From pristine beaches fringed with swaying palms to lively parties that last long into the night, Brazil is a true country of contrasts. Discover the best things to do in Brazil with this insider’s guide. 

If there was one trip that really jump-started my career as a travel writer, it was my first visit to Brazil when I was 18. I only saw Rio de Janeiro and its surrounding areas, but the beaches in Ipanema, along with the food, culture, and a few too many caipirinhas, had me dreaming of spending lots more time in South America – and seeing a lot more of Brazil.

As much as I loved Rio, I knew I had to come back to explore the enchanting metropolis of Sao Paulo, the wildlife in the Amazon and Iguazu Falls and smaller gems like the colonial city of Paraty with its rich culture and pristine white sands.

Brazil has 7,400 km (4,600 miles) of coastline, 4 time zones, and it borders 9 of South America’s 12 countries. So, it’s no surprise that finding the best places in this vast landmass can feel a bit daunting.

After countless visits to the sprawling country (and hopefully many more on the horizon), I’ll help you discover the best places to go in Brazil, from bucket list ticks to hidden gems. Let’s go! 

Best Things to Do in Brazil

Head to Rio de Janeiro for Magical Views, Football and Nightlife 

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Lots of tourists plan a holiday to Rio de Janeiro for Carnival, and if you can, you definitely should. But great news for travellers who can’t make the big party before Lent – there’s always action in Rio. 

Remember how I said I loved Rio de Janeiro on my first trip many years ago? Nothing’s changed on that front. 

Walk around the city day or night, and you can’t help but get swept up in the magic and charm of the sandy beaches in areas like Ipanema and Copacabana or a night of Samba music, dancing, and cocktails at Rio Scenarium in Lapa.

Sugarloaf Mountain

So, where do we start? I think before you really start diving into a location, it’s a great idea to see it from above. Sugarloaf Mountain, or Pao de Azucar, is easily one of the most famous landmarks in Brazil. The best way to see it? Ride the cable car up to the top for top-of-the-world views from the 391-metre (1,283-foot) mountain.

Many visitors know to look for gorgeous landmarks like the iconic Christ the Redeemer perched high on Corcovado Mountain, but the less famous Escadaria Selarón – a 710 metre (2,330-foot) tile mosaic staircase in the colours of Brazil’s flag is no less stunning.

No visit to Rio is complete without one of the most famous stretches of sand and surf on the continent – Ipanema Beach. The shopping, dining, and sunsets at Fasano Rooftop Pool Lounge are all some of the best in Rio, and you might just fall in love like the acclaimed Brazilian songwriter João Gilberto did on this picture-perfect spot.

Rio Sunset

More interested in local culture and sports? Do yourself a favour and find out if a club team (or international friendly) is playing when you visit Rio de Janeiro. Maracanã Stadium is conveniently located downtown and gives visitors a taste of the unparalleled energy of the fans in this famous stadium, standing since the 1950s.

See The Wonder of Iguaçu Falls 


Iguaçu Falls stretches 2.7 km (1.7 miles) on the border of Argentina and Brazil, making it the longest and one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world.

Whether you hike in from the top or bottom or take a boat underneath the hundreds of chutes along the 150-metre (490-foot) wide Devil’s Throat, you can’t help but feel small when you visit the massive rapids in the Atlantic Rainforest.

Only 20% of the falls are in Brazil’s Iguaçu National Park, but the hiking trail on the Brazilian side offers up some of the best scenery on either side of the park.


Another reason I like the Brazil portion of Iguaçu is that because there’s only one hiking trail, it’s easy to find – just pay the entrance fee of around  £32 ($40), and a bus will drop you off at the beginning of the 2-mile out-and-back trail.

You can also opt for the boat ride, which is an amazing way to experience the force of the falls, with a ride under Devil’s Throat, which is nearly 82 metres (270 feet) high.
The waterfalls are spectacular, and hiking also lets you see anteaters, wild cats and other wildlife nearby.

Spend Some Time on Ilha Grande

Ilha Grande Brazil

I’m not sure if it’s an official rule yet, but you can’t go to Paraty without visiting Ilha Grande. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to some of the best hiking trails and beaches anywhere in Brazil.

Most tourists stay in Vila do Abraão at a campground, hostel, or resort. From there, you can spend a weekend exploring the beaches and trails, and my-oh-my, are there some good ones. 

It’s not exactly a secret anymore (since Vogue named it a top 10 beach in the world), but the sparkling blue waters and white sands at Lopes Mendes are stunning. You can swim or snorkel right from the shores of the cove.

Ilha Grande

When you’re ready for a hike, wake up early and watch the sunrise from one of my favourite hikes, Parrot Peak.

Getting There

If you’re staying in Paraty, you can take a bus or taxi to Angra dos Reis and take a ferry to the island. Alternatively, you can book your transport from Rio via bus and boat. 

Lencois Maranhenses National Park

Lençóis Maranhenses, Brazil

Looking for one of Brazil’s most unique landscapes? Of course, you are. Without a doubt, Lencois Maranhenses National Park is one of the coolest experiences you’ll have in the country – a vast landscape of pristine white sand dunes and emerald pools – just be sure to time your trip right. 

To be fair, the 1,500 square km (580 square miles) of white sand dunes in northeastern Brazil are a beauty any time of year. 

Top Tip

Visit from January to June. You’ll witness the desert setting blossom into a bonafide oasis, with spontaneous lagoons popping up between the large mountains of white sand. It’s magical.

Explore the Cobbled Streets of Florianópolis

Praia do Gravata Florianopolis Brazil-2

The postcard-worthy surf town of Florianópolis, south of São Paul, is slowly making its way on travellers’ radars, and you’ll see why the moment you set foot into the colonial village.

From bustling food courts like Quintal de Casa to historical sites like the 16th-century Portuguese fort São José da Ponta Grossa Fortress, it’s an area rich with history and scenery that’s well worth a weekend trip.

It also has some incredible beaches, like the 3km (1.86 miles) long stretch of white sands at Joaquina Beach, which is a perfect place to surf, lay out in the sun, or grab some grilled steak and a beer at Quiosque Da Joaca. 

Architecture in the Capital City, Brasilia 

cathedral, Brasilia

Trivia buffs might already know this, but Rio de Janeiro is not the capital of Brazil. Neither is São Paulo. Hey, I don’t make the rules.

Brasilia is a vibrant capital city and home to some amazing architecture. Don’t believe me? Head straight to the UNESCO World Heritage Site and see the Brasilia Cathedral.

Oscar Niemeyer constructed one of the most eye-catching monuments in the country, using 16 massive white-washed columns that stretch up towards the skies and feature an ornate glass roof connecting them. It’s a bucket list location for architects, and even the most casual observers can’t help but marvel.


But there’s a lot to do for travellers less interested in architecture in this relatively new city established in 1960. Cultural events are frequent, and it’s not uncommon to find free concerts in one of the many public spaces in the city.

There are also some wonderful parks, like the popular Parque Olhos D’Água where locals and tourists can exercise and walk around the small urban lake.

Explore the Beaches and Restaurants in Búzios

Buzios, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

A peninsula extending into the Atlantic Ocean just about 175 km from Rio (109 miles), Búzios is the perfect weekend getaway from weekend getaway when staying in Rio de Janeiro.

The smallish coastal city of Armação de Búzios boasts nearly 2 dozen beaches and is full of surprises like the mellow cove at João Fernandes, which offers some excellent snorkelling and lots of places to grab a snack or cocktail without leaving the beach.

Ready to see more of the town? Spend a night hitting up the bars and restaurants along Rua das Pedras, and you’ll discover why it’s one of my favourite areas in all of Brazil.  From the excellent pizzas and pasta at Primitivo Búzios to the beachy vibes at Canto Restô, you’re in for a treat.

Top Tip

November to February are the busiest times of year, but you can get excellent beach weather in September or October with smaller crowds.

Food and Culture in São Paulo 

Sao Paulo, Brazil

If you’re looking for museums, dining, and nightlife, head to São Paulo. The sprawling cosmopolitan city of over 22 million people (really) has an international flare evident from the diverse restaurant scene and neighbourhoods.

Visiting São Paulo is incredible during Carnival, when you’ll see elaborate costumes, floats, and hear the beautiful sounds of samba ringing through the streets. But the city is a gem whenever you visit. 

Looking for things to do? Spend a few days in this iconic city to explore museums like the impressive collection at São Paulo Museum of Art before trying international cuisine at the most famous market in the city, Mercado Municipal Paulistano.

Mercado Municipal Paulistano

Check out the boutique shops and vibrant dining scene in Italian restaurants and street art in Bixiga.

Wherever you end up in São Paulo, you’ll experience one of the most diverse areas anywhere in Brazil.

Observe Wildlife at Pantanal


The large wetland area bordering Bolivia and Paraguay is home to excellent wildlife viewing opportunities on safaris.

What’s the best way to get there? Pantanal is pretty tricky to reach.

Because of its location and geography, you can expect wet conditions and relatively poorly maintained roads. A guided tour like this one is your best bet, where an expert can help you spot jaguars, howler monkeys, and caiman in the rural countryside interior of Brazil.

Top Tip

I recommend visiting the park’s northern area, known as Mato Grosso, for the best chances of seeing wildlife in the delta and on land.

Soaking Up the Beach Vibes in Trindade


Brazil has thousands of miles of coastline. This means you can find a beach town for just about anybody.

If a laid-back fishing village with hidden shores and scenic hiking trails is your vibe, don’t miss Trindade. Large boulders, white sands, and a jungle forest backdrop make the Trindade beaches some of Brazil’s most scenic.

Praia do Cachadaço is the most well-known cove, but the short hike helps keep it somewhat of a secret and less crowded than beaches in nearby Paraty. 

Adventuring in Natal


Whether you’re looking for adventure on the beach or land, Natal offers plenty to do for thrill-seekers of all levels.  Located in northern Brazil, Natal is most famous for the dunes and lagoons adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean, which make it the best place to go off-roading in Brazil.

Sandboarding, snorkelling, and ziplining are all other outdoor adventures that make this a must-visit for adrenaline junkies. But it’s off-roading on the beach that draws many people to the capital of  Rio Grande do Norte in northeastern Brazil.

Top Tip

Some of the most scenic beaches in Brazil are in Natal. Genipabu Beach is the most popular, and it’s lovely. But if you drive an hour south to Camurupim Beach, you’ll find a beautiful, calm beach for swimming.

Discover the Culture and Cuisine in Salvador


Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are famous for a reason. And they are truly worth visiting. But the lively city of Salvador in Bahia is my choice for where to see the iconic festival like a local. The costumes, food, music, and street festivals in this eclectic coastal city are all reasons to visit, but the friendly residents are the life of the party. 

Exploring vibrant neighbourhoods like Pelourinho any time of year is a great opportunity to learn more about Afro-Brazilian culture, which you can see examples of through a capoeira performance on the street or by sampling dishes like acarajé, a black-eyed pea fritter similar to akara.

You can find beautiful clothing and souvenirs at shops like Shopping do Pelô or head to a local restaurant like Restaurante Donana – Brotas to try Moqueca, which is a beautiful stew featuring a coconut milk fish broth and fresh local seafood.


Interested in learning local customs? Check out the experienced dancers in Salvador, the capital of Bahia, who you can see in local parks and at the Forte de Santo Antônio early in the day.

Capoeira is a spectacular art form featuring non-contact material arts performed to Berimbau and Atabaque rhythms, that became famous in Brazil after the slave trade began around the 16th century.

In short, Salvador is one of the most vibrant cities in Brazil, and somewhere you need to add to your South America itinerary.

Explore Maceió


Want to visit a low-key beachside town on your trip to Brazil? Maceió is a beautiful little village that’s perfect for relaxing, dining, and spending long days on the perfect beaches. 

Palm trees, white sands, and clear blue waters are the vibe at spots like Ipioca Beach and Praia do Gunga down the coast.

But it’s not all about the beaches here. Ok, it kind of is, but the nightlife is excellent, too. Start your evening off at the laid-back Divina Gula for some seafood and steak in an airy setting with indoor and outdoor seating. When you’re ready to party, get some cocktails on the beach at Clube do Pirata or Kanoa Beach Bar.

Visit the Natural Pools of Maragogi

Natural Pools of Maragogi

If you’re looking to go snorkelling or scuba diving in Brazil, you’ll want to schedule a day trip to the natural pools of Maragogi from Maceió. Why? You’ll enjoy calm, warm waters with some of the best visibility anywhere in Brazil.

Expect to see beautiful blue waters, tropical fish, and coral reefs on this adventure, from Maceió to the shallow ocean pools.

You can find tours heading out from beachside resorts in Maceió or take this guided tour

Top Tip

If you want to scuba dive, Galés is the most popular pool. It also offers excellent snorkelling and swimming, if that’s more your speed.

Sail to Fernando de Noronha 

Fernando de Noronha 

Located off the northeastern coast of Brazil, Fernando de Noronha is a dream day trip for anyone who’s ever wanted to sail a pristine stretch of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean in South America.

You’ll see the dramatic mountain peak of Morro do Pico and remote island shores from a catamaran cruise.

Looking for wildlife? Lemon sharks and white terns are just two creatures you may see on the open waters near Fernando de Noronha.  Take a Catamaran Tour to Fernando de Noronha to experience the open waters with an expert guide. 

Top Tip

You’ll get the warmest, sunniest weather if you visit from August through October. 

Sample Feijoada


The Brazilian staple of Feijoada might not strike you as something you need to try, but the simple recipe of slow-cooked black beans with beef or pork (or a combination of both) in spices is seriously delicious.

Order this dish when you’re in Rio, São Paulo, or really anywhere you see it, and take note of regional differences where the meat, beans, and seasoning may change.

So, where’s the best feijoada in all of Brazil? That’s a tough call. But I’d recommend trying Bar do Mineiro in Rio de Janeiro, or Tempero das Gerais in São Paulo for 2 examples that both tourists and locals swear by.

Explore the Amazon Rainforest

Amazon Rainforest

Visiting the Amazon is a must when you travel to South America. And you can experience the tropical rainforest at its best when you tour the Ipanema River north of Reserva Extrativista Rio Unini.

Highlights include fishing for piranhas (really), spotting dolphins meandering downriver, and sleeping in the jungle for a few nights. But Brazil is home to 6.68 square metres (2.58 million square miles) of the Amazon Rainforest, so there’s a lot to explore.

I recommend starting in Manaus and scheduling a tour to find hidden gems like the Gruta do Refugio Cave, where you’ll find wildlife like alligators and bats, or cool off in the pools below the Waterfalls of President Figueiredo.

Keep your eyes open in the tropical forests for sloths, poison dart frogs, and other exotic wildlife on your journey. 

Spend a Weekend in Paraty

Praia do Cepilho - Paraty

I dare you to go to Paraty for a weekend and not cancel your return flight. 

Ok, I’m (mostly) kidding, but the small colonial city between Rio and São Paulo charms visitors with its laid-back vibe, picture-perfect scenery, and abundance of outdoor activities. You’ll find  some great accommodation (I like Pousada do Ouro), and lots of lively places to eat and drink.

Kayaking and hiking are extraordinary here (I actually spent a week on a kayaking and hiking retreat in the area quite a few years ago), but I don’t blame you if you just want to kick back and relax on the best beaches. 

Top Tip

Visit Vermelha Beach and Lula Beach for 2 of my favourite places to swim and suntan.

Try a Caipirinha, the National Cocktail


With a country as acclaimed for its nightlife as Brazil, you know there’s bound to be some excellent libations. And, of course, the country’s national drink is a boozy concoction that speaks for itself. 

Try a Caipirinha whenever and wherever you can, and thank me later. The simple yet delicious drink features cachaça (think sugar cane spirit with a more earthy funk) alongside muddled limes and sugar.

It’s delicious on its own, but when you start trying versions made with anything from mangos to passion fruit, you’ll understand why it’s a drink you can’t afford to miss a chance to try.

Practical Tips for Your Brazil Trip

Praia do Gravata Florianopolis Brazil

Brazil is a massive country with large cities, small towns, jungles, and beaches. As such, you’ll need to map out where you plan to go and how you’ll get there. 

Most travellers fly into Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo and take a taxi or Uber to their accommodations. It’s easy to find hotels in most major tourist areas. 

You will want to be careful when getting around and not bring valuables to the beach or around town. I suggest getting an anti-theft backpack and never holding your phone out when walking or taking transportation in major cities. 

Other Top Tips for Your Visit 

  • There are lots of bugs in Brazil, especially if you venture to the Amazon. Bring anti-insect sleepwear and bug spray. Trust me. 
  • I recommend travel insurance anytime you travel internationally, but medical care in Brazil is very difficult to get without proof that you’re covered or have the funds in your bank.
  • You can do a lot for free when visiting Brazil. Some of the best museums, like Museu Afro Brasil in São Paulo, and live entertainment don’t cost a dime.
  • If you can visit for Carnival, you definitely should. You can find amazing parties in Rio de Janeiro, but also consider Salvador and São Paulo, which are just as fun.

How Long to Visit in Brazil? 


Unless you’re only planning on visiting one city, you’ll want a minimum of 2 weeks to explore this massive country in South America. If you can extend your stay though, do. 

Best Time to Visit


With a country as large as Brazil, it can be tough to narrow in on when exactly to plan your trip.

Here are a few of my favourite ideas for when to plan your visit.

December to March: If you’re planning your trip around days at the beach, you’ll want to schedule your visit for Brazil’s summer (December to March). 

September through November: You can visit the best Brazil attractions, restaurants, and beaches with smaller crowds in the spring. 

February and March: Carnival. Need I say more? The dates change each year, but Carnival always falls on the days leading up to Lent, so check your calendar for exact dates.

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