The mighty rivers of the Amazon, the pulsing Carnaval rhythms, bone-white beaches and footballing flair: almost everyone on the planet knows something about Brazil. Yet South America’s biggest country still holds plenty of surprises. Discover the rich culture and stunning beauty of this destination with our Rough Guide list of the best things to do in Brazil and get inspiration for planning your trip.
The most famous of all images of Rio is that of the vast statue of Christ the Redeemer gazing across the bay from the Corcovado (hunchback) hill, and to visit Rio without making the tourist pilgrimage up the Corcovado is nigh on unthinkable, but do plan ahead, as you need to buy your ticket in advance.
Displays of capoeira – often accompanied by the characteristic rhythmic twang of the berimbau – usually take the form of a pair of dancers/fighters leaping and whirling in stylized “combat”.
Apart from the phenomenal display of Brazilian and imported fruit, vegetables, cheese and other produce, the market is most noted for its enormous stained-glass windows depicting scenes of cattle raising, market gardening, and coffee and banana plantations.
The food stalls are particularly known for their especially tasty pastéis de bacalhau (saltfish pasties), and if you head up to the mezzanine, there’s a whole range of patio restaurants serving authentic food in a colourful setting.
The region is a stunning blend of swamp water with gallery forest, savannah and lakeside scrub forest, and it is dissected by around 175 rivers into roughly seventeen segments, each with its distinctive landscape and micro-ecosystem. If you are a fan of wildlife, visiting this place should be high on your list of things to do in Brazil.
Our guide to visiting Brazil's Pantanal has the lowdown on everything you need to know about the country's top wildlife destination. And our tailor-made trip to North Pantanal & Amazonia will help you to discover the Pantanal in all its wild beauty.
Since opening, the theatre has been Brazil’s most prestigious artistic venue, hosting visiting Brazilian and foreign orchestras, opera and theatre companies, and singers. Tours can be booked at the box office at the back of the building.
The park is one of Brazil’s major trekking destinations, but also offers plenty of opportunities for canoeing and climbing.
The servers, known as "gauchos," come to the table with the skewers of meat and carve portions directly onto the diners' plates. Churrascarias are popular in Brazil, particularly in the southern regions where the gaucho culture originated.
During the day sunlight does strange things to it – it does look blue in shadow – but the time to see it is at either dawn or sunset when it turns all kinds of colours in a spectacular natural show.
A candomblé cult house, or terreiro, is headed by a mãe do santo (literally “holy mother”) or pai do Santo (“holy father’”), who directs the operations of dozens of novices and initiates. The usual objective is to persuade the spirits to descend into the bodies of worshippers, which is achieved by sacrifices, offerings of food and drink, and above all by drumming, dancing and the invocations of the mãe or pai do Santo.
A few hours north of Brasília and easily accessible by bus, the park has good local support for tourism, and apart from the occasional holidaying diplomat up from the capital, it is still remarkably unknown as a destination to foreign tourists.
Although businesses in the historic centre are overwhelmingly geared toward tourists, the wider community has not been engulfed by wealthy outsiders. It’s a great place to wander around, each corner bringing another picturesque view, small enough that there’s no danger of getting lost, and safe at any hour of the day or night.
The island has a subtropical climate, rarely cold in winter and with a summer heat that is tempered by refreshing South Atlantic breezes. Nevertheless, don’t expect an untouched paradise. The island is peppered with resorts and holiday condos, and is surprisingly built up, with its mostly narrow roads often clogging up with local traffic regardless of tourists – this is one of the richest parts of Brazil and it looks it.
Explore the diversity of Brazil's beaches with our guide to the best beaches in Brazil.
Unsurprisingly, the town is also the most visited in the region, but it’s far from becoming a giant museum. Touristy shops and restaurants dominate the centre, but this remains a working town with a population of over 70,000 – get up early on a weekday and you’ll see locals drinking coffee on the way to work, smell smoke from wood fires and hear church bells ringing for the faithful.
All of these cities have their city beaches plus more idyllic and deserted resorts hidden up and down the coast. The Ilha de Fernando de Noronha, hundreds of kilometres offshore, is one of the finest oceanic wildlife reserves in the world – expensive, but perfect for ecotourism.
Today the park serves as a remarkable example of the potential for the regeneration of the Mata Atlântica. Fauna has also gradually been reintroduced, making the forest once again home to insects, reptiles, ocelots, howler monkeys, agoutis, three-toed sloths and other animals. Most successful of all has been the return of birdlife, making Tijuca a paradise for birdwatchers.
This guided tour to the Tijuca Rain Forest in an open-top jeep will provide you with a unique overview of the delicate balance of a tropical jungle located in the heart of a large, thriving urban area.
Instead, the real work of art is the building itself, whose curved lines are simply beautiful. The views of the headland, nearby beaches and Guanabara Bay as you walk around inside are breathtaking.
Amazon river travel is slow and can be tough going, but it’s a fascinating experience. On bigger boats, there are several classes; in general, it’s better to avoid cabinet, where you swelter in a cabin, and choose primeiro (first class) instead, of sleeping in a hammock on deck. Segundo (second class) is usually hammock space in the lower deck or engine room.
Visitors are encouraged to put on a floating jacket, mask and snorkel, and get into the water with the 35 or so species of fish – mainly dourado and 35cm piripitanga fishes – a ticklish experience with no danger from piranhas, which never swim this far upriver.
West of the Forte de Copacabana, the lively waters of the Praia do Arpoador are popular with families and the elderly as the ocean here is slightly calmer than at Ipanema beach, which is further along, with Leblon beach beyond that. The beaches here are stupendous, and much more tranquil than in Copacabana.
On this tailor-made trip to Breathtaking Brazil, you will explore the lively city of Rio de Janeiro, home to Ipanema and Copacabana beaches; experience the stunning Foz do Iguaçu National Park and see the world’s largest waterfalls system.
But it’s not the falls alone that make Iguaçu so special: the vast surrounding subtropical nature reserve – in Brazil the Parque Nacional do Iguazu, in Argentina the Parque Nacional de Iguazú – is a timeless haunt that even the hordes of tourists fail to destroy.
This tailor-made trip to Paraty & Iguazu starts in the colonial town of Paraty, Costa Verde's main attraction. Jeep rides, beaches, and a lot of cultures are part of the program. Afterwards, fly to Foz do Iguaçu and see the falls from both Argentina & Brazil.
Carnaval’s greatest quality is that it has never become stale, thanks to its status as the most important celebration on the Brazilian calendar, easily outstripping Christmas and Easter. In a city riven by poverty, Carnaval represents a moment of freedom and release. And at the end of the very intense long weekend, there’s a brief collective hangover before attention turns to preparing for the following year’s event.
Oscar Niemeyer designed most of the buildings and Roberto Burle Marx produced impressive designs for landscaping. Inside the park, attractions include the peaceful and unusual Bosque de Leitura (reading woods) – where on Saturdays and Sundays you can borrow Portuguese books from a small outdoor library and sit among the trees reading them – and several of the city’s museums.
Also, you might find some attractive accommodation options in our expert guide to where to stay in São Paulo.
Boasting sixteen stunning beaches, it’s also hard to beat for snorkelling and scuba diving – its clear water stretches down to a depth of 40m in places, with a white sandy sea bottom, plenty of coral, crustaceans, turtles, dolphins and a wide range of fish species and shoal types. There’s just one small catch – visiting Noronha is extremely expensive.
Cruise through the Fernando de Noronha Archipelago and discover the natural beauty of the 21 islands that make up this UNESCO World Heritage Site on this 5-hour catamaran tour.
Ilha Grande offers lots of beautiful walks along well-maintained and fairly well-signposted trails, but it’s sensible to take some basic precautions. Be sure to set out as early as possible and always inform people at your pousada where you are going – in writing if possible.
Embark on a scenic adventure through nature on the beautiful Ilha Grande. Take a private guided trek through its best beaches and reach Feiticeira Waterfall, then enjoy some cocktails or soft drinks.
Ready for a trip to Brazil? Check out the snapshot of The Rough Guide to Brazil. If you travel further in Brazil, read more about the best time to go and the best places to visit in Brazil. For inspiration use the initiaries from our local travel experts. A bit more hands-on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.
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