(Lonelyplanet) – Home to Earth’s biggest river, most immense jungle and 7400km of Atlantic-stroked beaches – Brazil is a sensationally sultry centre of exotic adventure.
The world’s fifth largest country tempts travellers with myriad adventures, from exploring epic kite-surfing conditions along the curvy Atlantic coastline to tackling trails, paddling tributaries and clambering up towering trees in the sweaty embrace of the Amazon – a wilderness so enormous it still contains lost cities and tribes that have no contact with the outside world. Seventy-six national parks provide great trekking and trail-running opportunities, while on- and off-road cyclists are well catered for, and rock climbers can explore cracking crags, including routes on the iconic Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro.
View of a tour boat and a woman free diving at ‘Sancho’ beach in the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha; the bottom half of the shot shows the diver under water, while the top half shows the boat floating by a rocky shore.
Arquipélago de Fernando de Noronha, a 21-island marine park, has fantastic diving. Visibility can exceed 40m, and wildlife includes whales, lemon and reef sharks, clownfish, parrotfish and more. Closer to the mainland, Banco de Panela near Salvador is notable for wreck diving and marine life. While Recife is the place to go for shipwrecks – a hundred vessels are strewn on the seabed.
A woman hiking over rocks with a waterfall in the background at Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park.
Walking in Brazil is all about variety. Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina in the east is a forested landscape of dramatic tabletop mountains, spectacular waterfalls (Fumaça and Buracao) and caves. Vale do Pati is a 68km hike through the remote and sparsely populated interior highlands of Bahia, with overnight stays hosted by locals. Minas Gerais’ Parque Nacional Serra do Cipó in the southeast offers mountains, waterfalls and wild flowers, and in the northeast you can trek across the lagoon- and dune-dotted lunar-like landscape of the Parque Nacional Lençóis Maranhenses. And, just an hour’s drive from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, verdant Parque Nacional Serra dos Órgãos could be on another planet; multiple walks can be enjoyed here, including to the park’s highest peak, Pedra do Sino, 14km from the entrance.
Silhouette of a Man Cycling in the Early Morning during Beautiful Warm Sunrise in Rio de Janeiro with Sugarloaf Mountain in the Horizon.
Starting at Flamengo and finishing with a 7km loop of Lagoa, the flat-and-easy Rio cyclepath can be ridden in a couple of hours and grants bikers an eyeful of everything the city is famed for: Sugarloaf Mountain, Urca, Praia Vermelha, Copacabana and Ipanema. For a bigger challenge, keen roadies can trace the 3000km coastline separating Porto Alegre in Rio Grande do Sul in the south and Salvador in Bahia in the north, a route that skirts Florianópolis’ amazing beaches.
Start exploring Brazil with Lonely Planet’s video guide to getting around, when to go and the top things to do while you’re there.
Rio’s Olympic mountain-bike course, Deodroro X-Park, opened to the public after the Games. The 5.4km-long track reflects Rio’s culture and geography, with sandal-shaped dirt pits and coconut trees, a short climb to ‘Flag Mountain’ and a technical boulder-strewn descent. More groomed singletrack can be found at Cemucam in Cotia (São Paulo), where the 34km loop hosts the Brazilian mountain bike championships and 24-hour races. Those looking for an off-road journey can explore the 80km east–west traverse of sensational Parque Nacional da Serra da Canastra in Minas Gerais, starting from the main entrance, São Roque de Minas, and finishing by the 186m-high waterfall Cachoeira Casca D’Anta.
Aerial of a river winding through the Amazon rain forest.
To experience the headspins (insanely verdant fecundity, pink dolphins, potential sightings of capuchin monkeys, tapirs, three-toed sloths and caiman) and horrors (piranhas, humidity and horrendous insects) of the Brazilian rainforest, you need to travel along the water that powers it all. Multiday jungle-piercing canoe trips can be taken along tributaries of the Amazon, such the Urubu, which can be accessed via Manaus.
Sea kayaking is possible all along the Atlantic coast – including around Rio, offering a unique perspective of iconic sights such as Sugarloaf Mountain and Christo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) – but the Costa Verde in southeast Brazil, accessed via Paraty in the Bay of Ilha Grande, is particularly spectacular, with dramatic Jurassic Park-esque coastline vistas and even a tropical fjord: Saco do Mamanguá.
Just 74km from the megatropolis of São Paulo, the Juquitiba River washes the urban grime from wide-eyed paddle-grabbers during white-water rafting trips that are at their Grade III–V feistiest in November–March. Rafting can also be enjoyed on the Foz do Iguaçu, by the famous falls, and on Rio Novo in Minas Gerais, Tijucas River in Santa Catarina and Jacaru River in Pará.