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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Best Places to Visit in Brazil: 7 Top Destinations

Brazil is a country that bursts with vibrant culture, stunning landscapes, and an array of breathtaking destinations. It’s also a country where the local people put fun first, which you can see on display with Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival or at the many laid-back beach resort areas on the long coastline. It’s not easy to decide where to go in such a large country, so we’ve highlighted seven of the best places to visit in Brazil.

places to visit in Brazil - Rio

You can narrow it down from here depending on your interests. If you’re up for adventure, you’ve got Iguacu Falls, the Amazon River and rainforest, and the Pantanal wildlife area. If you like cities, head to the largest city of Sao Paulo, to Rio, or to Salvador. If you’re an island lover, see the last option at the bottom.

With a country this vast and varied, it makes sense to partner up with a tour company, especially if it’s your first time visiting. For vacations and Brazil holidays, it’s going to save a huge amount of time if you let someone else take care of the plans and logistics. A Brazil expert can easily set up all the transportation and make sure you hit the highlights of wherever you’re going.

Brazil has long been a laggard when it comes to luxury lodging options though, with “barefoot chic” being the norm on the coasts and most upscale hotels catering to business travelers more than vacationers. As the dollar and euro have gained on the Brazilian real in recent years, however, the value proposition has increased quite a bit and it’s easier for wealthy travelers to go for the best of the best in lodging without seeing insanely high prices that were prevalent a decade ago.

Every destination in Brazil tells a story, unfolds history, and offers experiences that stay with you long after you leave. The main challenge is figuring out what to prioritize in the itinerary in what is the largest country by far in South America. This land mass occupies half of the whole continent. It’s larger than the size of the lower 48 states in the USA but has about a third fewer people.

We’ve narrowed down the options for you according to where you’ll find the best tours, the best places to stay, and the highest level of service. So, pack your bags, embrace the warmth of the Brazilian spirit, and prepare to discover some of the most memorable places on the planet. These destinations are poised to make your trip to Brazil unforgettable.

Rio de Janeiro

Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro Brazil

Rio de Janeiro presents a vibrant tapestry of cultural richness, blending historical architecture with urban energy and beaches that have inspired songs and paintings since the first visitors arrived. There’s enough to easily keep you occupied for a week here, from exploring Sugarloaf Mountain and the Christ the Redeemer statue to riding a streetcar through the Santa Teresa neighborhood and lazing on the beach.

This is a great city for dining and drinking, of course, with a festive atmosphere that’s contagious. There are only a few luxury Rio hotels that are up to our standards, but you can see full reviews of them at that link and most are facing the famous Copacabana Beach.

I enjoyed the laid-back attitude that abounds in Rio, with guys strolling down the beach selling Caipirinha cocktails and the ability to get a cold beer almost anywhere. There are a lot of casual places to grab a bite and even the fancy places aren’t overly pretentious.

Sao Paulo

Hotel Unique Sao Paulo

While São paulo is known more as the pulsing business headquarters of the country than a tourist center, its status as host of the country’s busiest airport means that a lot of international flights arrive here from cities in the USA, Canada, and Europe. So it makes sense to stick around a little while after arrival before heading out to other parts of Brazil.

This is the main culinary destination of the country, home to most of the restaurants from Brazil that turn up on lists of the best places to dine in South America. Those getting a nod from the judges include A Casa do Porco, Oteque, D.O.M, Maní, and Mocotó.

As for attractions, you can visit one of South America’s top art museums, head to the top of the 161-meter Farol Santander skyscraper for panoramic views, or get a grip on Brazil’s history at the Museu Afro-Brasil. If you’re a big soccer fan, visit the Museu do Futebol.

This is a good place to take some kind of city tour with a guide, though try to avoid the peak traffic times or you’ll spend much of it in your vehicle. This city is blessed with some of the best places to stay in the country. See our reviews of luxury Sao Paulo hotels.

Salvador de Bahia

Fera Palace Hotel Salvador Bahia

Nestled in the state of Bahia, Salvador captivates with its historic charm and deeply rooted Afro-Brazilian culture. It is one of the longest-established colonial cities in the Americas, dating back to the 1500s. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site nearly four decades ago.

The neighborhood of Pelourinho is at the heart of this port city, featuring cobblestone streets lined with colorful colonial buildings, churches, and museums. A stroll here immerses you in the city’s storied past, and the palpable rhythm of Bahian music and dance enlivens your spirit.

This is the third-largest city in Brazil, however, so you will have plenty of options for shopping, dining, and drinking when you’re ready to spend some of your vacation money. This is actually Brazil’s second most popular city for tourists after Rio, thanks to 50 miles of beaches spreading out in both directions along the coast.

Iguaçu Falls

Iguacu Falls from the Brazilian side - by Luxury Latin America

Sometimes spelled as Iguazu Falls or Iguassu Falls, the cascades here are unrivaled anywhere else in the Americas. Stunning already from the Argentine side, the view from the Brazilian side is even better, with the thundering falls right up close to you and a rainbow suspended in the air on sunny days.

The falls get most of the attention, but there’s plenty to do in the area also in terms of hikes, birdwatching trips, and boat rides. Stay at one of the top Iguacu Falls luxury hotels on the Brazilian side and spend some time soaking it all in.

Want to get an advance look at the scenery? Watch the classic 1986 historical movie The Mission starring Jeremy Irons, Robert De Niro, and Liam Neeson.

Amazon Rainforest Exploration

Brazil Amazon vacation

The Amazon Rainforest is a realm of biodiversity that is unrivaled on the planet. Often called the Earth’s lungs, this ecosystem is host to a wide variety of wildlife. Home to countless species of flora and fauna, it’s a must-visit for nature lovers.

You have several options for exploring this area, whether based in a jungle lodge like Anavilhanas or cruising down the Amazon River on a ship that visits different areas. A good guide will make all the difference, with the best of them being locals who grew up in the rainforest and are intimately familiar with all the medicinal plants and what lives in various parts of the jungle.

You’ll probably fly in and out of Manaus and it’s worth spending a little time there as well. It’s a surprisingly large metropolis, with more than two million people.

Pantanal Wildlife Safari

Cristalino Amazon rainforest lodge

Photo by Luis Gomes

The Pantanal is the largest tropical wetland in South America and a treasure trove of wildlife. You’re likely to encounter everything from capybaras to jaguars in this rich ecosystem. You can see macaws and toucans in the air and much more on the ground. Here’s how tk describes it in their Brazil wildlife tours section:

About 250 species of fish, 80 of mammals, 50 of reptiles and over 650 of birds live together harmoniously. Explore the riparian forest and mangroves spotting Otters, have a go at piranha fishing, learn about the fauna on horseback and try a night safari to spot nocturnal animals.

If you’re coming all this way, you might as well do it right and stay at the best nature lodge in the region. See our review of Cristalino Lodge.

Coastal Paradise in Fernando de Noronha

Pousada Maravilha

Locals speak in awe about Fernando de Noronha, an idyllic archipelago with white sand beaches and crystal-clear water. It’s a rather remote place to visit, 220 miles from the mainland, which is part of its charm. It is known for excellent snorkeling and scuba diving. See our travel story on Fernando de Noronha here.

The top place to stay in the area is Pousada Maravilha, with one of its views pictured above. Follow that link to read a full review.

This is just a small sampling of places to visit in Brazil. This is a vast country and we haven’t even touched on the beautiful beach areas in the north such as Florianopolis, Fortaleza, and Ceara, some with massive sand dunes you can hike on. These draw travelers from around the world, especially those who are spending weeks or months in the country instead of just coming on a short vacation.

Which places did you like the most when you visited Brazil? Let us know in the comments!

All photos by Luxury Latin America except where indicated.

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