Few places are as massively popular, yet oddly mysterious as Brazil. Rio may be a dream destination for millions, but not that many tourists dare venture into the lesser-known parts of the country. Luckily, we know just how surprising it can be, and have selected 4 incredible Off The Beaten Path destinations in Brazil that should definitely be on your bucket list:
Ouro Preto, A Historical City Straight Out Of A Fairytale
The land that comprises modern-day Brazil was colonized by Portugal at the turn of the 16th century, and a large influx of European, African and Asian migration soon followed. It is now an independent country, but the remnants of the bygone United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and The Algarves are still visible.
One of them is Ouro Preto, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and arguably the leading tourist destination in the inland state of Minas Gerais. A baroque gem that wouldn’t look out of place in mainland Europe, it is a maze of cobblestone streets adorned with Portuguese-style houses, fountains, and opulent 18th century churches.
Ouro Preto is not only Minas’ cultural hub and one of Brazil’s oldest European settlements, it acts as the main gateway into the state’s wild nature, sitting on the slopes of the extensive Espinhaço mountain range. It may not have a coast, but here you will find towering waterfalls and pristine lakes, as well as thermal baths and countless hiking trails.
Must dos in Ouro Preto
- Explore Mina da Passagem, one of the city’s many colonial-era mining sites, now converted into a museum
- Try some traditional pao de queijo at the Instagrammable Opera Cafe
- Take a tour of the picturesque Old Town
- Hop on the 1h30 steam train between Ouro Preto and Mariana, a neighboring historical town
- Bathe at the nearby Andorinhas Waterfall
Blumenau, Brazil’s Little Germany
Were you even aware German is spoken by 2-3 million people in Brazil? The country was settled by several ethnic groups over the centuries, and unless they are part of an indigenous minority, Brazilians hail from Europe, Africa, Asia or have a mixed background, much like Americans. In fact, German descendants are one of the largest groups in the country’s far South.
Portuguese is of course Brazil’s national language, but you should not be surprised hearing a friendly hallo in Blumenau, a city in Santa Catarina where the majority of the population descends from German settlers. In fact, Blumenau is home to the one of the largest Oktoberfest in the world, a proud display of the city’s heritage.
On top of that, it is renowned for its Old Town and a myriad of cultural attractions, including the Beer Museum, which chronicles a brewing history dating back to the 19th century. Walking Blumenau’s lively streets, lined with the classic half-timbered buildings, it’s not hard to see why it has earned the nickname ‘Little Germany’.
Must dos in Blumenau
- Stroll Vila Germanica, the city’s most traditional German neighborhood
- Shop at Rua VX de Novembro
- Attend Oktoberfest, traditionally held in October
- Take a day trip to the Spitzkopf Ecological Park for breathtaking views of the Spitzkopf Valley
- Discover the local History by visiting a cultural center, such as the Beer, Glaspark and Hering Museums
Fernando de Noronha, Brazil’s Super Exclusive Paradise Island
If there’s one thing Brazil is famous for is having an extensive coastline, featuring sandy beaches that benefit from a tropical climate all-year round. However, a little known fact among tourists is that Brazil also has a collective of paradise islands that, due to not being extremely accessible, have not yet been tarnished by mass tourism like Rio or Santos.
One of those islands is the bougie Fernando de Noronha, part of a volcanic archipelago 217 miles off the nation’s northeast coast. Noronha is one of Brazil’s most expensive and sought-after destinations, but surprisingly, only locals seem to have heard of it, with international arrivals accounting for only 0.5% of visitors in 2021.
Besides being popular for its crystal clear beaches and party scene, Noronha is a protected national marine park requiring booking months in advance. Airfares and accommodation prices are usually among the highest in Brazil, with the cheapest hotels averaging $400 per night, making it a trendier, more exclusive destination for high-end travelers.
Must dos in Fernando de Noronha
- Spend a whole day sunbathing at the scenic Atalaia Beach
- Secure a spot at a weekend boat party
- Go on a tour of Bahia dos Porcos, Portuguese for Bay of the Porks, where the water is teal blue in tonality
- Dive around the Eleni Stathatos shipwreck, a Greek cargo ship that sunk off the Brazilian coast in 1929
Salvador, The Crown Jewel Of Brazil’s Northeast
While Brazil’s South and Southeast have been strongly influenced by the European and Asian populations that made it their home, reflected both in its cuisine and local customs, the contrasting Northeast, and the state of Bahia in particular, is celebrated for its rich Afro-Brazilian identity. Its capital and largest city is the captivating Salvador.
The first capital of Brazil, long before Brasilia took the post, and one of the oldest cities in the Americas dating back to 1549, Salvador has a distinct architecture and cuisine that are an indelible mark of the Portuguese Empire, and the enslaved Indigenous tribes and Africans on whose backs the nation was built – and who contributed enormously to the culture.
Salvador is possibly the most colorful Brazilian state capital, housing the historical Pelourinho distinct, the Lacerda Panoramic Lift overlooking the lower city, and the landmark Church of Sao Francisco, known for its gilded woodwork. If those aren’t enough reasons to visit, the city’s architecture is so fascinating it has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Must dos in Salvador
- Eat acaraje as you watch commuters go about their business at the ever-busy Pelourinho distrinct
- Visit the Cultural Afro-Brazilian Museum
- Swim at Porto da Barra, the city’s main public beach
- Farol da Barra, a historical lighthouse built in 1536
- Step back in time as you enter the ornate, Portuguese-built Salvador Cathedral, dating back to the 1600s
Rio Is Great, But It Is Merely The Tip Of The Iceberg
Brazil is hardly an obscure nation like severely underrated Albania, but strangely enough, the vast majority of foreigners are only heading to one place – you can probably guess where – and if you’re looking to thwart overtourism, then Rio’s not it. Yes, its sky-sky-high buildings jutting out of the Atlantic forest make for a unique cityscape, and its beaches are world-class, but it is merely the tip of the iceberg.
As you can see, Brazil is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, and to reduce it to the overpriced Ipanema, or Sao Paulo’s sprawling urban mess is a gross mistake. Fortunately, it has scrapped testing for vaccinated Americans and entry is much simpler, so what better time to start exploring this continent-sized, culturally vast behemoth than right now?
Trust us, you won’t be disappointed.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com