Ten Encounters Every Visitor Needs to Try on a Brazil Vacation

Central & South America

Sunset in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The largest country in South America, big, beautiful Brazil looms equally large in the travel dreams of Globetrotters. Yet many have long nixed or delayed their visit to the land of samba for one infuriating reason – the cost and hassle of getting a Brazilian visa.

Delay no more! From June 17, 2019, holders of Australian, Canadian, Japanese, and United States passports will no longer require a tourist visa to visit Brazil. With just a few months to go, it’s time to dust off what we think is the perfect Brazil vacation “to-do” list.

Glorious Views and Beaches in Rio

The views over the white sands of Rio de Janeiro are what many travellers dream about when they start dreaming of Brazil. While not the country’s whole story, they make a fine introduction! Of course you can climb aboard the cog railway and visit Christ the Redeemer, or hop the cable car to the peak of Sugarloaf Mountain for views of magnificent Rio. But the marvelous city has other great vantage points that don’t cost a single real. Snap an easy selfie at picturesque Leblon’s Lookout, or huff and puff your way to spectacular views from the Two Brothers Lookout. Don’t miss sunset over Ipanema from Aproador rocks either, a show the whole beach applauds night after magical night.

Sunset view of Ipanema beach and mountain Dois Irmao (Two Brothers) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Gorgeous sunset view of Ipanema Beach and mountain Dois Irmaos (Two Brothers) in Rio de Janeiro

Rio’s History and Downtown Culture

If you can tear yourself away from Rio’s beaches for a day (or night), Brazil’s former capital is just as much a haven for art, food, architecture, and music lovers. Explore the streets where Carmen Miranda grew up. Take the trolley up to the historic, yet happening Santa Teresa neighbourhood. Catch an eyeful of Brazil’s future on Rio’s revitalized waterfront, and in the evening, order a caipirinha and pull up a chair in Lapa, the sizzling nightlife district that brought samba to life! For a real Rio cultural experience on your Brazil vacation, consider a guided visit of a local favela, or drop in on rehearsal night at a local samba school. Word to the wise? You will be expected to join in the fun!

Favela, Brazilian slum on a hillside in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Favela on a hillside in Rio

The Best Views of Iguassu Falls

“We didn’t go to the Brazilian side. The visa’s too much hassle” is a phrase we won’t miss hearing once Brazil’s visa policy changes go into effect. Too many visitors to the world’s most spectacular waterfall system have missed out on the best view because of bureaucracy. Now, there’s no excuse. Spend two days seeing Iguassu Falls as they should be seen, from both the Argentinean and Brazilian sides of the river.

Iguassu Falls, Brazil
Iguassu Falls

History and More in Colourful Salvador

One of the oldest colonial cities in the Americas, Salvador dates all the way back to 1549, offering visitors a living museum of Brazilian culture both past and present. It’s particularly known as the centre of African Brazilian culture, and its Carnaval is said to be the largest party in the world (sorry Rio!). Roam the colourful streets of the Pelorinho district, on your Brazil vacation, sample delicious street food, and watch a capoeira demonstration in the martial art’s spiritual home. The beaches aren’t a bad place to relax either.

Group of people performing Capoeira in Salvador, Brazil
Group of men performing Capoeira in Salvador

The Amazon

Against what feels like a never-ending assault, the “green lung” of South America remains defiant, protecting an estimated 10% of the world’s known wildlife species, including over 1500 species of birds. Manaus is the most common city of entry, where the Meeting of the Waters offers just the first of the region’s eye-catching surprises. To explore the Amazon properly, you’ll need to embark on a river cruise, most likely departing from Manaus. But devote at least a half day to the city proper, visiting beautiful sights including the city’s Opera House. Did we mention the Amazon was diverse?

View of Manaus and Teatro Amazonas, Brazil
View of Manaus and Teatro Amazonas

The Pantanal

It may not match the Amazon for fame, but Brazil’s other great wildlife region, the Pantanal, is just as beautiful. The world’s largest tropical wetland sits in the very centre of South America, bordering Bolivia and Paraguay. Within an area 10 times the size of the Florida Everglades, it harbours over 650 bird and 150 mammal species, including majestic jaguars. It’s hard to believe these lush wetlands were covered with sandy desert 20,000 years ago. But with just 2% of the Pantanal under government protection, the race is on to ensure the survival of this Brazilian treasure.

Jaguar, found in the Pantanal, Brazil
Jaguar, found in the Pantanal

Art, Food, and Culture, Sao Paulo Style

Home to a whopping 15 million people, Brazil’s largest city has the cultural diversity to show for it, creating an urban explorer’s dream. Hit the streets of trendy Pinheiros and admire the eye-popping graffiti gallery that is Batman Alley, before relaxing with a local craft brew at one of the area’s patio cafes. Soak up the Japanese kitsch of the Liberdade neighbourhood. Immerse yourself in top notch Brazilian art at Pinacoteca do Estado or the Sao Paulo Museum of Art. Find your inner punk at Galeria do Rock, or go back to Sao Paulo’s beginnings at its towering Se cathedral. Dinner at one of Rua Augusta’s lauded restaurants is always a good idea, or graze your way through the food trucks of Urbanoide Boardwalk. Return to Pinheiros after dark for Brazilian nightlife at its most colourful, local, and authentic. No matter how you spend the day, you’ll discover why Paulistas love their sprawling monster of a city.

Related Article:
Why Your Brazil Vacation Shouldn’t Skip Sao Paulo

Aerial view of Se Cathedral and surrounding area, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Aerial view of Se Cathedral and surrounding area, Sao Paulo

Brazilian BBQ

Sao Paulo may offer Brazilian cuisine in all its diversity, but let’s be honest – you came here for churrascaria! Okay, maybe not just for churrascaria, but unless you’re vegetarian, you’ll want to try this dining experience at least once during your Brazil vacation. Go easy on the salad bar and skip the bread and pastas completely. Skewer after skewer of delectable meat cooked to perfection is on its way to your table, and you’ll want plenty of room to enjoy it, one succulent cut at a time. The meaty goodness on offer is as diverse as Brazil itself. Don’t skip the grilled pineapple either.

Fresh vegetables and churrasco, Brazil
Fresh vegetables and churrasco

Nightlife

We know clubbing isn’t everybody’s idea of a great night out, but if it is your thing, the Brazilians really do know how to have a great night out. Rio spoils for choice, particularly in the samba clubs around its Lapa district. The samba beats go on all night long in Salvador as well. But Sao Paulo is often touted as the world’s greatest nightlife city, and in all honesty, it never shuts down. Just exercise common sense, and be sure to order a cab or Uber after dark.

The Beach Towns Only Brazilians Visit

Okay, it’s not only Brazilians who visit the likes of Florianopolis, Buzios, Fortaleza, and Recife. But there are vast sections of this country that many North American travellers simply never see on their Brazil vacation. Make the trip now! Brazil boasts some of the world’s most glorious white sand beaches, but with visa requirements relaxed for so many travellers, they won’t stay off the international radar much longer. Florianapolis is a popular pick, especially for those concerned about safety, while Buzios, firmly put on the tourist map by Brigitte Bardot, is an easy add-on from Rio.

Aerial view of Boa Viagem Beach in Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
Aerial view of Boa Viagem Beach in Recife