Brazil is an enormous country and if you’re planning a holiday there for the first time, the possibilities can be quite overwhelming. It’s impossible to see all of Brazil’s highlights in just a few weeks, so you’ll have to choose. But do you go for the coast and some cities only? Or do you want to explore the Amazon as well, meaning you’ll have to skip a coastal town? I’ve put together a perfect two week Brazil itinerary for first-timers – read and enjoy! However, make sure to also check my tips for travelling in Brazil.
The perfect Brazil itinerary starts in Rio
Rio de Janeiro is – by far! – my favourite city in Brazil and maybe (probably) even in the world. It’s easy to spend a couple of days there, exploring the fun beaches (go anywhere between Copacabana and Leblon), visiting Christ the Redeemer and Pão de Açucar, exploring the bohemian neighbourhood of Santa Teresa, going for a fun and informative bike tour with Rio by Bike, and stopping for a party in Lapa. Gringo Rio has updated information about what to do in the Marvellous City.
I usually stay in the Everest Hotel in Ipanema. The rooms are a bit worn down, but the location in Ipanema and the rooftop with amazing view are unbeatable.
Exploring Ilha Grande
Ilha Grande is a beautiful island just off of Rio’s coast. It has beautiful beaches and incredibly lush green hills, which make for some nice hikes and monkey spotting. There are no paved roads and although the island gets a bit crowded with tourists during high season, it always maintains its relaxed vibe. You can get there by bus to Angra dos Reis (from which you’ll take a boat), or simply arrange a package deal with a van that picks you up from your hotel or the airport and has a boat ready from Angra. This is quite a practical option if you don’t speak Portuguese. If you take the same package back, the van can drop you off at the airport, so you can catch a flight to Florianópolis.
The gorgeous beaches of Florianópolis
Or Floripa, as locals like to call this city. Floripa is partially located on an island, with the business centre on the mainland and the relaxed part of the city on the island. This part is incredible – it feels like you’re in a beach village rather than an actual city. There are tons of beautiful beaches to explore and plenty of opportunities for surfing and hiking if you’re feeling a bit more active. I loved Floripa – I had no expectations when I went there but left pretty much in love with this part of Brazil!
Wildlife in the Pantanal
One must-do in Brazil is visiting the Pantanal with its incredible wildlife. Often people think they have to go to the Amazon to spot the jaguar and some exotic birds, but the Amazon is actually not the best place to do that. It’s difficult to see animals there, and if you don’t appreciate the fauna instead, you’ll be rather disappointed. However, the Pantanal is where you should go. This big wetland area is full of jaguars, macaws, toucans, anteaters, and many many other animals.
You can visit the Pantanal from both the north and the south. The north is a little more exclusive (smaller tour groups) but also more expensive; the south has many options for tours and is friendlier for your wallet. You can fly to Cuiabá (for the north) or Campo Grande (for the south). If you want to spot jaguars and other animals, the dry season (June-September) is the best time to go, but you can visit the Pantanal any time of the year.
Back home & some notes on this route
From Cuiabá or Campo Grande you can fly back to Rio, or Sao Paulo if your return flight is from there.
You may have noticed that I didn’t include some standard options like Sao Paulo or Foz de Iguaçu – it’s because I think they are way overrated, ha. Yes, Foz is quite nice, but if you only have two weeks, I think there are more beautiful places to visit. And Sao Paulo is just another gigantic city – yes, with lots of great restaurants and clubs, but if you’re coming from the western world you might be interested in exploring other types of highlights.
Extending into a three-week itinerary
If you have another week in Brazil, I would definitely recommend you go to the north-east: A region of Brazil that is quite different from its south. The north-east (also known as “Nordeste”) is the poorest region but is also culturally incredibly interesting. The majority of the African slaves brought to Brazil arrived in Salvador de Bahia and many ended up working in the state of Bahia and its surroundings. Nowadays you can still find elements of the African and slave culture in daily life, such as capoeira, African religion and the music. I love the Nordeste! It’s vibrant and full of life there.
For some culture and history, you could go to Salvador de Bahia for a day or two, followed by a hike in Chapada Diamantina to visit the incredibly beautiful canyons and dozens of waterfalls.
Alternatively, if sand dunes are more your thing and you’re in the right season, visit Lençois Maranhenses for spectacular views (and a 3-day hike, if you have the time). The Lençois (meaning “bedsheets”) are situated in the Maranhão state, and not many foreign tourists go there yet.
Besides the nordeste, the north also offers good destinations for your third week. Go to Manaus for the standard Amazon tour (which I don’t particulalry recommend if you have (had) the opportunity to visit the Amazon elsewhere); or visit the ‘Caribbean of the Amazon’: Alter do Chão, where you can also do a one-day trips to the forest.
The best two-week Brazil itinerary
So there you have it, the Brazil itinerary that I would recommend if you’re new to the country! You’ll visit beautiful cities, spectacular beaches, wetlands full of wildlife, and if you have another week you can visit even more highlights further up north. Visiting Rio, Ilha Grande, Floripa and the Pantanal should give you a nice overview of what Brazil has to offer; and an even better one if you can also go to Salvador & Chapada Diamantina, Lençois Maranhenses, or the Amazon.
I will soon make some itineraries for the intermediate Brazil-traveller 😉 With a focus on culture and on nature. Let me know your tips!