One of the best ways to enjoy experiential travel is to follow the advice of locals. Asking residents which elements of their home countries or cities they deem essential provides insight into local values, local perspectives and local ways of living.
In keeping with that, The Travel Word asked its partners in Brazil the following question: “If you were hosting a visitor in your city for only one day, what single experience would be central for that visitor to come away with a deeper understanding of your city and your country?
The responses were fantastically varied, highlighting the great diversity that underpins Brazil and its people, cities and cultures.
Experiencing Brazil’s Urban Centres
Curitiba (Parana State, Southern Brazil)
Curitiba is a worldwide reference for city planning, public transportation and sustainability. We recommend that visitors spend a day experiencing aspects of the city that reflect those elements: the parks and how they have been designed to avoid flooding; the buses, which travel in exclusive bus lanes; and a Segway, a zero-emissions vehicle that advances according to your body’s movements. These ecological modes of transport don’t pollute the air with emissions or noise, and they’re fun!
Where’s the best place to glide around on a Segway? We think it’s in the bicycle lanes and ramps behind the Oscar Niemeyer Museum. To end your day, stop by Café Paco. The former city hall has been restored and is now a centre for cultural and arts programs. Where ever you are, try a delicious Brazilian coffee and a pão de queijo (small, tasty cheese bun).
~ Bibiana Antoniacomi Schappel, Special Parana Turismo & Events
Salvador (Bahia State, Eastern Brazil)
Salvador is a unique mix of cultures and ethnicities that makes it one of the most colourful cities in Brazil. One of the best places to experience the culture of Salvador is the Modelo Market, where you can buy typical food and crafts of the Bahia State that reflect the mixing of cultures that include African, European and indigenous traditions. Another good place to experience the culture of Salvador is the Lighthouse and the Barra neighbourhood, one of the most traditional of Salvador. The historic streets of Pelourinho in the city centre also preserve the culture of Salvador and its colonial history.
~ Natalia Ribeiro, Rota Tropical Turismo
Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro State, Eastern Brazil)
If you had a single shot at Rio de Janeiro, I would recommend getting a bicycle. It would be the best way to experience such a huge city from a local perspective. The best place to cycle is along the waterfront, with views of Corcovado Mountain, and along the lagoon and Ipanema and Leblon beaches. Cycling will give you local insight into why Cariocas are such active, positive and outgoing people.
Experiencing Brazil’s Coast
Itacaré (Bahia State, Eastern Brazil)
Early in the morning is the best time to experience Itacaré. The central beaches, such as Tiririca, Resende, Costa and Ribeira, will have the best tide. It’s also the best time to hike the 40-minute trail through the Atlantic Rainforest; Itacaré is right on the edge of the largest tract of Atlantic Forest left in Brazil. The hike ends with an exciting panoramic view and gives you access to Prainha Beach, a private beach with three houses and many coconut trees that was named one of the top 10 most beautiful beaches in Brazil.
A lot of people go to Concha Beach to check out the lively vibe and to see live capoeira, a Brazilian martial art combining dance and music that developed in the 16th century. If you decide you want more isolated and wild beaches, drive or take a bus to Ilheus Road and walk to Itacarezinho, Havaiizinho, Engenhoca and Jeribucacu. All are completely undeveloped; don’t forget to bring your trash back to town with you.
~ Natalia Ribeiro, Eco Trip & Rota Tropical Turismo
Porto de Galinhas (Pernambuco State, Northeastern Brazil)
The best way to experience Porto de Galinhas is in the water. The small town is surrounded by beaches and natural pools. We suggest swimming or diving in the pools; they are some of the best places to take underwater pictures of coral, fish, octopus and lobsters. For lunch, one of our favourite local dishes is freshly caught fish wrapped in a banana leaf.
Ubatuba (Sao Paulo State, Southern Brazil)
We feel that Ubatuba is defined by its tranquillity and our ability to be in harmony and contact with nature. There are more than 80 beaches and many kinds of plant life, animal life and clear waterfalls. There is also the Corcovado, the highest peak in the Atlantic Rainforest, which we recommend hiking if you are up for the adventure!
~ Elsie C. Orabona, Omnimare Turismo
Canoa Quebrada (Ceara State, Northern Brazil)
What makes Canoa Quebrada different from other Brazil beach towns are the sand dunes and red cliffs. My favourite way to experience the dunes is to spend the afternoon in them. I often start with lunch at Tenda do Cumbe, a restaurant located on the highest cliff of Canoa Quebrada where the chef makes traditional and creative regional Ceara dishes. Then I take a buggy ride along the dunes to watch the sunset before going to Broadway Street for fresh seafood and live music.
~ Pierlugi Sapio, Brazil Incoming Services
Experiencing Brazil’s Islands
Florianopolis (Santa Catarina State, Southern Brazil)
Whenever I have family or friends visiting and they ask for one thing to do in Florianopolis, I always recommend hiking to Costa da Lagoa, a small village whose inhabitants continue their ancient fishing practices. The village has become a symbol of the island, because before Florianopolis became world famous for its stunning nature and best quality of life in Brazil, it too used to be a peaceful fishing village.
Costa da Lagoa is only accessible by a hiking trail or by boat. The hike will take 1.5 hours and you’ll experience the physical diversity of Florianopolis, one of the main characteristics of the island. The trail runs along the lake, surrounded by high green mountains and an untouched strip of Atlantic Forest.
My favourite part is when we are almost at the end of the hike, and get the first view of the village, where all the colourful fishing boats are parked, with fishing nets spread around them. That’s when I realise we are approaching a really different and special place.
Morro de São Paulo (Bahia State, Eastern Brazil)
To really experience Morro de São Paulo, it’s essential to walk along all of its five beaches. Walking shows you what daily life is like because cars aren’t allowed on the island! On the First Beach, the most adventurous thing to do is feel the rush of the zip line. On the Second Beach, my favourite way to pass an afternoon is by enjoying a drink while people-watching. The Fourth Beach has natural pools with a lot of marine life only seen with a snorkel. Choose any beach to watch the sunset; it’s a fabulous show!
~ Natalia Ribeiro, Rota Tropical Turismo
Ilha do Mel (Parana State, Southern Brazil)
If you had only one day to experience Ilha do Mel, sit and relax on one of the beaches – either Praia de Fora or Praia Grande – and watch the surfers. Surfing defines the town. Most local kids even prefer surfing to soccer, Brazil’s favourite sport. They grow up on an island with the best waves and great surfing conditions, and most kids own their own surfboards. If you want to experience the local surfing culture yourself, there are many places for board rentals or lessons. For lunch, try some locally caught fish or sprat.
~ Bibiana Antoniacomi Schnappel, Special Parana Turismo & Eventos
Fernando de Noronha (Pernambuco State, Eastern Atlantic)
Our first suggestion is to stay in Fernando de Noronha for at least a week because it is a remote island located 560 kilometres from the mainland. Then the best way to experience the island is through its natural beauty. For example, there is a hiking trail to the Watchtower Beach where you can see the natural pools formed during the low tide. Another set of trails leads up to Dolphin Bay, Praia do Sancho and the Bay of Pigs. The well-marked trails have some of the best views of the island. Dolphins often swim near the island, but the best way to see them is on a boat in the morning.
Our favourite place to spend time at night is the Dog Bar, one of the most popular local bars with local bands and Capoeira performances every night.
Ilha Grande (Rio de Janeiro State, Eastern Brazil)
The atmosphere of Ilha Grande is defined by the fact that there are no cars and no rush; people experience life here with their bare feet in the sand, and children play freely without worry. To get a feel for this atmosphere and the natural beauty of the island, take a boat ride or walk through the Atlantic Rainforest.
Experiencing Brazil’s Falls
Pirenopolis (Goias State, Central Brazil)
To fully experience Pirenopolis, I suggest driving outside the city, because surrounding Pirenopolis is incredible nature and waterfalls, which shapes the town’s identity. Vagafogo Farm, six kilometres outside the city, was the first Private Reserve of Natural Heritage in the Goais State. The property was purchased in the 1970s by a couple seeking an alternative, hippie lifestyle. They established an environmental preservation model. The reserve has incredible biodiversity, with 80 plant species and 170 animal species. My favourite meal on the farm is brunch. The owners bring nearly 40 homemade items to your table, including breads, jams, meat, juices and cakes – typical regional dishes that convey a bit of our culture for visitors to experience through food.
~ Camilla Lelis, Pirenopolis Reservation Center
Iguassu Falls (Parana State, Southern Brazil)
Foz do Iguassu is a World Heritage Site and one of the main natural attractions in Latin America, but many people don’t know that the name of the falls in the local language means “Great Waters.” While most tourists explore the wonder of the falls through walkways and hiking trails, we think the best way to experience them is on a boat that takes you as close as possible.
~ Fabio Wandscheer, Falls Vision Receptivo
Experiencing Brazil’s Interior
South Pantanal (Mato Grosso do Sul State, Central Brazil)
The South Pantanal is defined by its wildlife, and the best way to see it is with a drive in the early morning or late afternoon. Depending on the time of year, you may see capybara, anteaters, alligators and lots of other wild plants and flowers.
~ Mariana Habitzreuter, BWT Operadora
North Pantanal (Mato Grosso State, Central Brazil)
In order to experience the North Pantanal, I would recommend staying in a pousada that is close to both the river and a ranch. That way you can have a whole and complete perspective of the beautiful culture that emerged here from the interaction between the indigenous people who fish on the rivers and the ranchers who have developed the area for cattle and beef production.