More than 188 million people live in the world’s fifth-largest country, providing tourists with dozens of things to do and sights to see. This is my list of amazing travel experiences that made my journey around Brazil the most memorable trip ever!
In addition to an adventurous excursion through the Amazon, there are some travel experiences that should never go untapped when visiting Brazil. Don’t sell yourself short by just traveling to Rio; spend some time in other cities and regions, such as Sao Paulo, Salvador, Florianopolis and Iguazu Falls.
1: Move to the Beat of a Different Drummer
may not look like the most threatening strategy to keep attackers away, but tourists can watch show off these complex martial-art/dance moves in Salvador’s Terreiro de Jesus Square. Throw caution to the wind and join in the action, which is set to a rhythmic tempo created by a small band of musicians playing , , an , a and an , or conga drum.
Quick Tip: Stroll through Pelourinho Quarter to meet friendly local artists who, if you’re lucky, will introduce you to a few friends and shop owners before you negotiate on the price for their abstract artistry on canvas.
2: Enjoy the Journey to a New Wonder of the World
Quick Tip: Get to the train station early in the morning to avoid crowds. As you ascend to the top, the best views of the city are on the right side of the train. Passengers may also be lucky enough to have an impromptu band hop on to serenade them on the way up or down the mountain.
Take a fun 20-minute train ride up Mount Corcovado, through Tijuca National Park, to see the famous Christ the Redeemer, which is considered to be one of the world’s largest art-deco statues. The real star of this excursion is the panoramic view at the base of the 125-foot-tall monument; it will provide tourists with a magical, memorable experience.
3: Visit Escadaria Selaron to Admire an Artist’s Work
Head to Rio’s bohemian neighborhood, Lapa, to climb 215 steps that lead up a hill to Santa Teresa. Chilean artist Selaron created this beautiful staircase with tiles that represent everything from individual US states to music legends such as Bob Marley and Michael Jackson. Initially, the staircase was made to pay homage to notable Brazilian figures using green, yellow and blue.
Quick Tip: Escadaria Selaron is located in the heart of Rio’s samba district. You may miss the fun of Carnival, but samba schools nearby do host live performances year-round. Check the schools’ schedule for more information.
4: Jump Off Pedra Bonita for an Alternate View of the Marvelous City
Fearless hang gliders run down the ramp, take a leap of faith, and soar high above Tijuca National Park, the Atlantic Ocean and Pepino Beach. Landing on this lesser-known white-sand beach makes the white-knuckle journey worth it.
Adrenaline junkies shouldn’t miss out on a chance to get a bird’s-eye view of Rio. Go hang gliding! The fun starts at the top of Pedra Bonita, where there’s a ramp — about 2,296 feet above sea level.
Quick Tip: In addition to providing “door-to-door” transportation, most tour companies can tell you the best days for hang gliding, so it’s better to call and make reservations in advance. I highly recommend Clube Sao Conrado.
5: Immerse Yourself in the Crowd at Ibirapuera Park
A great travel experience doesn’t have to be a heart-pumping thrill to be memorable. Sometimes, it can be as simple as getting lost in a crowd of . In Sao Paulo, locals converge on Ibirapuera Park to relax during the weekend. It’s the perfect place for a family picnic in the summer, but if staying active is more your speed, then join the throngs of bikers, joggers and pedestrians along the wooded paths around the popular park’s creek and lake.
Quick Tip: Make sure you stay hydrated. Grab some fresh coconut water from one of the many vendors along the way, and watch skateboarders show off their skills or street performers capture the attention of kids walking by.
A Japanese Pavilion, 3 museums (including the Afro-Brazil Museum and Museum of Contemporary Art), a large exhibition space, an auditorium, a garden and several playgrounds are also located in the park.
6: Witness the Tangible, Natural Beauty at Iguazu National Park
Nature lovers cannot miss a trip to Iguazu National Park. Located on the border of Brazil and Argentina, Iguazu Falls — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — consists of 275 individual waterfalls. At the center, called the Devil’s Throat, is where 14 separate waterfalls combine to cascade 297 feet into the pool below. Don’t leave this park without taking the Macuco Safari to experience the falls from the seat of an inflatable boat. Or take a self-guided stroll along the park’s paved walkways to view the falls and get an occasional glimpse of the diverse wildlife.
Quick Tip: Looking for a place to stay? I recommend Foz do Iguazu, where several hotels are located and where some tour companies have offices to help you arrange a trip to and from this awe-inspiring natural wonder.
7: Kick Off Your Havaianas to Play Volleyball on Ipanema Beach
The (“posts”) along the beach mark the diverse groups of sunbathers who flock there, including the hippie, artistic, gay and favela beachgoers found between or near 8 and 9. It’s not uncommon to see working out, jogging and playing volleyball or footvolley on the beach. Arpoador, the area between Ipanema and Copacabana, is place for surfers.
You just can’t visit Rio without stopping at Ipanema Beach. This spot is usually crowded and swarming with vendors selling everything from skimpy bikinis to sweet tea and snacks — so don’t go if you’re expecting quiet beach time.
Quick Tip: Head to the beach early to get a good spot before it gets too crowded, and leave your valuables in your hotel room to avoid unwanted attention.
8: Dance With the Locals on Porto da Barra Beach
On Sundays, beachgoers on Porto da Barra Beach know how to celebrate the end of the weekend. Enjoy live bands and singers as they entertain the crowd with different genres of music, including contemporary sounds influenced by , a type of music played during an Afro-Brazilian ritual worship. The performances create a fun, carefree vibe that you can’t miss out on if you’re visiting Salvador. The waters on this beach are calm, but surfers can usually ride the waves to the left of the lighthouse nearby.
Quick Tip: You don’t have to walk far if you’ve worked up an appetite from surfing or dancing on this small but packed stretch of sand. There are enough options in the area to satiate a hungry beachgoer. And there’s always a great view of the sunset, no matter where you are on the beach.
9: Shed Your Clothes on a Secret Beach
Florianopolis, a popular resort town for Brazilians, has some of the most beautiful beaches that I’ve ever seen — 42 of them, to be exact. And there’s a beach for everyone, from surfers to nudists. For example, Joaquina is a popular family beach that also hosts surfing competitions. Mole quickly became my favorite beach, not because it attracts a younger crowd, but because of the massive stretch of white, sandy shoreline found north of the main beach.
Quick Tip: Pack sunscreen and enough water and food to last the entire day if you don’t want to cut into your valuable beach time. There are 3 restaurants located on the main beach, but it’s not worth making the trip back if you’re not leaving.
If you enjoy shedding your clothes for nude sunbathing, then I recommend taking the trek along the narrow path, over a rocky bank and through the surf, to get to this amazing nude beach. It might be a long hike for some beachgoers, but it’s worth it the trip. At the end of the day, stop at Bar do Deca to sip on a while you watch the sunset from the sandy shore.
10: Take a Cable-Car Ride to See the Sunset From Sugarloaf Mountain
Quick Tip: Visit at dusk, when the crowds have thinned out a little and you can watch the sunset over Rio from Morro da Urca, the better of the 2 views.
It’ll be hard for you to catch your breath when you see the panoramic views of the Marvelous City from atop Sugarloaf Mountain. Tourists must take 2 cable cars to get to the famous attraction, but they can hop off at Morro da Urca, a pit stop on the first leg of the trip. A couple of eateries, a gift shop and a small exhibit about Sugarloaf’s history are located there. Board the second cable car to continue your trip to the peak of Sugarloaf Mountain, 1,299 feet above Guanabara Bay. If you look far beyond the bay, you can see the Christ the Redeemer statue on top of Mount Corcovado in the distance.
11: Eat Yourself Into a Food Coma With Skol Beer and Moqueca
A trip to Brazil just wouldn’t be complete without sampling some of the country’s traditional dishes, such as , a tasty fish stew. It’s so good! Or try Brazil’s national dish, , a stew prepared with beef, pork and beans. Pair either of these dishes with a , the national drink, or a nice cold Skol, the most popular beer in the country. And you can’t leave without visiting an authentic , a restaurant where (meat waiters) serve skewered meats, including beef, pork, filet mignon, lamb, chicken and duck.
Quick Tip: Try Porcao if you’re looking for a in Rio de Janeiro, but for some of the best and , I recommend Axego Restaurant in Salvador’s Pelourinho Quarter.
12: Sample the Nightlife at a Storefront Jam Session or High-Energy Dance Club
Kwin Mosby (L), The Week (R)
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if they have the right connections, visitors can walk past the velvet rope for VIP access to a multilevel dance club with an outdoor swimming pool. Welcome to the Week in Sao Paulo, where patrons dance to techno music until 8 in the morning. Bip Bip and the Week are just 2 of the many distinct nightlife experiences that revelers don’t want to miss.
Music is another treasured experience for visitors in Brazil. Late at night, several alfresco bars, including Bip Bip in Rio de Janeiro, attract pedestrians with performances by acoustic guitarists and musicians. A large audience usually converges on the sidewalk outside Bip Bip, while the owner collects tips for the musicians and to cover the cost of the free drinks.
Quick Tip: And what about the tab for those beers and cocktails? In the US, we pay for drinks at the point of sale, but several bars in Brazil provide patrons with charge cards that allow bartenders to keep track of all those drinks, and then you pay before leaving the bar.
MORE: Watch Andrew Zimmern and Photographer Josh Cogan Visit a Favela in Rio