Around São Paulo and Rio (traveling from Campinas)
I was an exchange student in Campinas, Sao Paulo, a city that does not stand out for its beauty, precisely. However, it will always be one of the most special places for me, as it gave me tons of happy moments and introduced me to the Brazilian culture. Nearby there are plenty of cool places awaiting, some of them very mythical. These are the ones I visited, but there are many others:
Ubatuba & Caraguatatuba
Paraty & Trindade
Rio de Janeiro
Minas Gerais (Ouro Preto, Lavras Novas & São Tomé das Letras)
São Paulo is a giant city with lots of nightlife, activities and art. What I liked most about this monstrous city (12 million in the city itself, 20 in the metropolitan area) is the number of parks and green areas it houses. Lungs needed to fight all the gases from cars.
Worthy of a visit: the beautiful Ibirapuera Park, with museums (like the Afro-Brazilian Museum) and events; the Metropolitan Cathedral in the center of the city; Paulista Avenue, a huge street with office skyscrapers on both sides; the art gallery; the Portuguese Language Museum; Praça da Luz; the Japanese neighbourhood (Liberdade). I will always remember the first time I visited São Paulo, with that outdoor show in Ibirapuera Park. A jazz festival with artists from various countries that made us have a great time. There is always something going on in that Park, so don´t miss the chance to visit it.
UBATUBA & CARAGUATATUBA
These two neighbors of the north coast of São Paulo (170 km from the city), are a paradise of endless lonely and wild beaches. In addition to the beaches of these two towns, you have dozens of beautiful beaches nearby. Frade, Itamambuca or Enseada are just three examples of a paradise of soft sand and sea. You can come and relax as on any other beach. But the best thing is to take advantage of the unique character of the area to do activities: its waves are ideal for intrepid surfers, in the same way that its forests are for adventurous hikers. The Mata Atlântica Forest is a rainforest that runs parallel to these coasts (most of the coastlines of São Paulo and Rio). In this area, in particular, there is a wonderful path that starts from Lagoinha (near Maranduba, between Caraguatatua and Ubatuba). It is called Trilha das Sete Praias (the Trail of the Seven Beaches) and it is a real wonder. Take a walk in the day or, better yet, spend the night with your tent on one of the beaches. It is such a magic place.
Finally, it is worth saying that this area also has beautiful waterfalls and natural spaces nearby. Come, everything is to be explored.
PARATY & TRINDADE
Two other ideal destinations to visit the beaches of your dreams (this time in the state of Rio). Some of these stretches of fine golden sand are: Praia do Cepilho, Cachadaço (Trindade), and, my favorite, Praia do Sono. But there are hundreds of beaches! All of them surrounded by the wild Mata Atlântica. On the beach of Trindade you can walk to natural pools with huge stones in which there is a secret tunnel that takes you to an underground slide that is very cool.
In addition, Paraty is a beautiful colonial city with cobblestone streets and colorful houses, ideal for strolling and enjoying the Brazilian flavors..
RIO DE JANEIRO
Wow, we are in Rio de Janeiro! One of the most touristy places (and deserved) in the country. There are lots of things to do in this amazing city, a classic of Brazil. For example:
Copacabana, Leblon and Ipanema beaches. Go to the famous beaches of Copacabana, Leblon and Ipanema to relax (coconut water or beer in hand, obviously), walk or do some sport (running, yoga, etc). Or, why not, flirting!
Christ the Redeemer. Visit this monument, one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. More than the statue itself (which in my opinion is not that much), the best are the views. By the way, you can watch the Christ from (almost) every corner in the city.
Pão de Açúcar. You can do the whole trip flying by cable car or part walking, part by cable car. I recommend walking a bit, because you can find along the way with some nice marmosets (little primate). The views of Rio from the Pão de Açúcar are stunning.
Santa Teresa and Lapa neighborhoods. The first one is at the top of a hill and is really beautiful, and Lapa houses the famous stairs (Escadaria do Selarón), and is where you can find a more artistic and authentic atmosphere in Rio (of course, it is only my opinion).
Football game at the Maracaná. Not only if you are a football fan... I am not, but I went (for doing a favor to a friend) and I had a great time. I am not sure if it was because of the atmosphere itself (people live it in a very crazy way), or because we drank a bottle of cachaça. It is not expensive (at least regular games).
Visit some favela. It is interesting to see with your own eyes the way people live in a favela. They are poor neighborhoods, very chaotic, but not so different from what many people think: there are bars, schools, medical centers... And, above all, people like you and me. I would only recommend a tourist one, like Santa Marta. I do not think it is wise to put yourself in a dangerous situation.!
Minas Gerais, land of towns and colonial cities, mountains and cachoeiras (waterfalls). Oh, and as all Brazilians say: the best food in the country. How I miss the first night having cachaça and queijo mineiro (homemade cheese) in the main square of Ouro Preto. The surface of this state is greater than that of all Spain... You can quickly get an idea of the magnitude of the territory... There are a thousand places to visit and, obviously, I did not visit all of them. I rather visited a small portion. Some worthwhile places are:
Ouro Preto. One of the most beautiful cities in Brazil, with colonial houses and churches everywhere. Here also takes place one of the most famous carnivals in the country (along with those of Rio and Olinda). A beautiful city that is close by is Mariana, where you can take a one or two-day excursion.
Lavras Novas. Small town in a natural enigmatic place. Walk “three steps” to find some very cool waterfalls.
São Tomé das Letras. Small village in the mountains with a special atmosphere and people.
IGUAÇU (actually not that close to Sao paulo...)
Iguaçu is one of the most magical places I have ever been. Despite the tourism and its remoteness (17h by bus from Campinas/São Paulo). What a place! Pure show for your eyes… And your ears. I visited the Park from the Argentine side, but both sides are worth it. The Argentine side is way cheaper, not only the entrance but also in terms of accommodation (Puerto de Iguazú, Argentina vs Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil).
There are many things to do in the Park. You can do the upper and lower walkways, to enjoy all the falls from different distances and perspectives; "Climb" to the Garganta del Diablo (literally, the Devil's Throat), in which after crossing a metal walkway over the immense Parana River, you arrive at the largest waterfall in the world; Excursions by boat, from a calm ride by the river (look for the jacarés!) to an intrepid trip to the foot of the falls to end up soaked to the bone; Visit less traveled trails, such as the Macuco trail, to experience the wildest side (we saw monkeys, turtles, toucans and even a tapir). This road leads to a waterfall away from the rest, where you can take a dip in a magical moment.
On the other hand, in the surroundings of Iguazú there are many natural treasures (both in Paraguay, as in Brazil, and in Argentina). If you have time, it is worth it to explore a little beyond the falls. We visited some small mines in Wanda, Misiones (Argentine). They are about 40 km from Puerto Iguazú. Only the landscape to get there is beautiful, leaving behind several interesting communities around the mines.