Brazil is one of the most-visited countries in South America, but despite being larger than the contiguous U.S., tourists often focus exclusively on Rio and São Paulo. Although those cities deserve all the attention they receive, there are countless sites worth visiting across Brazil and can be perfect for travelers who want to avoid the crowds of these two metropolises. The largest country in South America has a coastline stretching over 4,000 miles, with dozens of national parks and little-known cities to check out. Here are 10 places to consider when you’re planning your next trip to Brazil.
João Pessoa, Paraíba
The Brazilian Northeast is home to many overlooked beaches and João Pessoa is one of the best. This city is located at the easternmost point of the Americas, which means it’s the first place in Brazil to see the sun rising at 5 a.m. or earlier over the summer. During the low tide, it’s possible to go snorkeling here in the several natural swimming pools formed around the coral reefs. João Pessoa is also famous for its sunsets, which you can watch at Jacaré Beach while listening to Ravel's “Bolero.” Every day, a musician plays the song while being rowed in a canoe while the sun goes down behind him. Or if you’re looking for a quieter time, head to Hotel Globo and watch the sunset over the Sanhauá River.
Parque Estadual do Jalapão Tocantins, Tocantins
Still mostly unknown even among Brazilians, this state park is the South American savanna, with dunes and pristine waterfalls surrounding the area. Yet, the most famous attraction in Jalapão is the fervedouros – boiling wells full of crystal-clear water spread out over the park. The best way to see Jalapão is to book a tour for at least three days, and although it’s possible to rent a car, the roads here can be tricky, especially during the rainy season.
Fernando de Noronha, Pernambuco
During the Brazilian dictatorship (1964-85), the Fernando de Noronha archipelago was used as a prison for political prisoners due to its remote location. Decades later, the island has become a dream vacation destination with its beaches considered among the best in the world. The shoreline is never busy, as cruises are forbidden, and flights to the island are limited. Due to its marine life, Fernando de Noronha has also become a UNESCO World Heritage Sites, making it an especially recognizable destination among divers.
Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina, Bahia
Chapada Diamantina is arguably Brazil's most famous national park, but it still isn’t well known outside the country. It attracts nature-lovers who want an immersive experience and those who want to disconnect for a few days, as there’s very little internet in this part of Bahia. The park has over 200 waterfalls, along with countless caves and mountains, with Pai Inácio Mount, Fumacinha Waterfall, and Pati Valley serving as the main attractions. The best way to explore the Chapada Diamantina is to rent a car with a reliable GPS for a few days, but it's possible to hire tours at Lençóis, the largest town in the region.
Pipa, Rio Grande do Norte
While plenty of tourists visiting Natal, the capital of Rio Grande do Norte, often take a day tour to Pipa, the vibrant beach village really deserves more than a few hours – you can easily spend three days here enjoying everything this place has to offer. During the day, life revolves around the beaches, where you can stay busy surfing, watching dolphins jump out of the water, or drinking caipirinhas. Pipa also has dramatic cliffs overlooking the ocean, guaranteeing great pictures and the perfect place to be when there’s a full moon.
Paraty, Rio de Janeiro
Those aiming to escape the crowds of Rio should include Paraty on their itinerary. The colonial town is easily reachable on a road trip from either Rio de Janeiro proper or São Paulo. During the day, the best thing to do is explore the beaches or go on a boat tour, but Paraty has a vibrant nightlife as well, and the narrow streets are often full of people hanging out in bars and restaurants well into the night.
Ilha do Marajó, Pará
Located in the state of Pará, Ilha do Marajó is one of the least-known places in all of Brazil due to its remote location, but it’s worth the three-hour boat trip needed to get there. Marajó is one of the largest fluvial islands in the world, meaning it’s surrounded by the Amazon and Tocantins rivers on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. It's possible to visit year-round, but don’t expect the same landscape at any time, as it’s entirely different in the dry and rainy seasons. Marajó is also famous for its herds of buffalo that blend in perfectly with the landscape.
Balneario Camboriu, Santa Catarina
Southern Brazil is also home to some great beaches, and Balneario Cambiriu in Santa Catarina is the most visited. This city is popular with South American tourists, as it can be easily reached from Argentina or Uruguay by car, and visitors are attracted by Camboriu's nightlife, beaches, and parks. It’s also a big destination for New Year's when the parties end just after sunrise.
Foz do Iguaçu, Paraná
The Iguaçu Falls are one of the world’s largest waterfalls, stretching over both the Brazilian and Argentinean borders. For those travelers who choose to visit the Brazilian side, stay in Foz do Iguaçu where you can book accommodation directly overlooking the falls. Relaxing here for a few days gives you the chance to see different angles of the falls and visit other parks in the city, including Bird Park, which is one of the largest in Latin America.
Bonito, Mato Grosso do Sul
Bonito literally means “beautiful” in Portuguese, and this ecotourism hub lives up to such expectations. This paradise is located in Mato Grosso do Sul, where you can enjoy pristine waters, lagoons, caves, and waterfalls. Snorkeling at the Prata River is also a favorite activity amongst visitors, and exploring the Anhumas Abyss is the perfect tour for those looking for adventure.