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As the host country of the World Cup in 2014 and now, the 2016 Summer Olympics, Brazil’s definitely getting a lot of attention. Here, TPG Contributor Kay Rodriguez — who lived, studied and volunteered in Brazil for six months — shares her favorite destinations outside of the chaos of Rio de Janeiro.
With Olympics starting this week and Brazil’s amazingly-timed waived visa requirements, there’s no better opportunity to visit the enormous and eclectic country. Sporting sparkling beaches, lush rainforests and historic towns, Brazil hosts a variety of destinations for any type of traveler. Don’t miss the chance to explore this massive country full of cultural and natural beauty — and one of TPG’s top 13 must-visit destinations in 2016 — for less.
With epic Carnaval celebrations, gorgeous golden beaches and its towering Christ the Redeemer statue, it’s no wonder many put the marvelous city of Rio de Janeiro on the top of their travel bucket lists. While thousands of tourists flock to Rio for the Olympics this summer, you can avoid the crowds by heading to some of Brazil’s other gems — here are five other must-see spots you should check out while you’re in the neighborhood.
Just a short hop to the east of Rio, Búzios is a charming, peaceful beach town surrounded by green, forested hills and a turquoise-colored ocean. Many of Rio’s locals head here for weekend getaways or to get out of the city during the high tourist season. The area is known for its world-class scuba diving and snorkeling, made perfect by its crystalline waters and laid-back atmosphere.
A pleasant boardwalk runs along the water, while a wide selection of shopping, dining and nightlife options await on Rua das Pedras. Better yet, find a hammock underneath the trees and spend the the day relaxing in one of Brazil’s most beautiful seaside destinations.
Getting there: Fly into Rio de Janeiro – Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport (GIG), then take a bus to Búzios.
2. Lençóis Maranhenses National Park
One of Brazil’s most unique landscapes, Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, is located in northern Brazil, offering stunning views of sand dunes surrounding pools of turquoise waters. The best time to visit this remote park is May to September, perfect for visitors entering the country during the free visa period.
Visitors to the area tend to stay in Barreirinhas, the nearest town and transportation hub. From there, travelers can easily book 4×4 tours or horse rides to the edge of the protected area. While inside the national park, spend your days exploring impressive landscapes, swimming in lagoons or snapping a few photos at sunrise or sunset.
Getting there: Fly into Marechal Cunha Machado International Airport in São Luís (SLZ) or Pinto Martins–Fortaleza International Airport (FOR), then take a bus to Barreirinhas. Alternatively, travelers can take a 4×4 bus tour from Jericoacoara.
3. Ouro Preto
With its cobblestone streets, colonial buildings and hilly surroundings, Ouro Preto is one of country’s most picturesque towns, situated in the heart of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. With its pronounced history, Ouro Preto came to fame in the gold mining ages of colonial Brazil and is now home to many historic sites, natural wonders and one of the country’s most prominent universities.
With its famous Minas Gerais-style feijoada (a black bean and pork stew) Canja de galinha (a savory chicken soup) and cachaça (Brazil’s traditional liquor), Ouro Preto is a food lover’s paradise. Locals know this, and as a result, virtually every street is lined with family-owned restaurants and shops. The city also has tons of historic buildings and mines that visitors can tour, including a massive minerals museum in the center of town. On top of that, the surrounding landscape makes for some stunning hikes and outdoor activities.
Getting there: Fly into Belo Horizonte–Tancredo Neves/Confins International Airport (CNF), then catch a bus to Ouro Preto.
If you’re looking for a beachside, cosmopolitan vacation spot without the crowds or chaos of Rio de Janeiro, head to Brazil’s most beautiful island-city, Florianópolis. Located on the southern tip of Brazil, Floranópolis offers stunning beaches, buzzing nightlife and city vibes, all accessible by a quick plane ride from any of Brazil’s large cities.
Florianópolis is a fun city for beach bums and people-watchers alike. For a well-populated, energy-filled beach area, visitors should head to Praia Mole, located on the eastern side of Florianópolis. Here, paragliding is a pretty common activity, and beach-going spectators in Praia Mole can watch these colorful apparatuses floating from some of the city’s highest points. If you’re looking for a more secluded, tranquil beach experience, hike to Lagoinha do Leste, an isolated beach area only accessible by foot. For the most breathtaking and tranquil sunset views, head to Santo Antonio da Lisboa and grab a seat at one of the area’s delicious family-owned restaurants.
Getting there: Fly into Florianópolis-Hercílio Luz International Airport (FLN).
Hidden deep in the glistening sand dunes of northern Brazil lies a charming and unassuming beach town called Jericoacoara. Colorful pousadas (B&Bs) and cheerful art vendors line the central streets, which are entirely made of sand. Originally known for its world-class kitesurfing and windsurfing, travelers now make the journey out to Jericoacoara each year for its relaxed atmosphere and friendly locals.
Here, visitors can while away the day learning to surf, riding a dune buggy or taking a nap in a hammock (doesn’t that sound great right about now?). You’ll also find live music in many of the beachside hangouts in the evenings, a perfect way to decompress after a long day of water sports. Each day at sunset, many of the town’s inhabitants make their way to a giant sand dune just outside of town that overlooks the sea. As the sky fills with colorful hues and the sun sinks below the horizon, spectators burst into applause, with some running down the dune into the warm waters below. After nightfall, enjoy capoeira demonstrations on the beach and treat themselves to freshly-picked coconut water.
Getting there: Fly into Pinto Martins–Fortaleza International Airport (FOR), then take a 4×4 bus to Jericoacoara.
Have you visited any of these Brazilian destinations? Which others would you add to this list?
Featured image of Close da Pedra Furada in Jericoacoara courtesy of Shutterstock.
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