Last Updated on October 2, 2023
Planning your first trip to Brazil? Travelers share their favorite Brazilian destinations to visit for first-timers with helpful insights, travel tips, and the best things to do there.
One of the best destinations in South America, Brazil is a country known for its beautiful beaches, lush rainforests, and cultural heritage. Discover below some of the best things to do and places to visit in Brazil for first-timers traveling to this beautiful country.
These popular destinations and hidden gems are perfect to add to your itinerary for your first trip to Brazil and will give you a good overview of what the country has to offer.
HELPFUL WEBSITES TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR TRIP
HELPFUL WEBSITES TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR TRIP
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By David & Intan of The World Travel Guy
By far one of the best places to visit in Brazil for a first-time trip would have to be Iguazu Falls, a giant waterfall that spans the countries of Argentina and Brazil. The town on the Brazilian side is called Foz do Iguacu, while the town on the Argentine side is called Puerto Iguazu.
There are plenty of nice hotels and restaurants on either side of the border, and both sides are worth visiting!
Iguazu Falls is famous for being the biggest waterfall system in the world, depending on how you measure it. This tropical waterfall is extremely photogenic and beautiful, and you could easily spend several days exploring everything in the area!
The Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls can be done in half a day since it’s slightly smaller than the Argentina side, but it has lots of viewpoints that are really unique and worthwhile.
It’s relatively easy to get to Iguazu Falls in Brazil. You can now fly from Sao Paulo or Rio De Janeiro to Foz do Iguacu. There are several airlines covering this route, and the flight only takes about 2 hours.
From the town, it’s easy to get to the falls by bus, taxi, or tour, and you can also use any of these methods to cross the border and see the Argentina side of the falls as well.
Just plan to spend at least one day on each side of the falls, because the falls are too big to see everything in a day!
By Andy of Explore With Finesse
There are several reasons why Salvador, Brazil is worth visiting for a first-time trip. This city, located in the state of Bahia in northeastern Brazil, once served as the first capital of Brazil. Today, it is famous for its beaches, Afro-Brazilian culture, and unique architecture.
There are over 50 different beaches in Salvador, ranging from urban shorelines to empty, pristine white sandy beaches. There are also some west-facing beaches, a rarity in Brazil, that offer amazing views of the sunset.
Salvador has a distinct culture from the rest of Brazil. This region has a higher percentage of Black Brazilians compared to other parts of Brazil, and they embrace their African roots and traditions. The Yoruba ethnic group, originating from West Africa, has left a noticeable mark on the religion, food, and language of the citizens of Salvador.
Salvador is home to a historic neighborhood, Pelourinho, that houses some of Brazil’s most iconic buildings. This neighborhood has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its colonial Portuguese architecture. Here, you can find several restaurants, bars, and hotels that make up Salvador’s nightlife.
Salvador is served by Deputado Luís Eduardo Magalhães International Airport. This is the easiest way to get to Salvador. However, there are also long-distance buses available for travelers coming from other Brazilian cities.
By Laura of Laura the Explorer
With its beautiful beaches, plethora of hikes, and a flourishing backpacker and remote worker scene, Florianópolis is a must-visit location for a first-time trip to Brazil.
Whilst you’d be forgiven for simply settling into a beach lounger with a coconut in hand, there’s plenty more to see and do – hike to surfer rock on the Lagoinha do Leste trail, explore the colonial architecture at Ribeirão da Ilha, take a surfing lesson at Praia da Barra, or chase waterfalls around Lagoa da Conceição.
Located across the photogenic bridge Ponte Hercílio Luz from mainland Brazil, the island is extremely accessible from across Brazil and seasonally from other destinations in South America. The modern international airport is located just south of the main city.
Overnight buses, such as the popular route from Foz do Iguaçu, arrive at the main bus station which is located at the first exit off the bridge from the mainland.
Urban buses circumnavigate the island, but the network often requires connections. Uber is also a cheap and easy way to get around the island.
A fun fact, Florianópolis is actually the name of the main city on the island (it’s also the state capital), and the island itself is called Santa Catarina Island. However, when most people refer to Florianópolis (or, Floripa, as it’s often shortened to), they’re meaning the whole island rather than just the city!
By Dan of Layer Culture
When arriving in Brazil for the first time and looking for the best places to visit, São Paulo should be near the top of your list. Although the city can be overwhelming for first-time visitors, it never fails to leave them feeling inspired by its colorful street art and unique neighborhoods throughout the city.
Some of the must-see attractions here are The Catavento Museum, Parque Ibirapuera, Catedral Metropolitana de São Paulo, Avenida Paulista (which is in the heart of São Paulo’s business district), and Batman Alley.
Credit cards are accepted in most places so there is no need to carry large amounts of cash or any at all if you are concerned about safety while in São Paulo or have not had much experience traveling in Latin America.
With Brazil being such a diverse country you can usually find food from specific regions based on where you are, but in São Paulo, you may be surprised to find an abundance of Japanese and Italian restaurants.
Another thing to bear in mind is that there are not many people who speak English so you may want to learn some basic Portuguese before arriving, The Duolingo App is a great way to get some practice in before your trip.
You can get here from Rio de Janeiro and other major cities by coach but you may prefer to take a domestic flight since the distances in Brazil can be rather long.
The Amazon Rainforest
By Marjut of The Smooth Escape
The Amazon rainforest in Brazil is a destination that should be on the bucket list of every nature lover. Known as the Lungs of the Earth, it is the largest rainforest in the world and one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.
The best way to get to the Amazon rainforest is to fly to the city of Manaus, the region’s main tourist hub. From there, you can take a boat to one of the many jungle lodges that offer accommodation and various excursions, such as canoe tours, jungle walks, survival tours, and visits to indigenous communities.
As the Amazon is brimming with wildlife, there’s a high chance that you’ll encounter some exotic animals during your excursions. The most common animals you can expect to see are squirrel monkeys, caimans, freshwater dolphins, sloths, and macaws. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a jaguar or an anaconda.
Besides exploring the fascinating jungles and rivers in the area, you can also have a beach vacation in the Amazon. The region is home to some wonderful freshwater beaches with white sand and clear warm waters. The most beautiful ones are situated near Alter do Chao, a small town nicknamed the Caribbean of the Amazon.
Arraial do Cabo
By Fernanda of Mauka Travels
Arraial do Cabo is a very popular destination among Brazilians but it is often overlooked by tourists visiting the country for the first time. What makes Arraial so special is that it has some of the beaches with the clearest waters in the state of Rio de Janeiro.
Arraial do Cabo is located within the region called “Regiao dos Lagos”, approximately 170 km away from Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro. The easiest way to go from Rio to Arraial is by car, the trip takes between 2h30 to 3h depending on the traffic. If you do not want to drive in Brazil, you can use the regional buses or hire a transfer service.
The best thing to do in Arraial do Cabo is hop on a boat tour early in the morning. The most traditional boat tours will take you on a few stops, including the famous “Prainhas do Pontal” which is a paradise white-sand beach, and the Blue Cave. During the winter, there are high chances of spotting whales during this boat trip.
Another highlight of Arraial do Cabo is the beach called “Pontal do Atalaia”, reachable by land. This beach is famous because of its long but scenic staircase. For those interested in snorkeling, this beach is the perfect destination as it is very common to see turtles and many fishes very close to the shore.
Rio de Janeiro
By Stephanie of The Unknown Enthusiast
Rio de Janeiro is a vibrant and exciting city in Brazil that is known for having one of the seven wonders of the world, world-class beaches, a host of interesting attractions, an incredibly beautiful and unique landscape, and one of the biggest carnival celebrations in the world.
When visiting Rio, you must visit Christ the Redeemer, the tall statue perched on the top of Corcovado mountain Rio and stands proudly over the city. It’s busy, but definitely a must-do!
Another top attraction in Rio is Sugarloaf Mountain, a very tall and sheer mountain right along the coastline. You can take a cable car to the top of the mountain, and the views from the top (especially at sunset) of the city are absolutely incredible.
You get a really great view of Rio’s incredibly unique landscape, which is full of large hills and mountains that extend from the winding coastline and head inland. The busy city just melds around and up the hills, and the result is breathtaking!
Definitely head into Centro and explore all the historic buildings, churches, museums, and monuments that Rio has to offer – there’s a lot to see and do in this neighborhood.
And of course, one of the best things to do in Rio is to visit the beaches, and there are a lot in the city. Copacabana Beach is the most popular, but Ipanema is just adjacent and also a favorite with locals and tourists.
The best way to arrive is by airplane, and there are two airports in the city, which makes an easy starting point for touring around Rio de Janeiro.
By Kaz of The Honeymoon Guide
Ilha Grande is a tropical haven cloaked in a lush 193 sqm of rainforest with pristine beaches, and a network of walking trails. This UNESCO World Heritage Site gem is along the Costa Verde and because of its close proximity to Rio de Janeiro, it’s a must-visit place in Brazil for first-timers.
The island’s history as a leper colony and prison has preserved its natural beauty. It was untouched for centuries.
Ilha Grande is a hiker’s paradise with over 100 km of signposted trails that wind through the interior and along the shoreline.
Beach lovers will find more than 100 beaches, some are only accessible only by foot or boat. The most renowned is Praia Lopes Mendes with stunning fine white sand. You can hike through the island from the main village Vila do Abraão or take a boat trip around the island to reach it.
The island has no big hotels and the accommodations are mostly Pousadas (a Brazilian guesthouse). Pousada Naturalia is a great option with views of the sea and in the heart of the town.
Reaching Ilha Grande is part of the adventure. It is easily accessible in around four hours from Rio de Janeiro by shuttle bus and boat.
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