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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Brazil

Wherever you are in Brazil, the infectious sound of samba wafts from bars, platters of perfectly roasted meats and obsidian black beans line tables, and startling echoes of “oi” (Portuguese for hi) burst from the mouths of lively locals. In Rio de Janeiro, legendary Copacabana and Ipanema beaches are set against the dramatic backdrop of Corcovado, Sugar Loaf Mountain, and the outstretched arms of Christ the Redeemer. Full-day sightseeing tours tick off all of the Marvelous City’s highlights: the Selaron Steps, Rochina favela, and a samba show are typically covered, too. But Rio is just the beginning: The sprawling metropolis of Sao Paulo—one of the world’s 10 largest cities—reveals its cultural wealth on a panoramic tour. In the Amazon rain forests of Manaus, biodiverse wildlife species allure nature buffs. In the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Iguassu National Park, the countless torrents of Iguazu Falls (Foz de Iguacu) create a thundering roar. In Salvador, an African influence dictates the vibrant energy of the city. And on the spectacular, car-free islands of Ilha Grande and Florianopolis, a vision of paradise comes to life. Myriad private and group tours help visitors experience it all with skip-the-lines entry to top sights, simple transportation options, and local perspectives. And Brazil borders almost every country in South America, making it an ideal starting point for any trip around the continent. Begin with New Year’s Eve or Carnaval—two of the world’s most spectacular celebrations in Rio—before continuing to discover Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, or Colombia.
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Iguaçu Falls (Cataratas do Iguaçu)
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Iguaçu Falls (Cataratas do Iguaçu), the largest waterfalls system in the world, are truly awe-inspiring to behold. Though Argentina boasts better trails around the falls, Brazil is blessed with the best views of this natural marvel’s 275 separate cascades, which span the border between the two countries. Take in full-frontal views of Devil’s Throat (Garganta del Diablo), San Martin Island, and more from the short-but-sweet catwalks that wind their way around the Brazilian side of Iguaçu Falls.

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Genipabu
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Genipabu is a beach village known for its large sand dunes and freshwater lagoons. There are a few different ways to explore the mounds of shifting sand, with varying degrees of adrenaline — from camel rides to sand buggies to sand-boarding (esquibunda or skibunda) down the hot dunes and into the cool water.

The winds shifting across the sand means that the landscape of Genipabu is always changing. The sands pile up into dunes that rise and fall, creating ridges and mounds across the shores and eventually plunging into the sea. Certain areas of the dunes are accessible only by certified dune buggy drivers, who will ask if you want your ride “with emotion” or without, to determine the level of desired thrills. Sand boarding into the lagoons’ fresh water is a great way to beat the heat.

No matter the method of adventure you choose, the unique landscape and natural beauty of both the sand and water at Genipabu is worth seeing. Afternoon is a particularly popular time to visit, with the sunset being a highlight for many.

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Amazon Rainforest
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The largest rain forest on Earth, the Amazon spans more than 2 million square miles (5.5 million square kilometers). Home to around 40,000 species of plants, several thousand species of birds, more than 400 mammals, and millions of different insects, it’s one of the planet’s vital organs—and an adventurer’s playground.

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Meeting of Waters (Encontro das Aguas)
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The city of Manaus lies at the confluence of two great rivers, the Solimões and the Rio Negro. Due to the different colors of the two rivers, it's possible to see precisely where they meet, which is what makes the Meeting of Waters, or Encontro das Aguas, a checklist must-do for visitors to Manaus.

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Ibirapuera Park
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Sao Paulo’s version of NYC’s Central Park, leafy Ibirapuera Park was opened on the 400th anniversary of the city, in 1954, and it’s known as much for its museums and music hall as it is for its jogging and cycling paths by the lake.

The park buildings were designed by the modernist Oscar Niemeyer, known for designing Brasília’s public buildings. Covering 2 square km, Ibirapuera is the largest park in central Sao Paulo and the second largest in the city. Designed by landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, there are 13 playing courts and playgrounds on the lawn. Come on a Sunday morning to enjoy a free outdoor concert in the Praça da Paz. Another nice Sunday touch is the Bosque de Leitura — a free outdoor lending library where you can borrow books and magazines (many of which are in English) to read in the park for the day.

Near Gate 3, it’s worth visiting the Museum of Modern Art (MAM). Here you can see Miros, Picassos, and important contemporary Brazilian works. Nearby, there’s the excellent Afro-Brazil Museum at the spacious Manoel da Nóbrega Pavilion — opened in 2004, it’s dedicated to showcasing the cultural achievements of Africans in Brazil. In January and July each year, the Biennial Pavilion hosts São Paulo Fashion Week and trade shows and biennials throughout the year. Sao Paulo has the world’s largest Japanese population outside Japan, so it’s also worth visiting the Japanese Pavilion — an exhibition hall in Ibirapuera Park that shows Japanese art and has its own tea room and Japanese garden where you can feed the carp.

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Christ the Redeemer Statue (Cristo Redentor)
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Keeping a watchful eye over the people of Rio de Janeiro, the iconic Christ the Redeemer Statue (Cristo Redentor) sits atop Corcovado Mountain at 2,300 feet (700 meters) above the city. Unveiled in 1931 and voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, this impressive monument is often credited as the most iconic site in Brazil.

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Hollywood Dream Cars
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Hollywood Dream Cars museum, in Gramado, Brazil, offers visitors the chance to step back in time. This unique and quirky attraction explores the golden age of both the automobile and the movie industry by showcasing vintage cars in a setting that evokes the glamour of the first half of the 20th century.

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Rio da Prata Ecological Reserve (Recanto Ecologico Rio da Prata)
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Recanto Ecológico Rio da Prata is a protected reserve located among the lush forests of Jardim, an area so-named for the Portuguese word for garden. The family-run ranch offers eco-friendly snorkeling in the crystalline river, as well as sightseeing options that increase your chances of spotting rare wildlife.

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Futuro Beach (Praia do Futuro)
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Palm-fringed sand and surf-worthy waves await sunseekers at Futuro Beach (Praia do Futuro), one of Fortaleza’s most popular family beaches. Stretching 5 miles (8 kilometers) along Fortaleza’s east coast, Futuro Beach offers ideal conditions for swimming and surfing, and is lined with lively beach bars (barracas).

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Conceicao Lagoon (Lagoa da Conceicao)
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One of Florianopolis’ coolest towns is located just over the hill from the downtown area. Conceicao Lagoon (Lagoa da Conceição) is the Island of Magic’s hip district, and boasts a collection of trendy bars and restaurants nestled around the large lagoon. The area is also known for its jungle trekking, sand dunes, and many nearby beaches.

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More Things to Do in Brazil

Salvador Mercado Modelo

Salvador Mercado Modelo

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Salvador's Mercado Modelo is a lively place stocked full of arts, crafts and touristy trinkets.

Located across the street from the restored art deco elevador lacerda (elevator) in a replica of the city’s old customs house, the market is a fun way to spend an hour or two and maybe pick up a bit of tourist tack for the folks back home.

Take a deep breath as you enter to prepare for the onslaught of vendors that’ll attempt to coax you towards their stall. It’s all pretty light-hearted so with a smile and a bit of friendly bartering, you’ll enjoy your visit here.

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Arraial d'Ajuda Eco Park

Arraial d'Ajuda Eco Park

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With waterslides, jungle ziplines, and palm-fringed swimming pools, the Arraial d'Ajuda Eco Park is one of Brazil’s most popular water parks. Just moments from Bahia’s white-sand beaches, the adventure park has both water and land activities suitable for the whole family.

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Frades Island (Ilha dos Frades)

Frades Island (Ilha dos Frades)

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Warm waves and slow tides make the star-shaped Frades Island (Ilha dos Frades) one of Salvador de Bahia’s most popular destinations. Enjoy beaches that boast white sand and turquoise water, or hike to remote waterfalls and hilltops that offer panoramic views of the bay.

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Paulista Avenue (Avenida Paulista)

Paulista Avenue (Avenida Paulista)

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As one of the most expensive strips of real estate in Latin America, Avenida Paulista is Sao Paulo’s most famous thoroughfare. What started out as a residential street lined with neoclassical mansions is today a modern hub of business, culture, and entertainment.

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Santos Coffee Museum (Museu do Café)

Santos Coffee Museum (Museu do Café)

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At the Santos Coffee Museum (Museu do Café) visitors experience the world’s favorite caffeinated-beverage through history and of course, taste. The Coffee Museum is housed in what used to be the Coffee Stock Exchange, where Brazilian coffee was weighed and traded before being sent through the Santos Port and overseas.

The Coffee Stock Exchange closed in the 1960s and fell into disrepair, but after decades of restoration efforts, in 2005 the beautiful colonial building re-opened as the Coffee Museum. The building’s architecture is a highlight of a visit to the museum. High ceilings with stained-glass skylights lie above ornately designed marble floors on the Exchange’s main trading room. The museum’s exhibition rooms explain the historical and cultural significance of coffee in Brazil, and worldwide, through photos, paintings, antique coffee-farming tools and more.

Brazil has a strong coffee culture – not only is Brazil the largest coffee producer in the world, but it is also is the second largest consumer of coffee. This is easy to see in every day life throughout the country, where a cafezinho (a little coffee), is customary in the mornings, after meals, and practically any time you want a pick-me-up. After touring the museum, be sure to try a cup of delicious Brazilian-grown coffee in the museum café for yourself!

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Unipraias Park Camboriú (Parque Unipraias Camboriú)

Unipraias Park Camboriú (Parque Unipraias Camboriú)

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With its thrilling zip-lines, cable cars and amusement rides soaring over the coast of Camboriú, Unipraias Park Camboriú (Parque Unipraias Camboriú) is one of Brazil’s most celebrated amusement parks and a prime destination for visitors to the southeast. Part adventure park, part wildlife reserve, the 6-hectare park is best known for its spectacular hilltop location looking out over the beaches of the Atlantic coast and surrounded by thick forest.

Along with 500m of walking trails, the park is split into four adventure areas: Bondinho, Fantastic Forest, Zip-rider and Yoohooo! Head to the Bondinho for a 3.2km, 30-minute cable

car ride over the Atlantic rainforest; meet with fairies, goblins and elves in the Fantastic Forest; ride the 240m high zip-line or zoom down the Yoohooo! mountain sled at speeds of up to 60 km/h.

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Tanguá Park (Parque Tanguá)

Tanguá Park (Parque Tanguá)

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In the middle of bustling Curitiba sits the expansive, green Tanguá Park (Parque Tanguá). It is built around two rock quarries joined by a 150-foot (46-meter) tunnel as well as lakes and an artificial waterfall. Stroll around the park on foot, pedal around the quarries by bike, or simply relax and catch a beautiful sunset over the city.

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Paraty Bay

Paraty Bay

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About 36,000 people call the Portuguese colonial town of Paraty home. Its quiet streets, colorful homes, European influence and historic roots attract visitors from across the globe. But it’s Paraty’s easy access to lush forests, untouched coastlines and pristine mountains that make it a true travel destination.

Stationed on the Bay of Ilha Grande, Paraty is the southernmost city in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Visitors can kayak or cruise through placid waters and explore the tiny islands scattered throughout the bay. And land lovers can check out nearby Serra da Bocaina National Park and Serra do Mar State Park, for a look at indigenous plants and wildlife.

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Curitiba Botanical Garden (Jardim Botanico)

Curitiba Botanical Garden (Jardim Botanico)

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The Botanical Garden of Curitiba (Jardim Botânico de Curitiba), in the middle of the city, provides a tranquil respite for locals and visitors alike. Designed in the style of French royal gardens, the park’s crown jewel is the 4,844-square-foot (450-square-meter) art nouveau, metal and glass greenhouse that sits against the Curitiba skyline.

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Pelourinho

Pelourinho

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With its jumble of colonial buildings, cobblestone lanes, and pastel-painted façades, Pelourinho (aka Pelo) is Salvador da Bahia’s oldest and most colorful neighborhood. Despite a dark past—Pelourinho was the location of Brazil’s first slave market—the historic district is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and important cultural center.

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Rio de Janeiro Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana de Sao Sebastiao)

Rio de Janeiro Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana de Sao Sebastiao)

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Tall and cone-shaped, the modernist Rio de Janeiro Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana de Sao Sebastiao) doesn’t look like a typical church. The unusual design was constructed between 1964 and 1979 by architect Edgar Fonseca. One of Rio’s most important religious structures, it is dedicated to St. Sebastian, the city’s patron saint.

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Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Açúcar)

Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Açúcar)

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It’s easy to see why Rio de Janeiro was nicknamed the “Marvelous City” when you’re gazing down at it from the heights of Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Açúcar). From its soaring 1,300-foot (396-meter) summit, the city unfolds around you, with views of the iconic Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, the Tijuca Forest, and the Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) statue standing tall atop Corcovado Mountain to the west.

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Sao Paulo Municipal Theater (Theatro Municipal)

Sao Paulo Municipal Theater (Theatro Municipal)

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Situated grandly atop downtown São Paulo’s Vale do Anhangabaú like a concrete wedding cake, the century-old Theatro Municipal still shines as an example of the city’s place at the vanguard of art in Latin America. Opened in 1911, the ornate showplace—styled in the tradition of the great European opera houses—has welcomed Maria Callas, Isadora Duncan, Duke Ellington, and Mikhail Baryshnikov to its stage.

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Sé Cathedral (Catedral da Sé)

Sé Cathedral (Catedral da Sé)

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Reigning supreme over the center of Sao Paulo, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption (Sé Cathedral) is one of the largest neo-Gothic structures in the world. The 12,000-pipe organ is among the biggest in South America and the church houses a vast number of religious artworks.

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