Cascading waterfalls, giant sand dunes and crystal clear waters – this is Brazil. Here are 13 famous landmarks in Brazil that you cannot miss on your next trip.
By Sophie Ritchie
The Iguazu Falls (or Iguaçu Falls) are a beautiful set of waterfalls of the Iguazu River, at the meeting point of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. The falls are 2.7km wide and are actually made up of 275 waterfalls, meaning it is the largest waterfall system in the world. The longest drop is 82 metres long. The Falls, which were voted as one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World, can be seen from different perspectives, with catwalks, bridges. There’s even a special viewing tower to look down on them from. You can explore the Falls from either the Brazilian or Argentinean side (or both!), but head to the Brazilian for the best panoramas – it won’t disappoint.
Christ the Redeemer
You can’t miss Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. The grand statue of Jesus Christ sits at the top of the 700 metre-high Mount Corcovado in the Tijuca Forest National Park, towering over the city. Built in 1931, the statue itself is 30 metres tall, with its arms alone spanning 28 metres. The 8 metre base beneath the statue is also a chapel (and very popular for weddings).
So what else do you need to know? Christ the Redeemer is the world’s largest art-deco statue and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. No visit to Rio is complete without a journey to the base of the statue – adventurous folk can hike up to the top from the city. If that’s not quite your cup of tea, you can grab a taxi, minibus or tram to the top: either way, the views are well worth the effort.
Sugar Loaf Mountain
The Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pao de Azucar)is a peak in Rio de Janeiro and one of the most iconic landmarks in Rio de Janeiro. Rising 396m from the mouth of Guanabara Bay, you can spy the mountain from all around the city. Take a cable-car ride up to the top for breathtaking 360-degree views of the city and the surrounding beaches, mountains, forests and sea. You’ll even get a great view of the Christ the Redeemer statue. Looking for something extra special? We recommend going up the mountain in the late afternoon to watch the sun set over the city and to see the Christ the Redeemer Statue beautifully lit up.
Does Ipanema Beach even need an introduction? A chic city beach in Rio de Janeiro, tucked between Arpoador Beach and Leblon Beach, Ipanema is undoubtedly one of the most famous landmarks in Brazil. The beach’s biggest claim to fame is the song “The Girl from Ipanema”, which Brazilian writer João Gilberto wrote in a nearby cafe after spying a beautiful woman on the beach.
While its musical heritage lives on, Ipanema Beach is also known as the ‘Little Paris’ of Rio – thanks to the fashionable shops, restaurants, avant-garde galleries, luxury hotels and apartments that line the promenade and surrounding area.
Pack your beach bag and spend a day on the powdery sands, before settling in with a caipirinha to watch sunset – Ipanema’s one of the best places to watch the sun setting over the city.
Lençóis Maranhenses National Park
The Lençóis Maranhenses National Park is a truly arresting sight. A vast area of white sand dunes, it stretches over an area of roughly 1,500 km2. Although it look like a desert, it is actually far too wet to be considered a desert. For half of the year from January to June, the area witnesses torrential rainstorms. The pools of rainwater in the valleys then turn into thousands of beautiful blue, green and black lagoons that can reach over 90 metres long and 3 metres deep. The result is a stark contrast between the miles of pale white sands and jewel-coloured lakes, and one of the most spectacular sights in Brazil.
Fernando de Noronha
Imagine a beach with pale white sand, softer than you thought possible and framed by picture-perfect cerulean water. Now imagine a number of islands filled with beaches just like that – you’ll come close to picturing 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. The wildlife is also a sight to behold: not only is the island home to one of the biggest sea-bird breeding colonies in the Southern Atlantic, but you can also find manta rays, moray eels, sea turtles and dolphins. Understandably, Fernando de Noronha is a diver’s paradise, but even if you prefer to stay above water – the beaches are worth the trip alone.
Meeting of the Waters
The Meeting of the Waters is an incredible sight you have to see to believe. Two rivers: the River and the River Negro meet in the Amazon and flow side by side without converging for over six km. The Solimões River, the lighter river, owes its colour to sediment of sand, mud and silt, while the Rio Negro, the darker river, gets its colour from decayed and dissolved plant and leaf. The differing densities and temperatures of the water result in this incredible spectacle: a river split into two striking halves. After flowing side by side for six km, the rivers eventually converge in an area of fast-moving water and together become part of the Lower Amazon River.
Brazil is filled with gorgeous colonial-era towns, but Ouro Preto wins out for sheer beauty. Ouro Preto is a historic mining town, built at the feet of the Serra do Espinhaço mountains. Known for its baroque architecture, including bridges, churches, fountains and squares, it’s even been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Walking up the cobbled streets can be tiring, but if you make it to the top of the hills, you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view of the town’s 23 churches, including the 18th Century-built St Francis of Assisi. In addition to the architecture, Ouro Preto is home to beautiful mineiro art (art from the Mina Gerais region in which the town is located), including some of Aleijadinho’s best pieces.
Strikingly futuristic, even today, Brasilia’s Cathedral is a testament to the modern vision architect Oscar Niemeyer had when designing Brazil’s capital city. The cathedral’s full name is the Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of Aparecida and is the Roman-Catholic Cathedral serving Brazil. Built in 1970, the Cathedral is a hyperboloid structure made from 16 concrete columns that weigh 90 tonnes each, topped with a glass roof. Niemeyer’s interesting design is modelled on hands reaching up towards heaven. Nearly 1 million visitors grace the cathedral’s door per year, so not only is it one of the most famous landmarks in Brazil, it’s also its most visited. Don’t miss it off your itinerary.
Copacabana, along with 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. To top this, the views from the beach are incredible, with the Sugar Loaf Mountain to the left and old Copacabana Fort to the right. And if you ever get bored of the views (highly unlikely), sit back and watch one of the many football games taking place on along the beach – the locals love it!
Ilha Grande is a beautiful Brazilian island, located 150 kilometres from Rio de Janeiro. The island is full of stunning beaches, with our favourite being Lopes Mendes, which was voted one of the Top 10 Beaches in the World by Vogue Magazine. Whether you want to beach-hop around the island, snorkel, or dive at Sitio Forte, there is something for everyone! And if hiking is your thing, there are 13 trails on the island for you to choose from. We recommend Parrot Peak – a hike in the forest that leads to the top of the parrot-shaped rock formation that towers above the island. This is truly one of Brazil’s best landmarks.
The Teatro Amazonas (the Amazon Theatre) is an opera house in Manaus, a city in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest. Built in 1897, this opulent Renaissance Theatre is home to the Amazonas Philharmonic and hosts the annual Amazonas Opera Festival every year. Taking nearly 20 years to finish with materials imported from all over Europe, the building itself, its location and the story behind it is completely one-of-a-kind and should most definitely be a stop on your Brazilian adventure. Where else can you see a rainforest next to an opera house?!
The Escadaria Selarón is perhaps the most quirky Brazilian landmark on our list. After all, what’s so special about a set of steps? These aren’t just any steps: the world-famous Escadaria are located in Rio de Janeiro, running from Joaquim Silva Street and Pinto Martins in the Lapus and Saint Teresa neighbourhoods.
The steps were made by Jorge Selarón in 1990, who covered the dilapidated steps that ran outside near his house with a mosaic made from fragments of blue, green and yellow tiles (the colours of the Brazilian flag). The steps, called by Selarón as ‘my tribute to the Brazilian people’, really are a unique landmark to behold. Look familiar? The Escadaria have featured in countless films and music videos including this gem.
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