Each of the host cities in Brazil has its own flavor: its own music; its own style of dancing; and, most importantly, its own cuisine to sample! We’ve thrown together a couple mini Brazil guides to the important parts of each city—we bet it will be enough to entice you to visit these incredible cities!
Bienvenue à Manaus!
(CC) Pedro Angelini CC BY
The city was founded in 1693.
Located smack in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, it’s only accessible by boat or plane which has preserved the native Brazilian culture which still flourishes here.
Few places in the world will afford you such a variety of plants and animals, so take a rainforest adventure tour from a reputable, official tour operator.
Check out the convergence point of the two rivers, the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimões, which together form the Amazon River proper; they are different colors and legend says they never mix.
The rubber plantations of the 19th century helped it earn its nickname, the “Paris of the Tropics.”
The Teatro Amazonas is a copy of the Grand Opera in Paris and the Mercado Municipal, São Paulo’s central market, is a copy of Paris’ Les Halles market.
Get thyself to the beach!
The Praia do Futuro, which translates as “Future Beach,” is known for its barracas—simple kiosk-restaurants built right on the sand that serve fresh, typical seafood.
Thursday is crab day in Fortaleza—if you’re feeling courageous, buy straight from the stalls, and get one of the shacks to fry it for you.
Iracema beach is the place for bars and nightclubs. Be careful of the strong currents and undertow by sticking close to the beach.
Fortaleza is the capital of hammock—pick one up at the range of small shops opposite the cathedral in the city center.
Don’t miss out on the forró, the traditional dance varying from traditional and modern interpretations. If you’re looking for something less touristy, move to the outskirts of the city but take a cab—buses get sketchy at night and these areas can be slightly dangerous for tourists.
Alencarinos is the nickname for Fortaleza residents—it comes from author and local hero José de Alencar.
Dune racing sippin’ on coconut water
Natal is known for being the calmer and safer sister to other larger Brazilian cities.
Even though it lacks a historical center of vivid nightlife, there is still plenty to do without the fear of being robbed.
This city is a great base to explore Rio Grande do Norte, including beaches like Pipa, Baía Formosa, Barra do Cunhaú and Genipabu.
Be sure to spend a day in a buggy, driving up and down the coast. Bring a swimsuit and towel! You’ll see an impressive and rare combination of dunes, lagoons, sandstone cliffs and vegetation with lots of stops for photos.
There’s a beautiful artisan market in the middle of dunes but you’ll also have the chance to do zip lining, sand-boarding, and swimming.
Stay hydrated by sippin’ on some cheap and fresh coconut water.
Be ready for your driver to not speak any English so you’ll have to rely heavily on gestures, unless you’ve managed to pick up some Portuguese.
Snacks on the beach while shark watching
Frevo, a style of both music and dance, is Recife’s most authentic and characteristic cultural display.
Due to the prevalence of waterways in its geography, Recife is known as Veneza Brasileira (Brazilian Venice).
Recife is the birthplace of two traditional and delicious cakes, the Bolo de Rolo, a cake made with guava and the Bolo Sousa Leão. Both are delicious, so indulge yourself in the caloric intake!
Do try the snacks from the beach vendors—little chicken and beef kebabs, oysters, prawns, and grilled cheese. Just be aware that some of the vendors may have been carrying them around for hours–if it doesn’t look fresh, it probably isn’t. Smell the prawns(Camarao) for freshness.
Try the Caldinho, a soup that comes in a variety of flavors from black bean to shrimp. The person selling it will say “completa” when you order it- this basically means The Works, and if you say yes, you get a few added extras, like boiled egg put into the cup of hot soup.
Watch out for shark warnings before entering the water at the Boa Viagem beach. Seriously!
Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in the Americas, built by Sephardic jews who emigrated here between 1630-1657. It’s simple, but beautiful.
Cobblestone streets and beach treats
Pelourinho is the old city center made up of history, colonial architecture and all the tourists that visit Salvador in winding cobblestoned streets.
Flamengo and Stella Maris are the most popular beaches because of their pristine water quality. They are great for surfing and popular among tourists and upper class locals.
Jaguaribe, Piatã and Itapoã all have calmer water and are the “local” beaches. Don’t bring anything with you besides clothes, cheap sunglasses, sunscreen, and little cash, since thieves are common.
Try an Abara dish: a wrap with bean paste, dende oil and onions all cooked in a banana leaf with spices.
Also try acarajé, sold by Baianas on the street. These, small fritters made from black-eyed peas and onions fried in palm oil slathered with spicy vatapá (shrimp paste) are delicious! And cheap.
The Heart of South America, smack in the center of South America
(CC) Copa Do Pantenal
Cuiabá is a rich mix of European, African and native American influence.
Don’t forget to pack your cowboy duds since it’s not strange to see lots of people in Western getup.
Local food is mostly fish and bovine meat based with many exotic fruits incorporated like bananas and cashews.
Known as the “Southern gate to the Amazon”, Cuiabá is the starting point to any Pantanal adventure. The Transpantaneira road suggests it crosses the whole area but (thank god) it is unfinished, keeping the precious eco-system intact. The unfinished edge has become one of the best places to view wildlife and locals swear you’ll see more animals here in a day than a week in the Amazon.
The World Cup Games are being played at the brand new, eco-conscious stadium nicknamed, O Verdao’ (The Big Green).
An architectural aficinado’s dream come true
(CC) Joao Vicente CC BY
The capital of Brazil was a completely planned city and completed in just four years, from 1956 to 1960.
It’s listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its modernist architecture and attracts architecture aficionados worldwide.
The city is designed in the shape of a giant bird or airplane, with specific zones assigned for specific functions: housing, hotels, commerce, hospitals and banking
The city was designed under the assumption that every resident would own an automobile so don’t think you’re walking anywhere- many stoplights don’t have pedestrian lights.
Visit the Dom Bosco Church made of concrete and blue stained glass. Bosco was a 19th-century Italian priest who apparently prophesied the creation of Brasilia. Look up at the huge crystal chandeliers hanging in the middle of this weirdly square church.
View some of the greatest works of art in Brazil for free: Oscar Niemeyer (buildings and sculptures) Ceschiatti and Bruno Giorgio (sculptures) can all be seen on the streets, open air and for free.
Mountains of Minas Gerais and Modernism
Definitely pick up a pão de queijo or chipá – these small, baked, cheese-flavored rolls are a real delight.
Most significant cultural landmarks are situated in the Pampulha district, including one of the largest soccer stadiums in the world, the Mineirão stadium
The Pampulha neighborhood was designed in the 1920’s by a young Brazilian Modernist architect, named Oscar Niemeyer, to great acclaim from the people of BH. You can thank Oscar for the sweeping wide avenues, large lakes and soaring skyline.
See the São Francisco de Assis Church, widely known as Igreja da Pampulha, also designed by Oscar Niemeyer.
Rio de Janeiro
A metropolis nestled between tropical forests and beaches
Work on looking as little as a “gringo” as possible- tourists are targeted by thieves so try your best to leave the maps, recording devices and convertible khaki pants at home.
Thousands of vendors walk the beaches every day selling sunglasses, bikinis, fried shrimp and delicious bevvies like mate com limão ( ice tea mixed with lemonade) and suco de laranja com cenoura (orange and carrot juice).
Try the vendors’ empadas (baked flour pastry filled with meat or cheese), sanduíche natural (cold sandwich with vegetables and mayo)
Hike up the Sugar Loaf-it looks steep but it’s not too strenuous. After 6 p.m. you can snag a free ride back down on the cable car. The views are worth the sweat!
Favela tours are something you want to consider carefully: would you want strangers gaping at you in your neighborhood? Visiting with a (trustworthy) local would be your best bet, but most favelas are rife with guns and drugs so tread carefully…
If you’re thirsty, ask for guaraná, soda from the seed of an Amazon fruit, água de coco (coconut water) and caldo de cana (sugarcane juice).
- Stay at the lovely Hotel Windsor Atlântica steps away from Copacabana beach.
Hometown of soccer in Brazil
(CC) Fernando Stankuns CC BY
São Paulo or Sampa as it is also often called, was the birthplace of Brazilian soccer, as it was the home of Charles Miller, the British descendant who introduced the game to the city in 1894.
There is an amazing Museu do Futebol (football museum) which is a must see for any die-hard soccer fans.
Walk the Avenida Paulista, the central part of town. You can get anywhere from here by transit. and its also within walking distance to Centro and Ibirapuera Park.
Transportation in São Paulo can be pure hell. Peak hours are normally roughly from 6 a.m.-9 a.m. and from 4 p.m.-8 p.m. during which point you will be stuck in traffic hell no matter what.
This traffic hell is unavoidable even if you take public transport- many Paulistanos take more than 2 hours to get to work or school! Get ready for a lot of pushing to get both on and off the metros.
In the Centro you’ll find stunning architecture, the Mercado Municipal (main market), the Theatro Municipal.
The Liberdade is Sampa’s Japantown, a great place to pick up sushi and kawaii souvenirs.
Sustainably sexy, practically perfect
(CC) Mathieu Bertrand Struck CC BY
Curitiba might not be as sexy as other Brazilian cities, but it’s highly functional and revered internationally as a model of urban planning, with sustainable design, green spaces and one of the world’s most efficient public transit systems.
Don’t miss the Museu Oscar Niemeyer, Brazil’s homage to the architect who designed it all.
Check out the beautiful botanic gardens.
Take a ride on the Serra Verde Express, one of the only and the best scenic train routes in Brazil. It departs from Curitiba daily and flows through the mountain canyons and tropic towards the Atlantic Ocean in Morretes.
(CC) Anderson Vaz CC BY
The city shares many cultural traits with Argentina and Uruguay including music styles and sharing the love for drinking the mate infusion, or chimarrão over coffee.
If you’re an art lover, visit the Fundacao Ibere Camargo, the contemporary art museum which looks as cool from the outside, designed by award-winning building by Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza, as it does on the inside.
Welcome to gaúcho country! Visit the Brique da Redenção, a flea market near Parque da Redenção where you can pick up authentic gaúcho art, crafts, and furniture every Sunday, from 9am to 6pm.
Watch the beautiful Porto Alegre sunset over the main river, Guaíba in front of the Usina do Gasômetro, an old powerplant built in 1928 that was renovated and now hosts movie theaters and art expositions.