The following itineraries span the entire length of this incredibly diverse country, from the mega cities of the south to the deserts and untrammelled beaches of the northeast. Given the vast distances involved, you may not be able to cover everything, but even picking a few highlights will give you a deeper insight into Brazil’s natural and historic wonders.
Though the Northeast gets the most attention, you can also travel south from Salvador along the Brazilian coast and see just as many pristine slices of sand, from burgeoning beach resorts to quiet colonial towns. This route can be completed by car or bus in two to three weeks, from Salvador to Florianópolis.
Explore the crumbling colonial churches, samba-soaked lanes and vibrant bar scene of this wonderful, historic city.
2 Morro de São Paulo
A short boat ride from Salvador but another world completely, with exquisite palm-lined beaches and exuberant nightlife.
For a more tranquil experience, head a little further south to this less developed island of pristine beaches and simple villages.
A backpacker and surfer haven south of Salvador, where you can learn to ride the waves, try capoeira or just lounge on the sands.
Cross over into Espírito Santo and make a stop at this small seaside town surrounded by giant dunes, best known as the home of forró (a Northeastern style of folk music).
Make some time (and budget) for Brazil’s great city and its glorious sights, beaches, food and futebol.
Take a day or two to explore the cobbled streets of this historic town along the coast between Rio and São Paulo, crammed with elegant pousadas and remnants of Brazil’s Baroque golden age.
Check out this exclusive Paulista getaway a little further along the coast from Paraty – an alluring island bursting with tantalizing beaches, untouched jungle, volcanic peaks and waterfalls.
9 Ihla do Mel
Another popular surf and backpacker hangout, just off the coast of Paraná and a great place to rest up, hike or hit the waves for a few days.
The premier resort island in the South, this is a laidback place with traditional Azorean fishing villages, modern beach hotels, untouched surf beaches and a plethora of activities on offer.
This three-week tour gives a taster of Brazil’s most iconic sights and cities from south to north, travelling from Rio to Bahia by bus and by plane.
1 Rio de Janeiro
One of the world’s truly great cities, with mind-blowing views seemingly at every corner, and legendary beaches at Copacabana and Ipanema.
Travel along the coast to this picturesque colonial town, crammed with enticing pousadas and restaurants.
3 São Paulo
Don’t skip Brazil’s largest city; it might appear intimidating, but it contains the best restaurants, art galleries and museums in the country.
4 Iguaçu Falls
Stand in awe at the world’s largest waterfall, a vast series of cascades plunging along the Rio Iguazu.
5 Ouro Preto
Fly up to Belo Horizonte, gateway to the pretty colonial hill towns of Minas Gerais: if you have time for only one, this is it, a beguiling collection of steep cobbled streets and elegant Baroque churches.
Take a flight up to Brazil’s capital city, a remarkable monument to the vision of iconic architect Oscar Niemeyer.
Head back to the coast to soak up the sun, rhythms and flavours of the Afro-Brazilian capital of the nation.
8 Morro de São Paulo
End your tour on the beach, at one of Brazil’s most fashionable and fun resort towns, just south of Salvador.
Hot, sultry, rich in history, culture and some of the greatest music made in Brazil, the Northeast is perhaps the most beguiling part of Brazil; take two or three weeks to see the highlights, travelling by car or by bus from Salvador to São Luís.
It’s impossible not to fall in love with this gorgeous city, with its romantic colonial remnants, exotic food, capoeira and famously musical citizens.
2 Praia do Francês
Close to the congenial resort city of Maceió, this is a fabulous, chilled-out beach backed with excellent places to eat and drink.
3 Porto de Galinhas
Transformed from sleepy port town to hip resort in just a few years, with a hypnotic strip of perfect white sand and a party crowd at night.
Brazil’s picture-perfect colonial enclave is a languid, liberal ensemble of Baroque architecture, art galleries and live music.
5 Praia da Pipa
Soak up Brazil’s most fashionable beach scene, enhanced by dreamy beaches, pristine lagoons and rich marine life, including dolphins.
From this lively coastal city – a hub for music and dance – you can explore hundreds of kilometres of wide, dune-backed beaches by 4WD or beach buggy.
This low-key backpacker village in the dunes is far less isolated than it used to be, but just as compelling, with quality surf, wind and lagoons to lounge next to the top draws.
8 Parque Nacional dos Lençóis
It’s worth making the effort to reach this spectacular national park, a vast area of untouched sand dunes studded with crystal-clear pools.
9 São Luís
End up at this steamy colonial relic, its opulent azulejo-smothered mansions half crumbling but filled with vibrant bars, museums and galleries.
Floating down the Amazon has been a romantic dream of travellers for centuries, and though the journey is a lot easier (and safer) today, it still requires some planning and patience. Take your time and make these stops along the way.
The gateway to the Amazon basin is a surprisingly intriguing old city of museums, mango trees, live music and craft beer.
2 Ilha do Marajó
This vast island at the end of the Amazon delta remains well off the beaten track, with wild, untouched beaches and herds of water buffalo.
3 Alter do Chão
This remote Amazon town is the home – bizarrely – of a wonderful white-sand beach and a wildlife-rich lagoon surrounded by jungle.
4 Floresta Nacional do Tapajós
Take a trip from Santarém to this tropical sanctuary along the Rio Tapajós, noted for its jungle trails and mammoth samaúma trees.
5 Rio Amazonas
If you haven’t done so already, hop on an iconic Amazon riverboat at Santarém for the two-day journey into the heart of the jungle at Manaus.
The capital of Amazonia is home to the incredibly opulent (and incongruous) Teatro Amazonas, a host of creative restaurants and numerous jungle tour operators.
Manaus is the perfect base from which to organize excursions into the surrounding jungle, with stays in romantic forest lodges or on riverboats.
The wild, untrammelled jungles of Acre, on the Bolivian border, are prime wildlife territory – make sure you take a balloon ride over the forest to soak it all up.
In the seventeenth century Brazil boomed on the back of vast reserves of gold, feverishly dug out of mines throughout Minas Gerais and beyond. Most of the gold ran out eventually, but the riches funded the construction of magnificent colonial towns that still remain; this route begins at Rio and works north tracing the old “Estrada Real” to the mines.
Though Rio is better known for its beaches, the colonial heart of the city is one of the richest historical zones in Brazil, with an elegant ensemble of Baroque churches and handsome mansions.
The original “Royal Road” – the Caminho Velho – began in this old port city, still one of the prettiest towns in the nation.
3 São João del Rei
Head north in Minas Gerais, stopping at this modern university town, which still retains an impressive collection of colonial churches and museums.
Wonderfully preserved eighteenth-century town, boasting magnificent churches and mansions.
5 Ouro Preto
The richest concentration of Baroque and Rococo art and architecture in the country makes Brazil’s eighteenth-century gold-mining centre an essential stop.
Make a detour to view The Prophets by Aleijadinho, an astounding ensemble of statuary created at the end of the Baroque era.
7 Belo Horizonte
The booming capital of Minas Gerais contains the enlightening Museu das Minas e do Metal, which chronicles the history of mining in the region.
End your journey at the most remote, traditional and intriguing of the cidades históricas.
Brazil isn’t just about beaches – the interior harbours some mind-bending national park scenery too, from the craggy canyons of the south to the jungles of the north. To complete this trip you’ll need to fly and have lots of time.
1 Parque Nacional dos Aparados da Serra
Hike the plateau rim of one of the continent’s most eye-popping canyons – a subtropical gash into the massive ridge that runs along the Atlantic plain.
2 Parque Nacional da Chapada dos Veadeiros
Fly up to Brasília to experience the landscape of Brazil’s high-altitude inland plain, studded with waterfalls, cave systems and hiking trails.
3 Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina
Serious hikers will find plenty of targets further east in Bahia, where this remote park contains dramatic valleys, peaks and monoliths.
4 Parque Nacional da Serra da Capivara
Head north into Piauí to view the many prehistoric wonders inside this vast, isolated park, including rare cave paintings and petroglyphs.
5 Parque Nacional dos Lençóis
The gem in Brazil’s park system – a pristine wilderness of giant sand dunes and crystal-clear lagoons – lies on the north coast.
6 Floresta Nacional do Tapajós
Fly or sail up the Amazon as far as Santarém, where this forest reserve protects hundreds of giant samaúma trees.
7 Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve
Not a national park but just as spectacular, this private reserve lies in the heart of the Amazon, rich in flooded várzea forests and wildlife.
8 Parque Nacional da Chapada dos Guimarães
This major park near Cuiabá, the capital of Mato Grosso, is famed for the 60m-high Véu de Noiva falls and the Cidade de Pedra.
9 Iguaçu Falls
End your odyssey back in the south at the Argentine border, where these mighty falls on the Rio Iguazu thunder over great ledges of rock.