Brazil is a vast country, considering that its surface is almost equal to that of the entire European continent. Obviously, being a country so vast, it is normal that travelers can see a variety of landscapes and completely different places.
Considering only the really outstanding places and excluding the places that are just beautiful we are not sure that you will be able to visit them all during a single trip, and it could last six weeks, with some of the biggest and fascinating cities in the world and with lovely colorful colonial towns surrounded by tropical greenery. In short, the point is that in Brazil there is a lot to see!
For this reason, the first thing I recommend to anyone who is preparing to organize a trip to this country is to very carefully prepare your itinerary without committing the sin of gluttony. For those planning for a two or three week holiday, my advice to you, for example, is to choose between two routes, one through the north and one through the south.
Now I confess one thing, I always shelved Brazil as a destination for two main reasons, the first is because it seemed a highly touristic place and because many people had painted it as one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Fortunately, the rumors have never been a limit in my life. As often it happens when the seed is planted for departure, my attention started to lean on this great country, or should I say the continent through books, photos, research, stories, guides and organizing my trip to Brazil.
Here is your guide to the most beautiful places and the destinations in Brazil from how and when to use the taxi and the bus to the important things about the accommodation that you would not know to the climate, the best time to travel, useful information and the best travel guides and blogs available for free online.
Here is everything you need to organize your trip independently in the largest country in South America that cover not only Rio and Salvador, the Pantanal and the Amazon but also the charming villages overlooking the sea where the sandy streets are still amidst the most spectacular beaches of Bahia and the Northeast and the most interesting colonial towns.
You'd struggle to find the calm and clear sea, and the Caribbean Sea to be clear, in Brazil is the protagonist of the ocean. But you will have beautiful beaches, lined with palm trees, that is full of life between December and February, which is often deserted and all for you if you travel in August and September. The presence of excellent varied cuisine, as well as a relative peace from the health point of view if you travel in the dry season, make Brazil one of the tropical countries perhaps best suited to a trip with children.
Above all, you will find happy and friendly people, who speak little or no English.
Where to go in Brazil?
These following are the destinations that deserve your attention when you visit.
São Paulo is the large and wealthy South American city, that is alive 24 hours a day as New York.
Rio de Janeiro has the mountains into the city, the beautiful bay, the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, that is full of zest for life and is probably the most spectacular cities on the planet.
Salvador da Bahia has the largest and best preserved colonial history of Latin America, that is full of atmosphere, picturesque streets, and colorful colonial buildings, and is the heart of Afro-Brazilian culture.
Paraty is a jewel between sea and forest with mountains in the background, that is just 4 hours from Rio.
Ouro Preto and Tiradentes are the two most beautiful and best preserved of the Cidades históricas of Minas Gerais and are a few hours drive from Belo Horizonte.
Olinda is high on the hill overlooking the azure ocean with an overwhelming carnival. Pernambuco is just a few minutes from the big city of Recife.
São Luis, located between the Northeast and the Amazon is little visited.
If there's a beautiful beach destination in the entire south of Brazil is the Ilha do Mel, where there are no cars, only sandy roads, and magnificent beaches. The place is quiet and never crowded. You can get there by boat from Paranaguá, which is just over an hour by bus to the east of Curitiba in Paraná.
Trancoso, overlooking the ocean, has long deserted beaches lined with palm trees, the magic of the Quadrado and stylish restaurants lit by torches and candles with beautiful boutiques and dirt roads, designers, models and the Pirelli calendar and to date has the chicest resort of Brazil. Bahía is just south of Porto Seguro.
Itacaré is a young and vibrant town, just outside the small bays and is accessible on foot through the rain forest, and has a sea with perfect waves for surfing. Bahia is just north of Ilheus.
Morro de São Paulo is full of young people, with life and parties, for those who want to have fun. There are no cars. You can get there from Salvador da Bahia in 2 hours by catamaran or with a combination of bus and boat.
Mangue Seco has the river, dunes, and sandy streets, and has one of the most remote villages of Brazil, which is difficult to reach and is outside the usual tourist routes. In the far north of Bahía but more easily accessible from Aracaju is Sergipe. The access is only by boat or off-road along the beach at low tide.
Barra de São Miguel is protected by the reef, with palm trees, the river estuary and the famous Praia do Gunga. Continuing south is the pristine and idyllic beach of Pontal do Coruripe and the sleepy, little-known colonial village of Penedo along the Rio São Francisco. There is the beautiful Alagoas, one of the Brazilian states less well-known abroad, and can be accessed from Maceió, the capital.
Canoa Quebrada is just two hours south of Fortaleza, which is a bit hippie, with Broadway's pedestrian street, lively weekends, beautiful red sand cliffs and an endless beach. Here is the large and beautiful dune with buggy rides along the desert coast for miles and miles.
Jericoacoara is only practicable by 4WD, that has the dunes, colored lagoons and sandy roads, pretty pousadas and a bit of nightlife and is a remote paradise. Ceará is 6 hours travel northwest of Fortaleza.
Ilha Grande, including Rio and Paraty has high mountains, jungles, beaches and clear water, where there are no cars, and you have to just move on foot or by boat.
Barra Grande is a fishing village with sandy streets and the charm of Taipus de Fora beach. In the remote Peninsula of Maraú in Bahia, which is accessible only by boat from Camamu and 4WD from Itacaré or in Cessna from Salvador.
Fernando de Noronha, without any question has the most spectacular beach in all of Brazil and one of the most beautiful, pristine and peaceful spots in the world.
The Iguaçu Falls is the largest and most spectacular waterfalls in the world, in the woods, in the south on the border with Argentina and Paraguay.
In The Pantanal you can observe caimans, anacondas, and jaguars. It can be reached from Cuiabá in Mato Grosso or from Campo Grande in Mato Grosso do Sul.
Bonito has incredible caves, crystal clear fresh water, where you can swim in the river in the midst of colorful fish. Still, little known outside Brazil is Mato Grosso do Sul.
The Chapada Diamantina is a wild plateau with canyons, caves and waterfalls, and the timeless atmosphere of remote places. To Bahia, there is one weekly flight or is a 6-hour drive from Salvador by bus.
The Lençóis Marhanense is one of the most spectacular and unusual places in all of South America, with a desert of sand and transparent lagoons, which were unknown until about twenty years ago with remote villages and fishermen in the oceanfront. Maranhão is accessible from São Luis, or with a long drive from Jericoacoara along the shoreline in 4WD for hundreds of kilometers.
The Amazon is the largest forest on the planet.
Brazil Travel Tips
You need not worry too much for travel by land, as in Brazil, it is easy to get taxis and buses which are almost always available. Taxis are usually metered. The Bandeira 1 (the number 1 will appear on the meter) is the normal rate, while Bandeira 2 is more expensive (and will appear on the meter obviously 2). The subway runs in Rio, Sao Paulo, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre, Recife, Teresina, Fortaleza, and Salvador.
Have you brought your luggage, camera, cash, all your credit cards and the precious passport, on city buses, you must always pay close attention to yourself and to your stuff. If you love to move by public transport, because it makes you feel more like a resident than a tourist or because it is cheap, well, it's a very good idea during the day. In the evening take a taxi always.
In Brazil, for longer trips, the train does not exist and you have to travel by plane or by bus. If you go to Brazil to spend 2 or 3 weeks vacation, always take the plane for all long journeys, as there is no point wasting precious time, and favor the bus when you have to move along the coast and the route does not exceed 6 hours.
Traveling by bus is part of the culture of the country, as the service is great, both on board and on the ground and bus stations. It is easy to buy a ticket, a drink or a snack or go to the bathroom. The frequencies are often numerous. Long-distance buses are the best way of getting around, which are clean and cheap.
Renting a car in Brazil makes sense if you make a circular route or wish to move independently in small areas of the country. If you move on-the-road along the coast it is the best vehicle. That said, there are two areas of the country where it can be really useful to hire a car.
From Belo Horizonte explore the charming small Cidades históricas of Minas Gerais with colonial jewels like Ouro Preto, São João del Rei, Tiradentes, and Congonhas and if you intend to move from Rio de Janeiro to the south in the direction of Angra dos Reis and Paraty and to explore the fascinating stretch of coast between Ubatuba and Paraty.
If your intention is, however, to visit the beautiful Ilha Grande, on the island, there are no roads in fact. To reach the beaches you can move only on foot or by boat. If you have a car you will need to leave it in a parking lot on the coast.
Trains in Brazil
The train service in Brazil is practically nonexistent, limited to some local lines for use by commuters, especially in the area of São Paulo, and the line between Belo Horizonte and Vitória in the state of Espírito Santo. The designed speed line between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo is for now only on paper. But there are a select few that perhaps will interest you.
First of all, Maria-Fumaça is the famous steam train service between São João del Rei and Tiradentes, with a 2-hour trip in the past between the landscapes of Minas Gerais or the route between Ouro Preto and Mariana. In the state of Parana, the Serra Verde Express runs daily from Curitiba to the colonial town of Morretes with an interesting journey through the mountains and the Atlantic Forest. The journey takes about three hours, which sometimes is spectacular especially when you cross the Carvalho viaduct until the Paranaguá station located on the Atlantic coast.
If you travel in Brazil during the austral summer, from December to March, or during the school holidays in July, always book everything in advance as the hotels are always full. In this period the Brazilians travel a lot and at the same time, the country welcome many foreign tourists. The beaches overflow with people who want to have fun.
In the seaside resorts, a minimum stay of 4 or 7 nights is required. You have to book very much in advance and know that you will have to pay the highest prices of the year. Other logistically difficult period is during the carnival. The hotels in Rio and Salvador apply the minimum stay of 4 or 5 nights unless you want to sleep on the beach, which you must absolutely book early.
Traveling in Brazil in August and September is a great idea, as prices are low, and you will have no availability problems (except in some areas of Ceara where it is peak season) and the weather is generally good or acceptable almost everywhere. You'll often have long beaches all for you.
Some think that South America is all super cheap. Brazil is a very expensive country. In many aspects, such as the cost of hotels in big cities, is similar to Europe, but with the South American standard. This leads to two solutions. Either you travel out of the big centers or places of tourist impact or have alternative arrangements as I did with the homestays.
It is always said that Brazilians have the party in the blood, and it's true, but in a highly positive way. It is very easy to make friends, even if you speak little Portuguese, people strive to understand you and to help you. The Brazilians are very happy to meet foreigners and those interested in their culture will be glad to show you the best of their land, or even of their small country, to talk for hours or simply to teach you to Samba and Forro dance.
Many associate Brazil as a sex tourism destination, which unfortunately is the reality, especially in the northeast. But apart from this practice that is a plague, it is good to know and understand their way of approaching the physicality and sex. The Brazilians are Latinos, who love to dance and have free sexual lives and do not have negative judgments on those who have many partners, whether man or woman.
In Brazil, people kiss each other more easily than they do in Europe and often the kiss is just a nice way to end an evening. In short, there is no need to demonize any behavior, they only have different habits.
A crowd drinking liters of beer and dancing nonstop for two weeks is challenging and the carnival is a beautiful moment to live in Brazil, but I recommend you to not to roam the streets alone because this whole crowd could make you lost or claustrophobic in some cases.
The south route can start from the colorful city of Salvador de Bahia, continuing into the hinterland of the state of Bahia, or the beautiful Chapada Diamantina, and down to Rio de Janeiro, Florianopolis, finishing the impressive Iguaçu waterfalls in the border with Argentina.
The north route could start from Recife, a privileged point for a visit to the colorful town of Olinda, then continue towards Natal with a stop in Praia da Pipa for dolphin watching, and a visit to Canoa Quebrada, an idyllic village nestled among the tall dunes, and still climb towards Jericoacoara, where people live permanently in flip flops, not forgetting a visit to Lençóis, an enchanting place that offers breathtaking panorama shots, to finish the tour in the Amazon rainforest.
The Brazil Air Pass, allow you to travel through the most colorful cities in Brazil in an easy and economical manner availing discounts than normal rates on all domestic flights, which provide daily connections between numerous cities and major tourist centers.
My stay in Brazil lasted only a month, and I could not see even a fifth, but now I know what areas I want to return. To learn about all of Brazil is definitely not enough in one trip but I'm sure that, whatever path you choose, the desire to return will follow.