Beaches and Big Cities: Three Weeks in Brazil in 2023
Brazil is a country that is rich in culture and history. The beaches are beautiful, the people are friendly and welcoming, and the culture is vibrant and alive. This itinerary for three weeks in Brazil allows you to see several parts of the country, and get a feel for the different cultures and areas in this vast land.
Brazil is an ideal destination for a family- while many US travelers are unfamiliar with Portuguese, you’ll find most Brazilians are willing to work with you to communicate and are very patient with travelers. We’ve covered where to go, where to stay, and things to do in Brazil with kids.
We visited Brazil as part of our Family Year Out when our kids were 4 and 7 years old. You can also check out our itineraries for Mexico, Peru, and Colombia.
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At the bottom of this post, download a free guide: 6 Safety Tips for Traveling with Kids: What You Should Know Before You Travel.
Itinerary: Three Weeks in Brazil
This itinerary for three weeks in Brazil starts in the south and moves north, ending in Salvador, Brazil. It includes both cities and beaches, so you can get a taste of different elements of Brazilian culture. It does not include time spent in the Amazon, which covers a huge amount of Brazil’s territory.
With three weeks in Brazil, you will still just be touching on this large country. With its vast territory and diverse population, you could spend months getting to know Brazil. This three-week itinerary should whet your appetite to get to know ever more of Brazil!
South American is a wonderful place to travel with children- don’t miss our tips specifically for travel in South America!
Sao Paulo- 3 Nights
Sao Paulo is the largest city in Brazil and the fourth largest in the world by population! While many international flights come through here it’s an underrated destination. We spent two nights here, with one full day to see the city, and should have given ourselves more time.
Sao Paulo is full of hills, palm trees, street art, and world-class art museums. The city is large, gritty at times, and spread out. If you’ll be spending more time here, the Sao Paulo Metro will move you around nicely. If you’re squeezing your sightseeing into a day or two, Uber is your best option to move around quickly and efficiently.
Don’t skip this city! There are so many things to do in Sao Paulo (and restaurants to try!)
Where to Stay in Sao Paulo: Central Park Flat Jardins
Central Park Jardin has impressive amenities- a lovely lobby, restaurant, and a pool on the 27th floor with amazing views. The rooms themselves are spacious, but a bit dated. The wifi is weak, but the beds are comfortable, and the showers are strong and hot.
The best thing about this hotel is the location- walk down the hill for a great strip of trendy restaurants to choose from. You’re also within walking distance from world-renowned Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo Assis Chateaubriand (MASP) and Parque Tenente Siqueira Campos.
Check Availability: Central Park Flat Jardins
Getting to Sao Paulo:
Many international flights go through Sao Paulo. We flew in from Buenos Aires on Bondi Air, a budget carrier. From the Sao Paulo airport, take Uber into the city. Uber is officially recognized with official pick-up points outside each terminal that make it quick and easy to use.
Iguazu Falls- 2 Nights
The largest waterfall system in the world straddles the borders of both Brazil and Argentina. You can visit Iguazu Falls from either the Argentinian side of the falls or the Brazilian side (or both!) We recommend spending one day on each side to get the full experience.
Children need to be 12 years or older to take the boat ride close to the Falls on the Argentinean side, so we recommend doing this from Brazil, where there is no age limit.
Where to Stay in Iguazu Falls (Argentina Side): Posada Los Tajibos
You’ll find a wide range of accommodations at Iguazu Falls. We choose a place that was a little too far on the “budget” side and regretted it. You’ll want to stay within an easy walk of the town of Puerto Iguazu so you have access to the restaurants and cafes in the area.
This posada is where we’d stay next time- it has a great location and gets great reviews from past travelers.
Check Availability: Posada Los Tajibos
Where to Stay in Iguazu Falls (Brazil Side): Hotel Rafain Centro
On the Brazilian side, the town of Foz de Iguazu is closer to the national park than you’ll find on the Argentine side. This hotel is close to the center, with great facilities.
If you stay on the Brazilian side, don’t miss the Three Frontiers, where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay meet. Visit in the evening if you can- they have a fun light show at night.
Check Availability: Hotel Rafain Centro
Getting to Iguazu: You can fly to either Cataratas del Iguazu Airport in Argentina (IGR) or Foz do Iguacu (SBFI) in Brazil.
There are transfer companies that will help you cross the border to see the falls, then quickly cross back for your return flight.
We recommend IguazuFallsTravel to book your transfers- they will pick you up at the airport, drive you to either side of the falls, and then back as needed. They are not a guide service but provide transportation to make accessing both sides of the park simple and easy.
Paraty- 3 Nights
Paraty is a small, coastal colonial town on Brazil’s southeastern coast, about halfway between Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. A touristy town, this is a place to chill out and enjoy strolling through town and relaxing on the beach. You can walk to several beaches from the historic center of town, or take a boat to one of many beaches within an hour’s ride from Paraty.
In Paraty, you’ll find a historic center free from cars, with streets covered in chunky river rocks, and buildings with colored doors and trim. The town is packed with restaurants, and shops that range from souvenirs to upscale boutiques. The place is slow, and the people are friendly. Paraty is the perfect place to relax for a couple of days after spending time in one of the larger cities.
Don’t miss dinner at Sarau Paraty- the food is delicious, and they often have live music. Try a Jorge Amado here- this version of the caipirinha made with passionfruit is usually found only in Paraty.
Where to Stay in Paraty: Pousada Recanto da Laeira
This small posada is a quick stroll over the bridge from the main historic center. The rooms are simple, but the place is friendly and clean. The included breakfast is extensive.
If you are looking for a more luxurious option, check out the beautiful Pousada Literária de Paraty. Just a peek into its peaceful inner courtyard made us long to lounge away the day there.
Check Availability: Pousada Recanto da Laeira
Getting to Paraty:
Take a bus from Sao Paulo to Paraty via Busbud, the ride is between 6 and 6 1/2 hours, with a quick stop for lunch.
Ilha Grande- 3 Nights
Ilha Grande is just what it sounds- a large island that attracts crowds from Rio de Janeiro on the weekends. There are no cars allowed on the island, you’ll be strolling along streets of sand and dirt.
This island is known for diving, snorkeling, and other adventure sports more than lounging on the beach. There are several beautiful white sand beaches on Ilha Grande, but you’ll need to hike or take a boat taxi to reach them.
We had rain several of our days in Ilha Grande which dampened our adventurous spirits. While we enjoyed the peaceful, less built-up atmosphere of Ilha Grande, we would choose Paraty over Ilha Grande for a return trip.
Where to Stay in Ilha Grande: Pousada Leão do Mar
You’ll want to stay in Villa Abraão, the main port of the island so you are within easy walking distance of cafes and restaurants.
Pousada Leão Mar is simple and clean-with small balconies and hammocks, you can laze away the day here. An easy walk from the main pier.
Check Availability: Pousada Leão do Mar
Getting to Ilha Grande:
From Parity, book your transfer to Ilha Grande via ParatyTours. They will pick you up at your hotel, and drop you at the ferry departure point for Ihla Grande. The ferry ticket is included in your transfer cost.
While it’s called a ferry, it’s actually a fairly small boat (with no bathroom). The ride was pleasant, and the top of the boat is covered to protect you from both sun and rain.
Rio de Janeiro- 6 Nights
Rio is famous for many things, including the Statue of Christ the Redemer, one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World”, sitting atop Corcovado. The harbor of Rio and the surrounding mountains are considered their own “Natural Wonder”.
Rio is also known for its beaches (the famous Ipanema and Copacabana), its music, and its celebration of Carnival. The second-largest city in Brazil, there’s a lot to do and see here. Don’t miss the historic center, where Portuguese Royalty once declared themselves Emperors. You can also stroll Olympic Boulevard, and take a cable car to the top of the famous Sugarloaf mountain.
Rainy day tip: Check out AquaRio, Rio’s aquarium if you get stuck with a rainy day in Rio.
Where to Stay in Rio de Janeiro: No Coração de Copacabana
This two-bedroom apartment is a bargain and is located just a few short blocks from the sand of Copacobana beach. You’ll have a kitchen with a washing machine to clean up after all those beach days. Located on a busy street, you won’t hear the traffic below from your quiet upper floor.
Rio is a massive city, we suggest staying in either the Copacabana or Ipanema neighborhoods.
Check Availability: No Coração de Copacabana
Getting to Rio:
Many international flights arrive in Rio de Janeiro.
If you’re coming from Ilha Grande, you’ll need to take a ferry to a bus or van. We recommend EasyTransferBrazil– they’ll meet you at the main port in Abraão, and take you all the way to your hotel door in Rio. The ferry ticket is included in your transfer costs.
Salvador- 4 Nights
Salvador was once the capital of the Portuguese colony– and the first capital of Brazil. Today it is the center of Afro-Brazilian culture in Brazil. Salvador is full of color and music- you’ll hear drumming everywhere you go, the buildings are brightly painted, and there are beautiful beaches!
Don’t miss a performance of Balé Folclórico da Bahia. This dance performance covers many of the cultural influences in Salvador today, from capoeira to samba. The costumes are also fabulous. Make sure to pick up a brochure explaining the meaning behind each dance.
Where to Stay in Salvador: Studio do Carmo Boutique Hotel
This small hotel has a great location on the northern end of Pelourinho. You can walk anywhere in the historic area from there. The couple that runs it are very friendly and accommodating. We loved our balcony overlooking the street, though it can get quite loud on weekends.
Check Availability: Studio do Carmo Boutique Hotel
Getting to Salvador: You’ll need to fly to Salvador from Rio de Janeiro. We opted for Gol Airlines, but LATAM also flies this route. A direct flight is just over two hours. The airport is located about 16 miles from the city center.
When is the Best Time to Visit Brazil?
Brazil is a vast country with plenty to see and do, no matter what time of year you visit. However, the shoulder season of April to October (between the peak summer months and the winter holidays) is often considered the best time to go.
The weather is generally milder at this time of year, making it more comfortable to explore all that Brazil has to offer. Plus, you’ll avoid the hottest part of the year and crowds that flock to the country during peak tourism season.
What Language Do They Speak in Brazil?
Portuguese is spoken in Brazil. While it is related to Spanish, it sounds quite different. If you are familiar with Spanish, you will recognize many words, often they are spelled similarly but with one or two different letters- for example, “exit” is “salida” in Spanish, and “saída” in Portuguese. Similarly, “yellow” is “amarillo” in Spanish and “amarelo” in Portuguese.
We found that in some cases it was easier to communicate by speaking English rather than Spanish, and other times vice versa, depending on the person we were trying to speak with. Overall we found almost everyone was very patient with us as we figured out the best way to communicate.
Is Brazil Expensive?
Brazil is more expensive than most of the other countries that we visited in South America. We found both Sao Paulo and Rio to be noticeably more expensive than Buenos Aires. However, compared to European prices, Brazil can still easily be a bargain.
How Much Time Do I Need in Brazil with Kids?
Brazil is a huge country that you could spend months exploring. We felt that three weeks was the right amount of time to get a good sense of the country.
With three weeks in Brazil, you can explore both beaches and cities, as well as both the north and the southern parts of the country. You will not have time to explore the Amazon in Brazil, which could be its own trip.
There You Have It: Three Weeks in Brazil
Everything you need for an epic three weeks in Brazil! On this itinerary you’ll cover cities and beaches in both the North and South of this massive country. There’s always more to explore, but this itinerary gives you a great taste of the country. Don’t miss this country full of warm, welcoming people!