There's nowhere else to start other than the sensual, romantic city of Rio. It's the second largest in Brazil, surrounded on three sides by lush green mountains and by the shimmering ocean on the other. It's without a doubt one of the best places to visit in Brazil, if not in the whole of South America. You'll probably want to start by visiting Christ the Redeemer, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and a jaw-dropping piece of architecture. And of course you'll want to spend some time relaxing with a cocktail on the pristine sands of Copacabana, perhaps the most famous beach in the world.
Each February, Rio de Janeiro hosts the mother of all carnivals, and thousands of people flock to the city to celebrate. A major highlight of the carnival is the spectacular Samba Parade, where different samba schools battle it out to win the hearts and minds of the audience and the judges. Fabulous floats cruise along whilst dancers dressed in sensational costumes samba their way through the streets to the infectious rhythm of the percussion bands.
Straddling the border of Brazil and Argentina, the UNESCO listed Iguazu Falls is one of the largest waterfalls in the world. The falls were created where the Iguazu Rover broadens to around 1.5km and then plunges nearly 100m off a basalt plateau in a series of 274 separate cataracts. Each day tonnes of water crashes over the cliffs, creating a constant mist of spray that rises amongst the jungle. The falls sit in a national park home to more than 200 species of plant, 450 species of bird and rare mammals such as the jaguar. This stunning setting of dense jungle interspersed with vivid swarms of butterflies and the constant roar of the falling water combine to forge an unforgettable impression. It’s possible to see the falls from both Brazil and Argentina, and visitors will soon discover that the perspective of Iguazu Falls changes with every step.
Our pick #3
It's less famous than the Amazon, but the Pantanal wetlands are certainly one of the best places to visit in Brazil. Occupying 210,000 square kilometres in the centre of South America, the Pantanal is one of the world’s largest and most diverse freshwater wetland ecosystems. Over half of the Pantanal lies in Brazil and it's a far better place to see some of Brazil's iconic wildlife than the dense jungle of the Amazon. It is estimated that close to 10 million caiman crocodiles call the Pantanal home and during the dry season they can be seen basking by the roadside or fighting for space in the drying lagoons. The Pantanal is also a much better place to spot the elusive jaguar than the dense jungles of the Amazon. For nature lovers everywhere, the Pantanal is not to be missed.
The thriving metropolis of Sao Paulo is Brazil’s largest city and a beehive of activity. With an overwhelming array of attractions including world-class museums, nightly concerts, experimental theatre and dance, it’s no wonder it’s deemed the country’s cultural capital. And with its nightclubs, restaurants and bars amongst the best in South America, it’s a popular place to be. It wasn’t always so as Sao Paulo remained a colonial backwater for much of its history. The 19th century saw the city creep from the shadows and the explosion of immigrant workers in the 20th century brought new life to Sao Paulo. With a population of 17 million people from all over the world, the city is Brazil’s most culturally diverse destination. For the wandering traveller, a stroll through Sao Paulo’s neighbourhoods is a window into the shops and restaurants of the world.
The Amazon is named after the female warriors of Greek mythology, a fitting title for this colossal rainforest. It sprawls across eight South American countries with two-thirds of the rainforest covering northern Brazil. The facts and figures of the area’s bio-diversity speak for itself with over 30,000 plant species, 1,800 fish, 1,300 bird species and 311 mammals. When it comes to spotting wildlife, patience is a virtue. However this persistence pays off when you come across a sloth hanging in the branches above, hear a monkey howling through the trees or spot a jaguar prowling through the undergrowth. The most popular ways to experience this wildlife wonderland is to sail a canoe down the river and spend a night in a jungle lodge, waking up to the sounds of the animals around you.
Our pick #6
Brasilia, once a utopian dream of an Italian saint, became a reality and the country’s capital city in 1960. Built in less than three years, it was awarded UNESCO World Hertiage Status due to its achievements in town planning. Brasilia has all the trimmings to entertain architect fans, design buffs, food fans and party seekers. As you would expect from a modern city, the attractions centre around the innovate and imaginative architecture. One of the highlights is the Cathedral of Brasilia, an abstract building made of 16 pillars, holding four bells, a reflecting pool and stained-glass walls. Another is Santuario Dom Bosco, a shrine that honours the Italian saint who dreamt of Brasilia in 1883. The plain concrete exterior doesn’t give any indication of the dazzling interior illuminated by 7,400 pieces of glass stained in 12 different shades of blue.
In a destination known for its beautiful beaches, to say a place has some of the country's best is quite a claim. Yet that is what you’ll find in Partay. The small fishing town has many sensational beaches which led you into the sparkling blue sea. There are also 65 idyllic islands dotted around the Bay of Paraty for you to head out to and snorkel the crystal clear waters. However, Paraty is much more than just a perfect beach hideaway. A Portuguese port during the Brazilian Gold Rush in the 17th century, the well-preserved colonial centre remains today. Cars are banned from driving on the cobblestone streets, making it a delightful place to wander past the cafes, bars and restaurants. It’s also the gateway to Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina, the jungle covered mountains a magnificent backdrop.
Our pick #8
Recife’s vibrant culture, flourishing restaurant scene, stunning coastal setting, fabulous entertainment and interesting old town makes it one of Brazil’s most exciting cities. The country’s fourth largest city is named after the coral reef that encircles its coastline. Recife is known for its amazing coast with Boa Viagem beach named one of the world’s best urban beaches. It’s dotted with huts selling food and drink including the traditional coconut water, ‘agua de coco’. One of Brazil’s cultural hubs, it’s home to some of the country’s best known musicians, writers and artists. Casa de Cultura, an old colonial prison converted into an art museum which holds music concerts, is a great place to experience this culture.
Our pick #9
As soon as you arrive in sizzling Salvador you’ll feel the vibrant energy, the rhythm of the infectious beat that runs throughout the city. Due to the influx of visitors catching on to its charming colonial appeal, Salvador has undergone significant development over recent years making it much more user friendly. Yet it has still kept its unique charm, with the African, Brazilian and Portuguese influences all still evident. The historic centre Pelourinho was established by the first Portuguese settlers in Brazil in the mid-1500s. The ornate churches and colourful colonial buildings remain today. The city’s party vibe exceeds itself during Carnival. Six days of celebration, starting at the beginning of Lent, takes over the streets and engulfs the city in one huge celebration. The joy and excitement in the air is utterly infectious and will keep you dancing for days.
Amacao dos Buzios is one of three settlements spread across the peninsula Buzios, nicknamed the ‘St Tropez of Brazil’. Discovered in the early 1960’s by the mainstream travel crowd, it has transformed over the years into a small sophisticated paradise. Armacao de Buzios is the beating heart of the peninsula, a town with spectacular beaches and many things to keep you entertained. Rua das Pedras is a 600 metre long street where you’ll find designer shops, trendy bars, fine dining restaurants and buzzing nightclubs, with everywhere staying open till dawn. Along the picturesque oceanfront promenade Orla Bardot you’ll be able to take a seat on one of the wooden benches and enjoy the scene of colourful fishing boats.
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