When you think of Brazil, you probably think of Rio de Janeirowith its glamorous Copacabana Beach, vibrant Lapa, and the bohemian quarters of Santa Teresa. We loved our time in Rio, but it wasn’t until we traveled further North, exploring destinations fringing the Northeastern Coast, that we discovered a thriving beach scene, unspoiled nature, deep colonial heritage, and unique succulent cuisine.
If you are dreaming about a trip to Brazil, here are a few of our favourite destinations worth visiting in this part of the country.
If you are coming to Salvador from Rio de Janeiro (like we did), you’ll find the city to be a shock to the system (but in a good way). For us, its appeal was far beyond the cobblestone streets and colourful buildings of the charming Old Town (World Heritage Site) and the beautiful views of the sun setting over the ocean from the Santo Antônio da Barra Fort.
Coastline in Salvador, Brazil
It was here that we got a chance to sample some amazing Bahian cuisine (aracaje and moqueca are the best ), we learned a bit about the history of the slave trade in Brazil, and got our first introduction to the capoeira dance. If you are looking for a city to delve into Brazilian culture, Salvador is it!
At first glance, Recife didn’t strike us as anything special. Its gritty commercial center, full of high rise apartments and business buildings didn’t inspire us to stick around for too long, but the second we stepped foot on Recife’s long sandy drag known as Praia Boa Viagem, we knew we hit a real hot spot. The beautiful stretch of beach was full of locals and visitors enjoying sun, sand, fresh coconuts, and fried fish and offered a perfect spot to catch the days for a day or five.
Just half an hour north of Recife sits a pretty little town of Olinda, that in our opinion had more charm and appeal than most other cities in Brazil’s Northeast.
We fell in love with Olinda’s pastel-coloured buildings, winding streets, and beautiful views that emerged once we climbed to Alto da Se, the cathedral square at the top of the town. Street food and souvenir stalls filled the square with buzz and excitement, making it that much harder to say goodbye to this bohemian town and move on.
The island of Fernando de Noronha is Brazil’s best kept secret. It’s exclusive (only 400 people are allowed to be visiting the island at once) and it’s expensive (flights to the island, island fees, food, activities, and accommodation added up to be well over our budget), but there is a very good reason for that.
The untouched nature on the island and surrounding its shores is unlike anything else we have seen in Brazil. Fernando is a haven for active travelers offering a multitude of hikes, snorkeling and diving opportunities, and some of the most beautiful beaches in the country.
The small inconspicuous beach of Morro Branco doesn’t seem to make it onto travelers itineraries. We say that because, during our visit, we were the only foreigners in the sea of local visitors. We knew that we hit a local hot spot when a tour guide taking a group of locals around the area laughed in our face when we asked if his tour was available in English.
Luckily, the topography of Morro Branco’s sandy cliffs radiating in a variety of yellow, orange, and red shades told us everything we cared to know. We walked around the small canyon, running through the heart of the cliffs, completely mesmerised by the views, thrilled to have discovered a spot as unique as this.
The further North we traveled, the more sand we encountered in Northeast Brazil. Luckily, Jericoacoara, a small town in the heart of the sandy National Park by the same name, offered more than sand. The town was built completely on sand, but walking down its Main Street lined with boutique shops, kite surfing schools, and amazing restaurants, it was easy to forget exactly how remote this place was.
Jericoacoara sucked us in hard. A fishing village turned hippy backpacker town, Jeri had it all. Activities (kite-boarding, surfing, jeep tours, etc), beach, shopping, dining, and a happening nightlife make Jeri an easy place to get stuck in. We almost did.
If there was a place worth leaving Jeri for, it was the sprawling sand dune park of Lençóis Maranhenses. Lencpis is an incredible natural phenomenon, a place where sand dominates all, where the horizon is filled with dunes and more dunes, where sheep and goats farm on the tiniest patched of grass, and where beautiful green freshwater lagoons create an incredible landscape. (While offering a much-needed place for a refreshing swim after a long hike up and down the dunes).