival in February, when you’ll still enjoy warm weather and a great time everywhere on this list.
As I touched on for each destination, flying into the nearest city and taking a taxi or guided tour is the best way to get around Brazil.
I’ve never had too much trouble, but some areas experience higher crime levels, so it’s always best to avoid walking late at night or taking public transportation in unfamiliar areas.
Brazil Itinerary – Map
Read More Brazil Guides
- The Insider’s Brazil Travel Guide
- The Best Things to do in Brazil
- Famous Landmarks in Brazil You Need to See
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