Brazil map & itineraries
Make the most of your time
As the world’s fifth largest nation, much of which is covered in impenetrable rainforest, a trip to Brazil will inevitably involve internal flights – between cities and waterfalls, the Amazon and the Pantanal
. Because of the logistics, therefore, it’s wise to plan your Brazil vacation early, to ensure your flights and tours match up. Brazil without the vapour trails is still possible – especially if you stick to the south
. Rio, the Green Coast, Paraty, Ilha Grande and Iguaçu Falls can all be reached by car, bus or boat – giving you a diverse Brazil experience without the air miles – and costly plane tickets. Here are our favourite Brazil highlights. Click on the map points below for more information about each Brazil highlight.
This national park has some of Brazil’s most stunning hiking trails, following valleys and mountains, traversing grasslands and passing 280m-high waterfalls with the chance to cool off in a crystal clear river afterwards. Snorkel or rappel into underground cave pools, or try mountain biking. There are colonial houses to stay in, as well as local homestays for a more cultural experience of the region.
In the effort to tick of Brazil’s big names, many delights are overlooked – including the Green Coast, just west of Rio. The name is a clue to the verdant mountains and emerald waters of this 280km coast. The mountains plunge into the ocean, tropical islands dot the waters, and fishing villages dot the winding coastal road, which offers dramatic bay views.
Fernando de Noronha
This pristine little eco-island is a well kept secret. Its remoteness – 350km off the coast – has helped protect this marine reserve and sea turtle hatching grounds; just 400 visitors are allowed onto the island at any time. The beaches are astonishingly beautiful – even by Brazilian standards – and the conservation “tax” levied on tourists ensures this paradise is protected for the future.
Straddling the Argentina-Brazil border, the mighty Iguaçu Falls stretch 3km and tower higher than Niagara. There are actually over 270 falls, and you’ll need to border-hop for the full experience. The Brazilian side has rainforest walks and catwalks above the cascades, while Argentina allows you to cruise upriver on a zodiac – navigating rapids to reach the Devil’s Throat Canyon.
This is paradise as you would paint it; an island of pristine rainforest, tropical beaches and warm, sapphire waters. Despite its accessibility, Ilha Grande has remained fairly exclusive – for a real treat to can rent an entire villa, complete with staff and your own beach. It’s worth leaving your sun lounger to discover the Ilha’s colouful history – peppered with pirates and prisoners.
The Marau Peninsula
Creeping out between sweeping Camamu Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, the Marau Peninsula is not one of Brazil’s best-known sights – but it is not easily forgotten. Its Atlantic forest, mangrove-lined coastline and idyllic beaches are home to fishing communities, organic farms, ecolodges and rustic cabanas – slow down to the local pace of life and swim, snorkel, walk a nature trail and… relax.
The vast Amazonian city of Manaus is the leaping off point for tours into the northern region of this rainforest, including the waterfall, wildlife and pristine jungle environment of Jaú National Park. Take a cruise past tropical archipelagos, see the meeting of the waters and look out for pink river dolphins and giant otters. Bruce Parry wannabes can canoe out to Yanomami and Tukano villages.
The Pantanal is the world’s largest seasonal wetland, and Brazil’s wildlife capital. Almost 700 species of birds can be found here, along with 80 mammals – and the lack of jungle means they can be easily spotted. Take night treks, canoe rides and horseback hacks – and see capybaras, anacondas, monkeys and hyacinth macaws. Porto Jofre is also the best place in the world to see habituated jaguars.
Laid-back Paraty is a beachside colonial town with bohemian markets, fresh seafood restaurants and plenty of charm. If that doesn’t sound tranquil enough – its cobbled streets are closed to cars, and this popular vacation retreat has lured artists and writers from Brazil and worldwide. You can also take a boat cruise around the bay or soak up the sun on one of several nearby beaches.
Rio de Janeiro
Possibly the most dramatically-situated city on the planet, Rio offers pretty much everything you could want in one place – awesome views, white-sand bays, tropical islands, buzzing nightlife, dance and drumming classes – all to the intoxicating beat of samba and bossa nova, with the lilting melodies of Brazilian Portuguese. Aside from the famed sights, the Botanical Garden is also well worth a visit.
Salvador de Bahia
Brazil’s first capital is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in recognition of its European, African and indigenous influences. An energetic city even by Brazilian standards, Salvador is the Afro-Brazilian heartland, with capoeira rhythms and Candomblé ceremonies harking back to the region’s slave trade legacy. The nearby coastline is some of Brazil’s most beautiful.
Latin America’s fastest growing metropolis has a population of 19 million and is an epic sprawl of skyscrapers. This is a great place to discover modern Brazilian culture, as well as, surprisingly, Japanese – São Paulo has the most Japanese residents outside Japan. The sushi’s excellent! Check out the Oscar Niemeyer-designed Exhibition Centre, and pick up souvenirs in the authentic indigenous craft shops.
While many of the Amazon’s thousands of species remain shyly concealed in the dense vegetation, a good guide will still be able to point out several of the 550 bird species and seven monkey species. Even if you don’t see the howler monkeys, you’re sure to hear them! Strange capybaras – giant rodents – graze on the riverbanks, and the crescendo of sounds of the world’s largest jungle is utterly captivating.
Brazil highlights & itineraries
Amazon wildlife itinerary – 14 Days
Rio de Janeiro ► Pantanal ► Manaus ► São Paulo
Southern Brazil highlights – 10 days
Rio de Janeiro ► Ilha Grande ► Paraty ► Iguaçu Falls ► Rio de Janeiro
Brazil wildlife vacation itinerary – 14 days
Rio de Janeiro ► Iguaçu Falls ► Pantanal ► Southern Amazon ► Rio de Janeiro
Travel times in Brazil
Rio – Paraty: 4 hours by road
Foz do Iguacu – Iguaçu Falls: 40 minutes by road
São Paulo – Foz do Iguaçu: 15 hours by road
São Paulo – Rio de Janeiro: 1hr 10mins by plane
Rio de Janeiro – Salvador: 2 hours by plane
Rio de Janeiro – Manaus: 4 hours by plane
São Paulo – Manaus: 4 hours by plane
Rio de Janeiro – Paraty: 4 hours by road
Paraty – Ilha Grande: 90 minutes by speedboat