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Irresistibly charismatic and brimming with energy, Brazil charms visitors with her good looks and delightful character. From densely packed major cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, to wild, remote expanses in the Amazon and Pantanal, there’s a positive force underpinning every aspect of daily life.

This is a country that’s 35 times bigger than the UK and dominates South America, with its precious jungles providing the air our planet needs to breathe. The variety of landscapes is incredible and species inhabiting these diverse ecosystems fittingly exotic: macaws streak skies in a rainbow of colours, endangered cats skulk through the undergrowth and wetlands provide a home for giant anteaters and the world’s largest rodent, the capybara.

But people are Brazil’s greatest triumph — from nature-loving tribes fiercely protecting their forests, to cariocas samba dancing through the streets of Rio, everyone has an interesting story to tell.

Main photo: Iguazu Falls (Getty Images)

What to do

Few cities can rival Rio’s natural beauty. Atlantic waves crash at the foot of jungle-cloaked mountains and golden beaches stretch for miles. Steep climbs are rewarded with memory-etching miradors, but a few incredible lookouts top the list. Take a train through Atlantic forest to stand at the holy feet of Christ the Redeemer, whose arms embrace the fiercely catholic city or jump on board a cable car to access Pão de Açucar (the Sugar Loaf) on the water’s edge.

Of all the hill-top neighbourhoods, breezy, boho artist enclave Santa Teresa has the most to offer tourists. Spend time sitting in cafés or browsing craft stores, then take a ride of Rio’s beloved historic tram, crossing the aqueduct to Lapa, where classic samba clubs can be found.

During February’s carnival season, Rio is an explosion of feathered headwear and fancy footwork — but it’s possible to experience the party spirit at any time of year. Visit one of the city’s established sambadromes to see past floats and dress up in discarded costumes.

From tourist magnet Copacabana, to fashionable Ipanema and Leblon, life revolves around the beach. Day and night cariocas jog, laze or play football in their outdoor living room.

Further south, a four-hour drive along the Costa Verde, colonial treasure Paraty is a quieter option for seaside retreats. Swim in turquoise waters gazing up at slopes swathed in Atlantic forest, and explore car-free cobbled streets, declared a Unesco world heritage site.

All over the country, wild landscapes harbour even wilder exotic species. Although much of the dense Amazon rainforest is inaccessible, the main entry point is Manaus. From here, boat trips can be taken along the jungle’s main waterway and her myriad Amazon rivers.

Much further south, the jungle gives way to the dry cerrado (savannah) and wetlands. A remote wilderness roamed by cattle and cowboys, the Pantanal extends into neighbouring Bolivia and Paraguay. Thanks to eco-tourism efforts, this is the best place in the world to see jaguars — viewed by river boat from Porto Joffe or safari-style on land.

The greatest cultural focus is further north in Bahia. Characterised by a mesmerising mix of capoeira, coconut curries and candomblé, Salvador’s old town Pelourinho district is a breathing museum piece; watch worshippers crowd churches draped with ribbons and relics, and listen to the hypnotic strings of the berimbau.

Former mining town Minas Gerais also strikes gold with its brightly coloured architecture, ornate churches and culinary prowess. Tiradentes is a foodie haven, while Ouro Preto and Diamantina are Unesco world heritage towns.

At the bottom of the country, forming a border with Argentina, Iguazu Falls earns its reputation for being one of Latin America’s greatest natural wonders.

Where to stay

Brazil isn’t the cheapest place to visit, but there is a good choice of accommodation at different price points in Rio. Grand hotels and high rises curve the coastline from Copacabana to upmarket residential areas Ipanema and Leblon, while colonial manor houses have been converted into hotels in Santa Teresa. Hostels are scattered further up in the hills.

Historic hotels are also popular in Bahia, Minas Gerais and Paraty, where classic properties have been sensitively converted. Rooms are variable in size and design, but that’s all part of the charm.

The best way to experience the Amazon and other jungle areas is by staying in an eco-lodge. Built in harmony with their environment, many also benefit local communities through employment and donations. Upmarket lodgings will have better structures designed to keep out mosquitoes and insects. Some offer canopy walkways and bird watching towers.

In the Pantanal, the choice of accommodation is limited, ranging from family farms transformed into luxury properties right through to simple floating river boats.

Don’t miss

A volcanic archipelago off Pernambuco’s northeast coast, Fernando de Noronha is Brazil’s answer to the Galapagos. Fascinated by the array of species, Charles Darwin stopped here during his 1830s voyage on The Beagle and the animal attractions are just as glorious today. To keep the place in pristine condition, visitors are limited to between 450 and 500 per day and everyone must pay a nature tax and an ecological tax.

Species spotted in the marine park include turtles (who nest on Praia do Leão beach from January to June), rays, dolphins and reef sharks. The north side of the island has surfing spots rated among the best in the world.

Best time to visit

Across Brazil, the warmest months are November to March when temperatures range between 27C and 33C. January and February can be extremely busy with crowds attending New Year celebrations and Carnival festivities. The driest months in the Pantanal are from April to October. Winters falls from June to September.


Is Brazil safe to visit?
Generally speaking, yes — although caution is needed in busy urban areas such as the largest city, Sao Paulo. Make sure you have good travel insurance and keep up to date with the latest travel advice. Malaria and yellow fever are also present.

What is the best month to visit?
If you’re keen to experience carnival, time a visit for February when celebrations take place in Rio and Salvador de Bahia. Otherwise, November is a pleasant month; crowds are fewer and flowers are in spring bloom.

What should you avoid in Brazil?
Although many favelas in Rio are now peaceful, it’s best not to visit alone. Don’t carry valuables when walking around big cities and use official taxis to move around and stay safe.

Currency Brazilian real

Take me there

Inspired to visit Brazil but yet to book your trip? Here are the best packages from Virgin Holidays and British Airways.

• Discover holidays to Rio de Janeiro
• Discover holidays to Sao Paulo
• Discover tours in Brazil

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