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Things to see and do
Browse the romantic backstreets of Paraty
Paraty is a delightful, historic town on the Costa Verde between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, which grew rich on the 18th-century gold trade. Its wealth is reflected today in the beautifully preserved colonial buildings such as Santa Rita Church, built by freed slaves. Paraty is a popular destination for schooner cruises around its bay and islands, and is well stocked with boutique hotels and gourmet restaurants.
Explore the historic missions of Rio Grande do Sul
Visit the redbrick ruins of 300-year-old Saõ Miguel das Missões, the only survivor of the once 30 Jesuit missions in southern Brazil, which formed an important role, defending the indigenous Guaraní people against colonial slavery. The building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, despite the ravages of time and neglect, is well worth seeing for its stylised Baroque architecture and historical interest.
Get the vibes of Salvador da Bahia
Explore colourful Salvador da Bahia, capital of the northeastern coastal state of Bahia. This UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts dozens of colonial-era buildings clustered around the cobblestone streets of Pelourinho. Salvador is one of Brazil’s most culturally vibrant cities, spawning some of its best-known musicians, artists and writers, and hosting one of the best Carnivals in the country.
Explore the Amazon
Floating through the rainforest on an Amazonian ferry is one of the great travel experiences. The world’s largest rainforest is fed by 10 of the world’s 20 largest rivers, including the Amazon itself, which is the biggest river system on the planet. The usual base for trips is Manaus, but try Santarem for a lesser-known alternative.
Costa Verde islands and beaches
There are literally thousands of gorgeous islands and beaches along Brazil’s coastline, including the chic resort of Búzios, and car-free Morro de São Paulo in Bahia. Tropical islands are liberally sprinkled off the Costa Verde between Rio and São Paulo; among the most idyllic are Ilha Grande and Ilhabela. The ultimate getaway island paradise though is Fernando de Noronha, 330 miles (540km) off the northeast coast.
Discover the eco-treasures of Diamantina National Park
Go hiking, river rafting or just chilling in the Chapada Diamantina National Park, deep in the mountains of Bahia in the northeast. This park is one of Brazil’s ecotourism hotspots; an adventure playground full of forests, caves, underground lakes and waterfalls. Access to the park is via the nearby town of Capão, which attracts New Agers for its laidback alternative lifestyle.
Go diving off Fernando de Noronha
The deep blue waters of coastal Brazil are superb for diving, particularly in the north, where the sea is usually warmer and clearer. The protected marine park on the island of Fernando de Noronha has probably the best diving; also the Abrolhos Archipelago, off the coast of Bahia. Southern Brazil also has some excellent dive spots, including Arraial do Cabo, Ubatuba, and Laje de Santos.
See a football match at the Maracanã
Watch the belojogo (beautiful game) in Rio’s world-famous Maracanã Stadium. With fans dancing, singing and pounding drums amid clouds of coloured smoke, the carnival atmosphere on the terraces sometimes overshadows the game itself. Football is a national obsession and matches are passionately noisy affairs.
Go hang gliding over Rio
Soar above the tropical landscape on a tandem hang-gliding flight from Pedra Bonita in Rio’s Tijuca National Park. This popular adventure sport gives stunning bird’s-eye views over the city and its forest backdrop before landing on São Conrado beach. Other hang-gliding sites include Niterói (across the bay from Rio), Corumbá (near the Pantanal), and Pico do Ibituruna in Minas Gerais.
Dance the Samba like a Carioca
You can learn how to do the samba, Brazil’s most popular dance, in Rio de Janeiro, its spiritual heartland. Let a local show you the moves in an escola de samba, which opens to visitors a couple of months before Carnival. Or visit a traditional gafieira dancehall, where several generations of Cariocas gyrate across the floor with natural fluidity.
Wildlife watch in the Pantanal
This spectacularly rich ecosystem in west-central Brazil is home to big cats, reptiles and hundreds of exotic birds. The Pantanal’s vast wetlands have wide-open savannah, which, unlike the Amazon’s dense rainforests, allow easy viewing of their abundant wildlife. The dry season (April-October) is the best time to visit, when animals cluster around the waterholes and the birds are breeding.
Have a ball at Rio de Janeiro's Carnival
Witness the wonderful mayhem of one of the world’s wildest parties. While Rio is most famed for the spectacular Carnival processions through its purpose-built downtown Sambódromo, the whole city joins in with samba school parties and fancy dress balls. The main events last three days but Cariocas keep the fun going all week.
Samba in the cobbled streets of Olinda
You can join the street parades in Olinda, a gorgeous coastal town in northeastern Brazil, renowned for hosting one of the country’s most atmospheric carnivals. Olinda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a well-preserved colonial quarter crammed with baroque architecture. It’s also a popular haven for artists and musicians, with a large gay community.
Be dazzled by the precious gems of Minas Gerais
Discover some of Brazil’s best-preserved colonial architecture in Minas Gerais, a region of southern Brazil, which became fabulously rich following the discovery of gold and diamonds in the 17th century. Ouro Preto, Mariana, Sabará and Diamantina are particular gems, with ornate Baroque churches and colonial mansions filled with religious art and sculpture.
Explore Manaus, gateway to the Amazon
In the heart of the rainforest, at the juncture of the great Solimões and Negro rivers, Manaus is Brazil’s main entry point for Amazon safaris. Or you can explore some magnificent colonial treasures dating from the city’s rubber boom era, including the Teatro Amazonas opera house and the art nouveau dockside market.
Explore the blissful beaches of the North
Bounce around the sand dunes of northern Brazil in a beach buggy. From the coastal resort city of Fortaleza, it’s a four-hour drive to Jericoacoara, a picturesque village set between a dazzling white desert and a balmy turquoise sea. Ceará state has some of the best beaches in Brazil, with excellent conditions for watersports.
Join the non-stop party in Rio de Janeiro
Find out what makes this one of the happiest and hippest cities in the world. With buzzing Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, the mountain backdrop and the Cariocas’ joyful spirit, what’s not to love about Rio? Take it all in from the foot of the Christ the Redeemer statue or catch a cable car up Sugarloaf at sunset, as the city lights sparkle below – an unforgettable sight.
Wonder at Brazil’s stunning capital, Brasília
Often overlooked by visitors, Brasília is an architectural showpiece, of curvaceous modern buildings dominating the Planalto’s flat horizons. The city was designed by world-renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer and many of his creations, including the Cathedral and National Congress, are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There’s also some great hiking country near the city, including the Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park.
Hit the cultural hotspots of São Paulo
Uber-cool Paulistanos boast of their city’s better nightlife, art and, even, football teams, than their arch-rival, Rio de Janeiro. With world-class art galleries, live music and restaurants galore, Brazil’s largest city certainly does have a lot to support its claim. The nearby beaches aren’t bad either; Ilhabela island, for instance, has several gems.
Soak up the spray of mighty Iguaçu Falls
Set amid rainforest teeming with butterflies, birds and many other animals, these majestic waterfalls in southern Brazil are one of the great wonders of the Americas, with 275 individual falls encompassing a vast area protected by two national parks (one in neighbouring Argentina). The highest fall, the Garganta do Diabo (Devil’s Throat) reaches 70m (230ft), which is one and a half times the height of Niagara Falls.