Stop Underrating Brazil: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Avoid South America’s JewelMain photos by Blake Snow; Iguaçu Falls photo courtesy of Unsplash Travel Lists Brazil
“Get Out There” is a column for itchy footed humans written by Paste contributor Blake Snow. Although different now, travel is still worthwhile—especially to these open borders.
It doesn’t make any sense. I’m looking at the most beautiful city I’ve ever visited on six different continents. That city, Rio de Janeiro, is a masterpiece of God, Mother Nature, or whatever force created it. Its lush mountains and iconic beaches are the crown jewel of Brazil, a country that includes two “Wonders of the World,” the world’s largest rainforest, and more natural and cultural diversity than any other country in Latin America.
Despite this, Brazil doesn’t even crack the list of the top 50 most-visited countries in the world. It pales in comparison to the 90 million, 80 million, and 45 million annual visitors that France, America, and Mexico respectively receive. In fact, with just over 6 million annual visitors, Brazil welcomes fewer tourists than Iran, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. This makes zero sense to me, especially after falling in love with the country on a two week tour with my family—an adventure we’ve been planning for a decade that far exceeded our expectations.
So what’s keeping tourists away? After interviewing several tour guides, in addition to my own experience navigating the country, this is what I deduced.
3 Reasons People Don’t Visit Brazil
1. Negative perception
Despite being statistically safer than Mexico and South Africa (two other countries I’m very fond of), Brazil has a nagging problem of being unsafe for tourists. But this is fake news in my experience, as much in Rio as in greater Brazil. My family felt completely secure walking in every tourist area we visited. In fact, several Brazilians we encountered actively looked after us and offered helpful advice. They even clap on the beach when a child has lost its mother and don’t stop until the family is reunited. How is that unsafe?
2. Lack of infrastructure
Before 2020, Brazil required several hundreds dollars and lots of paperwork for foreigners to enter the country. This was admittedly a hassle but is no longer the case. Today, Americans and just about every other nationality can freely enter up to 90 days without a visa. That said, it’s virtually impossible to find a hotel with two queen beds, let alone suites. So the country’s tourism infrastructure still has some catching up to do (i.e. we used Airbnb to accommodate our family). And since they welcome so few guests, Brazil just doesn’t have as many systems in place (let alone a functional national tourism board) to make things easy on tourists. It’s not hard, per se, but it’s not as easy as navigating the tourism machines that so many other countries excel at. On the flip side, credit cards are accepted everywhere, even by several beach vendors.
3. Lack of English (or Spanish)
Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, and in fact it’s the home of the vast majority of native Portuguese speakers in the world. That can be intimidating to English-only and/or Spanish speakers, and admittedly it can be a challenge. But it’s not impossible, especially with the help of translating apps, Uber, Google Maps, and good old fashioned gestures. But if I’m really being honest with myself, this is also part of the charm of Brazil. You’ll really feel like you are somewhere wonderful that most people have yet to discover, outside of the 200 million Brazilians that call it home and the several million Argentinians that vacation here often.
3 Awesome Things To Do
I could write a longform essay on the best things to do in Brazil. But in the interest of time, I’ll focus on three highlights my family enjoyed during our two week tour over Thanksgiving, in which we ate succulent Brazilian meats instead of overly dry turkey.
1. Rio is rightfully Brazil’s #1 spot
This place is heaven on Earth. I cannot get over how jungle covered mountains magically meet up with perfect sandy beaches like this. My family stayed in a condo that was one block from Ipanema Beach (favored by Brazilians) and a 10-minute walk from Copacabana Beach (favored by visitors for its crescent shaped good looks). We stayed a full week and could have stayed longer. And we saw all of the city’s top sights in an amazing all-day tour with Madson Araujo, the #1 tour guide in Rio de Janeiro.
With him and a private van he hired, we skipped the lines en route to soaring Christ The Redeemer (a Wonder of The World), panoramic Sugarloaf Mountain, the colorful Selaron Staircase, the Royal Portuguese Library, and more. We learned first-hand why this “Cidade Maravilhosa” is also the “Capital of Contrasts,” where rich and poor live as neighbors. I cannot wait to return.
2. Iguaçu Falls is awe-inspiring
If Niagara were a pond, Iguaçu would be an entire ocean. Welcome to the largest waterfall (and natural Wonder of the World) that separates Brazil from Argentina. The first time I laid eyes on just a tiny section of it, I openly wondered what I was walking into. With falls that cascade on two towering levels for nearly two miles, I have no idea why Indiana Jones wasn’t filmed here. It is simply surreal.
Boating into the falls was one of the most thrilling highlights of my life to date. I was completely and violently drenched, not unlike my first-time skydiving. Every passenger in the jetboat was screaming with delight. While there’s no way environmentalists would let something like that happen in American National Parks, I’m so glad they do so abroad. It was fantastic!
3. Brasília proves that not all big cities are alike
I won’t beat around the bush—Brasília is a strange place. It’s very picturesque, but artificially built in the middle of nowhere as the nation’s new capital. In truth, it’s like the urban equivalent of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, with forward-thinking design and striking architecture, while also feeling stuck in the past while looking forward to a future that never materialized. I’m glad I got to visit it and appreciate that the city planners tried things in a different way, even if it didn’t become the ideal city it hoped to become.
To help us make sense of it all, our guide Billy (aka Mr. Brasilia) drove us to all of the top sights, as well as my new favorite pizza joint. Highlights include taking in the absolutely stunning Dom Bosco Sanctuary and watching Brazil win its opening World Cup game at the chic Pontão do Lago Sul.
Having covered travel for nearly a decade, I can confidently call Brazil one of the greatest adventures of my life so far. I cannot recommend it enough.
Blake Snow contributes to fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies as a bodacious writer-for-hire and frequent travel columnist. He lives in Provo, Utah with his adolescent family and two dogs.