Brazil may rank fifth in size and population among the world's countries, but many global travelers are just now discovering its allure. If the 2014 FIFA World Cup didn't permanently put it on the map, this summer's Rio Olympics surely will. But when you visit Brazil, what is there to see in Rio and beyond?
Rio de Janeiro
Go for the sights: Gaze down on Rio and its famed beaches, such as Copacabana and Ipanema, from the 98-foot-tall Christ the Redeemer statue atop the Corcovado mountain towering 2,300 feet into the sky — or reverse the view by peering up at the monument from the pristine sand. Go for the sounds: Samba clubs are the pulse of the music scene in the Lapa neighborhood. Go for the flavors: The aroma of meats grilling at churrascarias (a type of Brazilian steakhouse known for its buffet-style serving) envelops the city. Or just go for the whole sensory feast, whether your reason for visiting is business, your bucket list, the Olympics (August 5-21) or the next Carnival (starting Feb. 24 2017).
Sights of São Paulo
Often overshadowed by Rio, São Paulo is actually far more populous and more affluent and diverse, with the people and the cuisine reflecting waves of immigration from Europe, the Middle East and Asia. It's home to the most Japanese residents outside of Japan, so sushi can be enjoyed everywhere. Sao Paulo is also Brazil's culture capital, so don't miss the Museu do Ipiranga and its Versailles-inspired gardens.
Think Niagara Falls — but higher, wider and with more waterfalls. This thunderous medley of cascades also straddles an international boundary, in this case, the Brazil-Argentina border. Viewed from wooden platforms — or a boat, helicopter or rainforest train — Iguazu Falls (also called Iguassu or Iguacu Falls) tumble into two national parks.
Most Amazon explorations commence from Manaus, a city at the mouth of the amazing Amazon. Transportation and lodging options range from luxury cruise ships to eight-cabin riverboats and rustic eco-lodges. Regardless of your choice, you will be surrounded by the world's most bio-diverse collection of flora and fauna as your vessel ventures deep into the rainforest.
Along Brazil's Atlantic coastline — at 4,655 miles, more than twice the length of the U.S. East Coast — are countless cities, towns and villages known for their sunbathing and surfing beaches. The cities with the most to offer in addition to beaches:
- Salvador (located in northeastern state of Bahia): Check out its 17th-century cathedral and Afro-Brazilian cuisine.
- Florianópolis (capital of southern Brazil's Santa Catarina state): Take a selfie on one of its picturesque bridges and indulge in the superb seafood.
- Recife (capital of Brazil's northeastern state Pernambuco): This former Dutch colony is situated near coral reefs and tropical forests for those looking to spend some quality time with Mother Nature.
- Fortaleza (capital of northeastern state Ceará): The museum district and lively nightlife won't disappoint.
Fernando de Noronha
Visiting this island, 220 miles off the easternmost tip of South America, is worth the relatively high accommodations prices. The snorkeling, diving and hiking options are all outstanding, and the beaches are rated the best in Brazil. Much of the six-mile-long island is part of a national marine park — expect to spot spinner dolphins. Only about 300 visitors are allowed to arrive daily by air, so reserve a flight well in advance on Azul Brazilian Airlines.
This unique planned city sprung out of nothing — carved out of the jungle in a three-year uprising of modernist architecture during the late '50s. Several palaces, the massive government complex at Three Powers Square and the glass-roofed Cathedral of Brasília are some of the most popular attractions.
All of these destinations are easily accessible via United nonstop flights from the U.S. (to Rio and São Paulo), and, once you arrive, you can get to the smaller cities on United mileage partner Azul Brazilian Airlines. Plan your adventure on united.com or by using the United app.