The best places to visit in Brazil – from incredible nature to world-famous museums and festivals
Looking at the (massive) map and getting a bit overwhelmed about choosing the best places to visit in Brazil? Don’t worry, we’re here to help you to make the most out of your trip and give you the best tips to enjoy Brazil like a local. I’m Brazilian and I’m about to share all my favourite things about my country. From drinking caipirinha at the beach in Rio, to visiting a national park full of pristine blue lagoons in the north or helping to save turtles in the south, Brazil has an option for every kind of backpacker.
From north to south, you’re going to find something amazing to do in every corner of the country and I guarantee you’ll be surprised by how diverse Brazil is. Go with an open heart, listen and talk to the locals – there is no better way to get to know our culture.
Are you ready for your Brazilian adventure? Here are the best places to visit in Brazil. De nada!
1. Florianópolis, Santa Catarina
Floripa is such a wholesome place that we Brazilians call it “The Magic Island”. Its geography is a little confusing, as the city covers part of the mainland as well as Florianópolis island. The mainland is mostly residential, so the island is where you’ll spend most of your time, as it’s where you’ll find the most famous attractions. This perfect place has beautiful waterfalls, amazing beaches, adventurous trekking and historical sightseeing – it’s definitely one of the top places to visit in Brazil.
Now that you’re ready to visit Brazil, it’s time for you to learn a very important word in Portuguese: “praia”. It means beach and you’ll see it many times in this article.
The best thing to do in Floripa is visit the amazing beaches spread through the north, south and east of the island. If you want to visit more than one beach in the same day, it’s better to stay on the same side of the island to avoid losing time in traffic, as it can get super busy during the high season.
The beaches in the north of the island are more touristy and have many well-known clubs, so things can get a bit more expensive. I’d recommend that you visit Praia da Lagoinha, Praia do Forte, Praia da Daniela, Praia Brava and Praia dos Ingleses. The east side of the island has an amazing backpacker vibe and is a great spot for surfing. My favourite beaches there are Joaquina, Praia Mole, Praia da Galheta and Barra da Lagoa. This is also the backpacker hotspot of the city, where you’ll find people from all over the world, super cool bars and restaurants and people selling their art in the street.
If you’re looking for some quiet time surrounded by nature, the south of the island is where you want to be. We’re talking untouched beaches, some of them only accessible by trekking, like Praia dos Naufragados. If you want to mingle with the locals, you should try the hike to Lagoinha do Leste, one of the most famous hiking trails in the south of Brazil. There are three different options with different levels of difficulty, the easiest one taking over an hour. You won’t regret the views when you get there though!
If you’re thinking of doing something different and having a great local experience, you should visit Project Tamar, a non-profit organisation that protects sea turtles from extinction along the Brazilian coastline. You can visit the turtles in their branch in Floripa, and if you’re lucky enough, witness a turtle being released back to the wild, which is normally followed by many people cheering.
After spending some days at the beach, head to the city’s historic centre to shop local at the public market, see some art at Palácio Cruz e Sousa and buy artwork at Largo da Alfândega.
If you want to live an authentic Brazilian beach house experience, Tucano House Summer Hostel is the perfect option. They have a great social vibe, friendly staff and organise dinners with typical Brazilian food for a backpacker-friendly price. If you want to disconnect and enjoy chill time, Floripa Surf Hostel is located in the south of the island and has many hammocks and green spaces.
Best time to visit: If you want to avoid the crowds, visit in early December or March/April. The island becomes very crowded in January and February.
How many days: 3-4Find a hostel in Florianópolis
2. Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais
Ouro Preto is one of the best places to visit in Brazil for anyone who wants to understand the country´s history. The city’s name translates to ‘Black Gold’ in English, because it was the centre of the gold rush in the 18th century. Nowadays, you can still experience the city’s past through its architecture and the art of the amazing Brazilian sculptor Aleijadinho. You can visit all the main attractions on foot, and just walking around admiring the scenery is really one of the best things you can do. The main attractions in Ouro Preto are the old mines from the colonial period, where you can take a tour to hear about how tons of ores and precious stones were extracted and taken back to Europe, and how slave work was used for this.
The city also has many museums where you can begin to understand more about the history of the country. At Inconfidence Museum you can learn about Brazil’s independence, and if you’re interested in Brazilian art, you should check out the Sacred Art Museum. A great place to see Aleijadinho’s work is São Francisco de Assis church, where you can find many sculptures made by the artist.
One of the coolest things you can do in Ouro Preto is look for a university party. They’re super open and accept students from all over the world. All you have to do is go to the student neighbourhood Baixita and ask where the party will happen. You can literally knock at one of the fraternity’s doors and ask. If you’re visiting during Carnival, even better – there will be PLENTY of student parties you can join.
If you’re visiting around the Christmas period, you can join an amazing street celebration called “Congada”, where locals recreate the coronation of Chico Rei (Chico The King), a former slave that worked in the mines in Ouro Preto and bought freedom for himself, his son and many others. It starts around Christmas time and goes until January 6th.
Goiabada com Queijo hostel is very close to the main square and has very friendly staff who will give you all the tips you need to explore the city.
Best time to visit: High season is from December to January and July. Visit in alternative months if you want to avoid the crowds.
How many days: 2-3 daysFind a hostel in Ouro Preto
3. São Paulo, São Paulo
São Paulo is one of the coolest cities to visit in Brazil and it’s a great place to start your adventure, as many international flights land there. São Paulo is a big metropolis, full of unusual things to explore that make this city such a special place.
Start your adventure walking around Vila Madalena, a trendy neighbourhood full of nice cafes, restaurants and vintage shops. On Saturdays, you can visit Feira Livre da Vila Madalena, a street market with arts and crafts, loads of fruits and veggies and amazing street food. For an authentic Brazilian experience, try a pastel (a delicious savoury snack) with a sugar cane juice. After getting all the energy you need, head to Beco do Batman, a famous spot in the city for street art lovers.
If you’re into art, visit the Museum of Art of São Paulo at Avenida Paulista. You’re going to see the building quite easily from a distance because of its amazing architecture style and you can get lost inside for hours.
After visiting the museum, head to Bixiga, one of the most traditional neighbourhoods in the city that’s full of great pizzerias. Speaking of pizza, you MUST TRY Brazilian pizza. Forget everything you thought you knew about the traditional Italian food and open yourself to a whole new level of nonsense. I am talking about ice cream pizza and I’m not even sorry.
By this point, you’ve probably noticed that São Paulo is a great place to walk around and eat delicious food, so if you’re not veggie, head to Mercado Municipal to try an ENORMOUS mortadella sandwich. After all this eating, have a walk in Ibirapuera park and visit the Afro Museum, a space dedicated to telling the story of more than five centuries of African history in Brazil.
For an amazing sunset and to mingle with the locals, go to Praça do Pôr do Sol (it literally means the sunset park) for one of the most beautiful views of the city.
Ô de Casa Hostel will be the perfect hub for your adventure. They have the most authentic Brazilian vibes, are always playing Brazilian music and have an amazing menu full of traditional dishes! The staff are really friendly and a normal night at the hostel normally ends with the them taking the guests to the best parties in Vila Madalena.
Best time to visit: March – June or September – December.
How many days: 3-4Find a hostel in São Paulo
4. Ubatuba, São Paulo
If you have some extra time in São Paulo and want to visit a beautiful beach nearby, you should head to Ubatuba, one of the top places to visit in Brazil. You can reach this city within three hours by car from São Paulo on a normal day, but you might be stuck in traffic for a while if you travel during national holidays. When you get there, you can choose to visit beaches in the south, which are more touristy, or in the north for untouched nature. There are more than 100 beaches, so you will have plenty of options to choose from.
While there, you can also visit a beautiful waterfall called Cachoeira do Prumirim. Locals normally go there in the afternoon after spending the day at the beach, so if you want to have the place to yourself, try to go earlier.
Green Haven Hostel was awarded Best Hostel in Brazil at our 2020 HOSCARs! They have live music every Saturday night and a caipirinha open bar. If you’re visiting during the Christmas holidays, make sure to check out their very own NYE party.
Best time to visit: December – March
How many days: 2
5. Salvador, Bahia
When Brazilians think about Salvador, the first thing that comes to our mind is Pelourinho! Imagine really colourful historical houses lined up, forming a magical setting. This iconic place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can find many shops, restaurants and cafes. The best thing to do is just walk around and absorb the amazing energy that this city has. But I have to give you a little warning, this a famous place for pickpockets so always check where you have your belongings, don’t walk around with your camera or phone exposed and avoid leaving the main streets.
Still in the historical centre, visit Largo Tereiro de Jesus, a place full of beautiful churches, restaurants and amazing architecture. Visit the Afro Museum to learn more about Afro religions in Brazil, and Casa do Carnaval da Bahia to get to know the history of Carnival in the city. Still around this area, check the Lacerda Lift. Built in 1873, this is the easiest (and cheapest) way to get to the high part of the city. When you’re at the top, Tomé de Sousa square is a beautiful viewpoint and perfect place to watch the sunset.
If you want to buy affordable and authentic souvenirs for your loved ones back home, visit Mercado Modelo. This public market has been working for more than 100 years and has over 250 stalls selling art and food.
Now, get ready for an amazing story. Bonfim Church was built between 1745 and 1772, and nowadays is the centre of a beautiful multi-faith celebration that happens in Salvador every year in January. On this day, around 200 women dressed in white walk a pilgrimage of 8km to wash the stairs of the church with water and flowers, while the locals celebrate with music and chants of African origin. This is a beautiful ritual to watch and you should consider visiting Salvador during this time. And let’s not forget about the Senhor do Fim ribbon, a tradition which involves putting a colourful ribbon on someone’s wrist and asking them to make three wishes. You make one knot for each wish, and when the ribbon falls off on its own, all these dreams will come true. This tradition is part of the Festa do Bonfim (Bonfim Party), but you can find these ribbons all year round in most cities in Brazil.
Together with Pelourinho, Barra Lighthouse is one of the most famous postcard images of Salvador. The lighthouse was built in the 17th century and nowadays is a museum. Just in front of the lighthouse, there’s a beautiful beach for you to walk around and watch the sunset.
How can we not talk about food? Food from Bahia is amazing, and you can’t leave the city without trying an Acarajé! It’s a beautiful mix of beans, shrimp, onion, salt and pepper – all together and fried in palm oil. It’s the most traditional food of the city and you can find the best ones in Largo da Dinha.
Galeria 13 hostel is a great base for your Salvador adventure. They have a swimming pool, breakfast until 12pm, happy hours with caipirinhas, Brazilian film nights and a friendly dog. They’re also located in the historic centre, which will make your day of exploring much easier.
When to visit: If you want to enjoy the best of Brazilian summer and Carnival, January and February are a great time to go. If you want more chill holidays, you should consider visiting in other months.
How many days: 3-5Find a hostel in Salvador
6. Recife, Pernanbuco
Marco Zero Square is one of the most famous attractions in Recife, where locals and travellers come together to chat, relax or cycle around. If you’re visiting during Carnival, this is also a meeting point for many carnival blocks. From there, you can take a boat to Parque das Esculturas (Sculptures Park) and get to know the work of Francisco Brennand. On the same square is Centro de Artesanato de Pernambuco, where you’ll find art by more than 700 local artists, perfect to buy presents and something different to take back home. Another amazing market, and the oldest in Brazil (it´s been open since 1875), São José Market has more than 500 stalls with typical food and artwork.
Recife’s historic neighbourhood (Recife Antigo) is full of other exciting things for you to explore. Espaço R.U.A is an outdoor art gallery with loads of music, dance, sports, theatre, circus, cinema and graffiti. Paço do Frevo is another place you should visit and it’s just around the corner. The museum is dedicated to the history of Frevo, the traditional music from Recife. There’s also an amazing market here every Sunday night.
If you’re looking for more art, the Ricardo Brennand Institute is your place. It was recognised as the best museum in South America by Trip Advisor a few years ago and it’s an incredible place that features galleries with work from international artists, a sculpture garden, a library, a pinacotheca, an amazing green space and A CASTLE! Save a full afternoon to visit it – you will be amazed by the incredible collection this place has.
After exploring all these amazing things, try tapioca, a cassava pancake filled with everything you can imagine – Nutella and strawberries, cheese and tomatoes… at this point you should know that there are no limits to Brazilian imagination when it comes to food.
Looking for a place to stay while visiting Recife? Piratas da Praia is a hostel and coworking space located just 50 meters from the beaches Pina and Boa Viagem. They have an art gallery to inspire you and a communal kitchen for you to cook your meals and save some money.
Best time to visit: December to March for Carnival, and September, April and November for cheaper prices.
How many days: 4-5 daysFind a hostel in Recife
7. Olinda, Pernambuco
If you have a little bit more time in Recife, you should consider spending a day in Olinda, a famous historical city with amazing Carnival parties and blocks. It’s so close to Recife that some people get confused and think it’s the same city. Explore the historical centre and its colourful colonial houses on foot, before heading to Alto da Sé, a place with an amazing view of the city and markets selling food and art.
The most famous attraction in Olinda is the Carnival and its giant dolls parade. They say everything started in 1931, when a very handsome man used to walk around at midnight. After some time, he became well known (The Midnight Man) and all the single women in the city would wait for him every night. After a few years, a giant doll of him was created and a massive carnival parade with him leading the way to other giant dolls became a tradition. Today the parade still follows the same route as the mysterious man! Watching the Giant Carnival Dolls of Olinda is a truly magical experience and you’re going to be amazed by the energy in the streets during Brazilian Carnival.
HI Albergue de Olinda is quite close to Alto da Sé and has a swimming pool, hammocks and a communal kitchen where you can cook meals and meet other travellers.
Best time to visit: December – March
How many days: 1-2Find a hostel in Olinda
8. Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro
Rio is known in Brazil as “Cidade Maravilhosa” – the wonderful city – and as soon as you get there, you’ll understand why. This city has so much to offer, from lush nature to amazing beaches, great food and REALLY friendly locals.
Start by ticking off the main attractions – Pão de Açucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain) for unforgettable views of Rio, and Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), the most famous image of the city. The queues are normally very long for both of these, so try to arrive early. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can hike between the Morro da Urca (Urca Hill) and Pão de Açucar instead of taking the famous cable car. It starts from Urca, very close to Praia Vermelha, and it takes about 40 minutes.
The Botanical Gardens are another magical place you should include in your itinerary. There you’ll find many plants and trees you’ve never seen before and super friendly monkeys trying to steal your snacks.
Parque da Laje, located in the same neighbourhood as the Botanical Gardens, is a beautiful Italian building with an incredible view of Christ the Redeemer, and it’s totally free. Also visit the Selaron Steps, a tribute from the Chilean artist Jorge Selarón to Brazilian people.
Rio is also full of amazing museums, so if you ever get tired of going to the beach (is this even possible?) they’re a great option to spend your day. Museu do Amanhã (Museum of Tomorrow), Museu de Arte Moderna (Museum of Modern Art), Museu Histórico Nacional (National History Museum) and Museu de Arte do Rio MAR (Museum of Art) are my favourites and totally worth a visit.
Now it’s time to talk about what you’ve been waiting for: Rio’s AMAZING beaches. Copacabana, Praia do Leme, Ipanema, Praia Vermelha, Arpoador… I could spend the whole day listing them. Choose your favourite and spend the day drinking coconut water (or a caipirinha) and enjoying the sun. If you want to feel like a proper carioca (what people from Rio are called), make sure you try Globo biscuits and mate (an infusion of roasted yerba mate) from one of the sellers at the beach.
Speaking about food, you just HAVE to try feijoada. This is one of the most traditional Brazilian dishes and it’s made with black beans with fresh pork or beef. It’s the perfect meal for a lazy Sunday and it comes with farofa (another Brazilian food we’re very proud of), oranges and kale. Rio has many great places for you to try it and a very famous one is Bar do Marco, in Santa Teresa. They are also known for their great caipirinhas.
If you have a bit more time in the city, include a journey on the Bonde de Santa Teresa (Santa Teresa Tram). The tram connects the neighbourhood of Santa Teresa with the city centre and is a truly magical experience.
Discovery Hostel was awarded best hostel in Brazil 3 times at our HOSCARs! They have a super social vibe, are centrally located and have A/C. Believe me, if you’re visiting during the summer, you’ll need it.
Best time to visit: December – March for summer and Carnival and March – June for less crowded beaches.
How many days: 4-6Find a hostel in Rio de Janeiro
9. Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park, Goias
Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park is a must-see for all nature lovers, and if you’re on a tight budget you’ll be happy to know that the entrance is totally free! Beautiful waterfalls, exciting hiking treks, natural pools and a mystical garden make this paradise one of the top places to visit in Brazil.
The national park has four official trails: Trilha dos Saltos, Trilha dos Cânions, Trilha das Sete Quedas and Trilha da Siriema. They have different difficulty levels, so check which one you’re up for at the entrance of the park before starting. Also, there is nowhere to buy drinks and snacks inside, so make sure to bring everything you need for the day. The Sete Quedas trail is the longest one and you should save 2 days to do it, camping inside the park for the night.
Be aware that there is a limited number of visitors allowed each day, so during the summer or national holidays it’s best to arrive early to avoid disappointments.
Best time to visit: May – September
How many days: 5-6
10. Bonito, Mato Grosso do Sul
Another one for nature lovers! Bonito means beautiful in Portuguese and it’s a great destination if you want to connect with nature. There you can see amazing nature and wild animals, visit beautiful caves, hike, swim in waterfalls, or if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, try out rappelling and zip lining. All the activities are guided by a professional and the agencies in the city have a fixed price, so you don’t need to worry about bargaining. You need to schedule your activities in advance as most attractions have a limited number of visitors per day. They offer almost 50 different options, so you’ll have plenty to choose from.
The most famous attraction in Bonito is Blue Lake Grotto, a beautiful cave with turquoise coloured water that’s up to 90 metres deep! Another much-loved activity is snorkelling in Prata River and watching colourful fish pass in front of you.
Papaya Hostel is the perfect hub to chill after a day swimming in waterfalls. They have a beautiful outside area, a swimming pool, a place where you can cook your own BBQ and many hammocks.
Best time to visit: December – March
How many days: 2-3 daysFind a hostel in Bonito
11. Morro de São Paulo, Bahia
Morro de São Paulo is one of the most famous islands in Bahia and one of the best places to visit in Brazil. This car-free village is located only 60km from Salvador, so it’s easy to reach by ferry in 2 and a half hours (just look for the Catamarã in front of Mercado Modelo). There you can enjoy paradise – five amazing beaches that attract travellers from all over the world and many Brazilians as well.
Enjoy the sunset at the fortress, one of the most beautiful you’ll see in your life! If you’re lucky, you can even catch dolphins swimming around. The island is also known for the biggest zip line in Brazil and I recommend that you try to do it during sunset. The clear waters make it a perfect place for snorkelling or diving as well.
Morro de São Paulo is not all about chilling of course. Like most places in Brazil, you’re going to find many bars and parties around the island. You can also look for some traditional samba nights that happen almost every night.
Che Lagarto Morro de São Paulo is super close to the beaches and the nightlife of the island. They have a fully equipped kitchen and friendly staff who will give you the best tips!
Best time to visit: December – March
How many days: 3 daysFind a hostel in Morro de São Paulo
12. Alter do Chão, Pará
Alter do Chão is a small village located inside Santarém in Pará – one of the most beautiful and wholesome places you can visit in Brazil. Pará is one of the eight Brazilian states that are a part of the Amazon region. Its beaches have fresh, warm water in a beautiful turquoise colour, giving the village the title of Amazonian Caribbean.
The most famous attraction in the village is “Ilha do Amor” (Love Island), a white sand beach that looks like it’s come straight out of your dreams. If you want to visit this island, you should visit the region during the dry season (August – December).
To make your Amazon adventure even more special, you can visit Lago Verde (Green Lake), known as the Magical Forest because of its enormous trees submerged in water. It’s a great place for a boat ride, to swim with the fishes or just watch the animals.
Festa do Sairé (Sairé Party) is a traditional festival that happens in September, during the dry season. The festival lasts three days and it’s full of colourful performances and dances by locals.
If you have more time, you should also visit Ponta do Muretá and Ponta do Cururu, two calm beaches only accessible by boat that are perfect to watch the sunrise. You’ll get to meet the communities of Maguari and Jamaraquá, for a more in-depth experience of the Amazon.
Don Preguiça hostel is located only one minute’s walk from the beaches of the village and a few minutes from the main square, where you’ll find many bars and restaurants. They offer a social area for you to meet other guests and private rooms if you want some alone-time during your stay.
Best time to visit: August – November. September for Festa do Sairé
How many days: 3-4 daysFind a hostel in Alter do Chão
13. Arraial do Cabo, Rio de Janeiro
After visiting some amazing beaches in Rio and drinking loads of caipirinhas, it’s time to go to Arraial do Cabo, located 164km from the capital. This beautiful peninsula has many beaches and two islands: Ilha do Porco (Pig Island) and Ilha do Farol (Lighthouse Island). The most famous beaches, considered the centre of the island, are Praia Grande and Praia dos Anjos. To get there, you just have to ask where the “centrinho” is. This means little city centre and it’s what Brazilians call the downtown area of beach towns.
The best thing to do in Arraial do Cabo, apart from relaxing and enjoying the pristine waters, is to take a boat ride around the peninsula. You can reach the uninhabited island Ilha do Farol and visit the beach there. I recommend you get an early boat as there’s a limited number of visitors allowed per day. On the same boat ride, you’ll get to see the Blue Grotto, one of the most famous attractions in the region, and get off at Prainhas do Pontal do Atalaia and Praia do Forno.
Arraial do Cabo is also a good place to hike and you can try a medium difficultly route at Praia Brava or an easier one at Praia do Forno. To watch the sunset, head to Mirante do Pontal do Atalaia!
A Coroa Hostel is located less than 1km from both Praia Grande and Praia dos Anjos in a quiet and safe steet. The staff are super friendly and they have a kitchen for you to share meals with other guests.
Best time to visit: There’s good weather here during the whole year! High season is from December to March and it can get quite busy.
How many days: 2-3 daysFind a hostel in Arraial do Cabo
14. Lençois National Park, Maranhão
This national park is one of the most beautiful scenes you’re going to see in Brazil. During the rainy season, hundreds of fresh water blue lagoons are formed between the dunes, creating an unreal sight that you must visit.
To visit the lagoons, you have to book a tour from one of the base cities: Barreirinhas, Santo Amaro or Atins. The tours are normally with a group, so expect to share the lagoon. If you’re looking for a more private experience, you can book a private tour and ask your guide to take you to the lesser-known lagoons.
The most famous lagoons are closer to Barrerinhas and are part of the tours called “Circuito Lagoa Azul” and “Circuito Lagoa Bonita”. Whether you choose to use Barreirinhas as a base, or the other two cities, you’re going to love swimming in the fresh water together with the fish and watching incredible sunsets.
If you really want to experience the less famous lagoons and remote villages, you can also explore the whole park on foot. It will take you from 3 to 5 days.
Casa do Professor is located in Barreirinhas and has a super chilled vibe. It’s a great place to just relax and get to know the other guests. It’s close to the city centre, where you can find the bus station, bars and restaurants.
Best time to visit: May- August (it’s worth checking in advance if it has rained enough for the lagoons to be filled).
How many days: 3-4 daysFind a hostel in Lencois
We hope you’re inspired for your Brazilian adventure! Did we forget any amazing places to visit in Brazil? Let us know in the comments!
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