Brazil is a South American giant. It’s by far the largest country in the continent and is the world’s 5th largest. It’s home to some of the world’s most populated, and most famous, cities; say Rio de Janeiro, and everyone can picture this renowned beachside megalopolis.
It’s also where you’ll find vast swathes of the Amazon Rainforest. Nature is broad and all-encompassing in Brazil, from portions of the largest and most untamable rainforest on Earth to powerful waterfalls like Iguaçu Falls. It’s a true melting pot of cultures and biodiversity that results in a country rich in languages, cuisines, and landscapes.
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The northernmost region of Brazil is undeveloped compared to the rest of the country. Expect wilderness; here there are swamps, beaches, and most famously, the Amazon Rainforest.
The largest rainforest in the world, it can be accessed mainly via the Brazilian state of Amazonas. Manaus, the capital of the state, is a good jumping-off point and the place for trips upriver into the far reaches of the rainforest.
Para, the country’s second-largest state, includes a lot of rainforest, too. It’s here that you’ll find Belem – the state capital and its largest city. Trips up and down the Amazon start and end here. Para cuisine features much indigenous influence; foodies should try the intriguing flavors of tucupí – a sort of bitter gravy that goes in many dishes – as well as the manioc, pork, and rice concoction that is maniçoba.
Amapa, bordered by French Guiana to the north, is also made up of rainforests; in fact, around 70% of the whole state comprises unexplored rainforests. Its coastlines are all about unspoiled beaches and contain a high proportion of Brazil’s swamps.
In Northeast Brazil, you’ll still be far from the poshest and fanciest cities further south, but the urban centers along this region’s coasts are certainly not to be sniffed at.
One case in point is Recife. A large, vibrant city, and the capital of the state of Pernambuco, it’s known for its friendly atmosphere and lovely beaches, but equally renowned for its old town and for being home to the oldest synagogue in the Americas.
Just south of Recife is beautiful Maceio. Here there are skyscrapers, hotels, mangroves, palm-lined roads, and a slice of long, wide sand to play on. Fortaleza, capital of Cerea state, is further north and one of Brazil’s largest cities. For beaches, Fortaleza is not to be missed, while Salvador, capital of Bahia, is known for its colonial architecture.
Nature abounds here. The Northeast boasts Jurassic-style scenery at the incredible Chapada Diamantina National Park, and the stunning archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, just off the coast of Natal.
The only landlocked region in Brazil, the Central West is composed of three states (Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, and Goiás) as well as the Federal District. This is where you will find the country’s capital, Brasilia. Fans of strange architecture and planned cities will enjoy a trip here.
Away from architecture, Bonito is the place to go for some truly incredible nature. Known as the “Caribbean of the Central West” this part of Brazil is famed for its underwater river systems and other freshwater watercourses that allow for snorkeling, swimming, and much exploration.
The Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland, is probably the most famous natural attraction in this region. For some more awe-inspiring scenery on a grand scale, make a beeline for Chapada dos Guimarães National Park. Dramatic sights like the singular Véu de Noiva Falls make this area rife with photo opportunities.
Situated in the state of Goias, the national park, for the most part, encompasses the cerrado biome – an area of central Brazil that’s a mix of ecosystems, from gallery forests to savanna wetlands. The Maytrea Valley here is particularly beautiful.
The Southeast region of Brazil is the cultural and economic powerhouse of the country. Three of its four largest cities are located here, each more famous the next – Belo Horizonte, São Paulo, and – of course – Rio de Janeiro.
Rio, as it’s more commonly known, is the home of the world’s largest Carnival. The streets erupt with life and color to mark the start of Lent, with parades, dancing, and general merrymaking being the order of the day.
Famous beaches like Ipanema and Copacabana play host to sun-seekers and posers below its characteristic limestone peaks, all watched over by Christ the Redeemer. Meanwhile, Sao Paulo jostles with skyscrapers and neo-Gothic architecture, and Paraty boasts a selection of well-preserved, centuries-old colonial architecture.
Away from its rich, renowned coastline, the Southeast is punctuated with natural beauty. The Agulhas Negras in Itatiaia National Park are a jagged set of dramatic peaks. Pedra Azul State Park – in the state of Espirtu Santo – boasts the beautiful and aptly named Pedra Azul or ‘Blue Rock’ itself.
The states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, and Parana make up the region that is the South of Brazil. Set obviously in the southernmost part of the country, here you’ll find diversity both in nature and culture.
Head to Santa Catarina and you’ll find fantastic beaches. Florianopolis, the state capital, is set for the most part on Santa Catarina Island and is famous for its beaches, such as the Praia dos Ingleses.
In the north, on the other hand, culturally diverse Parana contains some truly rugged slices of the natural world. The Atlantic Forest South-East Reserves is where ancient forests hide craggy spires, while in the west of this state, you’ll find the world-famous Iguaçu Falls; at over 2,700 kilometers long, this waterfall is wider than both Niagara and Victoria combined.
More waterfalls, like Cascata do Caracol, can be found in Rio Grande do Sul. But this southern state is also home to cultures that you may not consider ‘Brazilian.’ With German and Italian heritage, the languages spoken here preserve old European dialects, while its towns even sometimes look like Bavarian hamlets – just look at Nova Petrópolis.