Brazil is a country of continental proportions and eye-popping natural beauty.
Nearly a fifth of its vast landmass is protected by conservation areas, including 73 national parks and more than three times as many state parks, not to mention thousands of private nature reserves. Needless to say, this is epic hiking country.
Brazil's conservation areas cover a glorious patchwork of landscapes, crisscrossed by trails that explore mountains, forests, canyons, rivers, waterfalls, savanna and thousands of miles of fantastic beaches. Whatever you choose, the landscape will set the stage for some exhilarating outdoor adventures.
Here's our pick of Brazil's best hikes.
Vista Chinesa hike, Tijuca Forest
Best city hike
1.8 miles one way, 2 hours, moderate
Deep green swaths of woodland cling to the dramatic topography around Rio de Janeiro. Roam out from the Cidade Maravilhosa and you'll find tree-covered hills jutting skyward, including famous Corcovado, the rocky perch upon which the statue of Christ the Redeemer stands.
The surrounding Tijuca Forest has trails for all levels of fitness and courage, from scaling Corcovado and the nerve-wracking ascent of the outcrop known as Pedra da Gávea ("Rock of the Topsail") to the hike up 3320ft Pico da Tijuca, the highest point in the forest. An easier but equally rewarding ramble starts in the little-known Parque da Cidade in Gávea and winds its way through the forest, emerging at Vista Chinesa, a lovely lookout point with a panoramic sea view.
Gruta do Janelão trail, Parque Nacional Peruaçu
Best off-the-beaten-track hike
2.9 miles round trip, 5.5 hours, moderate
Virtually unknown except to the most intrepid of travelers, Parque Nacional Peruaçu only opened to visitors in 2014, 15 years after the park was established. The 216 sq mile reserve is brimming with natural and manmade wonders, and a staggering 140 caves and 80 archeological sites can be explored on the park’s seven trails. The Gruta do Janelão (“Big Window Cave”) trail is the most spectacular route, taking in 9000-year-old rock paintings, crossing the shallow Peruaçu river twice, and weaving in and out of dramatic caverns.
The largest cave soars to 328ft – higher than the Statue of Liberty – and the roof is hung with the biggest stalactite in the world, the 92ft Perna da Bailarina (“Ballerina’s Leg”). Shafts of natural light beam down, filling the cave’s interior with striking hues of blue and green, a far cry from the dark and dingy interior of most caves. Visitors can enter the park only with a local guide, who will arrange an online booking (make arrangements at least 3 days in advance).
Trilha do Boi, Parque Nacional de Aparados da Serra
Best hike for the physical challenge
8.6 miles round trip, 7 hours, difficult
Straddling the border of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina states in southern Brazil, the 39.5 sq mile Parque Nacional de Aparados da Serra is home to Brazil’s largest canyon, Itaimbezinho. Sheer escarpments flank the 19,028ft-long canyon, reaching 2362ft at their highest point, providing thrilling terrain for hikers.
Of the park’s three trails, the Trilha do Boi is the most challenging, following the river along the base of the canyon, clambering over boulders and crossing the river at regular intervals (be prepared to get wet and pack accordingly). The other trails are shorter and easier, following the top of the canyon with views of waterfalls tumbling down into the depths. One administrative consideration: walking the Trilha do Boi trail must be booked with a local guide or accredited agency.
Vale do Pati, Chapada Diamantina
Best hike for a digital detox
37.5 miles one way, 7 days, moderate
The Chapada Diamantina is one of Brazil’s three chapadas, high plateaus in the country’s interior. Spread across 587 sq miles of national park, the Chapada Diamantina is the sort of place that even local hikers never tire of, returning time and again to explore its different trails. The Vale do Pati region is especially beautiful, with deep valleys carved between flat-topped mountains.
Day hikes can be arranged to swim in waterfalls that thunder down nearly 1000ft, but to properly do the region justice, opt for a weeklong trek along river beds and through forests and fields of wildflowers. Be warned that there is no phone signal along the way, but this hike isn’t without creature comforts – around a dozen families live in Vale do Pati and host hikers for overnight stays and feasts of freshly grown food.
Best hike for bragging rights
53 miles round trip, 6 days, difficult
A 1312ft vertical cliff face separates the sweeping Amazonian savanna from the lunar plateau of Monte Roraima, the table-top mountain that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic sci-fi novel, The Lost World. A three-day hike across the savanna followed by a half-day scramble to the top will transport adventurers to a unique ecosystem that has evolved in almost total isolation from the surrounding country.
Valleys of crystals, teetering rock columns, carnivorous pitcher plants and frogs found nowhere else on earth make for some fascinating exploring. When the veil of cloud lifts, views of Guyana, Brazil and Venezuela are revealed: the mountain straddles the point where the three countries come together. This hike starts in Venezuela and must be arranged with a local tour company: Roraima Adventures on the Brazilian side is reliable, and the best operator on the Venezuelan side is Eco Aventuras Tours.
Portais de Hércules, Parque Nacional Serra dos Órgãos
Best hike for mountain scenery
12.5 miles round trip, 2 days, difficult
Known as Hercules’ Portals, this trail in Parque Nacional Serra dos Órgãos is named for the bearded face of Hercules that can be spotted on a cliff along its route, rather than the Herculean effort it involves. Unless, that is, you try to hike it in one day; mere mortals usually opt for two days and camp overnight. The highlight of the trek is a lookout point with a 360-degree view of the Serra dos Órgãos, a stunning mountain range and one of Brazil’s oldest national parks, just a couple of hours’ drive from Rio de Janeiro.
A more challenging hike is the three-day, 26-mile trail right across the park from Petrópolis to Teresópolis. Recover from the expedition with a day or two in calm Petrópolis, a quaint town that was once the summer retreat for the imperial family. Book entry to the park in advance via the park website.
Casa de Pedra trail, Parque Estadual do Alto do Ribeira (PETAR)
Best hike for exploring caves
6 miles round trip, 4 hours, easy
Parque Estadual do Alto do Ribeira (PETAR) is often described as the "cave capital of Brazil" and it contains more than 400 cataloged caves, including the Gruta Casa de Pedra (House of Stone Cave), which has one of the largest cave entrances in the world, soaring up to 708ft. The Casa de Pedra trail involves a round-trip hike to the cave entrance through the Atlantic Forest, one of the richest and most threatened biomes in the world.
As you trek, look out for native hardwoods like brazilwood and rosewood towering majestically above the forest canopy. Shorter hikes head inside the caves – the atmospheric Santana cave is full of “curtains,” wavy sheets of hanging calcite. Some of the trails require advance booking via a local tour operator.
Sensorial Trail, Parque Ecológico Imigrantes
Best accessible hike
650 feet round trip, 1 hour, easy
Just an hour’s drive from São Paulo, the Parque Ecológico Imigrantes is a 193 sq mile nature reserve in the Atlantic Forest that opened in 2018. Geared toward visits by schools and urbanites (getting your shoes muddy is optional), the hiking trails here range from short 15-minute jaunts to 2½-hour treks and need to be booked weeks in advance.
A quarter-mile of elevated walkways made from recycled materials rise up to the level of the tree canopy, creating an unusual sensation of floating through the treetops. The Sensorial Trail is a modest 650ft in length, but it's fully accessible for people in wheelchairs, with signs in braille. Book access in advance online.
Ilha Grande, Rio de Janeiro
Best island hike
51 miles, 7 days, moderate
It’s hard to imagine that the palm-lined beaches and virgin forest of this tropical island were once home to both a leper colony and a top-security prison. These days, Ilha Grande is frequented by holidaymakers and backpackers, with state parkland protecting a network of trails that are never more than a stone’s throw from the ocean.
A full hike around the island can take up to seven days, following beaches and winding through the forest, though there are plenty of shorter options, too. Highlights along the way include a dip in the Feiticeira waterfall and the late 19th-century Lazareto Aqueduct, a colonial relic slowly being consumed by the forest.
Pedra do Baú, Serra da Mantiqueira
Best hike for thrill-seekers
2.5 miles round trip, 2 hours, difficult
The noise and rush of São Paulo, South America’s largest city, sends its residents scrambling for the mountains at weekends to get away from it all. The Mantiqueira Mountains are one of many popular destinations for this weekly exodus. Stretching for nearly 200 miles, the range is punctuated by granite peaks that draw adventurous climbers like bees to a honey pot.
The Pedra do Baú rock stands out for its high-adrenaline ascent, a 985ft climb up a via ferrata route comprised of 600 metal rungs drilled into the vertical rock face. Arrange your visit online and head to Bau Ecoturismo or Armazém Aventura for your equipment: safety harnesses are a must. The view from the top is ample reward, with valleys sweeping away below on all sides.
Vale da Lua Trail, Goiás
Best hike for UFO spotters
0.7 miles round trip, 1 hour, difficult
There’s something special about this highland region of Brazil’s middle west, which has attracted all manner of mystics, esoteric religions and even UFO spotters. Some attribute the region’s mysterious energy to its bedrock of quartzite; the mineral was certainly a factor in sculpting the otherworldly landscape at the Vale da Lua (Moon Valley) trail, where striking rock formations and tunnels have been carved over millions of years by the São Miguel River.
The trail through the valley is just over half a mile long, but it involves clambering over rocks en route. A refreshing dip in a natural pool waits at the end of the hike. The trail is six miles from São Jorge, a small town at the entrance to the Chapada dos Veadeiros, 251 sq miles of pristine national park in Brazil’s Cerrado biome. Access to the trail costs R$20.
Pico da Bandeira, Serra da Caparaó
Best hike to watch the sunrise
6.2 miles round trip, 7 hours, moderate
The small coastal state of Espirito Santo is often overlooked by visitors to Brazil, sandwiched between attention-grabbing neighbors Bahia and Rio de Janeiro. What the state lacks in size it more than makes up for in natural beauty, especially in the Caparaó Mountains.
The highest point in the range is the Pico da Bandeira, the third highest mountain in Brazil, which can be reached in time for sunrise thanks to campsites in the surrounding national park. Early risers break camp at 2am to make the final ascent before dawn breaks over a sea of clouds. Entrance to the park must be booked online (using a form in Portuguese).
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