In this edition of our Explorer’s Journal, Destination Expert Adam Laughter takes us on a virtual journey to uncover the hidden gems of Brazil. From the highlights and World Wonder of Rio de Janeiro, to São Luis and Lençóis Maranhenses National Park of Northern Brazil, join him as he guides you through his expedition.
Olá from Brazil!
I’m Adam, one of SA’s Destination Experts. Recently, I traveled to Brazil and got to encounter some of the most beautiful parts of the country (though it’s a massive country, so there are numerous “most beautiful” parts!). With a great first night’s rest, I was able to start my journey in Rio de Janeiro with high energy.
For my first full day in Rio, I hit the ground running with an early visit to the infamous Christ the Redeemer statue. The iconic 125-ft. tall statue stands on the top of the Corcovado Mountain, and sees its fair share of visitors each day. I was able to beat the crowds by taking the first train up and caught a nice morning view of Rio’s bustling city and beaches. This World Wonder is nothing short of impressive, but I’d have to say the panoramic views from the top did not disappoint.
The arms of Christ the Redeemer span 92 feet!
I took the rest of the day to explore Rio’s various districts and get to know more of the city. First, I hit up the Selarón Steps to climb the 215 stairs and see the impressive variety of tiles from around the world. This led me right to the historical area of Santa Teresa. Boasting rows of old mansions and art museums, this hilltop neighborhood has enough to keep any wanderer busy. I closed out my day walking along the iconic beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.
The Selarón Steps contains over 2000 intricately designed ceramic tiles from all around the world.
With some rather cloudy weather, I got a local tip to head to the Copacabana Fort for a visit and brunch on the water. For only 6 Brazilian reais, or $1.14 (though if you’re lucky, you can visit for free on Tuesdays), you can have access to the fort, the museum, and several great restaurants with nice views of Copacabana Beach. After a quick tour of the fort, I enjoyed a fantastic cup of coffee with plenty of pão de queijo (Brazilian cheesy bread) to take in the views of the water.
Not only is Copacabana Fort a fascinating military base, but it holds some of the best panoramic views of the coast.
The clouds parted in the afternoon, setting me up for an unforgettable sunset from Sugarloaf Mountain. Sitting at the mouth of Guanabara Bay, Sugarloaf rises 396 meters above the water and is accessed by two glass-walled cable cars. Upon my arrival to the top, I was floored by the views of Copacabana Beach, the city center, and even Christ the Redeemer looming from above on Corcovado Mountain. I highly recommend doing a sunset tour and allowing time for some appetizers and drinks at the Classico Beach Club. The atmosphere and views are unbeatable!
Making my way up the Sugarloaf Mountain by cable car, I spotted Christ the Redeemer.
I’m a sucker for a nice hidden beach and small-town charm. My next stop checked all those boxes and more. From Rio, I flew to the city of São Luis, the capital of the northern state of Maranhão. I met up with my private guide for a 3.5-hour drive to the town of Barreirinhas (aka the gateway to Lençóis Maranhenses National Park) to then hop on a speed boat on the Rio Preguiças. The 1.5-hour ride on the boat was certainly a highlight of the day, as we passed through small fishing villages, several species of palm trees, and mangroves before arriving to the small village of Atins.
En route – a long journey well worth it!
Admittedly, after such a long trek to reach this little town, I began to wonder if the trip was worth it, considering you can easily access the national park from Barreirinhas. The thought was quickly thrown out as we hopped on the back of our 4x4 truck and drove through the sand roads to reach the hotel.
The village has an unexplainable charm to it, with simple one-story rustic homes all surrounded by cashew and coconut trees. Atins is the perfect location right off the Rio Preguiçuas, Atlantic Ocean, and national park of Lençóis – Atins village is a dream for travelers looking to hop off the beaten path for a few days.
You can find these little Capuchin monkeys in the area, though as the sign says, “Please don’t feed the monkeys.”
Just after 3pm, I arrived at the Atins Charme Chales to settle into the room and catch the sunset over the town. My chalet was the perfect blend of rustic charm and comfort, offering a private balcony with a hammock, fan, and air conditioning. The lodge also offers a great lookout tower to catch stunning views of the town and the sunset. They also offered complimentary ATV transfers to/from the beach and restaurants in town.
Atins Charme Chales is an eco-lodge stunningly built by the residents of the village.
Covering 600-square miles, Lençóis Maranhenses is a protected national park of sparklingly white sand dunes and hundreds of blue and green lagoons. This unique ecosystem is created by nearly 47 inches of rain that falls between January and June each year, plus the combination of extreme winds pushing sand as far as 30 miles inland to create up to 130-ft. high sand dunes.
‘Lençóis’ literally translates to ‘bedsheets,’ as the sand dune landscape resembles clean, white linen waving with the breeze.
My day was filled with a private adventure onboard a 4x4 truck, and hiking between the dunes to discover hidden lagoons of crystal blue-green rainwater. The whole park felt otherworldly as if I was on some sand dune version of the moon.
Since I was visiting at the start of the rainy season, we had to hike a bit further to find the natural pools, but my expert guide did a great job of finding plenty of 4 to 5-ft. deep pools for us to enjoy. After a day of hiking and riding through the park, I ended on a high note sitting on a beach chair on top of a dune, watching the sun go down over the sea of dunes.
How ‘bout this for a cherry on top?
Ready to make this virtual journey a reality? You can experience the secret treasures of Brazil too! Plus, there are plenty more glorious regions of Brazil to see. Get in touch with a Destination Expert to start customizing your expedition.
About the Author: Born and raised in the foothills of North Carolina, Adam Laughter has spent the last half-decade living and traveling throughout Latin America. With years of first-hand experience, he plans private tailormade adventures for his travelers from his home base in Lima, Peru.