It’s hard to think of Brazil without images of colorfully clad Carnival celebrators dancing through your head, but there’s far more to this largest South American country than Christ the Redeemer and the lively beats of Copacabana Beach. The upcoming Summer Olympics mean Brazil is ready to welcome more tourists than ever, but you can take advantage of increased flight and hotel options without spending all your time in the cultural capital of Rio de Janeiro.
About five hours south of Rio, Sao Paulo is actually twice the iconic Brazilian city’s size (and the third largest metropolis on the planet!), and you’ll find no shortage of things to do. Among its sprawling, impossibly crowded streets, Sao Paulo has a magnificently vibrant artistic community, with dozens of beautifully designed museums, theaters, and concert halls, as well as some of the best street art in the world. You can experience a more underground cultural scene too. Get to know local Paulinistas, perhaps through platforms like Couchsurfing or EatWith, and learn about their favorite gourmet bistros, lively nightclubs, and experimental art house cinemas. Residents of every possible ethnicity and nationality make up Sao Paulo’s eclectic populace, and the city is in fact home to the largest Japanese community outside Japan, all of which gives this expansive metropolis a fun, cosmopolitan flair. If you’re in the market for a day trip, a quick flight will get you to the remarkable Iguazu Falls on the Argentine border, but you’re likely to find so much to captivate your senses in town, you’ll never want to leave.
Located in the northeastern region of Bahia, the coastal city of Salvador is Brazil’s post-colonial gem. Part tropical paradise, part hub of Afro-Brazilian culture, the former Portuguese capital is an ideal warm weather escape. Traces of African and European influence linger in the seventeenth and eighteenth century architecture lining Salvador’s streets, the traditional cuisine, and the high-energy art festivals that entrance visitors and residents alike. Enjoy an historical walking tour, taking care not to miss the city’s stunning churches, or sidle up to a capoeira circle and experience Brazil’s trademark martial art incorporating dance, acrobatics, and music.
The Amazon River has maintained its legendary status for centuries and with good reason: its isolation from the outside world and its incredibly diverse flora and fauna have elevated it to a practically mythical level, and it’s hard not to fantasize about venturing into the virgin rainforest like the explorers of yore. Fortunately, there are several tour operators and jungle lodges ready to open up this remote corner of the world to visitors. Take a long hike during the dry season in September through November, spot wildlife from a canoe, or indulge in a uniquely specialized expedition – tropical tree climbing. Manaus has a variety of direct flights and tour operators, making it a relatively easy access point for this remarkable natural treasure.
Just a stone’s throw away from Salvador, you’ll find another gritty beachside urban center: Recife. Get lost amid the skyscrapers of the Boa Viagem neighborhood for the best shot at stumbling across your new favorite restaurant. Recife, like most major Brazilian cities, has a splendid dining scene, and an even better array of nightlife. If the pumping pulse of the city center is too much for you, kick back and relax in the nearby town of Olinda or on the breathtaking Coroa do Aviao Beach.