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Things to Do in Brazil

Wherever you are in Brazil, the infectious sound of samba wafts from bars, platters of perfectly roasted meats and obsidian black beans line tables, and startling echoes of “oi” (Portuguese for hi) burst from the mouths of lively locals. In Rio de Janeiro, legendary Copacabana and Ipanema beaches are set against the dramatic backdrop of Corcovado, Sugar Loaf Mountain, and the outstretched arms of Christ the Redeemer. Full-day sightseeing tours tick off all of the Marvelous City’s highlights: the Selaron Steps, Rochina favela, and a samba show are typically covered, too. But Rio is just the beginning: The sprawling metropolis of Sao Paulo—one of the world’s 10 largest cities—reveals its cultural wealth on a panoramic tour. In the Amazon rain forests of Manaus, biodiverse wildlife species allure nature buffs. In the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Iguassu National Park, the countless torrents of Iguazu Falls (Foz de Iguacu) create a thundering roar. In Salvador, an African influence dictates the vibrant energy of the city. And on the spectacular, car-free islands of Ilha Grande and Florianopolis, a vision of paradise comes to life. Myriad private and group tours help visitors experience it all with skip-the-lines entry to top sights, simple transportation options, and local perspectives. And Brazil borders almost every country in South America, making it an ideal starting point for any trip around the continent. Begin with New Year’s Eve or Carnaval—two of the world’s most spectacular celebrations in Rio—before continuing to discover Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, or Colombia.
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Iguaçu Falls (Cataratas do Iguaçu)
130 Tours and Activities

This spectacular landscape of crashing waterfalls was once held sacred by the Guarani people, who called it Iguassu, or "Big Water." Straddling the border of Brazil and Argentina, Iguassu Falls is an incredible natural attraction of 275 waterfalls of various sizes, making it a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Puerto Iguazu is the Argentina gateway - from here you can tour the Brazilian side, tour both sides and take other sightseeing tours to nearby attractions like the San Ignacio Mission or the Itaipu Dam on the Brazil-Paraguay border.

While Argentina, with 80% of the falls, has more trails and activities, the Brazilian side, with tours leaving from Foz do Iguacu, offers the finest views. Pedestrian walkways descend into the fierce rainbow-strewn mists of Fiorano Falls, and take in panoramic vistas over the massive flowing curtain of Rivadavia Falls, which cascades across a plateau.

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Genipabu
11 Tours and Activities

Genipabu is a beach village known for its large sand dunes and freshwater lagoons. There are a few different ways to explore the mounds of shifting sand, with varying degrees of adrenaline — from camel rides to sand buggies to sand-boarding (esquibunda or skibunda) down the hot dunes and into the cool water.

The winds shifting across the sand means that the landscape of Genipabu is always changing. The sands pile up into dunes that rise and fall, creating ridges and mounds across the shores and eventually plunging into the sea. Certain areas of the dunes are accessible only by certified dune buggy drivers, who will ask if you want your ride “with emotion” or without, to determine the level of desired thrills. Sand boarding into the lagoons’ fresh water is a great way to beat the heat. No matter the method of adventure you choose, the unique landscape and natural beauty of both the sand and water at Genipabu is worth seeing.

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Amazon Rainforest
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10 Tours and Activities

Trying to fathom the Amazon’s size is a lesson in mental futility. You can read all the Amazon stats that you want—like the fact that the Amazon has more acres of land than China or India have people, or that 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced from the Amazon’s trees—but until you float down the Rio Negro and stare at the sea of green, or look out the window on a flight to Manaus at the endless landscape of trees, stats and figures about the mighty Amazon are only numbers on a page.

That all changes when you first catch sight of the Amazon’s muddy waters and realize how much of this liquid snake there really is to see. There are forests that teem with native wildlife and canopies alive in birdsong, and remote areas where indigenous tribes have yet to even be found. Granted, nearly all recreational visitors to the Amazon will stay pretty close to Manaus, where the chance of seeing jaguars and lost tribes is admittedly pretty slim.

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Meeting of Waters (Encontro das Aguas)
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The city of Manaus lies at the confluence of two great rivers, the Solimões and the Black. Although borders on water are typically impossible to see, that is not the case in Manaus. Because of the different colors of the two rivers, it's possible to see precisely where they meet - which is what makes the "Meeting of Waters," or Encontro das Aguas, a checklist must-do for visitors to Manaus.

The Black River, or Rio Negro, gets its name from the color of the water. The Solimões River in Manaus is a sandy brownish color. This means you can see exactly where the two rivers come together. Not only that, each river on its own is a different temperature and run at a different speed, so when they come together the water doesn't just mix to create a muddy soup - instead, the rivers essentially run alongside one another.

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Christ the Redeemer Statue (Cristo Redentor)
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277 Tours and Activities

Keeping a watchful eye over the people of Rio de Janeiro, the Statue of Christ the Redeemer (or Cristo Redentor) sits atop Corcovado 2,300 feet (700 meters) above the city. It was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.

The largest art deco statue in the world, it is 130 ft (39 m) tall and the arms measure 98 ft (30 m) across. Made of reinforced concrete and sandstone the statue was unveiled in 1931.

On a clear day the views from the base of the statue are fantastic. At night the statue is lit up and seemingly hovers over the city as the mountain it stands on is dark. If it is cloudy the clouds light up and the effect can be quite spectacular and ethereal.

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Ibirapuera Park
57 Tours and Activities

Sao Paulo’s version of NYC’s Central Park, leafy Ibirapuera Park was opened on the 400th anniversary of the city, in 1954, and it’s known as much for its museums and music hall as it is for its jogging and cycling paths by the lake.

The park buildings were designed by the modernist Oscar Niemeyer, known for designing Brasília’s public buildings. Covering 2 square km, Ibirapuera is the largest park in central Sao Paulo and the second largest in the city. Designed by landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, there are 13 playing courts and playgrounds on the lawn. Come on a Sunday morning to enjoy a free outdoor concert in the Praça da Paz. Another nice Sunday touch is the Bosque de Leitura — a free outdoor lending library where you can borrow books and magazines (many of which are in English) to read in the park for the day.

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Futuro Beach (Praia do Futuro)
5 Tours and Activities

Praia do Futuro is an urban beach popular for its good swimming and beach barracas (restaurants).

Unlike many stretches of beach along Fortaleza’s coastline, Praia do Futuro does not have a coral reef near the shore, which makes it a preferred spot for paddling. Several of the once rustic barracas have become large restaurants and entertainment venues in recent years, however, you will still find some that have remained unchanged for decades. Many of the barracas come alive on Thursday night when locals head to Praia do Futuro for a spot of crab eating and forró (Brazilian country music).

Praia do Futuro is not as busy as the other urban beaches in Fortaleza, and you are advised to catch a taxi to the area, particularly if you are visiting at night.

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Conceicao Lagoon (Lagoa da Conceicao)
8 Tours and Activities

Located just over the hill from downtown Florianopolis, the Lagoa da Conceição neighborhood is situated on a lagoon that bears the same name. This is Florianopolis’ oldest neighborhood and still retains some of the colonial architecture from centuries ago. Today, the area is known as the city’s laid‐back, eclectic beach neighborhood, often hosting a wealth of outdoor activities, charming boutiques, great restaurants and fun nightlife. Lagoa de Conceição’s central location near downtown, the beaches and various areas of interest make it a favorite spot for visitors to stay and for locals to live.

This is where mountains meet lagoons, sand dunes and beaches — and this sort of diverse landscape and natural beauty promotes an active lifestyle. Visitors can experience this outdoor‐lover’s haven like the locals do and kitesurf or paddleboard on the lagoon, sandboard the dunes, surf the legendary waves, jog along the scenic paths or set up a game of beach volleyball.

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More Things to Do in Brazil

Salvador Mercado Modelo

Salvador Mercado Modelo

25 Tours and Activities

Mercado Modelo is a lively place stocked full of arts, crafts and touristy trinkets.

Located across the street from the restored art deco elevador lacerda (elevator) in a replica of the city’s old customs house, the market is a fun way to spend an hour or two and maybe pick up a bit of tourist tack for the folks back home.

Take a deep breath as you enter to prepare for the onslaught of vendors that’ll attempt to coax you towards their stall. It’s all pretty light-hearted so with a smile and a bit of friendly bartering, you’ll enjoy your visit here.

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Paulista Avenue (Avenida Paulista)

Paulista Avenue (Avenida Paulista)

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57 Tours and Activities

One of the most expensive strips of real estate in Latin America, Avenida Paulista is São Paulo’s most iconic thoroughfare. What started out as a residential street lined with the ornate neoclassical mansions of 19th-century coffee barons has, in a little over a century, turned into an urban canyon of glass and steel and a modern hub of business, culture and entertainment.

Anchored on one end by busy Shopping Paulista mall and on the other by multi-use architectural standout Conjunto Nacional—vaguely reminiscent of the famed congress building in Brasília—, Avenida Paulista serves as the address for many of the city’s most important cultural institutions, including the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP), lush Parque Trianon and the Casa das Rosas arts center (located in one of the last mansions remaining on the street).

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Santos Coffee Museum (Museu do Café)

Santos Coffee Museum (Museu do Café)

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At the Santos Coffee Museum visitors experience the world’s favorite caffeinated-beverage through history and of course, taste. The Coffee Museum is housed in what used to be the Coffee Stock Exchange, where Brazilian coffee was weighed and traded before being sent through the Santos Port and overseas.

The Coffee Stock Exchange closed in the 1960s and fell into disrepair, but after decades of restoration efforts, in 2005 the beautiful colonial building re-opened as the Coffee Museum. The building’s architecture is a highlight of a visit to the museum. High ceilings with stained-glass skylights lie above ornately designed marble floors on the Exchange’s main trading room. The museum’s exhibition rooms explain the historical and cultural significance of coffee in Brazil, and worldwide, through photos, paintings, antique coffee-farming tools and more.

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Frades Island (Ilha dos Frades)

Frades Island (Ilha dos Frades)

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Warm waves and slow tides make the picturesque shores of Ilha dos Frades—a star-shaped island accessible only by boat—one of Salvador’s most popular family destinations. Visitors can enjoy one of the tropical beaches where white sand meets turquoise blue waters, or hike to the remote waterfalls or nearby hilltops, which offer incredible views of the idyllic bay.

Ponta de Nossa Senhora is the most famous beach on the island. Travelers will find cold beers, freshly fried fish, dozens of umbrellas and public showers that make spending a day under the sun here feel like a true island escape. Paramana Beach offers access to a natural swimming pool during low tide amid a scenic backdrop of natural forest. Visitors looking to truly get away can head to Viracao beach—a deserted and wild escape where coconut plantations and rocky crags protect the quiet shores.

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Paraty Bay

Paraty Bay

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About 36,000 people call the Portuguese colonial town of Paraty home. Its quiet streets, colorful homes, European influence and historic roots attract visitors from across the globe. But it’s Paraty’s easy access to lush forests, untouched coastlines and pristine mountains that make it a true travel destination. Stationed on the Bay of Ilha Grande, Paraty is the southernmost city in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Visitors can kayak or cruise through placid waters and explore the tiny islands scattered throughout the bay. And land lovers can check out nearby Serra da Bocaina National Park and Serra do Mar State Park, for a look at indigenous plants and wildlife.

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Curitiba Botanical Garden (Jardim Botanico)

Curitiba Botanical Garden (Jardim Botanico)

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A signature site of the city, the Curitiba Botanical Garden combines serene greenery with stunning architecture. The gardens were created in the style of the French royal gardens, but feature Brazil’s tropical flora and fauna. The centerpiece is an art nouveau-style greenhouse, made of metal and glass, with three towers that overlook the city. Considered one of the most impressive botanical gardens in Latin America, the Curitiba Botanical Garden is home to rare plants and flowers, manicured hedges, statues and fountains, leaving visitors with plenty to explore and take in. These peaceful grounds serve as a retreat from the busy metropolis of Curitiba for locals and tourists alike.

The site is also a renowned research center and home to the Botanic Museum, which serves as a reference for categorizing Brazil’s native plants and welcomes scientists from around the world.

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Pelourinho

Pelourinho

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62 Tours and Activities
Pelourinho is Salvador’s original colonial center and was Brazil's first slave market. Its name is derived from the post or pillory that African slaves were tethered to and whipped by their Portuguese overlords. Despite containing the largest concentration of Baroque architecture in the Americas, Pelourinho was a seedy no-go zone until the mid-1980s largely due to drugs and prostitution. Since being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, Pelourinho has been restored to some of its former glory along with plenty of restaurants, bars and open-air cafes from which to sit and drink in the colorful and architecturally rich surrounds.
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Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Açúcar)

Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Açúcar)

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You’ll see stunning views of Rio from atop Sugar Loaf Mountain (or Pão de Acúcar) which rises at the point where Guanabara Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. Whichever way you look the city is a delight of sweeping beaches, sparkling water and green peaks. If you make the trip up in the late afternoon you can watch Rio as the light disappears and the fairy show of night lights begins. Looking west you’ll have an incredible view of Corcovado with the statue of Christ the Redeemer all lit up. At the summit there are some clearly marked wooded trails where you can view some wildlife and get away from the crowds. The crowds are densest mid-morning and mid-afternoon when the tourist buses arrive.
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Rio de Janeiro Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana de Sao Sebastiao)

Rio de Janeiro Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana de Sao Sebastiao)

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Far from a typical church, the Rio de Janeiro Cathedral is a tall, cone-shaped building that’s distinctive to the downtown Rio skyline. The unusual design was inspired by the Mayan pyramids and was built in the ‘60s and ‘70s by architect Edgar Fonseca. One of the most important contemporary religious structures in Rio, the cathedral is dedicated to St Sebastian, the patron saint of the city, and has received three papal visits.

Standing at 315 feet (96 meters), the hollow interior is undeniably the most impressive part of the building. Massive bronze doors give way to the circular nave, nearly 350 feet (106 meters) in diameter, fit to accommodate 20,000 churchgoers on foot. Four panels of floor-to-ceiling stained-glass windows surround the structure, and a skylight in the shape of a cross at the top allows for natural light to flood into the interior. This unique cathedral is a must-see for those interested in contemporary architecture.

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Sao Paulo Municipal Theater (Theatro Municipal)

Sao Paulo Municipal Theater (Theatro Municipal)

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Situated grandly atop downtown São Paulo’s Vale do Anhangabaú like a concrete wedding cake, the century-old Theatro Municipal still shines as an example of the city’s place at the vanguard of art in Latin America. Opened in 1911, the ornate showplace—styled in the tradition of the great European opera houses—has welcomed Maria Callas, Isadora Duncan, Duke Ellington, and Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Ellington to its stage. A recent multimillion-dollar renovation has restored the grandeur of the structure, which serves as the official home of the São Paulo Municipal Symphony Orchestra and the São Paulo City Ballet, among other artistic organizations.

With a design inspired directly by Milan’s Teatroalla Scala, the theater was erected during the height of São Paulo’s wealth and influence as the center of Brazil’s coffee industry, though the location of the structure is called Morro do Chá—Tea Hill.

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Sé Cathedral (Catedral da Sé)

Sé Cathedral (Catedral da Sé)

55 Tours and Activities

Lording over the heart of the city, the immense Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption—abbreviated to Catedral da Sé in reference to its status as the seat of the local Roman Catholic archbishop—almost seems out of place with its mid-century Modernist neighbors. In fact, the current neo-Gothic structure is the third incarnation of the cathedral, the first church having been established in 1589. Designed by German architect Maximilian Hehl in 1912, construction on the current church began the following year, only coming to full completion in 1967, a full 50 years after Hehl himself died and 13 years after the cathedral was inaugurated for São Paulo’s 400th anniversary in 1954. One of the largest neo-Gothic structures in the world and certainly the largest in Brazil, the cathedral’s massive dimensions include a length of 364 feet, a 98-foot dome, and a height of 301 feet from ground level to the tip of the twin spires.

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