Pipa Beach was only a small fishing village until it was discovered by surfers in the 1970s and has now developed into a bit of a party mecca for travelers. Well worth a visit if in the nearby area but, and I’m going to be a bit harsh here, I think the beach is not as pretty as people lead you to believe – its more of a long large beach perfect for surfing and kite boarding. You can actually find beaches to the south of Recife that are prettier and far quicker to get to than the 4 hours of so drive up to Pipa. So, my suggestion is if you’re keen for surfing / kite boarding and laid back partying, head for Pipa. If looking for beautiful beaches, stick to around Recife area
Olinda might just be one of the most picturesque places in the world. Set on a tree-covered hill next to the big North East city of Recife, Olinda is full of art workshops, galleries, churches, museums and lots, and lots, a bright graffiti. You find yourself meandering through this UNESCO World-Heritage listed Old Town’s tree-lined streets just taking endless photos of the bright colours. It must be truly immense when carnival is here
Top tip – Carneiros Beach. It was back in 2013 that I visited Olinda, so a lot will have changed and I won’t into a detailed review. But my top tip is to consider a day trip down to the Carneiros Beach area to the south of the city. Many people make the 4 hour trip up to Pipa Beach, which is nice and often on the highlights reel for this part of Brazil, but Pipa is far more catered to surfing / kite surfing and partying. Whereas, for picturesque beaches, Carneiros is beautiful and has the added advantage of having mangrove swamps to check out and various places to coat yourself in the mineral rich mud that is along the shore. Your hotel can easily arrange for you to get down there and take a boat out. Combined with Olinda, this makes a double picture-perfect trip
Sao Paulo is Brazil’s biggest city and, with that, comes the nightlife, the restaurant scene and the various other hedonistic things to get up to in a place with 20m+ Brazilians. The thing is though, as a standard visitor, you’ll basically get all of this in Rio, yet in Rio you also get the world class attractions, stunning beaches and glorious bay settings. Whereas Sao Paulo doesn’t really have any particularly redeeming features other than being a giant Brazilian City. The Jardins District is nice, but its not enough of a pull unless you’re passing through anyway. I’d recommend prioritising at least 10 other experiences in Brazil ahead of Sao Paulo
The views over stunning Rio de Janeiro Harbour ( . . . one of the Natural Wonders of the World) from Sugar Loaf Mountain, walking along the sands of the world-famous Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches, and heading up the cog train to see Christ the Redeemer (. . . one of the Wonders of the World), Rio has about as many world-class highlights as any city in the world and is a must if visiting Brazil
Naturally, with such fame comes crowds, and it’s hard to really avoid them in the main sites where it can be a bit energy sapping as you’re queuing and wedged in with thousands of fellow tourists. My biggest tip to counter this is to break up your visits to the main sites with a chilled out day on one of the beaches, the real heart of Rio, and to join one of the high-tempo Brazilian cooking courses, in particular with the now famous Simone Almeida’s Cook in Rio located in the Copacabana neighbourhood. You’ll learn to make 4 traditional Brazilian dishes, but its the enthusiasm Simone provides, to both the food and the endless caipirinhas she plugs you with, that makes this so fun
The combination of the world-famous highlights of Rio and the fun of the cooking class made these 2 days in Rio a superb experience
I only stayed in Rio for 3 days so don’t feel that I can do this superb city justice with a full review, but the one extra tip I will give is to just be aware of the crime risk. As with all large Brazilian cities, crime is a problem so use a bit of common sense. Always carry something to hand over like a basic wallet with some small cash in if, in the unfortunate instance, you do get robbed, and hand everything over you have been asked – thieves in Latin America really don’t mess about. Take taxis in the evening, and totally avoid the beaches at night. In fact, the beaches are so huge, that you can actually get robbed in the daytime – fun times!