With the recent expansion of nonstop flights from the US to São Paulo, Brazil is shaping up to be a hotspot for 2018 travel. But deciding where to go in this vast country (especially if you've only got a week's vacation) isn't easy. So we've narrowed it down to these 6 destinations, from the beaches of Rio to the lush greenery of Foz do Iguaçu.
Rio de Janeiro
Home of the world famous Copacabana Beach, this coastal city’s got you covered with magnificent mountain backdrops and white sandy stretches as well as iconic landmarks like Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain and the harbor of Rio de Janeiro, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Make sure to board one of Rio’s private cable cars to the peak of Sugarloaf to take in the knockout views (it may be touristy but so worth it). Once you’re back down, pull up a streetside seat at the adorably cozy CT Boucherie, in Leblon, run by French culinary legend Claude Troisgros. The all-you-can-eat traditional rodizio (buffet)_ _has more than 12 different cuts of meat, grilled fish, duck, lamb, pork tenderloin, and hundreds of native vegetables you've probably never heard of. Work off the mean with a stroll along popular Copacabana or Ipanema (go ahead and sport that thong!) or make your way to the lesser known Grumari Beach. JS Tip: Don't forget February is carnival month, so if you're not into big crowds, live street music, vibrant costumes and elaborate parade floats, you may want to skip that time of year.
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Set between Rio and São Paulo, the small town of Paraty is best known for its contrasting jungle mountain backdrop and whitewashed 17th century architecture. Originally a Portuguese colony used as a port during the Brazilian Gold Rush, the village center has remained perfectly well preserved, with cobblestone pedestrian streets and grand eye-catching buildings. Paraty Bay has dozens of powdery beaches (Lulu Beach is a favorite), and offers surfing, snorkeling, diving and other water excursions. Swing by the Paraty Historic Centre and the Paraty Religious Arts Museum to learn about the area's unique history and culture before retiring to your poolside bungalow at the Vivenda Paraty.
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Foz do Iguaçu
For visitors looking to take in some of Brazil's jaw-dropping natural landscape, Foz do Iguaçu is the place for you. Located inland in the state of Paraná, the city is home to the popular Iguaçu Falls, one of the largest in the world. While you can explore Iguaçu National Park via car or foot, adventure seekers should hop a rubber boat to ride the falls hundreds of drenching cascades. Still need a nature fix? Go for a trek in Parque das Aves, home to more than 140 bird species, including vibrant toucans, parrots and macaws. For dinner, we recommend the outdoor terrace at Itaipu Restaurant, which specializes in authentic Brazilian dishes.
With a population of roughly 11 million residents (the largest city in Brazil), São Paulo is not for the faint of heart. Don't come here expecting white sand beaches and a laid back attitude, Sampa, as locals call it, is all about its art, culture, food and dizzying pace. Embrace your artsy side with a stay at they high-design Pullman São Paulo Villa Olimpia, just minutes from the Shopping Vila Olímpia and a quick drive from the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art, which hosts rotating art exhibits inside the Ibirapuera Park. Other can't miss culture hits: the neo-gothic style São Paulo Cathedral, the Pinacoteca do Estado, dedicated to works by Brazilian artists, and the Teatro Municipal, where you can catch a ballet or symphony. The city has no shortage of next-level restaurants, including chef Alex Atala’s D.O.M, A Casa do Porco, Mani, Mocoto and more. Once you’ve indulged, make your way to Skye Bar & Restaurant for killer cocktails and scenic views of the skyline.
The colonial town of Ouro Preto is situated in the Serro do Espinhaço mountains of eastern Brazil, and covered in a web of cobblestone streets that lead to the city’s centerpiece, Central Tiradentes Square. Sprinkled around the Square are ornate Baroque churches like the Basilica of Nossa Senhora do Pilar and the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, whose lavishly painted interiors are worth a visit. The town's awe-inducing architecture shares the spotlight with historical museums like the Museu de Ciência e Técnica da Escola de Minas and the Museum of Betrayal, as well as 18th-century gold mines, which are open to the public for tours.
Armação dos Búzios
Two hours east of Rio de Janeiro, Búzios is considered the Hamptons of Rio, a well-heeled hideaway which landed on the international Jetsetter's map when Brigitte Bardot visited here in 1964. Now, with more than 23 beaches, calm waters on the bay and wild seas on the ocean side, Buzios has a stretch of sand for every type of beach goer. Take in the sweeping sea views of the village at the Insólito Boutique Hotel, a stylish resort built on top of the rocky hillsides above Ferradura Beach. While the hotel and spa are a blissful retreat, the hotel's surroundings are anything but sleepy. From designer stores to buzzy restaurants and slick lounges, you can have your pick of entertainment before venturing back to a beach lounger. For dinner, you can't go wrong with the seafood dishes at the Mistico Sunset Lounge & Restaurant overlooking Armação Bay.
Salvador de Bahia
Salvador is one of the oldest colonial cities in the Americas and the first capital of Brazil. Walk the city's streets to see its rainbow-colored buildings and baroque-style churches, particularly the São Francisco—an Igreja Dourada (golden church) whose gilt woodwork and ornate paintings took decades to complete. The energy continues in the large cobbled squares of Pelourinho, where frequent festivals celebrate Afro-Brazilian culture through music and authentic cuisine. Foodies will not be disappointed in the region's unique African-influenced dishes rich in spices and herbs. You will get a better feel for Bahia's restaurant and nightlife scene in ocean-side Rio Vermelho, where atmospheric restaurants like Casa de Tereza serve up family-style dishes made for sharing (be sure to order your own moqueca, a specialty Brazilian seafood stew considered to be the best in town). When you're ready to wash off the heat of the day, skip the award-winning Porto da Barra for Buracao Beach instead to soak in the sun sans tourists.