The Best 10-Day Brazil Itinerary

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To visit Brazil is to dial your senses into overdrive. The world’s fifth-largest country beckons with cosmopolitan cities, glamorous beaches, tropical rain forests, unreal shopping and nightlife -- including Carnival, the biggest party on the planet -- and that’s just the start. Brazil is an enormous place and planning a trip to see it can be intimidating. That’s why we’re here with a 10-day Brazil itinerary covering some of the best highlights the country has to offer, from remote castaway islands of your dreams to the biggest city in the Southern Hemisphere. Ten days won't be enough, but it's a start!

Check out Brazil's most beautiful beaches from Fernando de Noronha to Rio. 

Brazil Itinerary Days 1 to 3: Rio

The legendary beach town that put Brazil on the map, Rio de Janeiro is a destination like no other. Its natural beauty — towering mountains and tropical jungle hugging a sandy shoreline — is stunning and distinct, and the city is an intoxicating mix of leisurely beach culture, vibrant nightlife, and exciting shopping, dining, and sports.

After landing at Tom Jobim International Airport, travelers should grab a taxi, Uber (widely available and quite affordable), or pre-arranged hotel shuttle to bring them into town. Renting a car for your Brazil trip is a possibility, but not necessary, especially in big cities where there are taxis/Ubers and good public transit. And know that renting a car in Rio means dealing with horrible traffic, navigating poorly marked roads, searching for hard-to-find parking, and sharing the road with locals who tend to drive fast and disregard lights.

Beach lovers will likely want to stay in the Copacabana, Ipanema, or Leblon neighborhoods, where chain hotels and apartment blocks line the shore. Those who prefer quirky boutique hotels and charming guesthouses will love the shady and bohemian Santa Teresa neighborhood. Regardless of where you stay, a trip to the beach is in order as soon as you’re checked in and settled. Rio’s beaches serve as the city’s nerve center — they’re where locals promenade, play volleyball, and relax with drinks and snacks. Order a coconut water or chopp (icy cold beer) and drink up the gorgeous surroundings.

Explore Rio’s many iconic attractions over the next few days. Plan everything around your visit to Christ the Redeemer, one of the seven wonders of the modern world. Be sure to time your visit for a clear day or you’ll risk compromised views from the top of the 2,300-foot-tall Corcovado mountain. Go as early in the day as you can; otherwise, you’ll be sharing the experience with literal busloads of fellow tourists. You’ll need to book your train ticket to the top online and in advance. Visiting Sugarloaf — a dramatic granite peak accessed by a thrilling cable car ride — will also require careful coordinating with the weather. Ideally, arrange to go up in late afternoon on a clear day for unbelievable views and sunset. Other must-do experiences include Parque Nacional da Tijuca, a lush rain forest with towering waterfalls, ample bird- and wildlife, and views of Rio below (we recommend a Jeep tour) and Jardim Botanico do Rio de Janeiro, a 340-acre sanctuary founded in the early 19th century by an exiled Portuguese king. The garden is home to more than 5,000 species of plants, flowers, and trees from around the world, as well as endemic birds (keep an eye out for elegant Cocoi herons and dusky pink ground doves), lily-topped lakes, a Japanese garden, and an orchid greenhouse.

Our Rio Hotel Pick: Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort

A polished and full-service beach resort, Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort is an upscale hotel located directly on the beach in Rio’s Leblon neighborhood. It’s the only Rio property with direct beach access, so if that’s what you’re after, book here. Another huge perk is that every one of the hotel’s 538 rooms offers sea views and private balconies. Food and drink options range from a Michelin-rated French restaurant to a beachside steakhouse. In addition to the private beach, the hotel has a pool, spa, and 24-hour fitness center.

Our Rio Hotel Pick: Hotel Arpoador

The 49-room Hotel Arpoador boasts a fabulous location overlooking the eastern tip of Ipanema Beach (known as Arpoador Beach in the area), near shopping, dining, nightlife, and Copacabana Beach. The sandy beach is right behind the hotel and is an excellent spot to watch the sunset or surf.

Our Rio Hotel Pick: JW Marriott Hotel Rio de Janeiro

For those who want to be in the heart of the Copacabana action, consider this upscale JW Marriott hotel right across Avenida Atlantica from the world-famous beach. Built in 2001, the 245-room hotel features a cool rooftop area with a pool, cabanas, food truck, and bar, all with fantastic views of the beach. If views aren’t enough, guests have access to beach chairs and umbrellas on the sand.

Brazil Itinerary Days 4 to 5: Side Trips to Ilha Grande or Paraty

Ilha Grande has long been a popular weekend getaway for cariocas (Rio residents). Accessible from Rio by bus then ferry, the car-free tropical island lures with its sheltered beaches, forested hills (home to birds, monkeys, and hiking trails), and clear blue-green waters perfect for snorkeling, diving, and boat trips.

The little town of Paraty has Brazilian charm in the bag. The one-time gold port, located between Rio and Sao Paulo, boasts colonial Portuguese architecture (Paraty goes back to the 17th century), a car-free historic center, and plenty of natural splendor in the form of beaches, mangroves, mountains, hikes, waterfalls, and wildlife.

Our Ilha Grande Hotel Pick: Pousada Recreio da Praia

Cute guest rooms at Pousada Recreio come standard with a flat-screen TV, a mini-fridge, air-conditioning, and free Wi-Fi. Low rates also include a charming pool and free breakfast. The best part is definitely fast access to a stunning beach.

Our Paraty Hotel Pick: Casa Turquesa – Maison D’Hotes

Happy hour? Check. Swimming pool? Check. Beach access? Check, check! The Casa Turquesa offers nine contemporary suites and apartments, and the entire place is decorated with an eye towards design-led details.

Brazil Itinerary Days 6 to 8: Sao Paulo

The hour-long flight from Rio to Sao Paulo takes off about every half hour. Budget at least an hour to get to the airport in a car due to traffic. Most travelers will be happy staying near Avenida Paulista. São Paulo’s “main drag” makes a good home base for exploring the city over the next few days. The two-mile stretch is lined with leafy parks and famous buildings, including Trianon Park, a lush pocket of native forest, and the Oscar Niemeyer-designed Museu de Arte de São Paulo.

Pack the next few days with all that São Paulo has to offer — good luck! Start by checking out SP’s architectural treasures, like the Theatro Municipal, a grand 1911 opera house; the neo-gothic Sao Paulo Cathedral on pretty Praca de Se; and the Martinelli Building, once the tallest skyscraper in South America. Martinelli’s rooftop is open to the public; the 42nd-floor terrace of the Edifício Itália is another great spot for sweeping city views. A must-visit in this area is the Mercado Municipal of São Paulo. The 1928 grocery hall has hundreds of vendors peddling spices, meats, cheeses, towers of fruits, and vats of nuts and olives. Try quindim, a sweet coconut custard, from one of the market’s bakeries.

For a break from city life, head to Parque Ibirapuera, a large central park with ponds and a weekend crafts market. This is where Paulistanos come to picnic, play friendly games of sports, and attend cultural events at the Oscar Niemeyer-designed auditorium. Several attractions are located within the park itself, including the Museum of Modern Art.

Shopping is serious sport in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s wealthiest and most cosmopolitan city. Stroll down posh Rua Oscar Freire (often compared to L.A.’s Rodeo Drive) and poke into its many Brazilian designer boutiques like Schutz, Animale, and the Havaianas flagship. (For even more extravagant shopping, go to the high-end Cidade Jardim mall.) On the opposite end of the spectrum is Rua 25 de Marco, a bustling street market where bargaining is expected. In the bohemian neighborhoods of Vila Madalena and Pinheiros, there are quirky boutiques for clothing and home goods (we especially like Farm, Simultanea, and Attom Design). While there, you’ll find yourself ensconced in the city’s incredible arts scene. Wander into Choque Cultural, Galleria Millan, and other galleries and detour down Beco do Batman, one of São Paulo’s best street art hot spots. Stay in this area for happy hour, dinner, and a bossa nova show at one of the many bars.

Our Sao Paulo Hotel Pick: Renaissance Sao Paulo Hotel

One block from Avenida Paulista, the 25-story Renaissance Sao Paulo is a formidable presence in the leafy Jardins neighborhood. Inside, the atmosphere is cosmopolitan and chic, like Sao Paulo itself. The hotel’s 444 rooms and suites are yet another highlight, each with spacious marble bathrooms, flat-screen LCD TVs, and city views.

Our Sao Paulo Hotel Pick: Emiliano Hotel

This super-sleek luxury boutique hotel in Jardins features sexy and mod rooms, a full-service spa (but no pool), and excellent food and drink options, including a Champagne and caviar bar.

Brazil Itinerary: Days 9 to 10: Side Trip to Ilhabela or Fernando de Noronha

Translating to “Beautiful Island,” Ilhabela is the serene antidote to manic São Paulo. The island is heaven for nature and water lovers — filled with beaches, rain forests, and waterfalls, Ilhabela offers sailing, snorkeling, hiking, surfing, and scuba diving to the many shipwrecks off its coast. Arrange a vehicle or take the bus from SP’s Tiete Bus Terminal for the three-hour trip from São Paulo to Sao Sebastian. From there, it’s a 15-minute boat ride to Ilhabela. Boats depart every half hour, or hourly at night. If visiting during the Brazilian winter, time your Ilhabela trip for a weekend, as many tourist conveniences are closed during the week.

If you can extend your trip an extra day or two, consider escaping to the north from Sao Paulo. Three-hour flights from Sao Paulo to Recife occur several times a day. Recife is the gateway to one of the magical places on earth, Fernando de Noronha. The pristine island is so because it is very protected — the Brazilian government allows no more than 500 people on Fernando de Noronha at a time, so that it is not burdened by tourism. Visitors must pay a daily environmental preservation rate, plus an ecological rate to enter the island’s national parkland. The UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site is described by visitors and Brazilians as a true paradise, and many consider it the most beautiful island in Brazil, if not the world. Discovered by Amerigo Vespucci, explored by Charles Darwin, and visited by Jacques Cousteau, Fernando de Noronha offers unspoiled wilderness and virgin beaches lapped by turquoise waters. Visitors spend their days surfing, diving, and going on boat tours to see dolphins — hundreds convene daily in one of the island’s secluded bays.

Our Ilhabela Hotel Pick: Itapemar Hotel

Rooms at the charming Itapemar Hotel feature a flat-screen TV, a minibar, and air-conditioning. There’s a lovely beachfront bar, and breakfast is included in rates.

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