Beaches: Among the most famous beaches in the world are Rio’s Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, but with thousands of miles of coastline, Brazil offers many outstanding beaches. The “St. Tropez of South America,” Buzios boasts 20 superb beaches with crystal water and quiet coves. Settled by European pirates and slave traders, Buzios evolved into a town of rustic charm with stylish shops and restaurants yet retains the ambiance of a small fishing village. Angra Dos Reis in the southern part of Rio de Janeiro state also encompasses offshore islands. Brazil’s many beaches offer a menu of water sport activities including fishing, windsurfing, scuba diving, sailing and snorkeling.
Belo Horizonte: This is the sixth largest city in Brazil, and was the first planned modern city in the country. It was planned and constructed in the 1890s to replace Ouro Preto as the capital of Minas Gerais. The city is a mixture of contemporary and classical buildings, and is home to modern Brazilian architectural icons such as the Pampulha Complex. The planners took inspiration from the urban planning of Washington, D.C. The city is built across several hills and large parks such as the Jambeiro Woods Nature Reserve are scattered in the surrounding mountains. The parks host more than 100 species of birds and a variety of mammals.
Brasilia: The national capital was developed in 1956, however, it had been envisioned nearly a century earlier. The plan was originally conceived in 1827 when Brazil was under colonial rule, but not acted on for more than a century. An article in the country’s constitution dating back to 1891 stated that the capital should be moved from Rio to a place close to the center of the country. It is the only city in the world built in the 20th century to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the grand, linear architecture of its public buildings, gardens and avenues.
Brumadinho – Inhotim: In what must be one of the more delightful semi-secret surprises Brazil offers in the remote southeastern town of Brumadinho is Inhotim. This contemporary art museum is nestled in sprawling botanical gardens, designed by Brazilian landscape artist Roberto Burle Marx. On display in more than two dozen gallery pavilions as well as the gardens themselves are some 500 works by 100 artists from 30 countries. Inhotim also claims the world’s largest collection of palm trees with more than 1,500 different species as well as 4,500 diverse exotic species of plants and gourmet restaurants. Artists represented there include Matthew Barney, Chris Burden, Janet Cardiff and George Miller, Anish Kapoor, and Brazilian superstar Tunga.
Ibitipoca Reserve: For three decades, this reserve has been an ecological project that has required acquiring dozens of properties in the surroundings. Now, Ibitipoca Reserve protects the Ibitipoca Park and extends through three mining municipalities: Lima Duarte, Bias Fortes and Santa Rita do Ibitipoca. This entire area has been transformed into Atlantic Forest, one of the most threatened biomes in the world, and a biodiversity hotspot. Most animals had disappeared from the land but they are beginning to return such as deer, including Tayra, wild boar, ocelots and pumas. With a sustainable focus, projects are geared toward also protecting the local community’s culture and history while creating a more diverse economy.
Iguassu Falls: Both the Brazilian and Argentinean sides of this magnificent horseshoe-shaped falls are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the right bank, the Brazilian territory has just over 20% of falls, and Argentina has nearly 80% of the falls. Waterfalls within the larger falls fluctuates from 150 to 300, depending on the water level and season. About half of the river’s flow tumbles into a long and narrow chasm called the Devil’s Throat, a massive U-shaped wall of water that is a wonder to behold.
Itacare: Itacare sits at the mouth of the Rio de Contas on eastern Brazil’s Cocoa Coast. It was founded as a Portuguese colonial settlement in 1532, and became a notorious hangout for Dutch and Portuguese pirates during the early colonial period. Later, it was a hub for cocoa planting and a port for whalers. The town has a series of beautiful small cove beaches and other picturesque beaches along the coast. Farther down the coast, there are reefs and sea turtles off Itacarezinho Beach. Itacare remains a hub of Bahian culture and is a popular destination for surfers, hikers and ecotourists. Itacare is on the edge of a national park, one of the last large expanses of Atlantic rainforest left in Brazil.
Jericoacoara National Park: The park consists of blue lagoons, calm seas and huge sand dunes. The beach is hidden behind the dunes on the west coast of Jijoca de Jericoacoara. This environmental protection area became a national park in 2002. Its distance to bigger cities and limited road access have helped to keep the beach and the village somewhat isolated. There is an old cacau plantation that is good for hiking, and a waterfall and mangroves to explore. This was a fishing village with electricity generated by diesel engines, until electricity arrived in 1998. Jericoacoara is also well known with those who love kite flying and windsurfers because this is the best place in Brazil for these activities.
Lencois Maranhenses National Park: This protected area on Brazil’s north Atlantic coast is known for its vast desert landscapes of tall, white sand dunes and seasonal rainwater lagoons, of which Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Bonita are two of the largest. These dramatic dunes arose over millennia from sands deposited at the mouth of the rivers that were eventually returned by winds and currents. The dunes stretch along 43 km/27 mi. of mostly deserted beaches. The dunes are strikingly smooth like a freshly made bed.
Ouro Preto: The ‘‘city of gold’ is encircled by mountains. Founded in 1711, this UNESCO World Heritage City reveals its masterful architectural style in the 1742 Governor’s Palace, exquisite colonial churches and planned gardens along cobblestone streets. It also has important metallurgic and mining industries. Minerals of note are gold, hematite, dolomite, tourmaline, pyrite, muscovite and topaz. Imperial topaz is found only here.
Pantanal: This vast wetland is a refuge for capybara, caiman, giant river otter and the rare marsh deer. More than 650 species of birds include macaw, crowned solitary eagle and jabirus. It is a complex of aquatic and terrestrial environments, including rough arboreal ranges and forests that can be explored on horseback, in open vehicles and by boat. Outings are guided by bilingual researchers.
Paraty: The village of Paraty was founded in 1597, and colonized by Portuguese in 1667 in a region populated by the indigenous Guaianas Indians. Sitting on a lush, green corridor that runs along the coastline of the state of Rio de Janeiro, Paraty is renowned for history and scenic beauty. More than 80% of its territory is protected by conservation measures. The town has four historic baroque churches including Church of Our Lady of the Rosary and Saint Benedict, which was built and used by the town’s African slaves and dates to 1725. This church is simpler and more rustic style than the other three. The Guaianas people who lived here called the entire area Paraty, “river of fish.” Forte Defensor was built in 1703, with six cannons to protect the city’s important commercial warehouses. The area around the fort is called the Old Village. The House of Culture is housed in a historic 18th-century house with displays of local history and culture.
Praia do Forte: An hour’s drive north of Salvador, Praia do Forte is in a protected environmental area with about 12 km/7.5 mi. of semi-deserted beach bordered by lush groves of coconut palms. The area is blessed with a pleasant tropical climate. A turtle sanctuary has seen generations of sea turtles return each year to lay their eggs. This is a good location to view humpback whales and explore coral reefs. Nearby are the charming Fishermen’s Village and Garcia D’Avila Castle, which dates from 1552, and was the first great Portuguese structure in Brazil.
Recife & Olinda: Recife is famous for its 17th-century architecture. It is one of the largest cities in Brazil. History buffs love these towns for the old quarters, ornate churches and even an Inquisition jail. Olinda, a UNESCO World Heritage City, is nearly 500 years old. The Dutch occupied it for 24 years, adding to the cultural mix of Indian, African and Portuguese influences. It is a center for music and arts.
Rio de Janeiro: Rio de Janeiro is the most visited city in the southern hemisphere. From Copacabana Beach to Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio makes a grand impression. Atop Corcovado Mountain, the 36-m/120-ft. statue of Christ the Redeemer is listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Other sights in the city include the Sambodromo, a permanent grandstand-lined parade avenue used during carnival; and Maracana Stadium, one of the world’s largest football stadiums. Tijuca National Forest is the largest urban forest in the world. The 18th-century, French-style architecture is concentrated in Marechal Floriano Square. The city’s gems include Municipal Theatre, a small-scale model of Paris Opera, and National Library with copies of Gutenberg’s Bible and other rare first editions dating back to 1500.
Salvador da Bahia: The soul of Brazil, this city is where the nation was founded, and its long history is seen in colonial monuments and African folk culture. The colonial-era slave auction site contrasts markedly with the grand baroque Sao Francisco Church and Convent. Salvador is noted for its cuisine, music and Portuguese colonial architecture. Monuments date from the 17th through the 19th centuries. The old city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sao Paulo: Founded in 1554, this is a city on the move. It is the largest city in Brazil and the largest in the southern hemisphere. Greater Sao Paulo is ranked as the world’s 10th largest metropolis by population. As such, it exerts strong regional influence in commerce, finance, arts and entertainment, as well as a strong international influence. The city is also recognized for its architecture and gastronomy. It hosts high-profile events from the Brazil Grand Prix, to Fashion Week, to the Sao Paulo Indy 300. It is home to monuments, parks and museums such as the Latin American Memorial, the Museum of Ipiranga, the Sao Paulo Museum of Art and the Museum of the Portuguese Language.
Tiradentes: In this peaceful mountain setting, Tiradentes is a charming and well-preserved colonial town with colorful historic houses that stand out against the Sao Jose Mountains. The city was named after the Martyr of Independence and one of the great heroes of Brazil. The town seems to have been protected against time. Not much changed here between the end of the gold rush period and the 1970s. Then, business people from Rio and locals began to restore the beautiful old houses. Tiradentes became a refuge for artists from Rio and Sao Paulo. The town features outstanding 300-year-old buildings such as the gold-filled Matriz Church as well as a variety of antique stores and boutiques.
Trancoso: Trancoso, in the state of Bahia, was the landing point of the Portuguese explorer, Pedro Alvares Cabral in 1500. It was founded 83 years later by Jesuit priests, with the name Sao Joao Baptista dos Indios. The village retains its original triangular layout and the style of houses. It is also noted for its beaches, including Praia dos Nativos and Praia dos Coqueiros. Trancoso is located at the starting point of a state environmental protection area, the APA Caraíva-Trancoso, with the goal of minimizing the negative impacts of development on the biosphere. The main square is known as “Quadrado”, and to the east is a 16th-century Catholic church, Sao Joao Batista, dedicated to Saint John, the Baptist. In recent years, an influx of Europeans and others have been settling here, buying homes and businesses.
Best Time to Go
Brazil has five major climatic subtypes: equatorial, tropical, semiarid, highland tropical, and temperate. In general, winter lasts from June to August, with the coldest temperatures south of Rio. Summer runs December to March, with stifling humidity in the far south. Brief rains are common, given the tropical climate, but the dry interior has fewer months of heavy rainfall. The Amazon Basin is the wettest area, and near the mouth of the river it rains year-round. The heaviest rainfall is from December to May. Around Recife, the wettest time is May to August. Further south in Rio, the wet season is November to April. From July to December, it is possible to drive to the Pantanal.
Day 1: Rio de Janeiro / Paraty
Sophisticated Rio de Janeiro is the most visited city in the southern hemisphere.
Day 2: Paraty
The small colonial town center is a national historic monument with well-preserved buildings and four historic baroque churches.
Day 3: Paraty / Sao Paulo / Belo Horizonte
Belo Horizonte is the sixth-largest city in Brazil and still growing. It is also the first planned modern city in the country.
Day 4: Belo Horizonte / Brumadinho / Ouro Preto
In the small town of Brumadinho is Inhotim, a delightful surprise – an art museum and botanic garden that offers a stunning display of contemporary art.
Day 5: Ouro Preto
The “City of Gold” is a UNESCO World Heritage City of cobblestone streets, churches and terraced gardens.
Day 6: Tiradentes
One of the smallest yet best-preserved colonial towns in the Brazilian State of Minas Gerais.
Day 7: Tiradentes / Ibitipoca Reserve
Ibitipoca is a forested state park with an amazing array of birds, waterfalls, peaks, springs, caves and natural pools.
Days 8/9: Ibitipoca Reserve
This area has been transformed into Atlantic Forest, one of the most threatened biomes in the world, and a biodiversity hotspot with a variety of outdoors experiences.
Day 10: Ibitipoca Reserve / Rio de Janeiro / Depart
Beaches (3-4 days)
Giant dunes, secluded coves and rocky coasts offer activities from scuba diving to buggy rides on the dunes.
Brasilia (2 days)
Brazil’s futuristic capital was only envisioned in the late 1950s. Its grand architecture and planned gardens earned it recognition by UNESCO as World Heritage City.
Iguassu Falls (2 days)
This impressive natural wall of water encompasses some 150 to 300 waterfalls, depending on the water level and season.
Itacare (3 days)
Once a notorious hangout for pirates, today it is more likely to attract surfers and sunbathers with its great beaches.
Pantanal (4 days)
Pantanal’s wetlands are a vast refuge for capybara, caiman, tapir, monkeys, 600 species of birds and the elusive jaguar.
Praia do Forte (3 days)
A luxury spa, semi-deserted beaches, groves of coconut palms and a turtle sanctuary add up to more than just a beach retreat.
Recife & Olinda (3 days)
These towns are packed with history in atmospheric old quarters, ornate churches and an historic Inquisition jail.
Rio de Janeiro (3 days)
Rio offers a vast array of attractions from its beaches, to the famed Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain, to the annual Carnaval festival of parade floats, flamboyant costumes, samba dancers and, of course, parties.
Salvador da Bahia (4 days)
Colonial monuments contrast with African folk culture and history is on display at the colonial-era slave auction site.
Sao Paulo (2 days)
Already the tenth largest city in the world by GDP, cosmopolitan Sao Paulo is expected to become the sixth largest by 2025.
Trancoso (3 days)
This fishing village is not only famous for its beaches but also for the Trancoso's Quadrado, its car-free, UNESCO-protected town square.
$800-$1200 per person, per day. Land only, double occupancy.