The great challenge of Brazil, with its vast size and incredible diversity, is deciding where to go. Rio figures high on most itineraries, with nightlife, beaches and scenery. Tropical islands and the historic colonial towns of Minas Gerais lie nearby. The Northeast offers a mix of picturesque towns, beaches and outdoor adventures, and its vibrant cities (Salvador, Olinda) offer a window into rich Afro-Brazilian culture. The South, meanwhile, has notable European influence (Oktoberfest, vineyards, mountain towns) and stellar highlights such as Iguaçu falls and the Ilha de Santa Catarina. For outstanding wildlife-watching, visit the Pantanal (Cuiabá in Mato Grosso is a major gateway) and the Amazon. Other Brazilian hits include modernist architecture in Brasília, otherworldly dune landscapes in Maranhão, and the jaw-dropping island beauty of Fernando de Noronha.
Rio de Janeiro
Mountains & Beaches
Rainforest-covered peaks, sparkling beaches and a coastline dotted with islands – Rio's setting is breathtaking, especially when viewed from panoramic heights atop Corcovado or Pão de Açúcar. The city's wide-ranging restaurant scene also makes good use of the inspiring views and tropical setting.
Sounds of Samba
Rio's dizzying nightlife includes open-air bars, stylish nightclubs and old-school dance halls dominated by the addictive rhythms of samba. As Carnaval draws near, parties at samba schools and street parades bring revelers from far and wide.
At first glance, Rio's downtown is a bustling hive of business and commerce. Look deeper, though, and you'll discover surprising landmarks hidden along its cobblestones, including 18th-century baroque churches, a former royal palace and an extravagant opera house, plus first-rate museums.
Rio de Janeiro State
Sun, Surf & Sand
For easy access to dreamy beaches, Rio state is as good as it gets, from gleaming white dunes to island-studded bays backed by jungle-clad mountains.
Hiking & Climbing Paradise
The crags of Itatiaia and the peaks of the Serra dos Órgãos are the twin capitals of Brazilian rock climbing; meanwhile hikers thrill to the wild trails of Serra da Bocaina and Ilha Grande.
The Golden Road & Imperial Past
Near Paraty, the 18th-century Caminho do Ouro once brought gold from Minas Gerais, while Dom Pedro II's Petrópolis palace was the 19th-century seat of Brazilian imperial power.
Espírito Santo & Minas Gerais
With an incredible density of historical monuments, Minas's cidades históricas (historic towns) are showcases for the uniquely Brazilian baroque style, replete with graceful curves and carved wood and soapstone ornamentation.
A Bountiful Feast
From Espírito Santo's delectable seafood stews to Minas's hearty wood-fired ranch fare, this is foodie paradise. Don't forget the obligatory shot of smooth Minas cachaça (sugarcane alcohol), Brazil's best.
Wildlife & Waterfalls
Punctuated by natural pools and waterfalls, Minas's wide-open cerrado ecosystem is a hiker's dream. East toward the Espírito Santo border, awe-inspiring mountains rear their heads and patches of Atlantic rainforest shelter the endangered muriqui (woolly spider monkey).
São Paulo State
Food & Drink
São Paulo city holds its own with any gastronomic capital in the southern hemisphere. Cutting-edge Brazilian chefs such as Alex Atala (D.O.M.) and Helena Rizzo (Maní) have received worldwide acclaim. And then there’s the nightlife, baby!
The Green Coast
From the rainforest-lined coast of Ubatuba to the sophisticated getaway of Ilhabela, São Paulo’s coastline is part of Brazil’s Costa Verde (Green Coast), a world-class stretch of postcard-perfect beaches and islands.
Wide swaths of Mata Atlântica rainforest, modest but wonderful Serra de Mantiqueira peaks and sun-kissed sands: São Paulo is easy on the eyes.
Besides the spectacular Iguaçu Falls, splendid scenery awaits elsewhere, most notably on the car-free island retreat of Ilha do Mel, and the superb Serra Verde Express train, which snakes past lushly covered mountain from Curitiba to the tranquil historic town of Morretes.
Waterfalls, Islands & Rainforest
Iguaçu Falls offers impressive hiking and adventure excursions amid subtropical rainforest, while isolated Parque Nacional do Superagüi and Parque Estadual Marumbi boast abundant bird and plant life, and impressive hiking and rock climbing, respectively.
A Complex Past
Morretes, Paranaguá and Curitiba’s Largo da Ordem are cobblestoned glimpses into Brazil’s colonial past – Instagram unnecessary.
Whether you seek solitude, surf or social overload, Santa Catarina has the sands for you. Drawing from 561km of coast, this well-to-do state has outstanding surfing, laid-back fishing villages, rainforest-backed beaches and sophisticated resort towns.
Nowhere is Brazil’s rich melting pot more evident than throughout Santa Catarina’s interior, where German enxaimel (half-timber, half-brick) architecture, Italian and German food, and distinctly European faces will leave you wondering if you’ve received a new passport stamp upon arrival.
Brazil’s best microbrews hail from Blumenau and its environs, offering the chance to sample beers unavailable in most other parts of the country.
Parque Nacional de Aparados da Serra and Parque Nacional da Serra Geral offer Southern Brazil’s most striking landscape. Magnificent deep-cutting canyons have earned the region the somewhat embellished nickname of the ‘Brazilian Grand Canyon.’
Around 90% of Brazilian wine comes from the Vale dos Vinhedos, a little touch of Tuscany in the heart of Cowboy Country that defies notions of typical Brazil.
With its chimarrão (maté tea), churrasco (grilled meat) and traditional Farroupilha dress, Rio Grande do Sul’s gaúcho (cowboy) culture lives on in this unique region. Gramado is Brazil’s most pleasant Alpine town.
Brasília & Goiás
A Capital Idea
Architect Oscar Niemeyer's genius proved that a few bags of concrete and a creative mind were all that was needed to make Brasília a must-see for building buffs.
The breathakingly beautiful cerrado (savanna) is the perfect frame for heavenly sunsets on the planalto (plateau), especially at the otherworldly Vale da Lua in the Chapada dos Veadeiros.
Pirenópolis converts itself from a kooky artist's enclave into a center of historical re-creation, as the town goes medieval during the Festa do Divino Espírito Santo (Cavalhadas).
Mato Grosso & Mato Grosso do Sul
Squeeze into your wetsuit and let the current take you on a fish-watching adventure in the aquatic playgrounds of Bonito and Nobres.
The Pantanal has incredible wildlife-watching, with capybaras, anacondas, macaws, capuchins, giant river otters and even jaguars among the many species to see.
Catch Your Dinner
Sling your hook for some of the world's best fishing in the waterways of Mato Grosso and maybe pick up a pacu!
Featuring more than 900km of coastline, the state of Bahia is rightfully renowned for its gorgeous beaches, from idyllic island getaways and surfing hot spots to quiet fishing villages.
Hiking & Trekking
Head inland to see one of Brazil’s finest national parks, Chapada Diamantina, which has great hiking and trekking, plus waterfalls, natural swimming holes and other idyllic spots to cool off.
Salvador is the center of Afro-Brazilian culture: capoeira and Candomblé, glittering churches, and pounding drums on the cobblestoned streets of the Pelourinho. Nearby Cachoeira is renowned for its woodcarving traditions.
Sergipe & Alagoas
Alagoas’ star attraction is its coastline, with its white-sand beaches and aquamarine waters. Top picks include Praia do Francês, Praia do Gunga and buzzing Maceió. The Galés marine reserve off the coast of Maragogi is a favorite for snorkelers.
These neighboring states have a number of colonial highlights, including the grand churches of historic Penedo, cobblestone Laranjeiras and hilltop São Cristóvão.
Dining & Dancing
Seafood lovers won't want to miss the open-air restaurants of Aracaju, which specialize in fresh crabs; many also serve up live forró music, which makes a great ending to a crab feast.
Pernambuco, Paraíba & Rio Grande do Norte
The 1000km coast curving round Brazil's northeastern corner is a succession of sandy beaches fronted by enticing tropical waters. Days are spent basking on the beach, sipping coconuts and enjoying great meals in laid-back beach bars.
Carnaval, Northeastern Style
During Carnaval, head to the contrasting neighboring cities Recife and Olinda for their unbelievably euphoric explosions of color, music and fun.
This is the place for swimming, snorkeling, surfing, kitesurfing or buggy-riding. Fernando de Noronha, a tropical-archipelago getaway 350km offshore, has Brazil's best diving and snorkeling.
Ceará, Piauí & Maranhão
Cities & Towns
Dunes & Bays
The setting is spectacular: a sequence of long, dune-backed sweeps and small, palm-lined bays all along the tropical shoreline. There's also the unique dune-and-lagoon mosaic of the Lençóis Maranhenses, one of the world's most striking landscapes.
You can do most things you've dreamed of in, on and beside the water, with steady winds providing some of the world's best conditions for kitesurfing.
Hang out at legendary Jericoacoara, enjoy the urban vibes of Fortaleza or head to end-of-road beach villages like Atins or Icaraí de Amontada for a tropical escape.
Biodiversity Hot Spot
The Amazon is a fabled setting for wildlife-watching. You can stay in upscale rainforest resorts or community-run ecotourism outfits, both great bases for seeing wildlife.
The world's greatest rainforest offers memorable adventures, from tree-climbs through dense canopy, to silent canoe paddles across flooded forest. You can also take multiday boat trips between towns.
Culturally rich cities like Belém and Manaus are the best places to sample Amazonian cuisine, hear unique musical styles and browse colorful markets. There are even beach towns like Alter do Chão, deep in the interior, and Algodoal on the coast.