Tourism in Brazil is different. The sheer size of the country makes it difficult to see without taking multiple domestic flights and having plenty of time on your hands. The easiest way to go to Brazil for your first time, is to enlist the help of a Brazilian travel agency such as Brazil Selection https://www.travel-brazil-selection.com/) to help you plan your journey. Then just prepare yourself for an eclectic mix of cultures, energetic people and exhilarating experiences! Here are my top 3 destinations to visit in Brazil. Of course, these are not the only three, but when going to Brazil, I would never miss these.
Top 3 Brazilian Vacation Destinations
Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro, “a cidade Maravilhosa” as locals know it, is traditionally the most popular tourist destination in Brazil, Rio received more than 2.65 million visitors in 2018. Certainly one of the most aesthetically pleasing cities in the world, there is no doubt that tourism in Rio de Janeiro is one of the most beneficial inputs to the local as well the national economy. It is served by Galeão International Airport and Santos Dumont Domestic Airport. “Galeão” is the biggest airport in Rio and is most likely where international visitors are going to land. It is about 12 miles from the city centre, easily within reach by shuttle, bus, metro, or taxi. “Santos Dumont” is the other airport in Rio. It used to be Rio´s only airport but now serves mostly domestic flights with airlines such as GOL, Azul, Avianca and LATAM.
When in Rio, most tourists stay in the beach front hotels. Popular choices exist on Copacabana and Ipanema beaches such as Olinda Rio and Mirimar hotels. If you want to go for real luxury, choose Copacabana Palace, go to destination for celebrities and stars from all over the world. If you want something further back from the beach and more immersed in the bohemian cultural life of Rio de Janeiro, find yourself a nice pousada in the “Santa Teresa” district. Up on the top of the hills, it makes for a more romantic and relaxing getaway.
The top tourist attraction in Rio is the famous “Cristo Redentor” (Christ the Redeemer) statue. Perched on top of Corcovado, it keeps a watchful eye on the bay at all times. Most of the trip to the top can be made by train, then you can take either the steps or the escalators to the top. A piece of advice is to time your trip here to arrive just before sunset, although it might be busy, its is one of the most beautiful sunsets you can see on the planet! Other must see attractions in Rio include: Corcovado, Escadaria Selaron, Copacabana, Ipanema, Lapa and Tijuca national park. An incredible mix of world famous beaches, unique cultural attractions and impressive nature, Rio de Janeiro always leaves you wanting more.
Recommended Stay: 1 Week +
Foz do Iguaçu is in the Brazilian state of Paraná. This is your base for visiting Iguaçu falls, the incredible UNESCO site where hundreds of waterfalls straddle the border between Brazil and Argentina. It is said that Eleanor Roosevelt (at the time First Lady of the United States of America) exclaimed “My poor Niagara” at the sight of the thunderous cascades.
You don´t need too much time in Iguaçu to appreciate one of the new seven wonders of nature, a few days here will suffice. Usually, a visit would consist of a day at the Brazilian side of the falls. Here you can appreciate the view of the gigantic falls on the Argentinian side, which include the biggest cascades. The next day you can hop over to the Argentinian side with a guide and look back on the Brazilian side. The advantage of this is that on the Argentinian side, the footpaths and bridges are slightly better, allowing you improved up-close access to the waterfalls. A bonus visit is the Iguaçu Bird park, consisting of massive aviaries with an array of tropical bird species, visitors can get closer than normal to a range of colourful local birds. There is also a reptile cage for those who wish for more thrills. Look out for the giant Anaconda!
The best accommodation in Iguaçu is certainly Belmond das Cataratas. A stately building designed in a colonial style, which is now a 5-star hotel that overlooks the waterfalls. It does come with a price tag but the bonus of staying here, (apart from first class services) is that it has access to the waterfalls outside the opening hours of the national park. A once in a lifetime experience is to see the sun setting over the Iguaçu Falls.
Recommended Stay: 2-5 days
“São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos” known simply as Salvador was the first capital of Brazil and capital of the Northeastern state of Bahia. Home of Afro-Brazilian culture, a visit here is sure to guarantee that you live the famous “Alégria” of the Bahian people. Alégria is a mixture of happiness and joy of living in the present moment and the people of Salvador seemed to have mastered its expression. Salvador is one of the oldest cities founded by Europeans in the Americas and has a colonial past with some dark patches in its history – being one of the main slave trading cities in Brazil.
Wandering the centre of Pelourinho, the historic centre of the city is almost like a step back in time. The cobbled streets wind through pastel-coloured houses with gorgeous windows and balconies. Many of the colonial houses have been transformed into cafés, restaurants, small museums and cultural centres. Here, you can take a walking tour with a local tour guide who will show you all the attractions in the historic centre. Ask around for “Capoeira,” a traditional Brazilian form of fighting disguised as a dance. This is a real must-see cultural experience when you visit Salvador.
A great idea when you are in Salvador is to take a 1-hour flight to the small town of Lençóis. (Beware flights between Salvador and Lençóis are only on Thursdays and Sundays.) From Lençóis, you can visit one of the most beautiful national parks in Brazil – Chapada Diamantina. You can trek through picturesque nature where you will come across extraordinary waterfalls, and caves that your guide will take you down to explore. A highlight is heading to one of the top of the Chapadas (flat topped mountains that characterize the geography of the area) to see the sunset at the end of the day. A bonus is that if this is the last leg of your trip, all you have to do is catch a short flight back to the airport in Salvador and from there you can take an international flight.
Recommended stay: 1week (In Lençóis, stay Thursday to Sunday)