1. Inhotim (Brumadinho, Minas Gerais)
This one goes out to art lovers everywhere. Imagine a private property set within mountains, ornamented with exquisite plants and some of the most dramatic visual installations you’ve seen. Welcome to Instituto Inhotim.
A first-time visitor should take at least two days to see it all. The biggest outdoor center of arts in Latin America, Inhotim is an immense botanical garden holding ~500 pieces produced by Brazilian and international artists spread over a property comprising 3,000 acres. Some are big names, such as Dan Graham and Hélio Oiticica. My favorite piece is this mirror glass structure hidden inside the woods.
The place is super organized, the ticket price isn’t outrageous, and there are lodging options for every budget. As Brazilians so often say: “It doesn’t even feel like we’re in Brazil!” #risos
2. Iguazu Falls (Paraná)
Iguazu Falls, located at the border intersection of Brazil / Argentina / Paraguay, puts Niagara to shame, with a total width of 2.7km.
Only Victoria Falls can beat Iguazu in quantitative metrics, but while the South American site divides itself into smaller falls and allows for views from several angles, Victoria is an overwhelming wall of water that needs a helicopter to be fully appreciated. If you dig this sort of comparison, check this article.
Iguazu sits inside a national park, filled with tourists all year round. There are boardwalks over the water, lots of animals to see (beware of the small mammals called quatis — they’re everywhere and tend to steal snacks, hats, cameras, and pretty much everything you make available), boats to get closer to the falls themselves, and all sorts of organized tours. (Note: Views are better from the Argentinian side.)
3. Fernando de Noronha
This archipelago is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in a country with plentiful beautiful beaches. There’s a strict cap on the number and duration of visits, and professional guides are required for all swimming and diving. It’s quite a trek from the mainland, with flights leaving from the northeast cities of Recife and Natal.
There are posadas and hotels available, but they must be booked in advance and respect the island’s population limit. When considering plane tickets, hotel fees, guided tour fees, and food costs, it becomes clear that this is no cheap vacation. To say that’s the reason why Noronha is being so well cared for can’t be proved, but one thing is for certain: No one wins if scenery like this is lost.
4. Jericoacoara (Ceará)
The story goes it was in the late ’90s that a famous travel guide named Jericoacoara “one of the top 10 beaches in the world.” That was enough to bring local and foreign tourists stampeding onto the vast sand dunes that once separated Jeri from the rest of the world.
It’s easy to understand what must have struck the guidebook author about the place. I can almost see him eating fresh oysters washed down with cold beer, watching small fishing boats traversing the waves, while enjoying the unceasing breeze with both feet planted on the seashore. But truth be told: This is not even one of the most beautiful beaches on the Brazilian coast. Especially not now that tourism has run amok. Think expensive tours, teen prostitution, and a place called Planet Jeri (as in Planet Hollywood, but worse).
5. The Amazon
The Amazon region extends into Peru, the Guianas, Ecuador, Colombia, and Bolivia. But it’s become synonymous with the enormous Amazonas state in the northwest part of Brazil. That’s where you’ll find the city of Manaus, with its old theater (did you know Jack White got married there? true story!) and famous tacacá soup.
It’s possible to visit the area on a budget, but the Amazon is no easy terrain to access — hence the rise of the high-end eco-resort. Since going on your own outside the defined perimeters is only for the brave (it’s a jungle out there, and a humid, mosquito-filled one), tourists who stick to the program will find several options for boat rides, tribe visiting, and animal-watching excursions.
What the Amazon lacks in practical visiting, it compensates for with a feeling of sublimity you won’t get many other places. It’s a rich, thick, luscious environment, fragile and strong at the same time.
There are several reasons why gringos are crazy about Rio, and it’s easy to agree with them. Arpoador, Cristo Redentor, Pão de Açucar, the bars, the people, the most exuberant Carnival parade on Earth.
And then you have the trashy hostels, abundant sexual tourism, favela tours, cheap cocaine, and that intense, anything-goes vibe. Rio has it all and is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, hands down.
7. The Pantanal
This is a place for photographic safaris, colorful sunsets, amazing food, and an honest sense of being immersed in a vivid culture. Pantanal (pântano is Portuguese for “swamp”) became a popular destination back in the 1980s, after a local soap opera set in the region got national attention. The region is set up for tourists, with good transportation and super comfortable fazendas that take care of everything you need, whether it’s a matter of spending the day fishing, riding horses, or lying in a hammock.
Near the Pantanal, you’ll also find the touristic hot spot of Bonito (translates to “beautiful”), where transparent waters full of fish attract local families. Like Noronha, this is a controlled touristic environment, with visitor limits and guided-only walks. Gorgeous indeed.
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