Brazil has some of the sexiest, swoon-inducing stretches of sand in the world. We’ve all heard of Copacabana and Ipanema, but the country has thousands of miles of unspoilt coral coves, balmy bays and coconut palm-shaded coast beyond Rio.

Glorious beaches fringe much of the country’s 7500 km-long coastline, from the steamy tropical coast in the north to the sweeping strands of silvery sand near the southern Argentinean border. And they offer far more than beautiful people in tiny swimwear and sultry sunbathing. Brazil is one of the world’s hottest beach destinations, with chic low-key resorts, miles of empty white sand, coral reefs and superb wind- and kite-surfing. Here, Alex Robinson picks six of the best beaches in Brazil.

For a city setting: Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro 

Nestled between a bottle-green ocean, a heart-shaped lagoon and the towering, forest-covered boulder-mountains of the Serra do Mar, no city beach has a setting that can match Ipanema’s. Visit the far southern end for an early breakfast in buttery yellow light, grab a chair at one of the simple beach shacks and order an ice-cold, freshly-cut coconut and an energising açai berry sorbet. Then sit back and watch the city’s beautiful people emerge for their start-of-the-day dip.

Cacimba do Padre beach, Fernando de Noronha island, BraziImage by Alex Robinson

For an island getaway: Cacimba do Padre, Fernando de Noronha, Pernambuco

Fernando de Noronha island is a  pinnacle of crumbling granite fringed with pristine coral reef and set in deep ocean an hour’s flight off Brazil’s northeastern coast. The entire island is ringed with fabulous beaches – many of them protected as turtle-nesting sites – but Cacimba do Padre is the most spectacular, a kilometre long broad stretch of downy soft sand, set between craggy headlands and pounded by powerful, tubing surf.

For fresh-water wading: Pequeiro beach, Ilha do Marajó, Pará

Not all Brazil’s beaches are salt-water. Pesqueiro sits on Marajó island – a sandbank the size of Denmark in the mouth of the Amazon river. It’s mind-numbingly vast – running the length of a European country to the north, broken by tiny fishing villages with stilt houses, caiman-filled mangrove swamps and towering Amazon rainforest. And it’s washed by a gentle, fresh-water river-sea which flows broad and deep into the Atlantic and a distant horizon, turning the ocean mineral-water sweet for almost a hundred kilometres offshore.

Lopes Mendes, Ilha Grande, Rio de Janeiro stateImage by Alex Robinson

For mountainous backdrops: Lopes Mendes, Ilha Grande, Rio de Janeiro state

The mountains of southeastern Brazil’s Atlantic forest drop into an emerald green ocean in a run of verdant ridges, rising again offshore as a ripple of islands. The most beautiful of these is Ilha Grande, or Big Island – a few hours bus ride south of Rio. As it's covered in tropical forest and has no roads, transport to the island’s myriad marvellous beaches is by brightly-painted fishing boat or walking trail. Lopes Mendes is around two hours' trek from the island’s only village Abrãao, on a path that cuts up into monkey-filled trees, then dropping onto the sand through a series of tiny, balmy bays, and finally cutting into Lopes Mendes itself – a wild, three kilometre strand sitting in the heart of the island’s protected state park.

For lavish luxury: Trancoso, Bahia

Trancoso is a boho beach village clustered around a square of old Portuguese cottages and a tiny church, sitting on a high sandstone cliff between the rainforest and tens of kilometres of long, empty golden beaches. Over the last decade it’s become the playground for Brazil’s off-duty jet set. Supermodels and their sun-kissed celebrity cohorts flock here for New Year, staying in barefoot luxury at a string of effortlessly cool boutique resorts. You can spot them in the evenings – fine-dining al fresco under the stars and dancing samba into the small hours at beach bars. Or you could ignore them altogether and find an empty beach all to yourself. There are plenty to go around.

Sand dunes at Jericoacoara, BrazilImage by Alex Robinson

For sand dunes: Jericoacoara, Ceará

Strong prevailing Atlantic winds have swept sand off the broad pink-and-white beaches into towering dunes, which roll far inland, enclosing shallow salt water lagoons and marshes. The views from the dune crests are stunning, with golden sunsets fading over the sands into shades of brilliant red and pink. And the reliable winds, placid sea and myriad lagoons have made Jericoacoara a favourite spot among kite- and wind-surfers weary of the crowded Mediterranean. Surfing here is easy – the town has a string of board rental shops, almost all of which offer classes for kite- and wind-surfers of all levels.

Explore more of Brazil with the Rough Guide to Brazil. Compare flights, book hostels for your trip, and don't forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

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