Best places to visit in BrazilBrazil is one of the most beautiful and geographically diverse countries on earth, a place where one can find powdery white-sand beaches, vast expanses of tropical rain forest and hundreds of unique species of flora and fauna in the Amazon River Basin. The largest country in all of Latin America, the country measures some 8.5 million square kilometers in total area, covering nearly half of the entire South American continent. It is also the fifth-most populous country in the world and the most most-populous nation in South America.
Brazil is divided into several geographical areas: the Northeast, North, West, South and Southeast. Each of these regions contains at least one of the country’s 26 states, usually many more. In some cases, the distinction between these geographical areas is very subtle, while in others, such as the contrast between Amazonia and portions of the arid Northeast, the distinction is quite dramatic.
The northeast interior of Brazil, which is often very dry and drought-ridden, is home to the states of Bahia, Sergipe, Alagoas, Paraiba, Rio Grande do Norte, Ceara, Maranhao and Piaui. Its main cities include names such as Recife, Natal, São Luis, Salvador da Bahia and Fortaleza. If you plan to visit this region, especially in the summer, you can typically expect hot weather, with air that is either dry or humid depending on the location.
Northern Brazil is also known as the Guiana Shield and extends from the Andes Mountains in the east to the borders of Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana in the west. The massive Brazilian rain forests are part of Brazil’s northern region, as are the states of Para, Tocantins, Roraima, Amazonas, Amapa and Rondonia. Major cities here include Macapa, Boa Vista, Rio Branco, Belem, Porto Velho and Manaus. Tropical heat and humidity is generally the forecast you’ll see throughout the Guiana Shield.
The hot and humid west of Brazil, also referred to as the Brazilian Shield or the Pantanal, extends from the Amazon River Basin in the south and includes the plateaus and savannahs to the borders of Bolivia and Paraguay. The West is home to the states of Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul and Goias, as well the cities of Campo Grande, Goiana and Cuiaba.
Also known as the Parana Basin, the southern portion of Brazil extends southward to Uruguay and Argentina, encompassing forest scrublands, savannahs and part of the Pantanal. The states of Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul, and Parana can all be found in this region, as can the cities of Florianopolis, Curitiba and Porto Alegre.
The most populated region of Brazil is by far the southeast, which extends from the mountain highlands to the Atlantic Ocean. Here you will find the states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, along with the cities of the same name—the two largest cities in Brazil. Also located in the southeast region are the states of Espiritu Santo and Minas Gerais, where explorers first landed in Brazil in the year 1500, as well as the city of Belo Horizonte.
While every region of Brazil offers something fun and fascinating to do and see, below we will focus on some of the sites and attractions located in the country’s two largest cities—São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro—which, not surprisingly, are also the nation’s top two tourist destinations.
Sao Paulo, BrazilSão Paulo, Brazil, located in the state of the same name, is situated approximately 2,500 miles (760 meters) above sea level and occupies a geographic area measuring 580 square miles (1,500 square kilometers). The largest city in Brazil, São Paulo is approximately two-thirds urban and one-third rural. The urban megalopolis of São Paulo, known locally as Região Metropolitana de São Paulo (Greater São Paulo), is home to some 15 million people, making it the most populous of all South American cities.
São Paulo has a number of distinct districts, each of which helps to reveal the storied history of this massive city.
Pinheiros and Lapa
In what is now known as the Pinheiros and Lapa districts of São Paulo, there used to live a number of indigenous Amerindian groups, including the Tupi and Guarani, and later a significant population of slaves, primarily in the 17 century when the native populations succumbed to Portuguese colonists. Slaves provided the necessary manual labor to support the sugar and coffee plantations, which ultimately helped to fund and create the city of São Paulo. However, the population of São Paulo grew only slowly until the 19 century, when the population was bolstered greatly by European immigration.
As the coffee industry in Brazil began to skyrocket in the 19 century, the city of São Paulo prospered. From the 1870s onwards, the urbanization of the city was rapid, transforming swamps into lush gardens. Bras, one of the older districts in São Paulo, which takes its name from the former Portuguese trader Jose Bras, became home to hundreds of Italian immigrants, who flocked to Brazil towards the end of the 19 century. The newly-arrived immigrants of São Paulo changed the culture of the city, and highly influenced the “paulista” spoken accent, which is extremely different from that spoken in other parts of Brazil.
With the construction of the first power station in Brazil in 1890, electrically-driven trains were introduced to São Paulo. In the first half of the 20 century, industrial development created new urban areas toward the east, west and south of the city center, following the railway lines and the Tietê, Tamanduateí and Pinheiros river valleys. Japanese immigrants arrived in the city at about this time to work in agriculture and settled into what is now the Liberdale district. Today this region of São Paulo boasts many aspects of Japanese culture and is home to some of the best Japanese restaurants, not just in South America but also the world.
The Jardins district of São Paulo is home to older, smaller settlements, which were slowly incorporated into the metropolitan region over time. From the early part of the 20 century, a number of elegant neighborhoods began to spring up, including the Jardim America, Jardim Europa and Jardim Paulista, which today have become sophisticated commercial zones known collectively as the Jardins. Running through the Jardins district is the Avenida Paulista, considered the Wall Street of São Paulo, featuring lush commercial office space and a wide contrast of architectural styles.
Nearby the Jardins district is the famous Morumbi district of São Paulo. Here, among the pricey mansions and luxurious residential buildings, you will also find the Morumbi Stadium, one of the few venues chosen by the FIFA organization for the initial World Club football (soccer) tournament.
Vila Madelena and Bexiga
If you’re looking to have some adult fun during your trip to São Paulo, we recommend you visit the Vila Madelena and Bexiga districts. In Vila Madelena you’ll find scores of local and international restaurants, trendy bars and raucous nightclubs, where many of the local business people and students gather to blow off steam after a long week of work and/or school. The Bexiga district offers similar enjoyment, including a number of bars where you can hear the traditional music of northeastern Brazil called forró. This district is also home to most of the city’s theaters.
Popular Attractions in São PauloSão Paulo is just one of many Brazilian cities loaded with attractions—fun and interesting things to do for people of all ages. Some of these include:
Parque de Ibirapuera (Ibirapuera Park)
The Parque de Ibirapuera, or Ibirapuera Park, is a must-visit attraction for anyone visiting São Paulo, Brazil. Inaugurated in 1954, this lush and very expansive park is home to an eye-popping Japanese Pavilion, a fun and educational planetarium, a sports arena and a vast collection of museums and other great attractions. Ibirapuera Park is the perfect place to relax and unwind after a long day of sightseeing; a place that is home to over 100 species of birds, crystal, clean lakes, refreshing aquariums and seasonal colors in every direction. The park boasts an open-air library every Sunday afternoon, and thousands of shade trees to help you stay cool on those warm summer afternoons.
Jardim Botanico (Botanical Gardens)
Located in the Parque de Estado, another of the great parks in São Paulo, the Botanical Gardens feature a beautifully-landscaped assortment of local and foreign plant varieties. The picturesque gardens are located in the southern part of São Paulo, offering visitors a chance to relax and retool among charming ponds, an orchidarium and a herbavarium, as well as scores of mature palm and wood trees. Dating back to 1917, the Jardim Botanico is a treat for all your senses.
Instituto Butantan (Butantan Institute)
If you’re in the mood for a unique outing while visiting São Paulo, Brazil, you simply must check out the Instituto Butantan, or Butantan Institute. One of the city’s proudest attractions, this zoo-like institute is home to a one-of-a-kind venom farm, where the poison of snakes is extracted and used to make antidotes to snake and spider bites. In addition to the terrifying snake pit, the Butantan Institute also features a wide array of animal species, including the much-loved monkey house, one of the more popular attractions of the zoo. The Institute is located very near the campus of São Paulo University.
Rio de Janeiro, BrazilRio de Janeiro, often referred to as simply “Rio,” is the capital city of the State of Rio de Janeiro, the second-largest city in Brazil, and the third-largest metropolitan area in South America, boasting some 6.3 million people within the city proper. For many reasons, a portion of Rio de Janeiro has been designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nation’s cultural organization, UNESCO, which nicknamed the city “Rio de Janeiro: Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea.”
Rio de Janeiro is one of the world’s top tourist destinations. It is renowned for its beautiful natural settings; Carnival celebrations; samba; Bossa Nova; and balneario beaches; such as Barra da Tijuca, Copacabana, and Ipanema. Rio de Janeiro will host the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, making it the first South American or Portuguese-speaking country to host the international event. Rio's Maracanã Stadium, which held the final of the 1950 FIFA World Cup, will host the final match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, one of the most popular sporting events in the world. Rio de Janeiro also hosted the World Youth Journey in 2013.
Popular Attractions in Rio de JaneiroSitting on the southern shore of the magnificent Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro has unquestionably one of the most stunning natural settings in the world. Extending for approximately 20 kilometers, nestled between the bright blue waters of the Atlantic and tree-lined mountains, the city's streets and buildings have seemingly been molded around the foothills of the mountain range that provides its backdrop, while out in the bay there are many rocky islands fringed with white sand.
The aerial views over Rio are simply magnificent, and even the large skyscrapers that dominate the city's skyline add to the city’s magnetism. Once the capital of Brazil and now its second largest city, Rio de Janeiro has an extraordinary architectural heritage and some of the country's best museums and galleries, superb restaurants and a vibrant nightlife – in addition to its celebrated beaches. In fact, with so much to see and do in Rio you may find it difficult to leave this South American oasis.
Arcos de Lapa
Formerly known as the Aqueduto da Carioca (Carioca Aqueduct), this massive structure, featuring 42 enormous stone arches, was erected between 1744 and 1750 as a way to carry water from the Carioca River in the hillside community of Santa Teresa to Centro. The structure—which is an absolute treat to visit—was covered in 1896 by the city transportation company and converted into a viaduct, with the city laying trolley tracks along it. For decades after, the rattling yellow street cars of Santa Teresa, known as the “bondinho,” passed over the old aqueduct carrying passengers from Centro to the hills of Santa Teresa. Although the bondinho was shut down in 2011 after a fatal accident, it is expected to reopen in 2014 with brand new trams.
Corcovado and Cristo Redentor
Perhaps the most iconic structure in Rio de Janeiro is the enormous Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue that stands arms outstretched atop the 2,300 foot-high (690 meter-high) Corcovado Mountain. Although the statue can be seen from both Corcovado and Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf Mountain), Corcovado offers two advantages: it is nearly twice as high, and it offers an excellent view of Pão de Açúcar itself. The sheer 1,000-foot granite face of Corcovado, which means “hunchback,” referring to the mountain’s shape, is magnificent and witness and has always been a difficult, yet popular undertaking for some of the city’s most daring rock climbers.
Those wishing to make the ascent to the top of Corcovado can take one of the minibus tours or go by cogwheel train. The train, built in 1885, provides amazing views of Ipanema and Leblon below, as well as an up-close look at thick vegetation and dazzling butterflies. Trains are available at the Cosme Velho station every hour to take guests on the 3-mile, 15-minute ascent up the mountain.
If you’re looking to escape the throng of tourists in the city center in favor of a more relaxing day amid Rio’s gorgeous scenery, you may want to make your way to Grumari Beach, home to one-and-a-half miles of pristine red and white sand. A favored retreat by local sun-seekers, this attractive and quiet beach is a long way from the swooning tourists.
at Copacabana and Ipanema.
Museum of Modern Art
For some culturally-inspired indoor fun during your visit to Rio de Janeiro you can’t beat the Museum of Modern Art, known locally as the Museo de Arte Moderna. The museum is home to a massive collection of over 1,700 works of art and a relaxing patio garden, located on the second-floor gallery. The garden features a beautiful flower and plant landscape, designed by Brazilian architect Roberto Burle Marx. Inside the museum you’ll find a number of beautiful pieces, including an astonishing photo exhibit. The Museum of Modern Art also houses a cinema and the Laguiole Restaurant, where French and Brazilian cuisines are tastily infused by world-class chefs.