- 1 Week
Even on a short trip, you can take in some spectacular scenery and get a taste of Brazil's staggering diversity. With a few key flights you can maximize your time here.
Start off in the Cidade Maravilhosa, aka Rio de Janeiro. Spend two days taking in grand views from the forested mountaintops overlooking the city (atop Pão de Açúcar and Cristo Redentor), leaving time for relaxing on Ipanema Beach, biking along Copacabana Beach and strolling through the historic center. One night, take in a samba club in Lapa. On days three and four, fly up to Salvador for a heady dose of Afro-Brazilian culture. Check out the brightly painted colonial buildings of the Pelourinho, take in a dazzling dance performance of the Balé Folclórico da Bahia and feast on seafood at Pelô Bistrô. On your fifth day, make a day trip out to Morro de São Paulo for a slice of tropical, car-free paradise. Beat the sunrise for an early-morning flight down to Foz do Iguaçu (via São Paulo). Spend the first day exploring the Brazilian side of the majestic waterfalls. On your last day, cross to the Argentine side for a walk through rainforest and a boat trip near the thundering falls.
Rio & the Southeast
- 2 Weeks
Gorgeous beaches, rainforest-covered islands and historic towns are just some of the things you’ll experience on this loop around the Southeast.
Spend a few days discovering Rio and its beaches, restaurants and incredible music scene before heading to Paraty, a beautifully preserved town with rainforest hikes and stunning beaches nearby. Next, stop in Ubatuba with its jungle-clad mountains and spectacular coastal scenery. Ilhabela is a car-free island of beaches, forests and waterfalls. Stop in São Paulo for high culture, including the nation’s best museums and restaurants.
Head next to exquisite Tiradentes and Ouro Preto, with some of Brazil’s finest colonial architecture. Afterwards, take in a bit of friendly Mineira hospitality, good restaurants and buzzing nightlife in Belo Horizonte. Make a day trip to the outstanding collection of art galleries and gardens at the Instituto de Arte Contemporânea Inhotim, 50km southwest of Belo Horizonte.
Visit the hiker’s paradise of Parque Nacional de Caparaó; further east, relish the dramatic beauty of Parque Estadual da Pedra Azul. Further south you'll find the stunning beaches and high-end dining and nightlife of Búzios, which makes a great final stop before heading back to Rio.
Best of Brazil
- 3 Months
On this epic trip you’ll experience the rhythm-infused towns of the Northeast, the jungles of the Amazon and the biodiversity of the Pantanal, with beaches, tropical islands and historic towns thrown into the mix.
From São Paulo, head east towards Rio, stopping at glorious beaches such as Ubatuba, Trindade and Paraty-Mirim. Leave a couple of days for hiking the rainforest paths and basking on the beaches of Ilha Grande. Continue northeast to Rio de Janeiro, for a hearty dose of nightlife, beach culture and panoramic views.
From there head north, via bus or plane, to Salvador, the country’s Afro-Brazilian gem that's known for its colorful colonial center, drumming in the streets and lively (and numerous) festivals. Further up the coast visit historic and arts-loving Olinda, then catch a flight from neighboring Recife to the spectacular archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, where you find pretty beaches, snorkeling, diving and a paradise-like setting.
Back on the mainland, travel north, stopping in the backpackers’ paradise of Jericoacoara en route to the surreal dunes in the Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses, a stark contrast to the historic beauty of Alcântara. To the west lies Belém, a culturally rich city near the lush island of Ilha de Marajó. Catch a boat up the Amazon to Santarém and on to Alter do Chão for a trip into the jungle. Then continue to the burgeoning city of Manaus.
From Manaus, fly to Brasília to take in its stunning architecture, then visit Parque Nacional da Chapada dos Veadeiros for waterfalls, canyons and dips in natural swimming pools. Next head to Cuiabá, gateway to the breathtaking canyons of Parque Nacional da Chapada dos Guimarães. Spend a few days horseback riding and boating in the Pantanal, one of Brazil's best destinations for wildlife watching. Head south via Campo Grande to Bonito for crystal-clear rivers, lush forests and caves. Continue south to the awe-inspiring Iguaçu Falls. Before completing the circle, explore the secluded beaches and charming Germanic towns around Florianópolis.
Bahia & the Northeast
- 6 Weeks
Those looking for the soul of Brazil would do well to focus on the Northeast. A confluence of music, history and culture amid spectacular natural scenery makes for an unforgettable journey.
Catch a flight to Porto Seguro, then quickly make your way to the pretty towns of Arraial d’Ajuda and Trancoso, both blessed with great guesthouses and restaurants, festive nightlife and access to walks on a seemingly endless cliff-backed beach. Continue north to Itacaré, a lively town with great surf and cove beaches reached via trails through hilly rainforest. Then head on to rhythm-filled Salvador, Bahia’s most vibrant and colorful city. From there, catch a boat to Morro de São Paulo, an island with enchanting beaches and a laid-back vibe. Don't miss boat rides around the island, taking in mangroves, reefs, oysters and the quiet village of Boipeba.
Detour west to the tranquil diamond-mining town of Lençóis, which has pretty outdoor cafes, cobblestone streets, and caves, rivers and waterfalls nearby. From here, head into the Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina for crisp mountain streams, panoramic views and an endless network of trails. Back on the coast, go north to Maceió, a vibrant, youthful city with gorgeous beaches nearby. Keep going north to reach Olinda, home to some of Brazil’s best-preserved colonial buildings and a Unesco World Heritage site. From Olinda’s buzzing neighbor Recife, fly out to Fernando de Noronha, an exquisite archipelago of rich marine life and splendid beaches.
Returning to the mainland, visit beautiful Praia da Pipa, then hit the spectacular coastline stretching from Natal to Jericoacoara, including the enticing coastal spots of São Miguel do Gostoso and Galinhos. In the sandy-street village of Jericoacoara, try your hand at sandboarding, kitesurfing and beachfront capoeira, and watch memorable sunsets. West of Jericoacoara, Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses is a striking landscape of dunes, lagoons and beaches. Continue west to the reggae-charged São Luís, home to 18th-century buildings, seafood restaurants and buzzing nightlife. It's worth planning a trip around one of the town's many folkloric festivals. The last stop is Alcântara, a little-visited colonial town with remarkable architecture.
Waterways of the Amazon
- 4 Weeks
Few places ignite the imagination like the Amazon. The largest forest on the planet has an incredible array of plant and animal life. Surprising to many visitors, these wetlands also contain vibrant cities, architectural treasures and beautiful river beaches.
Begin in Belém, a culturally rich city at the mouth of the great river. Explore the revitalized riverfront docks, visit the waterfront market, sample Amazonian dishes and catch a performance at the lavish Teatro da Paz. From here, explore the forest-covered island of Ilha de Marajó, which has bird-filled forests, friendly locals and itinerant water buffalo roaming the streets.
Get a hammock and prepare yourself for a few hardy days of boat travel up the Amazon River. Set off from Belém and stop in Monte Alegre to see ancient rock paintings, the oldest-known human creations in the Amazon, which are sprinkled among sandstone hills beyond town. Upstream is Santarém, a pleasant city with many nearby attractions. Also reachable is the virgin rainforest of the Floresta Nacional do Tapajós, where you can lodge in simple pousadas (guesthouses) and take hikes through pristine forest in search of massive samaúma trees. It's also worth stopping in Alter do Chão for its picturesque lagoon with startling white-sand beaches.
Continue upriver to Manaus, Amazonia’s largest city. Visit the city's opera house, market, indigenous museums and nature parks, and the Encontro das Águas. From here, head to the Rio Urubu, where you can base yourself in ecofriendly lodges and take in some great wildlife-watching opportunities. Afterwards, go west of Manaus to the small town of Novo Airão, the jumping-off point to the Reserva Extrativista Baixo Rio Branco-Jauaperi, a remote and pristine rainforest reserve where you can see a stunning array of plant and animal life.
Outside of Tefé, visit the Mamirauá Reserve, a vast rainforest reserve where you can see dolphins, sloths, macaws, various monkey species (including the rare uakari) and other wildlife. From there, continue by river to Tabatinga, a fascinating place where you can visit three different countries in an afternoon (Brazil, Colombia and Peru). You can end your trip by crossing into Leticia in Colombia and staying in a jungle lodge along the Rio Javari.
- 3 Weeks
This trip through Brazil’s southernmost states takes in forested islands, scenic beaches, mountainous national parks, historic missions and Bavarian-style towns with largely European roots.
Start in Foz do Iguaçu to gaze at the most impressive waterfalls on the planet. Take short day trips to Argentina and Paraguay to get a taste of lush rainforests before heading east (by overnight bus or quick flight) to Curitiba, a city with an intriguing environmentally friendly design, plus pretty botanic gardens and an Oscar Niemeyer museum. Next, take the scenic train ride to the sleepy waterfront town of Morretes. From there you can visit the Parque Estadual Pico do Marumbi, a lush reserve that offers some memorable walks amid the highlands. Continue on to Paranaguá, the departure point to car-free Ilha do Mel. The forest-covered island has lovely beaches and low-key guesthouses, and is skirted by some pretty trails.
Next head to beer-loving Blumenau and nearby Vale Europeu, where Pomerode boasts Teutonic architecture, blond-haired residents and a local brew more Bavarian than Brazilian. Head back east to the coast and continue south to Ilha de Santa Catarina, a forest-covered gem of sand dunes, sparkling beaches, pretty lagoons and sleepy fishing villages. Keep going south to Guarda do Embaú, a bohemian seaside town with excellent surf. A short jaunt south is Praia do Rosa, which has pretty beaches and memorable whale-watching.
On into Rio Grande do Sul, explore the dramatic canyon and waterfalls of Parque Nacional de Aparados da Serra. It’s worth heading further inland to Gramado, a charming mountain resort where gourmet chocolates, fondue and excellent infrastructure might make you feel like you've stepped into a Swiss portal. Continue west to Bento Gonçalves, gateway to the award-winning vineyards of the Vale dos Vinhedos, set amid the rolling hills of the Serra Gaucho.
Head south to Porto Alegre for transport links to Santo Ângelo, which leads on to the Jesuit missions. From there you can visit São Miguel das Missões, São João Batista and numerous other holy sites. At trip’s end, return to Porto Alegre for an onward flight.