The city of Rio de Janeiro is not the only reason visitors travel from all over the world to go to Rio. Outside the city has some of the most spectacular landscape and colonials cities in the entire country of Brazil. It varies from fantastic beach towns, to charming colonial towns with neighboring waterfalls, to a mountain range with the old imperial city and hikes you would not believe!
Check out the best visits outside Rio de Janeiro:
is the southernmost and westernmost city in the state of Rio de Janeiro, two hours south from Angra dos Reis, the city across from Ilha Grande. It meets São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro half way, providing Brazil’s most famous cities an accessible getaway. Its combination of rich culture/history and spectacular nature/beaches offers any traveler a complete and magnificent stay. The town itself is a preserved Portuguese colonial town dating back to the 1500’s, and was also formerly home to the Brazilian Imperial municipality during the early 1800’s.The historical center is inaccessible by motor vehicles, and walking down its cobblestoned paved streets, with its little cafes and colorfully painted stores is as charming an atmosphere as it gets.
It has a romantic European type feel to it. Outside of the town is no less charming and wonderful. Paraty is surrounded by nature, parks, waterfalls, beautiful beaches, and quilombo’s (a village/settlement of African heritage). These include; Serra da Bocaina National Park, the Ecological Reserve of Joatinga, the Cairuçu Environmental Protection Area, and Serra do Mar State Park. Two beaches we recommend are Praia Paraty Mirim and Praia de Sono. Praia Paraty Mirim is a smaller beach with calm placid waters that make it a place of great tranquility and relaxation. Praia de Sono is a larger beach, but still exclusive and uncrowded, as the only means of getting there is via boat, departing from the pier located in the Laranjeiras Condiminuim complex, or, our preferred method, hiking. The hike lasts a little over an hour, and submerges you in the wonderful wilderness of Paraty. It has an easy marked path, and it’s not overly challenging.
Great for working up a sweat before washing it off in the heavenly waters you will find at the end. Paraty is home to many incredible cultural events as well. The most famous of the group is the International Literary Festival of Paraty, and the Cachaça festival (believe us that’s a fun one! If you enjoy spirits, be sure to try their trademark Milho Verde and Gabriela Cachaças’.)
All in all, Paraty is an absolutely magical place, and will be one of the highlights if you incorporate it into your trip, especially as a contrast to the densely populated streets of Rio. A fun fact, is that it was also the location for Bella and Edward’s Isle Esme honeymoon in that god-awful, (cough), i mean wonderful, movie The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn.
Armação do Búzios
more commonly known as just Búzios is the Cariocas favorite getaway spot. Located in the Região dos Lagos (Lake Region), Búzios is a resort/posada town, two and a half hours from Rio the city, and is internationally known for its beaches. Interestingly enough, the reason for its initial international spotlight had a great deal to do with the visit from the 1960’s French actress Brigitte Bardot, who highly acclaimed her visit there while escaping paparazzi in Rio (the city). That said, what makes Búzios a favorite vacation spot? Point in fact, because it brings to fruition a beach lovers dream. The beaches are world class. In a radius of 10 kilometers it homes 23 different beaches, a lot being private cove-like, with crystal clear water and vibrant nature. The more popular beaches include: Azeda, Praia dos Amores, Ferradura, Praia Brava, João Fernandes and Armação.
If sun-soaking is your thing, you’re going to get tan quick. If snorkeling or scuba diving is more of your style, keep your goggles from fogging up, it’s like an aquarium in those waters. If you want to be more active, water sports are plentiful, along with boat trips, and beach buggying. As an extra bonus too, unlike some of the lesser developed vacation spots around Rio, Búzios has some life to it. Rua das Pedras (Stone Street) is vivacious. It hosts shopping galleries, art galleries, decadent food, and fun filled bars, with night owls in full swing. Makes for delightful evenings out. The pousada accommodations and small resorts are charming, cozy, and romantic. If you dream your vacations around beach relaxing, turtle spotting, wave-riding, buggy accelerating, palate watering, wine/caipirinha warming, and night living, don’t miss out on Búzios.
Arraial do Cabo
along with Búzios is located in the Região dos Lagos, 2 hours and 45 minutes from the city of Rio. Similar to its bigger and more popular neighbor, Búzios, Arraial do Cabo hosts some of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil (and all of the world!). At the top of the list is the Prainhas da Pontal, which has the softest finite sand imaginable, along with dreamy clear turquoise waters. It’s a perfect postcard of paradise, and gives any beach a run for its money from a beauty standpoint. It’s not the only one in the area either. Boat tours are ready to take you to other remarkable island beaches, like Praia do Farol, as well as a big hidden cave and a floating restaurant!
What separates Arraial do Cabo from anything else though is its scuba diving.That’s its calling card. Its invitingly warm waters, and array of marine life is the some of best you can find in Brazil, and certainly Rio State. Not to mention the ship wrecks that are there to be explored! If scuba diving is a priority for you, so should a trip to Arraial do Cabo. The town itself is considerably smaller and more quite than Búzios, but accommodation isn’t so hard to come by, and the place still has some action. It is also more affordable and less visited than similar vacation destinations, which can be enticing if you want to avoid crowds.
“Big Island” is one of the most interesting places in the world. Bold statement right? We’ll explain. Ilha Grande is an island off the coast of Angra dos Reis, a municipality two plus hours south of Rio de Janeiro the city. For a significant portion of their history Ilha Grande was closed to travelers because it was home to a leper colony, and subsequently, to a high security prison that housed some of the most dangerous criminals of the country. But that’s all history! Ilha Grande, for maybe just those reasons remained vastly underdeveloped, which now is an aspect that makes it shine. Large areas have been turned into protected State Parks, and strict building regulations have been put in place to maintain the island in its natural glory; one of the few remaining chunks of unspoiled Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest!
The ecosystem and biodiversity is hugely rich and unique. It’s home to numerous endangered species, including different types of birds, and monkeys. If you are lucky you can even spot whales and Magellanic penguins! Yup! Penguins in the tropics, it’s unbelievable. The untapped nature, scenic beaches, panoramic landscapes are all jaw dropping. Unimaginable for someone who hasn’t left the U.S. The most popular of the villages on the Island, and where most visitors stay, is called Abraão. Its small, but charming, as is their accommodations. They host a fun Festival de Junina (June Festival), funny enough in July, where the town gets together for a weekend for some traditional music and festivities . We recommend the Praia Lopes Mendes hike, leaving from Abraão and ending at Lopes Mendes beach. It’s around an hour and a half, not extremely challenging, but very worthwhile, with incredible views. The beach is not overly crowded either. Upon arrival, replenish your strength with some tasty seafood while your feet play in the sand. Praia Aventureiro should also be a must visit, it’s paradisiacal, great for camping. The island is called “Big Island” for a reason, as it takes quite some time to explore it all, but regardless of the amount of time you have, we can not over state this, the “Big Island” should be part of your Rio vacation plans.
Not everything worthwhile outside of Rio the city is beaches! Petrópolis, located an hour northwest of Rio the city, is a great getaway and a cultural/historical haven. The city is known as The Imperial City of Brazil, and in fact, used to be the capital of Rio de Janeiro State dating back to the closing years of the 1800’s and early 1900’s. It also lacks for beauty or nature not, despite it being inland and not coastal. Far from it. It’s sandwiched in a valley between rivers and the forests of Serra dos Órgãos, where you can do one of the coolest and most challenging hikes in all of Brazil, the Travessia. Not much in this world is more spectacular from a nature and view standpoint. Another fun aspect to Petrópolis, which we know will interest some, is that it’s the second largest beer producer in Brazil, home to the headquarters of a few top national beer companies like: Bohemia, Grupo Petrópolis (Itaipava brand, Crystal…), Kirin. Brewery tours can be great fun. As for the city center, that’s the bread and butter, and that’s where the culture and historical aspects come into play. The emperors and aristocrats of Brazil during the nineteenth century used to use Petrópolis as their summer stay, which should tell you something of the places’ merits. The result of this; impressive Imperial architecture litter the streets, most impressive being the Imperial museum. Purely staggering. St. Peter of Alcantara Cathedral is also quite remarkable. Palácio Rio Negro, Palácio Amarelo, Lake Quitandinha should not be overlooked, and the list goes on. The point is: for architectural buffs, museum/art/ history aficionados, and thrill seeking hikers Petrópolis will be an unforgettable experience.