The world’s fifth largest country could fit India into its top pocket and still leave space for another few nations to slip in comfortably too.
It’s not the destination for a casual, see-what-happens family holiday but it is one of earth’s greatest adventures, keeps several of the planet’s most spectacular landscapes within its boundaries and will never fail to amaze and stun on a minute-by-minute basis.
Brazil has 20 UNESCO World Heritage sites including the Central Amazon and the Iguaçu National Park.
Direct flights all year round from the UK to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo – flying time between 11 and 15 hours.
The Central Amazon Rainforest in Brazil (Amazonas) is one of the world’s top five eco-tourism destinations.
Brazil has over 8000km of coastline and some of the world’s most iconic beaches from Ipanema and Copacabana in Rio to, lesser known legends like Lopes Mendes on Ilha Grande and Santa Catarina’s Lagoinha do Leste.
Nature and biodiversity
Brazil’s the world’s most bio-diverse country with more than 50,000 plant species and more known species of mammals and fish. The Pantanal is Earth’s largest area of tropical wetland, covering almost 195,000km² and most of it lies in central Brazil’s Mato Grosso do Sul region, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. As the only country with both the Equator and Tropic of Capricorn running through it, Brazil has eight different climate zones and several micro-climates.
Where to go
Rio de Janeiro
The Pantanal, Mato Grosso do Sul Region
Rio de Janeiro
Rio might not be the capital of Brazil any more, but it’s the country’s most visited city and one of the most icon-packed in the Southern Hemisphere with: Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado; Sugar Loaf Mountain; Ipanema and Copacabana beaches; and the annual Mardi Gras Carnival, unrivalled still for scale, glamour, beads and bikinis.
Visit between May and August for temperatures between 22 and 30˚ and cooling breezes to temper the city’s notoriously high humidity. December to March is the humid rainy season with temperatures up to 40˚.
The area around legendary Copacabana and Leme beaches is best for family-friendly three and four-star family hotels with views of the ocean and Sugar Loaf Mountain.
Take the 20 minute train journey to the foot of Christ the Redeemer. The 38m high Art Deco statue and view of Guanabara Bay make an awe-inspiring duo.
Arraial do Cabo is two hours east of Rio for white sand beaches, fewer crowds and world-class diving.
Don’t miss: the cable car up Sugar Loaf Mountain; Mureta da Urca district for sunsets over Guanabara Bay; art galleries and museums in the restored Docklands’ quarter; Aqua Rio, the largest aquarium in South America; Marapendi Lagoon cruises; rio4fun themed city tours.
The north east region of Brazil has the country’s most temperate climate and thousands of kilometres of tropical beaches.
Visit the regional capital of Salvador for: a Mardi Gras Carnival second only to Rio’s; beaches round Todos os Santos Bay; tropical island hopping; Capoeira fight-dancing performance; traditional Afro-Brazilian culture.
Porto Seguro, south of Salvador, is best for beaches, colonial history and also gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Costa do Descobrimento.
Chapada Diamantina National Park in the heart of Bahia is one of Brazil’s leading walking and hiking destinations.
Amazonas in the far north west of Brazil is the country’s largest state and has South America’s biggest portion of Amazon Rainforest. It’s a major eco-tourism destination and almost all activities are centred around historic Manaus.
Manaus, sometimes known as, ‘Paris of the tropics’, is the capital of Amazonas and the largest city in the region. It was founded in 1499 but most of the extravagantly grand architecture only dates back to the late 19th century’s rubber boom: the outrageously opulent Amazonas Theatre’s a great example.
The easiest base for exploring the rainforest and river with kids, Manaus has excellent hotels and resorts, a wide range of cruise companies and guided tours.
Don’t miss: Moon Beach on the banks of the Rio Negro; 9000ha Lake Janauari Ecological Park; 19th century Manaus Port; Ponta Negra Beach; Anavilhanas National Park.
The Pantanal, Mato Grosso do Sul Region
The Pantanal is one of the world’s great wilderness landscapes, the largest wetlands on earth and it’s almost all in the south west of Brazil, right on the Paraguayan border. The area’s second only to Amazonas as an eco-destination and the best way to adventure here as a family is on an eco-cruise or as guests of an eco-resort specialising in local area tours and experiences.
The tiny town of Miranda is the centre for Pantanal tourism. This is where to fine eco-lodges, camps and guided eco-tours. Miranda Pantanal Escapes
The best time to visit is from mid-June to mid-September. October to March is the rainy season.
The largest city in the Southern Hemisphere, São Paulo’s the creative and cultured heart of Brazil with over 100 museums and galleries, almost 200 theatres and dozens of parks, gardens and exhibition spaces. Sampa, as it’s known locally, is as hectic and crowded as Rio but it’s a lot less touristy and the atmosphere’s more business-like than hedonistic.
Good for museums and a couple of day’s exploring – there are direct flights from the UK to São Paulo all year round and connections from the city to regions like Mato Grosso do Sul, Amazonas and Bahia.
In the city, don’t miss: Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP); Pinacoteca; Palacio Boa Vista; Amantakir; the Municipal Market.
Near São Paulo, don’t miss: Ubatuba’s 100 plus beaches on Anchieta Island; water sports on Cabras Island; the São Sebastião coastal region.
What to do
Aqua Rio, Rio de Janeiro
South America’s largest aquarium is in Rio’s Porto Maravilha (Wonder Port) and contains over 3000 marine creatures in 28 tanks holding a total of 4.5 million litres of water.
Chapada Diamantina National Park, Bahia
152,000ha Chapada Diamantina is one of South America’s leading parks for hiking trails, rock climbing and guided treks.
Amazonas River Cruises, Manaus
One of the safest and most rewarding ways to explore the Amazon is on a two to four day river cruise on traditional boats with experienced local guides.
Anavilhanas National Park, Amazonas
This river archipelago of 400 islands is the world’s largest and home to the Amazonian Pink River Dolphin.
Caiman Ecological Refuge, Miranda, Mato Grosso do Sul
A 53,000ha working ranch in the heart of the Pantanal specialising in guided activities and tours of this unique and fragile landscape.
Pico da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro
Another of Rio’s famous hills, this one’s a fairly demanding climb and takes about two hours, but the path’s well marked and there’s a good staircase to the summit. The views from 917m above sea level are spectacular.
Iguaçu National Park, Paraná
Brazil shares the Iguaçu Falls with Argentina and the Iguaçu National Park has several cruises in and around the falls on the Brazilian side.
Museu de Arte de São Paulo
South America’s largest collection of European art including works by Renoir, Picasso, Chagall, Dali and Van Gogh. The Lina Bo Bardi building is one of the city’s great landmarks and admission’s free.
Serra da Bocaina Park, Rio de Janeiro
Accessible from Rio de Janeiro of São Paulo, Serra da Bocaina is the largest Atlantic forest reserve in Brazil and its boundaries contain everything from pristine beaches and swathes of woodland to mountains, waterfalls, rivers and rugged coastline.
Educational value for kids
Join marine biologists on an educational cruise round Rio de Janeiro’s Marapendi Lagoon.
Take a Rio4fun themed tour of Rio de Janeiro with a local guide: recommended by Visit Rio; multi-lingual; family friendly.
Whale watching tours from Salvador between June and November almost guarantee sightings of migrating Humpbacks off Brazil’s east coast.
São Paulo’s Ibirapuera is one of the world’s top 10 urban parks and where to find the city’s Contemporary Art Museum, Modern Art Museum and Afro-Brazilian Museum.
Visit the Port Zone in Rio de Janeiro to see the record breaking collection of graffiti and urban art. Look out for works created to celebrate highlights of the 2016 Summer Olympics, like the world’s first Refugee Olympic Team.
Take a cruise from Manaus to see the phenomena known as, ‘meeting of the waters’, caused by the natural confluence of the Rivers Negro and Solimões.
Spend a few hours at Modelo Market in Salvador. Built in 1912, it’s now a National Heritage monument and one of the best places to shop for Brazilian craftwork and eat legendary Bahian street food.
Getting around with kids in Brazil
No surprise that a country the size of Brazil has dozens of. ‘best in world…..’ road trips. But, unless you’re planning to be here for months, driving’s the most inconvenient and time-consuming way to travel.
Direct flights from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo connect to main airports in every region and, in some cases, to smaller provincial airports. Another inter-region option is the country’s network of luxury buses called leitos. These normally operate overnight services, have fully reclining seats and cost less than flights.
Don’t drive in cities: public transport’s generally good and keeps late hours, taxis are easy to find, just make sure they’re official city taxis and agree fares in advance.