Brazil is a country of glowing sun and gregarious, fun-loving people, where it doesn’t have to be Carnival to feel like a celebration. From the gorgeous beaches of Rio de Janeiro to the international food scene of São Paulo, Brazilian cities are energetic cultural hubs that boast individuality and flair. Relax in the sunny dunes and secluded beaches of Fortaleza, tour the modern architectural marvels of Brasília, or wander the bright colonial heart of Salvador. Brazil is an intoxicating blend of laid-back beaches, up-tempo parties, irresistible music, modern innovation, and diverse heritage. When you get your fill of urban thrills, head to the pristine white-sand beaches of the Golden Coast, or take a tour of the verdant wild of the Amazon. Go wildlife watching on boat trips through flooded forests, hike rugged coastal cliffs, or go snorkeling in coral reefs. Bursting with almost boundless biodiversity ranging from exotic plants and animals of the Amazon, to the marine life in the crystal clear waters off the northeastern coast, Brazil has natural beauty in spades.
Perched in the central highlands of Brazil, a land of red earth and expansive blue skies, Brasília was designed specifically as the country’s capital city, and was built in less than five years in a frenzy of activity starting in 1956. The city took shape with Lúcio Costa winning a design contest over thousands of other entries; joining the team were architect Oscar Niemeyer and landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. The result of the herculean efforts to build an entire city is a masterpiece of modern design. From the air, the city branches out along two axes that look like wings, with one end nosed up against a massive artificial lake. Ribbons of wide-boulevards and busy roads stretch through the city, making a guided tour the best way to get around. Created with an eye to forming distinctive neighborhoods and atmospheres, and home to a host of intriguing structures, Brasília will delight design and architecture aficionados. There are several lively art markets, and a flourishing restaurant and nightlife scene to round out the experience.
One of the most remote, isolated, and mysterious regions on the planet, the Brazilian Amazon is a riot of biodiversity and adventure. The principal jumping off points for sojourns into the rainforest are the northern cities of Belém, which sits on Guajará Bay, and Manaus, which sits inland where the Rio Negro and the Solimões join the Amazon. Belém is flush with historical colonial architecture—forts, churches, and houses—and Manaus is a growing metropolis that buzzes with frontier energy and possibility. Expeditions along the river into the depths of the rainforest are awe-inspiring, humbling journeys as you feel the pulse of the mighty rivers and peer into walls of impenetrable vegetation. The rainforest hums with life, but you will have to keep your eyes peeled to spot it—temper your expectations of seeing jaguars around every bend and you will be overwhelmed by the majesty of the Amazon. Paddle through flooded forests, relax in hammocks aboard river boats, and keep your eyes open to the wonders of this supernatural world.
Armação dos Búzios
Known as Búzios for short, this small resort city is located on a picturesque peninsula just to the east of Rio de Janeiro, and is surrounded by incredible coastline. Once a small fishing village, Búzios is now an upbeat city of designer shops, classy hotels, and trendy restaurants and bars. Lush hillsides tumble down to the ocean and envelop inviting beaches; relax on the calm bay of Ferradura, check out the surf scene at Geribá, or sample one of the nearly two dozen other stretches of sandy paradise. This little peninsula is a sophisticated oceanside playground topped off with the cobblestone street Rua das Pedras offering stellar cuisine and a jubilant nightlife.
A large and modern city that stretches a dozen miles along the coast, Fortaleza is the capital of the northern state of Ceará, and a great base to explore the pristine coastline of red cliffs and tranquil beaches. With upscale hotels and restaurants throughout the city, meandering beachfront dotted with parks, and the vibrant nightlife of the Praia de Iracema, Fortaleza offers a pleasant mix of easy-going days in the sun and exuberant nights on the town. Travel the coast eastward along the Costa Sol Nascente and visit traditional fishing villages, or travel the Costa Sol Poente and discover unspoiled beaches and dunes. Cool breezes and warm water make this area a prime beach destination.
The Golden Coast of Pernambuco
An idyllic coastline of pearly white-sand beaches, impossibly clear turquoise water, and shady coconut groves that centers on Porto de Galinhas, 40 miles south of Recife, this sliver of paradise stretches for miles in either direction. Numerous towns and beaches are dotted along this gorgeous coastline, and wherever you go there are an abundance options of fine-dining and elegant pousadas. There is a strong Afro-Brazilian heritage in this part of the country, and you will find great music and a scintillating blend of food traditions. This area is a veritable coastal utopia of warm, calm water filled with coral reefs, tide pools, and is perfect for swimming, snorkeling, sailing, and soaking up the sun.
One of the largest, most powerful waterfalls in the world, Iguaçu Falls is an astounding rush of natural beauty. Near the city Foz do Iguaçu, Iguaçu Falls is a nearly two mile long horseshoe network of 275 cascading waterfalls, and forms a natural border between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. Take a drenching boat ride to the base of the 270-foot tall Devil’s Throat, and immerse yourself in the perpetual cloud of mist that surges skyward from the river below. The city of Foz do Iguaçu became an international city with the construction of the Itaipu Dam in the 1970s, and has many quality restaurants with local and global flavors to enjoy while you are exploring the waterfalls and surrounding area.
Olinda and Recife
Located just four miles from the glass towers of Recife’s downtown, spread over forested hills on the northeastern edge of crystal clear Atlantic waters, Olinda is a quieter colonial counterpoint to the bustle of Recife. Olinda was founded by the Portuguese in 1535, and the cobbled streets and colonial buildings of the city center are now a UNESCO-listed site. Wander the twisting lanes of brightly painted stucco houses, across plazas, past old churches, and enjoy the layers of history and the tranquil beauty that has enticed a vibrant community of artists and intellectuals to call Olinda home. There are stunning views everywhere you turn, and a number of nice restaurants and pousadas make Olinda a relaxing place to enjoy the coast and come home to after exploring the up-tempo city scene of Recife. Spanning the banks of the Capibaribe River, Recife is a commercial city of high-rises and busy shopping districts, but its beautiful beaches and exciting nightlife make this a great place for an urban adventure.
A former mining colony at the heart of the Brazilian Gold Rush in the 18th century, Ouro Preto is a picturesque city of well-preserved Baroque architecture, stone bridges, and ornate fountains. Located inland to the north of Rio de Janeiro in the state of Minas Gerais, Ouro Preto is a colonial gem nestled into the foothills of the Serra do Espinhaço. Winding cobblestone streets zigzag precipitously among the red-tiled roofs and white-washed walls of this UNESCO-listed historic city; walking the steep streets between the beautiful churches and plazas can be a workout, but panoramic views are a constant reward. Take a guided tour of the city to learn about its fascinating history and the richness of its artistic and religious legacy. Take a stroll in the scenic urban park, Parque do Vale dos Contos, for a breath of tranquility and a break from the jumble of cobbled streets. Ouro Preto is a delightful city and will feel like another world after spending time in the cosmopolitan centers of Rio or São Paulo.
Rio de Janeiro
Rio is a city imbued with a rhythm of excitement that is entirely effortless and unaffected. Along the beaches of Copacabana, locals and tourists blend contentedly on the tiled promenade and white sands in an atmosphere of non-stop activity. Around the bend, Ipanema boast great sunset views and shaded streets lined with designer boutiques and upscale restaurants. Visit the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue that presides over the city or take a cable car to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain for panoramic views over the city and ocean. Go for a hike in the nearby rainforest of Tijuca National Park, walk among the historic mansions of the Santa Teresa neighborhood, or visit the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum across the bay, a building designed by famed architect Oscar Niemeyer. No stay in Rio is complete without seeing a samba show or perhaps trying a fews steps yourself. And if you think you can keep up with the party, Rio hosts the most extravagant Carnival in the country with colorful floats, exuberant costumes, and plenty of dancing. A city of fine-dining, delicious street food, and picturesque urban beaches, Rio is a feast for the senses.
A colonial jewel of Afro-Brazilian heritage, Salvador was once one of the richest cities in the New World, founded on sugarcane and the forced labor of almost five million slaves. Salvador is now a blend of many African cultures and traditions, which makes this one of the most vibrant and fascinating cities in Brazil. The colorful colonial heart of the city, Pelourinho, has been painstakingly restored over the past four decades, and shines with 16th and 17th-century gold-gilded architectural splendor. Salvador is a city bursting with energy; life here is an intoxicating blend of fantastic foods, music and dance, contagious festivity, and the joys of sandy beaches and golden sun. Located on the Atlantic between Rio de Janeiro and Recife, Salvador offers a window into a distinct part of Brazil’s cultural heritage and an amazing stretch of coastline to soak up the sun.
A metropolis of high-rise buildings and home to over 20 million people, São Paulo is not a city for the faint of heart, but it is jam-packed with top-notch restaurants, eclectic nightlife, cultural sites, and an energetic art scene. The financial center of Brazil, São Paulo is a cosmopolitan, multicultural city with an endless array of options to explore, from experimental art to the ceaseless pulse of music and nightlife. Stay in the Jardins, Higienópolis, or Centro areas and you will have the best restaurants and shopping at your fingertips, and you will avoid the incessant traffic nightmare of trying to cross this urban jungle. Devote your time to searching out the most innovative cuisine or the best music venues, or visit some of the city’s numerous museums. What São Paulo lacks in natural beauty, it more than makes up for with the bounty of culinary and cultural delights.