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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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Tijuca National Park (Parque Nacional da Tijuca)
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A lush Atlantic rainforest, Tijuca National Park is an absolute wonder it is the world’s largest urban forest which covers 12.4mi² (32km²) and was a result of incredible forward thinking by Emperor Dom Pedro II.

In 1861 he saw the deforestation of the land around Rio and ordered that Tijuca be replanted to secure the water supply for future citizens. It was replanted over ten years ago and still plays a key role in making sure Rio has fresh water.

The national park includes the Corcodova which offers stunning views from its summit where the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer is situated. It also offers fantastic picnic areas, many waterfalls and some great walks.

Wildlife in the park includes insects, ocelots and howler monkeys. The reintroduction of birdlife has been particularly successful and it is a birdwatchers heaven.

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Amazon Rainforest
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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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Iguaçu Falls (Cataratas do Iguaçu)
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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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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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Christ the Redeemer Statue (Cristo Redentor)
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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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Paulista Avenue (Avenida Paulista)
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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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Ibirapuera Park
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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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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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Copacabana Beach (Praia de Copacabana)
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Copocabana Beach, or Praia de Copacabana, is the Rio de Janeiro of the tourist brochures and deservedly so. It’s a breath-taking 2.5mi (4.5 km) stretch of bright sand that’s filled with people luxuriating in the sun and soaking up the atmosphere.

As night descends the lights go on and football is played until the wee hours. Other groups start singing and dancing and still others are just there to check each other out. The busy sidewalks can get seedy at night so take care.

Behind it rise the Sugarloaf and Morro de Leme and in between is one of the world’s most densely populated residential areas.It is possible to visit Rio and never leave Copacabana, many hotels are situated here and there are plenty of restaurants and bars and some decent shopping.

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More Things to Do in Brazil

Vista Chinesa

Vista Chinesa

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With iconic landmarks like Sugar Loaf and Corcovado mountains, Rio de Janeiro has no shortage of famous lookouts, but if you’re looking for a unique view away from the masses, head to the Vista Chinesa. An oriental style pavilion perched at 380 meters on the Alto da Boa Vista, the Vista Chinesa (literally ‘the Chinese View’) is one of the most striking monuments of the Tijuca Forest, erected in 1903 to honor Rio’s Chinese immigrants.

Regarded as one of the grandest Chinese monuments in South America, the award-winning gazebo offers spectacular views over the city, spanning the coastal lagoons and mountaintops, including the Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado, Ipanema and Copacabana beaches and Leblon. The easiest way to reach the Vista Chinesa is by taxi or tour bus, but adventurous types can also tackle the climb on foot or mountain bike - a steep yet scenic 6km trek that’s not for the faint hearted.

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Ipanema Beach (Praia de Ipanema)

Ipanema Beach (Praia de Ipanema)

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Charming and chic, Ipanema Beach (Praia de Ipanema) is the richer and ritzier sister of the also infamous Copacabana beach. Ipanema backs onto a fancy neighbourhood and there are plenty of high-end hotels.

The stunning beach gets divided up depending on the interests of the beachgoers. There is the family section, the gay section, the ageing-intellectual section and so on; you’ll soon find where you feel comfortable.

At night the beach is lit up and families come to the beach with their barbeques and cook dinner while others come down to watch the sunset.

Ipanema means “bad, dangerous waters” in Indian and it is indeed a good idea to only swim in the designated areas where the locals are swimming as the waves can be big and the undertow strong.

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Sao Paulo Aquarium

Sao Paulo Aquarium

3 Tours and Activities
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Leblon Beach (Praia do Leblon)

Leblon Beach (Praia do Leblon)

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Fronting one of Rio’s wealthiest and most exclusive neighborhoods, Leblon Beach is a slightly quieter alternative to its neighbor Ipanema. Separated from Ipanema by a canal, the beach is popular with families with young children, as it offers a play area equipped with beach toys and playground equipment, collectively called Baixo Baby.

While calmer and less crowded than Copacabana and even Ipanema, the sandy stretch still offers beautiful views of the mountains, a string of beach bars serving caiparinhas and all the usual amenities, like chairs, umbrellas, showers and food stalls. While it’s also one of Rio’s safest and cleanest beaches, it’s still a good idea to leave valuables at the hotel and keep an eye on your belongings.

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Selarón Steps (Escadaria Selarón)

Selarón Steps (Escadaria Selarón)

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Decorated with over 2,000 brightly colored tiles in the colors of the Brazilian flag, the Selarón Staircase (Escadaria Selarón) is one of Rio’s most vibrant and striking landmarks, marking the boundary between the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighbourhoods. The brainchild of Chilean artist Jorge Selarón, the iconic steps have become one of the world’s most famous pieces of street art, drawing millions of visitors and gaining exposure in international commercials, pop music videos and magazines all around the globe.

Selarón started work on the staircase in 1990 as a tribute to the Brazilian people and his beloved adopted city, covering the 250 steps with an elaborate mosaic of tiles and updating the artwork over the years to include newly inspired tiles donated by visiting artists. Operating a gallery from his home, the artist lived nearby for more than 20 years, but tragically, he was found dead on the steps in 2013, leaving his memory to live on through the unique landmark.

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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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Maracana Stadium (Estádio do Maracana)

Maracana Stadium (Estádio do Maracana)

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The gigantic Maracanã Stadium was built to open the 1950 World Cup. It holds the record for the largest attendance at a World cup final as 199,854 paying spectators crammed into the stadium and many more besides.

If you’re after the intense Brazilian football experience complete with the drums, flares, and chanting, then get to a game; otherwise the sports museum inside the stadium with photographs, cups, and Pele’s famous no. 10 jersey is a more sedate experience (enter at Gate 18).

Its official name is 'Mário Filho Stadium' but it's called 'Maracanã' after the small river that runs alongside. In the 1990s it was modified to become an all-seated stadium and now holds under 100,000.

The four main teams of the city play here and it will host the opening of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremonies. It is being renovated for these events (scheduled to reopen in 2012) and will finally hold around 103,000 spectators.

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Sambadrome (Sambadrome Marques de Sapucaí)

Sambadrome (Sambadrome Marques de Sapucaí)

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At Carnival time the Sambadrome is the heartbeat of Rio de Janiero. A 3,000ft (700m) stretch of road designed as a 90,000 capacity parade area with stadium seating rising on each side of the road.

Samba schools have 80 minutes to parade through the center of the Sambadrome performing their samba school anthem impressing the crowd with their music, dancing and floats. it is an incredible spectacle; seven teams compete each night in a concert that lasts over ten hours.

During the rest of the year the Sambadrome hosts the occasional music concerts. Some of the more famous names to play include the Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam, Eric Clapton and Coldplay. If its not Carnival and there's no concert then the Sambadrome can be very empty and quiet but it is still a fascinating piece of Rio’s culture and there is a small museum that showcases its history.

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Morro da Urca

Morro da Urca

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Sitting in the shadow of big brother and Rio de Janeiro icon, Sugar Loaf Mountain, the Morro da Urca is just as important if only because the cable car trip up to Sugar Loaf includes a stop atop this turtle shell-shaped rock. Not to be outdone by its better-known neighbor, the 720-foot hill, a little more than half Sugar Loaf’s height of 1,300 feet, still offers spectacular panoramic views of Christ the Redeemer and Corcovado, Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, Guanabara Bay, downtown Rio, and Sugar Loaf itself (something you can’t see when you’re actually on it).

At the top of the Morro da Urca, the visitors’ center provides elevators for special needs guests, restrooms, and souvenir and food concessions. Hiking trails skirt the Morro, starting at Praia Vermelho, but one of the most exhilarating options available, if not exactly popular or cheap, is a helicopter ride around Sugar Loaf and over nearby Copacabana.

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Mirante Dona Marta

Mirante Dona Marta

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The Mirante Dona Marta literally translates to ‘lookout,’ and visitors to the site will get just that — an incredible view of some of Rio de Janeiro’s best sights, often without the crowds. Standing there one can see the long stretches of lush forest and white sand beach below, and even take in the famous sights of the Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugarloaf Mountain.

The area functions as a helipad and observation point, with panoramic views of Guanabara Bay and Copacabana. At 1,200 feet (364 meters) high, it provides excellent sunrise and sunset vistas and photo opportunities of the natural surroundings and the city below. Many who know Rio well cite it as their favorite viewpoint.

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Meeting of Waters (Encontro das Aguas)

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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Guanabara Bay

Guanabara Bay

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A vast oceanic inlet flanked by the looming peaks of Sugarloaf Mountain and Papagaio Peak and dotted with over 100 islands, Guanabara Bay provides a dramatic backdrop to the city of Rio de Janeiro. Measuring in at about 159 square miles (412 square kilometers), Guanabara is Brazil’s second largest bay, home to the cities of Niterói and São Gonçalo, the Port of Rio de Janeiro and Rio’s two airports. The iconic landscape has been immortalized on countless postcards.

Most visitors choose to explore the sights of Guanabara Bay with a boat cruise from Rio harbor, taking in highlights like the Rio neighborhoods of Botafogo, Flamengo and Urca, the beaches of Niterói and the fortresses of Sao Joao and Santa Cruz.

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Glória Marina (Marina da Glória)

Glória Marina (Marina da Glória)

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Gloria Marina, with its coastal views and epic mountain scenery, is one of Rio de Janeiro’s most popular waterfront destinations. Nestled between the Sugar Loaf and Corcovado Mountains, the marina offer visitors a picturesque place to take in live music performances, public and private boat parties and ship tours of the city. Visitors say the cuisine at nearby Barracuda Restaurant is some of the best in town (and so are the views!) but travelers agree it’s the reasonably priced diving certification classes and personalized sailing lessons that make Gloria Marina truly worth the trip.

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Red Beach (Praia Vermelha)

Red Beach (Praia Vermelha)

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Praia Vermelha is one of Rio’s smallest beaches but also one of the most scenic. Tucked inside a protective cove that keeps the waves at bay, the beach is covered in coarse sand with a slightly reddish hue. Flanked by the spires of Morro da Urca and Morro da Babilonia, Vermelha Beach offers ground level views looking up at Sugarloaf Mountain. To reach the top of the iconic peak, ride the cable car from Vermelha Beach to the top of Morro da Urca, before transferring over to a second car to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. Or, to combine a hike with the ride to the top, a steep trail ascends Morro da Urca from the sands of Praia Vermelha, which is accessed by walking the paved walking trail that leads away from the beach.

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