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If you are planning a Brazilian adventure then you may be feeling a little overwhelmed about where you should start. Perhaps you only have a limited amount of time to dedicate in the country and you are finding yourself unsure as to which regions and cities to visit. That’s understandable, afterall, South America’s largest country is certainly one large sprawling intimidating beast. This list discussed the best cities in Brazil to travel to, and what they have to offer to provide you with a little food for thought and hopefully take some of the stress out of your trip planning process.

1. Rio de Janeiro

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Home to one of the seven wonders of the world, it should be no surprise that Rio makes our list of the most popular cities in Brazil. After all, Christ the Redeemer makes a frequent appearance on many an adventurer’s bucket list. The statue looms over the city like a giant protector and from up here, you have the perfect Birdseye view of Rio below – from the coastline and the sprawling sandy beaches to the colorful houses of the various neighborhoods combined together like Lego bricks.

Rio has so much to offer and is definitely deserved of a few days of your Brazil itinerary. The city is situated by lush, dense rainforests and stunning beaches and therefore has some of the most beautiful scenery in South America.

Don’t miss the beaches – where beautiful scenery meets beautiful people! Ipanema is one of the most popular, and you can mingle with local Brazilians as you enjoy beers sold at shacks along the sides of the beach. Copacabana should also be on your list for a little R&R.

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2. São Paulo

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Affectionately known as “Sampa” by Brazilian locals, São Paolo is the largest city in the whole of South America. It is often overlooked in favor of Rio but it certainly has plenty to offer. In fact, hidden corporate, financial trading outer shell, São Paulo is home to a huge art scene (contemporary and underground) and as such, it’s a perfect travel spot for creative types and culture vultures.

The São Paulo museum of art and the Pinacoteca de Estado de São Paulo (another art museum) are certainly worth a visit and a great way to pass a relaxed afternoon. Another unique art attraction of the city is it’s “pichação” – aka street graffiti sprayed in some incredibly shocking and risky locations. The graffiti is typically secretive and said to convey hidden messages. There are a number of well known and we’ll respected Brazilian artists that participate in this trend (a bit like the Brazilian Banksy). And they are said to try and constantly outshine each other by finding places more unusual and dangerous than the last!

The city is also renowned for having great and extensive shopping – whether you like one of a kind pieces, higher end styles, or browsing markets.

3. Salvador and Pelourinho

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Known for the religious practices of the Candomble religion, Salvador is a fascinating place to uncover a new culture and step out of your culture zone.

The old town of the city – Pelourinho is like a separate place altogether. During the times when African slaves were captured and sold, many of them came to Brazil – specifically Salvador and Pelourinho is centered around an old slave auction site. The area dates all the way back to the 15th century and it is filled with quirky pastel shade buildings and too many historic monuments to count. The city is nicknamed “Pelo” and is home to countless great traditional restaurants and bars.

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4. Recife

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The vibrant, colorful city of Recife is one of the most appealing spots in the Northeast of Brazil and capital of the Pernambuco province. The layout of the city is a wonderful contrast of bustling city life meets peaceful serenity and is comprised of both towering high-rises and paradisiacal beaches. When you are feeling a little tired of exploring, don’t miss the beaches of Coroa De Aviao, Paica and Itamaraca where you can enjoy sipping cocktails beneath private tiki style cabanas. The name of Recife stems from the numerous coral reefs that hide beneath the waters off the shores and is often considered as being the “Venice of Brazil”.

It’s a known fact that Brazilians know how to party, and that is evident in Recife where two carnivals are held per year complete with street dancing and musical performances.

The world cup was held in Recife when Brazil played host (Recife was one of ten locations) and the city is a great place to catch a local soccer (football) match.

See also: Brazil’s 10 most beautiful small towns

5. Buzios

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Situated just a two hour drive north of Rio, Buzios is a popular vacation spot for Brazilians and international travelers alike. It’s location makes it the perfect place for a day trip from Rio if you find yourself a little short on time while you are in Brazil.

With over 20 beaches located here, it’s definitely the place to be if you need a relaxing break from your typical life and routine. Buzios was once a quaint little fishing village, but the natural beauty of the area attracted the interest of many, and the touristic site has grown rapidly over the past three decades. Filled with elaborately decorated villas, high end eateries and chic cocktail bars, Buzios is a high end destination for sure and one of the most glamorous places to see and be seen in Brazil.

Of course, it can seem overwhelming to decide which beach to visit among so many options, however not all beaches are created equal and some shine brighter than others in their appeal. Don’t miss the beach of Geriba where the crystal clear waters attract a young and fun loving crowd. If you are an adrenaline junkie or a fan of water sports then this is the place to be since you can find every water based activity that you could imagine here – stand up paddle, surfing, bodyboarding, you name it! For a calmer atmosphere, the Azeda beach has been labelled as one of the most beautiful in all of Brazil and gives you the opportunity to relax among a picture perfect backdrop of unusual rock formations and tropical vegetation. You can also find a teeny tiny path here – almost hidden away from view that leads to the Azedinha beach – an incredibly small and secret paradise spot.

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