When you plan to travel/spend your holiday in Brazil, your preferable travel destination(s) might depend very much on your favourite activities.
a) Just beach holiday
Even if there are many beautiful beaches in different places of the world, which is why this should not necessarily be the main reason to visit this country, following a short description of the three main beach types to be found along Brazil’s 8.000 km coast line:
Endless flat coconut palm beaches with and without dunes, partly with offshore reefs and coloured sandy cliffs, so – called falesias, in the northeast.
Charming deserted and semideserted beaches with little bays enclosed by rainforest covered mountains of the Serra do Mar mountain chain, in the southeast (my personal favourite).
Rio Grande do Sul in South Brazil seems to have one endless flat rectilinear beach from north to south, with dunes but without coconut palm trees and reefs. It reminds a little the Netherlands / European Atlantic coast beaches.
Of outstanding beauty are the Lençois Maranhenses National Park in Maranhao, the coastal part of the Southeast Reserves (Sao Paulo / Parana) and Discovery Coast World Heritage Sites (South Bahia) such as the bird paradise Lagoa dos Patos National Park (Rio Grande do Sul).
b) Outdoor activities
For outdoor activities, particularly walking / hiking / trekking / climbing, mountain biking and kayaking, definitely the Atlantic Rainforest should be your choice. It offers countless historical trails, beautiful deserted and semi-deserted beaches, mangrove and restinga vegetation, rainforest covered mountains of up to 3.000 height meters (Mar /Mantiqueira range), charming rivers, waterfalls and pools, traditional communities and some colonial towns. Additionally, it is easy to access via the Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro international airport.
There are many cave areas in Brazil but in combination with rainforest, the Speleological Province Upper Ribeira / Paranapiacaba (Sao Paulo State), with its fantastic karst landscape and hundreds of limestone caves, is unique. Recommendation: Intervales and PETAR State Park.
Brazil has no Great Barrier Reef and is not a famous diving spot. However, the Fernando de Noronha island in Pernambuco and the dozens of shipwrecks around Ilhabela (Sao Paulo), might be worth a visit.
e) Wildlife Viewing
When you can stand the heat and the mosquitoes, the Pantanal is the place to be in order to watch, photograph and film animals in their natural habitat. Especially the dry season (winter) is highly recommend, because the flooded areas shrink and the animals have to come out of their shelter in order to access the water. For that purpose, don´t go to the Amazon, you probably will be disappointed. A biologist, who participated in a 7 day rainforest expedition to Pico da Neblina, once told me that he did not see one animal during the whole hike.
For birdwatching, visit the Intervales State park, where you easily can observe a different bird species about every 15 minutes.
The archipelago of Abrolhos is great place for whale watching during season.
When you are in Sao Paulo, Cantareira State Park is an excellent option to see free living monkeys, especially howler monkeys (Alouatta guariba).
f) Culture and History
Brazil, for sure is a great nature / eco destination but I think it is fair to say that if you come from a culturally rich continent, such as Europe, Brazil, with its young history, in terms of cultural attractions, cannot quite compare. However, the baroque colonial buildings and churches that date back to Brazil´s gold cycle, might be worth a visit. An interesting alternative to combine culture and history with exceptional natural beauty is a visit to the Discovery Coast World Heritage Site in South Bahia or to follow the former gold route (Estrada Real) from the mining areas in Ouro Preto / Diamantinha (Minas Gerais) to the port in Paraty. The Lagamar Complex (Sao Paulo / Parana) offers prehistoric sambaquis, traditional fishing communities (caicaras) and further inland, descendants of African slaves, so – called quilombolas.
Apart from Trindade / Martim Vaz, with difficult and limited access, Fernando de Noronha is Brazil’s most beautiful island. If mass tourism isn’t a problem for you and size matters, there is nothing that compares to the waterfalls of Foz de Iguaçu (1 day is enough). Hang and paragliding is possible at the National Monument Pontoes Capixabas in Espirito Santo where you can also find Brazil’s most spectacular rock formations. To decide between the carnival in Rio de Janeiro and the carnival in Cologne might be a hard choice but New Year’s Eve at Copacabana is unsurpassable. If you are in Sao Paulo and don’t pretend to visit Argentine, don´t forget to include a diner at a typical churrasco / rodizio restaurant.