Not so common destinations: Brazil's underrated cities
January 1, 1970
by Ingrid Flores
What is the first image that crosses your mind when you think about Brazil? Maybe the paradisiac beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, or the astonishing landscapes in Corcovado Mountain, or even the luminous skyscrapers of the Brazilian city that never sleeps, São Paulo? If that’s so, I understand. Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are the two most famous Brazilian cities around the world and they have a reason to be that famous: both are breathtaking and so much fun! Foreigners often come looking for one of these places to go, as they match every expectation brought by that first image that pops up into someone’s head when they think about Brazil. However, what most of them don’t know is that Brazil has a lot more to offer. There are other Brazilian cities, not so common destinations for foreigners, but common places of tourism for locals, that offer as much fun and wonderful experiences as Rio and Sampa – sometimes even cheaper experiences! — and are often ignored.
Although Rio de Janeiro is indeed one of the most beautiful places to visit in Brazil — I’ve been enchanted by it several times — and indeed there’s always something new to discover in São Paulo, I can’t help but cringe every time I hear someone talking about oh, how much they know Brazil, when in reality they solely have visited the two most obvious destinations and nothing else.
I get it, there’s not that much information about other places and touristic propaganda is heavy on those two capitals, but let me show you how much of Brazil you are about to miss if you’re only focusing on Rio and Sampa. And don’t get me wrong, you should still visit those two because they are awesome places, but trust me, they are not the only thing Brazil has to offer. Here are three other beautiful places I think are worthy of a chance in your trip planning:
The Brazilian Venice: Recife
Of course, the first place I’d mention would be my hometown, Recife. It is the capital of Pernambuco state, located in the Northeast of Brazil. And I’m not solely mentioning it because of my connection to this place, but because it is a singular historical and cultural patrimony worth being remembered and visited. Even if I had not been born here I’d be proud of it anyway. Recife was the very first city to arise in Brazil Colony (back in the XVI century), together with her sister Olinda (neighbor town). Therefore, Recife has an arsenal of places for those who like to explore local History: places like the Ancient Recife, the Brennand Museum, the Forte do Brum, the first synagogue of the Americas, Kahal Zur, and so many others.
Known as the Brazilian Venice, Recife is built on top of the “mangues” (subaquatic vegetation), between the Capibaribe and the Beberibe rivers. The view from any one of its bridges is romantic and charming, as is the Catamaran Boat Trip down the rivers.
Nightlife is also very exciting at Rua da Moeda, in Ancient Recife, or in the Boa Vista quarter, where you can find numerous bars and nightclubs just by walking up and down the street.
Recife and Olinda are known for having the best street carnival of Brazil, so the best time of the year to visit it is during the Carnival in February or during the Saint John’s Festival (São João), which is also a very traditional party in Recife, held at the end of June.
Gramado, the Chocolate Land
On the opposite side of the map, in the South of Brazil, there’s the charming city of Gramado, located in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Gramado is a destination for those who’d like to experience a different side of Brazil, which is not commonly portrayed as the image of this tropical country. That’s because Gramado is a city where European immigration, especially German, was very heavy on, so some European aspects are still in the air when it comes to architecture and gastronomy.
Known as the Chocolate Land, a great part of the economy and tourism in Gramado evolves around chocolate! After shopping for lots of delicious treats in the Floryball Chocolate Store, you can visit the Chocolate Kingdom, a thematic park where visitors can learn about the Chocolate’s History and participate in the fabric’s production, as well as engage in other fun and delightful activities.
If you want to experience Winter in Brazil, you’ll be much cozier in Gramado than in any other city. That’s why the best time of the year to visit Gramado is in July or August when Winter really hits. Another option is to visit it during Christmas Holidays in December, because of a magical and beautiful spectacle called Natal Luz, when the city is visited by Santa himself – or so it’s said.
Bonito, a hidden pearl
In the depths of the Center region is Bonito, a city so full of wonders even its name means “beautiful” in Portuguese. Bonito is the capital of Mato Grosso do Sul state, located in a region where nature prevails, that’s why this city is perfect for those who seek adventure, rich biodiversity, and natural landscapes. When I was there for the first time, I felt like I was seeing my country in its pure form — how it was before colonizers arrived, maybe. It gave me that impression. Also, Bonito is an alternative if you can’t go to the Amazon Forest, it’s cheaper and more secure.
In Bonito, you can explore crystal water lakes, caverns, trails into the woods, horse rides, boat trips down the Pantanal flooded rivers and so much more. Some hotels offer their own guided and programmed tours, but if you choose to do all by yourself, be sure to include in your itinerary the “Flotation in the Sucuri River tour”, where you can snorkel down the river and see all the aquatic life of the Pantanal – it feels like you’re part of a big aquarium! This touristic attraction costs around R$ 85 and R$ 190 (USD $25 and USD $50), depends on the time of the year. During famous holidays it gets more expensive, so check that out when you’re planning your trip. You can also visit and swim in the waterfalls of the Mimoso river and do more radical activities like “Boia Cross”, tree climbing, zip line, etc.
In summary, there’s a lot to explore in Brazil, besides what’s commonly portrayed in the mainstream media. Brazil is a way too big of a country to be reduced to a few stereotypes or only two cities, as famous as they are. So take time to learn about other places, hear from the locals what they like to do and you’ll have a more pleasing and richer experience, for sure. Have a nice trip!