Three Weeks in Brazil Itinerary

Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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If out-of-this-world beaches, exciting nature, stunning cities, and colorful culture is calling to you, then Brazil is the place for you. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Brazil several times now, and there’s always more to see or do here. This three weeks in Brazil itinerary will allow you to cover a wide range of some of Brazil’s highlights — this was the length of time for my first trip there, too. However, if you have less time, feel free to pick and choose which cities work best for your own timeline.

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What to Know Before Your Trip

What language is spoken in Brazil?

Portuguese. Not going to lie, it wasn’t always the easiest finding English speakers here, but it was doable and you should be able to get by. I’d recommend downloading Portuguese on Google Translate, so that you can use it with or without Wifi/phone data. Not only can you speak directly into your phone and have it translate, but you can even use the camera setting to translate menus and other signage. These features don’t work perfectly, but they can make a huge difference.

What’s the currency in Brazil?

The real, or reais (plural). At the time of writing, 1 US dollar is 4.95 reais. Credit cards are pretty widely accepted, but it’s never a bad idea to have some cash on hand, especially when traveling to more remote areas like Porto de Galinhas (which we’ll get to later).

What’s the weather in Brazil?

Summers are from November to February in Brazil, and although Brazil is a large country with a diverse array of climates, all the cities in this itinerary will be very hot and humid during this time (think 80s and 90s). Rain is also fairly frequent throughout the year. The winter in Brazil (May to September) doesn’t typically get cold, usually staying around the 70s, but pack some layers just in case if you travel then (I made this mistake once and quickly learned my lesson). 

Do I need to worry about safety?

Safety is one of the first things people bring up when I talk about traveling in Brazil. Yes, it is a valid concern — robberies and other crimes are not uncommon, and tourists aren’t immune to that reality. With that said, I absolutely do not think this should stop you from traveling here. 

Take precautions, yes — for instance, don’t wear any valuable jewelry, don’t walk around with your phone in your hand, and don’t walk alone at night. I also wouldn’t recommend carrying all your money with you (as in, take only what you need for the day and leave the rest in different places in your suitcase/in your room). However, that’s pretty solid advice to keep in mind no matter where you travel. 

You ultimately know your own boundaries and comfort zone the best. But if you’re reading this post, I can safely assume you’re at least interested in traveling in Brazil, and this country is more than worth pushing past the fear. Check out this guide for some of my best tips for staying safe — although it’s specific to Rio, a lot of the info can definitely be applied to Brazil as a whole.

Iguazu Falls

Do I need a visa to go to Brazil?

There is a visa requirement for U.S. citizens visiting Brazil, as of April 2024. It costs $81 and qualifies you for a stay of up to 90 days. You’ll need to provide bank statements, proof of income, or a credit card statement to demonstrate you have at least $2,000 in your bank account. Get more information and apply here.

How do I get a SIM card in Brazil?

Getting a SIM card is easy in Brazil. If you’re looking for a physical card, you can either get one at the airport (this is a pricier option, though) or you can go to a store, where you can select a data plan based on your needs. If your phone has the option for e-SIMS, this is even easier, as you don’t have to worry about going anywhere or making sure you don’t lose your original card. Airalo has a number of affordable options. Check it out here. You’ll just need to make sure your phone is unlocked before your trip. 

What do I need to know about transportation in Brazil?

Ubers are easy to access in all the cities included in this itinerary, and are very affordable compared to the United States. Uber is typically the safest option (especially at night), but there is also public transportation available.

Now, onto the itinerary!

In Pernambuco, a state in Northeast Brazil

3-Week Brazil Itinerary

Brazil Itinerary Days 1 to 5: Rio de Janeiro

While Brazil is full of vibrant cities, beautiful nature, and amazing culture, Rio de Janeiro tops the list for me. Rio has it all — it has world-famous beaches, surrounding mountains, an abundance of waterfalls and amazing hiking spots, plus, it’s a giant city, with tons of museums, history, and culture at your fingertips. It’s also home to some of the iconic sites that come to mind when you think of Brazil, making it the perfect place to kick off 3 weeks in Brazil.

You could easily spend weeks here, but with five days, you can get a real taste of the Carioca lifestyle, while having time to visit the highlights.

Its main airport, Galeao-Antonio Carlos Jobim International (GIG), is where you’ll most likely fly into, but depending on your route, you could also land/fly out of Santos Dumont Airport (SDU), which only has domestic flights. 

Ipanema

Some non-negotiables for your time in Rio

Relax at Copacabana and Ipanema beaches (they’re right next to each other). Right in between the two in Arpoador, a little stretch of rock where locals and tourists alike gather every evening to watch the sunset. 

Listen to samba. Not only is it a cultural cornerstone of Brazil (which culturally is a blend of African, Portuguese and Indigenous influences), but Rio is considered to be one of the birthplaces of samba, along with the state of Bahia (which we’ll visit later in this itinerary). One easy way to listen to some samba is to go to Pedra do Sal on Monday night — every week, there’s live music that you can enjoy for free.

Sugarloaf Mountain, or Pão de Açúcar in Portuguese

Visit Sugarloaf Mountain for a stunning panoramic view of Rio. The easiest way to visit the Sugarloaf is by taking a cable car. Tickets can either be bought in advance or at the ticket office, which opens at 8 a.m. Cable cars leave every 20 minutes and cost about $33 USD. Try to visit during sunset if you can!

Check out the Christ the Redeemer statue — it’s another iconic view, as well as an iconic landmark. I personally visited on a tour, which took me through a number of Rio landmarks in one day (check out Viator or Get Your Guide for some options, but I ended up going with one that I purchased through my hostel). If you choose to buy your tickets to the statue separately, it’s cash only at the entrance, and costs about $11.30 USD, or R$55.50.

Walk around Parque Lage and Jardim Botânico, two gorgeous parks and two of my favorite spots in Rio.

See the Escadaria Selarón in Lapa and walk around the artsy neighborhood, Santa Teresa.

Hike in Tijuca Forest. There are so many possible routes you could take here that will allow you to see waterfalls, gorgeous views of Rio, and lush nature. 

Of course, this only scratches the surface of what Rio has to offer. I’ve visited Rio five times now and it never gets old. If you’re looking for even more tips and places to visit in Rio de Janeiro, check out this guide!

Where to stay in Rio de Janeiro:

Selina is a hostel-hotel blend that has locations mostly around Latin America, but is also worldwide. I’ve stayed at a number of their locations and have never been disappointed. My first time in Brazil, I stayed at their Lapa location, which is right around the corner from the Escadaria Selarón as well as Santa Teresa. It’s an area with a lot of nightlife and affordable places to eat and drink. Book it here.

If you’d rather stay near the beach, Selina’s Copacabana location is also really nice and just a couple of blocks away from the ocean. Book it on HostelWorld here.

But depending on what interests you most about Rio, you may want to make a different neighborhood your home base for your stay. Check out my guide to all the best neighborhoods and budget places to stay in Rio for more on this!

Rio de Janeiro

Brazil Itinerary Days 6 to 8: São Paulo 

It’s time to say goodbye to Rio, but don’t worry, the flight to Sao Paulo, our next destination, is quick (just a couple hours or so). If you fly, you’ll be landing at Sao Paulo/Guarulhos International Airport (GRU), but if you want to cut costs, you could definitely take a bus as well — it would take six or eight hours or so. 

São Paulo is a giant, vibrant city with a very different vibe than Rio. While you’re not going to get gorgeous beaches and waterfalls like in Rio, São Paulo is a cultural hub, with tons of museums to check out, as well as an impressive culinary scene. Try to arrange your flights so that you have at least two full days here. While you don’t need much time to experience the highlights of São Paulo, you don’t want to be too rushed.

Some places to visit in São Paulo

Avenida Paulista is a major street in São Paulo’s business district, and is home to lots of museums, shops and restaurants. On Sundays, the road becomes pedestrian-only. This is also where the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (São Paulo Museum of Art) is located, an extensive art museum with over 8,000 pieces, from classical European art to Brazilian and Latin American art. A must when in Sao Paulo! (Avenida Paulista 1578, São Paulo)

If you can only do one thing in São Paulo, check out the street art! Beco do Batman in the bohemian neighborhood Vila Madalena, is the most popular area for street art, and takes around thirty minutes to walk through. I’d recommend coming here on a walking tour to get some added insight into the artists and context of some of the murals.

Fun fact, São Paulo is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. For that reason, not only is there an abundant Japanese food scene, but you can also visit sites like Liberdade, a historic Japanese neighborhood where you can find lots of Japanese restaurants, stores, street vendors, and more. If you’re here on a weekend, there’s a street fair here as well.

Museu de Arte Contemporanea (MAC, Museum of Contemporary Art) is another excellent museum worth visiting. (Av. Pedro Álvares Cabral, 1301)

Visit the Instituto Tomie Ohtake. It’s a really interesting cultural center named after a Japanese-Brazilian artist, with a number of cool exhibits. (Rua Coropé, 88 – Pinheiros, São Paulo)

Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo is considered one of the most important art museums in Brazil. It has is one of the largest collections of Brazilian art. (Praça da Luz, 2 – Luz, São Paulo)

Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo

Stroll through Ibirapuera Park. Often compared to Central Park, this is the place for some much needed nature-recharging after a couple days of museum-hopping. It’s also one of the largest urban parks in South America.

Museu da Imagem e do Som (Museum of Image and Sound). I know, you may be feeling museumed-out by now, but this one is different from the others, I promise! The the focus is on film, music and photography instead of traditional art. When I visited, there was a really cool exhibit all about musicals, which I loved. (Avenida Europa 158 Jd. Europa, São Paulo)

Where to stay in São Paulo 

I stayed at another Selina location, Selina Madalena, which is located in a cute, walkable neighborhood, Vila Madalena. There was a restaurant on-site which was a plus. The one downside was that even with a private room, it’s a shared bathroom. But for such a short stay, that didn’t bother me much. Book here.

Brazil Itinerary Days 9 to 11: Iguazu Falls

After spending some time in the largest city in Brazil, it’s time to get back to nature. Not just any nature — it’s Iguazu Falls, or Foz do Iguaçu in Portuguese, one of if not the most amazing places I’ve ever experienced, and a stop definitely worth making during your three weeks in Brazil.

To get here from Sao Paulo, you’ll have another quick-ish flight (under 2 hours) into Iguazu Falls – Cataratas International (IGU). For me, this flight came to $90 or so.

Iguazu Falls

What to know about visiting Iguazu Falls 

Two full days here (plus some extra time for travel/down time) allows you to spend one day exploring the Brazil side, and the next day traveling to the Argentina side. The Argentina side covers about 80% of the falls, meaning you can easily spend a few hours there, so it’s best to plan to do each side on different days. 

Because there are some added logistics by crossing the border, I’d arrange a tour through your hostel to visit the Argentinian side. You will take a tour bus to the site, and the tour guide will bring in everyone’s passports at once to get stamped for you. From there, you’ll have the day to explore. The Brazil side, on the other hand, is even easier. You can easily get to the site by taking a bus.

While some people prioritize just seeing one side over the other, I’d really recommend you do both sides. After all, you came all the way to Brazil, so might as well get the full experience of this world wonder. While yes, the Brazil side is much smaller, you can get right up close with the waterfalls, while getting out-of-this-world panoramic views. It’s really a magical experience.

The costs to enter both sides fluctuate a lot, so check here for info on the Argentinian side, and here for the Brazilian side.

Foz de Iguaçu, the Brazilian side

Where to stay in Foz de Iguaçu 

The Tetris Container Hostel is eco-friendly and super unique because as you can probably guess, everything is made of recycled shipping containers. They also have tours seven days a week to the Argentina side of the falls, making everything super easy for you. This hostel is also located right by a bus line to take you to the Brazilian entrance. A number of restaurant options are also nearby. Book here.

Brazil Itinerary Days 12 to 15: Salvador

Next, we’re heading up to the Northeast of Brazil, which is such a special region to visit. 

We’re going to start in Salvador, which is in the state of Bahia. Although Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are super common bucket-list destinations, Salvador deserves a spot on that list as well. It has a vibrant Afro-Brazilian culture, colorful colonial-style architecture, gorgeous beaches, and such good food.  

To get here, I had to take a two hour flight back into Rio, and then another two-hour flight to Salvador. 

The main square in Pelourinho, Salvador

What to do in Salvador 

Pelourinho is the main historic area, where you’ll likely spend a lot of time while in Salvador. For that reason, I’d also suggest finding a hostel in this area. An UNESCO site, Pelourinho has cobblestone streets and colonial Portuguese architecture — it’s so pretty here! It’s where you can find lots of museums, shops and restaurants. It’s the perfect place to just wander around and explore.

Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia (MAM), is one of the most beautiful spots in Salvador. It’s a free art museum situated right along a beach. Definitely watch the sunset here one night!

I typically don’t go out of my way to visit churches when I’m traveling (or ever), but I can definitely appreciate the architecture, art and history of Catholic churches when traveling! Igreja Nosso Senhor do Bonfim is a historic church that first opened in the 1750s. This is one of the most famous Catholic churches in Brazil. (Largo do Bonfim, s/n – Bonfim, Salvador – BA)

Igreja Nossa Senhora is another gorgeous church that opened in the 1640s. (R. do Carmo, 1 – Santo Antônio Além do Carmo, Salvador – BA)

Rio Vermelho is a popular spot for bars, restaurants, food stalls, and music.

Mercado Modelo is a large handicraft market in Salvador perfect for some souvenir shopping or just exploring. It’s right next to the Elevador Lacerda, which is a giant elevator built between 1869 and 1873, connecting the lower half of the city to the upper half. It’s about a 30-second ride and costs .15 reais (around 3 cents). 

Salvador

Art Museum of Bahia has an interesting mix of paintings, furniture, tableware, and other remnants from Portuguese aristocrats. It’s also free! (Av. Sete de Setembro, 2340 – Corredor da Vitória, Salvador)

Farol da Barra is one of the most famous landmarks in Salvador. Check out the lighthouse and the beautiful ocean view — this is another great spot to check out at sunset.

The food, as I mentioned, was one of the highlights of Salvador for me. Food in the Northeast has a distinct style and is rooted in African food traditions, frequently using ingredients like coconut milk, dendê oil (palm oil) and okra. Try acarajé, a popular street food made of fried black-eyed pea fritters and stuffed with shrimp that’s a bit spicy and moqueca, a flavorful, rich fish stew made with coconut milk and dendê oil. I ordered moqueca or a variation of it nearly every day I was here, that’s how good it is,

(Curious about other Brazilian foods and drinks you have to try during your 3-week trip? Check out this post.)

Where to stay in Salvador

Hostel Galeria 13 is located right in the heart of Pelourinho, which is a central location in Salvador. A delicious, freshly-made breakfast was included every day, along with caipirinhas, a classic Brazilian cocktail made with cachaça and lime (later in the day, don’t worry). Book here.

Brazil Itinerary Days 16 to 18: Recife

For the last few days of our three weeks in Brazil, we’re going to travel to another state in the Northeast, Pernambuco, where Recife and Porto de Galinhas are located. Flights from Salvador (Deputado Luis Eduardo Magalhaes International, SSA) to Recife (Guararapes International, REC) are just an hour and a half and are typically under $100. 

Recife

What to do in Recife

Recife Antigo is a historic area along the water. It has many restaurants, pretty buildings, and other interesting sites such as the oldest synagogue in the Americas.

Boa Viagem is a popular beach known for its clear water, restaurants, nightlife, and proximity to RioMar Recife, a giant mall. 

Olinda is a neighboring colonial town that’s also a UNESCO site. It was founded in the 1500s as a sugarcane trading center. Since then, it’s become loved for its artistic, colorful style and home to a number of galleries and artist studios.

Casa da Cultura (House of Culture), is a great spot to search for souvenirs. It’s a giant handicraft market that’s actually in a former prison.

Where to stay in Recife

I didn’t end up staying in a hostel while in Recife, but Hostel e Pousada Boa Vista is a highly rated one close to the city center that you can check out. Book here.

Brazil Itinerary Days 18 to 21: Porto de Galinhas

After a couple days in Recife, head to Porto de Galinhas, a cute little beach town that translates to “Port of Chickens.” The town is very proud of their mascot, and you’ll see a number of odes to the chicken throughout the town. No, I won’t be explaining further, you’ll just have to see what I mean once you’re there. 

To get to Porto de Galinhas, you could either get a bus or take a taxi. A taxi should only be around $30 to $40, and should take under an hour. A bus will of course be more cost-effective and will take around an hour and a half.

The main reason Porto de Galinhas is worth the journey is for the natural pools. During low tide, you can swim out to these amazing natural pools brimming with tropical fish. It’s such a cool experience, as it feels like you’re standing in the middle of the ocean. It’s free to visit, you’ll just need to get a wristband (the number of people who can visit at a time is limited), and you can also rent things like snorkels or pay to take a boat instead of swimming.

Vila de Porto de Galinhas Beach

What to do in Porto de Galinhas

Vila de Porto de Galinhas Beach is the main beach here, and where you can swim out to the natural pools. It does get crowded, but is still fun to see. It’s filled with colorful sailboats and vendors. 

Muro Alto Beach is considered the most beautiful beach, and is a great place for  snorkeling or relaxing!

Carneiros Beach (or Praia de Carneiros) is an iconic Brazilian beach. It has coconut palm trees, clear, turquoise water, white sand, and an 18th century church. There are also a number of restaurants serving seafood and other Brazilian classics along the beach. It’s about an hour from Porto de Galinhas.

Where to stay in Porto de Galinhas

Sadly it looks like where I stayed is no longer operating. Check out Che Lagarto Hostel Porto de Galinhas. It includes breakfast, has affordable prices for a private room, and is blocks away from the beach. Book here.

Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art/dance form, in Salvador

Brazil is my all-time favorite destination, and I could talk endlessly about it, so if there’s anything else you want to know about traveling in Brazil, let me know!

-Tess 

P.S. Getting ready for your three weeks in Brazil soon? Check out my Rio de Janeiro packing guide.

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10 Comments

  1. May 15, 2024 / 5:34 pm

    I would LOVE to visit Brazil! Visiting Iguazu Falls looks like an absolute dream 😍 I love this itinerary! Three weeks sounds like a great amount of time to get a good flavour of the country, I’ll keep it in mind when I finally get round to planning my trip! Thanks for the great guide!

    • Tess
      Author
      May 16, 2024 / 3:41 pm

      Thanks so much for reading, Hannah! I’m sure you’ll love Brazil 🙂

  2. Her Asian adventures
    May 15, 2024 / 6:12 pm

    Hey Tess! Great post! I think our travel styles are quite similar! You love culture and detailed city guides! Saving this three weeks in Brazil itinerary for future! Loved it!

    • Tess
      Author
      May 16, 2024 / 3:42 pm

      yesss experiencing culture is a must! thanks for reading! 🙂

  3. May 16, 2024 / 12:00 am

    Love it! I enjoy going to museums and exploring the city and getting some nature. This trip covers it all!

    • Tess
      Author
      May 16, 2024 / 3:43 pm

      You’ll love Brazil then! Thanks for reading 🙂

  4. Taylor
    May 16, 2024 / 12:31 am

    I spent a week in Brazil last summer! Visited Iguazu and Rio. Rio is such a cool landscape and the waterfalls at Iguazu are truly worth the hype. I’ll have to go back for Salvador especially!

    • Tess
      Author
      May 16, 2024 / 3:43 pm

      Rio and Iguazu are amazing! I’m glad you had a good time!

  5. May 16, 2024 / 10:45 am

    This is such a great read, thank you. Brazil is very high on my bucket list and being such a big country I have always wondered where is best to start. So this is super helpful

    • Tess
      Author
      May 16, 2024 / 3:43 pm

      I hope you get to visit soon!!

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