To say that the beaches of Brazil are legendary is perhaps one of the biggest understatements of all time. From the urban beaches of Rio de Janeiro, the secluded shores of Santa Catarina, or the windswept dunes of Lençóis Maranhenses National Park in the north, the country has beaches in spades. There are more than 4,500 miles of coast to explore in Brazil, so we're giving you a snapshot of just a few of the beaches that should be on your list the next time you're planning a trip.
Author's Note: We realize that there are almost too many pretty beaches in Brazil to count, so if you have any suggestions feel free to leave a comment!
1. The Beaches of Fernando de Noronha
Of course, some of the prettiest beaches in Brazil are also some of the hardest to reach. The Fernando de Noronha Islands are a protected national marine park that are around 220 miles off Brazil’s northeast coast. UNESCO has designated the archipelago a World Heritage Site for its dazzling ecosystems, and the number of visitors to the islands are restricted, keeping its stunning beauty intact. However, those who are lucky enough to venture here are in for a major treat. The volcanic landscape holds dazzling arcs of white sand that are kissed by clear blue water and ringed by jagged mountain peaks. Underwater, the islands feature some of the best snorkeling and diving in all of Latin America. Its beaches are numerous, and include Cacimba do Padre, which is a stunning stretch of sand backed by the island’s signature peaks, as well as Conceicao Beach and Baia do Sancho. Planes travel to the islands from Recife and Natal, while boats depart from a few major northern Brazilian cities.
2. Lençóis Maranhenses National Park
Once a secret known only to intrepid travelers, this national park is growing in popularity as the years pass. However, it’s still decidedly off-the-radar for most international tourists, and visiting feels like you’ve found a secret bit of paradise. Here, the rainy season creates lagoons and lakes between the constantly shifting sand dunes, which open up onto a long sweep of the Atlantic Ocean. If you visit outside of the rainy season, the landscape is still mind-blowing, but you’ll miss the chance to swim in the lagoons — which is a memory maker in its own right. There are no roads or motorized vehicles within the park — and no services either. Camping is allowed, though you’ll need to carry in and carry out (4WD vehicles can be hired). If you want to make day trips into the dunes and along the ocean, head to the tiny town of Atins, which is adjacent to dazzling Cabure Beach. The closest major city is Sao Luis, which has an airport. From there, it’s around a five- to six-hour drive to the park’s borders or the nearby touristy town of Barreirinhas.
Will you have the beach in Ipanema to yourself? Absolutely not. Are there times of year when it’s so crowded that you won’t be able to see the sand? Certainly. Is Ipanema still one of the most magical places in the world? Without a doubt. While Rio’s Zona Sul is spoiled for choice when it comes to urban beaches, Ipanema is Rio beach culture at its zenith. From surf-heavy Arpoador at its eastern end to the peaks of Dois Irmaos off in the western distance, the “postos” here bustle from morning until sunset — and often far beyond that. Acai and caipirinha vendors patrol the sand diligently, and everything from grilled-and-seasoned slices of cheese to empanadas and sandwiches can be bought right from your beach chair. “Futevolei” players turn acrobatic tricks while playing their version of foot volleyball near the boardwalk, and impromptu dance parties backed by “funk carioca” aren’t uncommon. Ipanema is also the hub of much of Rio’s LGBTQ beach scene, particularly between Posto 8 and 9.
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4. Lopes Mendes Beach, Ilha Grande
We’ve already told you about the magical long weekend you can spend on Ilha Grande if you’re visiting Rio de Janeiro, but it’s also worth noting that the island is home to one of Brazil’s most beautiful beaches. Lopes Mendes is the most popular beach on Ilha Grande and has been featured many times on lists of the world’s best beaches. But it does take a bit of endurance to reach. Expect a three-hour trek from the island’s main town, Vila Abraao, though boats also depart from the town for the beach. If you opt for the hike, there are fantastic views of the sea through the jungle canopy at certain points, and the reward for all of your hard work is a pristine stretch of nearly two miles of sand, turquoise water, and gorgeous green hills in all directions.
Dolphins, novice-friendly surf, and sea turtles are just a few of the reasons to head to these long sweeps of sand just to the north or Praia da Pipa. To be clear, this quaint town has several beaches, including the wildly popular Praia da Amor — and you’ll need to navigate a large set of cliffside steps to reach Madeiro Beach — but the reward is worth it. Beach vendors sling food and drinks, while the sand remains relatively quiet compared to the area’s other beaches. Turtle seasons ranges from November to May, and there are ecological sanctuaries in town set aside where they are allowed to nest undisturbed just to the south of Madeiro Beach.
The state of Rio de Janeiro — home to the city of the same name — can sometimes seem like it has almost too many majestic beaches. And that would be true. About three hours east of Rio (the city) is the town of Arraial do Cabo, which is home to not one but several amazing beaches. Farol Beach is the most popular among them and is worth the attention, with its white sand and neon-blue water, as well as tranquil surf that’s perfectly suited for lazy days spent swimming and sunbathing (or snorkeling). It’s accessed by boat from Arraial do Cabo on the mainland. There are also several tiny beaches tucked along the cape (called Pontal de Atalaia) that’s south of the town, while beautiful Praia Grande is adjacent to the centro.
7. Lagoinha do Leste, Florianopolis
The island of Santa Catarina is another one of those only-in-Brazil places where magical beach scenes are around nearly every corner, though parts of it more closely resemble the built-up shores of Rio. Across the bay from Florianopolis, this island has been drawing beach lovers for some time now. One of its truest gems is the beach at Lagoinha do Leste. Like anything beautiful, though, it does take some work to get here. Treks are the name of the game, and depart from Pantano do Sul (two hours) and Mataidero (three hours). Once there, it’s all unplugged awesomeness — don’t expect good cell phone reception or any real services on the sand. This end of Santa Catarina is about an hour from Florianopolis by car, and boats can also be hired to reach the beach itself.
8. Morro Branco, Fortaleza
Think Brazil is all lush forests and mountain-flanked shores? Think again. Morro Branco looks like something from another world. About a two-hour drive south of Fortaleza. This long crescent of golden sand has a dramatic backdrop of gold- and rust-hued cliffs that create a labyrinth of lanes and alleys that lead through the “falesias” to the sea. It all feels quite surreal, and it’s a popular day trip on organized tours from Fortaleza. It’s not exactly an undiscovered wonderland, but the landscape itself is worth a trip in its own right.
9. Morro de Sao Paulo, Bahia
A beach town that’s blissfully free of cars and feels miles away from it all, Morro de Sao Paulo might just be the beach dream you’re seeking. It’s a popular weekend getaway for residents of Salvador de Bahia, and can be accessed from ferries that depart near Salvador’s touristy Mercado Modelo. The trip takes about two hours one way. Once here, it’s all about beachy vibes, and none of the streets are paved, helping to create a convincing escapist getaway. It’s touristy for sure, though the abundance of casual bars and open-air restaurants are part of what draws visitors here in droves. The beach scene is lively, and you’ll find locals and tourists carousing on the sand well into the night.
10. Praia del Castelhanos, Ilhabela
Sao Paulo is one of the largest cities on the planet, so it may be surprising to to know that within a few hours by car, there are amazing away-from-it-all beaches that rival anything found elsewhere in Brazil. Ilhabela, a large island that sits offshore from the charming town of Sao Sebastiao, has numerous beaches to explore. Some are more accessible than others, and Praia del Castelhanos is easily one of its best. With its nearby waterfall and the surrounding jungle-clad hills, the vibe is serene in the extreme — made all the more tranquil because this beach isn’t easy to reach. Expect a long trek or mountain bike journey to get here, though 4X4s and boats can also be hired and are more efficient. Keep in mind that this is a protected park, and access is regulated.
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