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Brazilian Obsessions: 10 Must-See Destinations in Brazil

In its young history, Brazil has established itself as one of the most exotic, culturally diverse nations in the modern world.  Its people, its nature, its cuisine and its architecture are amongst the world’s most beautiful– and we are hopelessly obsessed.  Join us to explore 10 of Brazil’s most amazing destinations, from the beaches of Ipanema to the metropolis of Sao Paulo.  Our journey starts in Rio de Janeiro, the stunning city celebrated in the video above.

Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro

In the 1960s, a cultural revival was thriving in the beach neighborhood of Ipanema.  Artists, poets and musicians would gather in Ipanema to celebrate its world-class beauty and vibrant culture.  In writing an ode to this neighborhood, composer Antonio Carlos Jobim and lyricist Vinicius de Moraes penned a song about a beautiful young girl who walked the streets of Ipanema each day on her way to the ocean.  Nearly fifty years after it was written, “Garota de Ipanema” (“The Girl from Ipanema“) remains a cultural icon of Brazil, just as the Ipanema neighborhood remains a cultural epicenter of Rio de Janeiro.  The streets of Ipanema and the beach at their end are celebrated as some of the world’s most beautiful, with the Travel Channel calling Ipanema the sexiest beach in the world.

Ipanema Gallery

Lapa, Rio de Janeiro

Across town from Ipanema is another cultural hotspot, the Lapa neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro.  Located in Rio’s urban center, Lapa is host to 18th century architecture, a growing arts community and an active nightlife scene.  Amongst Lapa’s most recognizable landmarks is the Arco de Lapa, a series of raised aqueducts constructed in the mid 1700s.  On Saturdays, a street party is held adjacent to a section of the Arcos in Lapa, a weekly celebration for natives and tourists alike.  Another point of interest in Lapa is the stunning-yet-strange Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio, a brutalist concrete cone that stretches 80 meters into the air.

Lapa Gallery

The Painted Favelas of Rio de Janeiro

Far beyond the shinier parts of Rio are the famed “favelas” of the city, or large shanty towns that are home to Rio’s poorest.  If you’re comfortable with your Portuguese and your self-defense, a guided visit to the Painted Favelas of Rio reveals a sight to behold.  A duo of artists worked with a few favelas in Rio to engender new pride in their homes.  Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn worked with the locals to paint large sections of favelas into bright, colorful works of art.  The result was a down-on-its-luck neighborhood that had been transformed by art into a place of pride for its inhabitants.  Enter at your own risk, but be prepared for some truly inspirational, transformational art.

Favela Painting Gallery

Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro

Another historic Rio landmark is also the inspiration for another bossa nova hit.  The mountain of Corcovado rises high above the Rio de Janeiro bay with an open-armed Christ at its peak.  The famous Christ The Redeemer statue is a point of pilgrimage for Christians throughout Brazil and the world beyond, the host to weddings and other religious ceremonies held daily.  Its view of Rio is unparalleled, showing the famed Sugarloaf Mountain and Copacabana beach in the distance.  The statue above and the harbor below have each been listed as wonders of the world, and a visit to Corcovado will show precisely why.

Corcovado Gallery

The Architecture of Oscar Niemeyer

Oscar Niemeyer is arguably the greatest Brazilian architect that has ever lived, a man that gave face to many of Brazil’s most important government, museum and landmark buildings.  Niemeyer’s designs can be seen everywhere from Rio to Sao Paulo to Brasilia, the new capitol of Brazil.  In Brasilia alone, Niemeyer designed the Palácio da Alvorada (the home of Brazil’s presidents), the National Congress Building, the Supreme Court, the National Theater, the Ministry of Justice, the National Library and more.  Niemeyer championed the contemporary movement in Brazil, giving a bold character to a government that serves a bold, proud people.  Niemeyer’s buildings should be visited in Brazil, and you’ll find them in nearly every major city you might visit.  Keep your eye out for Oscar himself, as the architect is still at work today– at the bright young age of 103 years old.  (see more Brazilian Architecture including Niemeyer designs here on TheCoolist)

Oscar Niemeyer Gallery

Paraty, Brazil

While Rio de Janeiro is deserving of a long vacation of its own, there is so much more to see in Brazil at large.  A short trip down the coast from Rio is Paraty, Brazil, a quiet seaside town that serves up a slower pace of life and a stunning natural environment.  Paraty was founded by Portuguese settlers in the late 1600s, built primarily on the rise of the Brazilian gold rush.  Paraty’s architecture recalls the Portuguese style of the 17th/18th centuries, but its coast has become more progressive in recent years.  Our favorite work of residential architecture in this young century is located in Paraty, the Paraty House by Brazilian architect Marcio Kogan and company.  If it were up to us, we’d do just about anything for a day in the quiet streets of Paraty and a night in that home by Marcio Kogan.

Paraty Gallery

Iguazu Falls

One of the world’s most massive and visually stunning waterfalls is claimed by both Brazil and Argentina, a section of water that is also a national border.  Iguazu Falls are amongst the widest in the world, displacing up to 12,000 cubic meters of water per second– the fastest rate of any waterfall on Earth.  The Iguazu Falls are split into over 250 individual waterfalls with terraces and islands between them.  Visitors to Iguazu can stand at a central point between the waterfalls to be surrounded by the falls in 260 degrees.  While other falls may be bigger or have a more continuous curtain of water, it is hard to argue that any others are as beautiful, as the rare formation of land and cliffs provides vistas that other waterfalls cannot claim.

Iguazu Falls Gallery

Ouro Preto, Brazil

Ouro Preto is located inland in the great state of Minas Gerais, a mining town with great cultural history.  Ouro Preto is one of Brazil’s many UNESCO World Heritage sites, known for its early Baroque architecture and other inspirations from its European forefathers.  Ouro Preto hosts plenty of respected museums, tour-friendly mines and fantastic churches, enough that Ouro Preto is amongst Brazil’s top tourist destinations.  The whole of Minas Gerais is dotted with many towns like Ouro Preto with rich cultural history, many of them born from the gold boom of the late 17th century.

Ouro Preto Gallery

Sao Paulo, Brazil

With a population of over 11,000,000 people, Sao Paulo is by far the largest city in the Americas.  It’s the largest in both the Southern and Western Hemispheres, and its public transit system is the world’s busiest.  Sao Paulo may not have a travel appeal as recognizable as Rio, but it is a city that must be experienced by every self-respecting world traveler.  Its mix of cultures have yielded a brilliant culinary, art and music scene and a wild architectural identity.  Its size is truly staggering, and while this great city deserves a destination list of its own, a traveler through Brazil is required to experience it.

Sao Paulo Gallery

Salvador da Bahia, Brazil

Salvador da Bahia is the final stop on our tour of Brazil, a city known as Brazil’s “capitol of happiness”.  Salvador da Bahia is one of the oldest cities in Brazil and the Americas in general, dating back to 1549.  Salvador is largely an African American city, with over 80% of its population of African descent.  As a result, Salvador da Bahia has rich African cultural influences alive in its cuisine, its dance and its artistry.  Brazil’s famous Capoeira, a mix of dance and martial artistry, was born in Salvador da Bahia from early Afro-Brazilian performers.  Salvador is also home to the largest street party on the planet, the world’s greatest Carnaval party with nearly 2,000,000 in attendance.

Salvador da Bahia Gallery

Got the itch?  A trip to Brazil should most certainly be on your itinerary.  This culturally vibrant country is home to beautiful people, rich cuisine, old world architecture and stunning vistas of environmental paradise.  If you have a story or a tip about visiting Brazil, please do share it with us in the comments.  These are 10 of our favorite destinations, we’d love to hear about the great places that we missed.

Want more travel ideas?  Be sure to check out our expose’ on Mythic Travel: 8 Travel Destinations of Myth and Legend.

[image attribution: niemeyer 1, 2, 3; corcovado 1, 2, 3; ipanema 1, 2, 3; lapa 1, 2, 3; iguazu falls 1, 2, 3; paraty 1, 2, 3; ouro preto 1, 2, 3; sao paulo 1, 2, 3; salvador da bahia 1, 2, 3]