Everyone knows that Brazil is the country of samba and soccer. But what many have yet to find out is how this country of nearly 200 million inhabitants champions so much more.
Time and time again our clients returning from their Brazil travels describe the experience using the same word: magical. Though as diverse as any nation could possibly be, Brazilians share a pervasive and captivating culture that transcends its many regions and traditions.
From the bustling beaches of Rio de Janeiro to the remote natural splendor of the Amazon or the Pantanal to the sand dunes of Lençois Maranhenses to the awe-inspiring imagery of Iguassu Falls to the vibrant culture of Bahia, it’s not just by coincidence that our company began as Brazil Nuts Tours. Nearly 34 years laters, we're still as nuts about Brazil as ever and know you will be too.
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PLANNING YOUR TRIP TO BRAZIL
WHAT IS THE BEST TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT BRAZIL?
Brazil is the longest country on the globe, the largest in South America both in terms of population and size, and is considered by many to possess world's greatest level of biological and environmental diversity (you'll see why below). As such, Brazil is truly the definition of a year-long destination, though the time of year you travel should be determined by your personal interests.
Most trips to Brazil include at least a day or two in Rio de Janeiro. The iconic city is perhaps best known for its sprawling beaches, all of which boast beachgoers on a nearly daily basis. Every once in a while Rio will experience a few weeks of winter in June, July or August, which rarely see temperatures fall below 60 degrees in the daytime. Spring and fall are generally hot with temperatures varying from the mid 70s to the high 80s. Summertime temperatures can easily exceed 90 degrees with equally strong humidity. Rio de Janeiro, home to the world's largest urban rainforest, is the definition of tropical and rain is common throughout the year. Rio's highest season occurs in the peak of summer between Christmas and its famed Carnival celebration, which generally falls sometime in February. We at Craft Travel love visiting Rio de Janeiro in October, just after they've "sprung forward" into daylight savings. You'll enjoy the perks of long days and the initial excitement of summer (including early preparation for Carnival), plus the best chances for sun; October is Rio's driest month.
Nearby destinations to Rio de Janeiro such as Búzios, Ilha Grande and Paraty all have similar climates, though Ilha Grande and Paraty tend to be cooler during the fall and winter. Once again, October and November make for the ideal months to visit these lovely beach towns without the crowds or the extreme humidity. Beaches in the states of São Paulo or Santa Catarina (most specifically Florianópolis) are best during summer months as otherwise they can be quite cold.
The Northeast of Brazil has the most consistent beach weather of any destination within South America, with temperatures rarely dropping below 72 degrees (and rarely rising above 90 degrees). Beach destinations such as Praia do Forte, Trancoso, Morro de São Paulo, Itacaré, Porto de Galinhas, Pipa, Jericoacoara and Fernando de Noronha can be visited virtually year-round, though the winter months of June, July and August can sometimes be windy. Cities in Brazil's Northeast such as Salvador, Recife, Olinda, Natal or Fortaleza have similar temperatures to their beachside counterparts.
The state of Bahia, home to the capital city of Salvador and beaches such as Praia do Forte, Trancoso, Morro de São Paulo and Itacaré, offers a significant amount of its own geographic diversity. One of Brazil's most increasingly popular destinations is Chapada Diamantina National Park located just outside of the interior Bahian city of Lençois. Known for its crystalline lagoons surrounded by caves and majestic waterfalls, Chapada Diamantina is a favorite for hikers and nature enthusiasts. While it's frequented throughout the year, November marks the beginning of the wet season. By March the rain tends to subside and the weather becomes progressively drier until October.
For naturalists and eco lovers, a trip to Brazil wouldn't be complete without a journey through the country's "Eco Corridor". In order to understand the seasons we must first consider the geography. Brazil's Eco Corridor runs from the northwest region of the Amazon bordering Colombia and Venezuela all the way down to Foz do Iguaçu, the southwest city known for its waterfalls and borders with Argentina and Paraguay. In between Iguassu Falls and the Amazon Rainforest lies the Pantanal, the world's largest wetland that is approximately half the size of France. Pantanal's neighbor to the north is Chapada dos Guimarães, a National Park renowned for hiking and birdwatching. Within driving distance of both the Pantanal and Chapada dos Guimarães is the southernmost region of the Amazon Rainforest, though most travelers tend to head further north toward Manaus, home of the basin of the Amazon River.
For many, the main draw to this region is the jaguar population that can be found in certain areas of the Pantanal from mid July to mid November. These drier months allow for optimal spotting conditions of the elusive spotted animal and are the most popular times for jaguar safari. These winter months generally coincide with drier weather in the Amazon, both in the highlands of the southern region and the flooded forest that surrounds the Amazon River. August and September are also considered excellent months for bird watching in the Pantanal, Chapada dos Guimarães and the Amazon highlands.
Bottom line? For those looking to combine the Amazon, Pantanal, Chapada dos Guimarães and Iguassú Falls, the best time to travel is mid July to early October; while the jaguar season extends into November, late springtime brings increased showers and humidity back to the Amazon. While the Amazon can be visited year-round and is often times combined with New Year's packages, the ideal season is really May through September while skies are dry and mosquitos are less prevalent.
At Craft Travel, all of our staff tends to view the Pantanal as one of the most special destinations in all of South America and everyone agrees that it's worth visiting 365 days a year, with or without jaguars. A combination of the Pantanal and Chapada dos Guimarães from February to June for instance is absolutely wonderful.
Given its southern location, Iguassú Falls tends to get quite cool during the winter months, with daytime temperatures often in the 50s or 60s and early morning temperatures even hitting the freezing mark.
Nevertheless the wintertime generally offers drier skies which can make for more enjoyable touring. August, September and October are generally mild, sunny and not too crowded. Summer months are recommended for travelers looking to do any rafting or boat tours in Iguassú Falls, as those activities all but guarantee that you will get soaked! Our one piece of advice to our clients is to try to avoid Iguassú Falls during Easter, as it's a very popular destination for South American tourists during that time and can result in long waits and crowds.
One other eco-adventure destination that continues to gain international recognition is Lençois Maranhenses National Park located in the far-north state of Maranhão. Known for its white dune desert-like appearance, Lençois Maranhenses boasts breathtaking lagoons in the months following the rainy season. As such, it's important to visit the national park from May to August while the lagoons are still full.
HOW LONG SHOULD I SPEND IN BRAZIL?
Along with Chile, Brazil is probably the country in South America that requires the most amount of time to explore and perhaps, in a more philosophical manner, truly understand it. A traveler could easily spend two weeks exploring the Eco Corridor alone without ever stepping foot into a major city. The same could be said about someone exploring the beaches of the Northeast.
The main difference with Chile is that we would rarely recommend our clients try to tackle Brazil top-to-bottom all in one shot. Imagine trying to see the entire United States in just one trip? Brazil is actually larger than the continental U.S.! With this comparison in mind, it's easier to envision how one might begin prioritizing destinations within Brazil depending upon the timeframe of a particular trip. From a weekend getaway to Rio to a week-long jaguar safari paired with an Amazon river cruise, there are endless ways to experience Brazil. Our packages above and below offer some suggestions as to how to optimize these combinations and we are happy to provide you with customized itineraries based on your needs and interests, always free of charge.
Every traveler is different and that is why we at Craft Travel are here to customize your itinerary to fit your exact needs. Nevertheless, here are our general recommendations for minimum stays in each major destination in Brazil:
Rio de Janeiro: 2-6 nights
Rio's Nearby Beaches (Búzios, Ilha Grande, Paraty): 2-4 nights in each
Northeast Beaches (Praia do Forte, Morro de São Paulo, Trancoso, Itacaré, Pipa, Jericoacoara): 2-7 nights
Northeast Cities (Salvador or Olinda): 1-3 nights; 4-5 nights if attending a festival such as Boa Morte
Fernando de Noronha: 3-5 nights
Amazon: 2-4 nights in a jungle lodge; 3-6 nights on a river cruise
Pantanal & Chapada dos Guimarães: 3-5 nights (up to 7-8 nights if including jaguar safari)
Iguassú Falls: 1-3 nights
Chapada Diamantina : 2-3 nights
Lençois Maranhenses: 2-3 nights (3-4 nights if combining with the city of São Luis)
Minas Gerais (Ouro Preto, Mariana, Tiradentes): 1-2 nights in each
Brasilia: 1-2 nights
WHAT OTHER COUNTRIES IN SOUTH AMERICA CAN I COMBINE BRAZIL WITH?
As described above, there is quite a bit to see and do in Brazil alone. However, there are several destinations within South America that make for excellent pairings with Brazil based on specific logistics.
One of the most common ones is Brazil and Argentina, with travelers crossing the border in Iguassú Falls into the Argentinean city of Puerto Iguazú There are airports in both cities and it's very easy to fly into one and fly out of the other one. You can even stop in Paraguay for the day if you'd like, as the Falls border all three countries. If the Falls aren't on your list, you can easily fly directly in around two hours between Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo to Buenos Aires. Rio and Buenos Aires is a popular combination for travelers interested in city life and culture. For those looking to get a taste of Patagonia, LATAM Airlines has recently introduced a direct flight between São Paulo and Bariloche, the idyllic Argentinean city known for its lakes and ski resorts.
For travelers visiting Iguassú Falls, there is also a direct flight to Lima, Peru. This is an excellent way to combine a Brazilian eco adventure with Machu Picchu. Lima can also be reached directly via São Paulo, as can most of the major cities in South America. Santiago also has direct flights in between both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, making it easy to combine any destination in Chile with Brazil.