Backpacking / travel routes

Published on August 15, 2021

Often thought of as a separate part of South America entirely, Brazil is by far the largest country on the continent covering over 47% of the landmass. It’s so big that it covers four different time zones! For sheer size reasons, Brazil can be a trip entirely on its own, but with a different language, culture and feel to the rest of South America it can seem like you are in a different continent altogether.

Below we list five suggestions of travel routes that can be made in 15 to 20 days (each), or longer if you want to take more time to relax. For most of them, the best strategy is to buy a multi-destinations ticket. That is, you arrive by plane in the city that is the start of your journey, cover your trip by land (or water) and take a plane back home in the city that is the final stop of the adventure.

Rota das emoções

The route of thrill (rota das emoções) received its name thanks to the roads to be travelled – some parts can only be done in 4×4 vehicles and with authorized guides due to the conditions of some stretches, which are not paved and some go through private properties.

The difficult access makes the trip even more special, at least for those who enjoy adventure, because what you'll find is very well preserved natural landscapes.

Stops on this route

A – Fortaleza (Ceará)

B – Jericoacoara (Ceará)

C – Delta do Parnaíba (Piauí)

D – Lençóis Maranhenses (Maranhão)

E – São Luís (Maranhão)

Jericoacoara, Delta do Parnaíba and the Lençóis Maranhenses all in one trip! And you'll also get to know Fortaleza and São Luís, the cities for which you should buy your flights (or bus tickets).

The order of visitation doesn't matter, but you should either start in Fortaleza and go home from São Luís or the other way around. The route you should follow is the one on the map above – a trip of about a thousand kilometers passing through three Brazilian states.

Fortaleza » Jeri

Stay two or three days in Fortaleza (reserve one day for the Beach Park – one of the biggest water parks in South America – if this type of program interests you). Then go to Jeri(coacoara), where you can stay for four days. It's 300 kilometers to cover by road. The most practical ways to go are 4x4 (more expensive) or bus + dune transfer (cheaper).

If you choose the second alternative, you will go by bus until Jijoca de Jericoacoara, on a six-hour trip, and from there you will get a 4x4 dune transfer to Jeri. You can also cover this stretch by renting a car, but get ready to encounter sand roads, so get an appropriate vehicle. As the start and finish of the rota das emoções are separated by more than 1000 kilometers, it only compensates to go by car if it's your own – renting a vehicle is usually only worth it, financially, when you can pick it up and return it in the same city.

Jeri » Parnaíba » Lençóis

After spending some time in Jeri, it's time to continue the trip. The most comfortable alternative is to hire a travel package from an agency, which you can do when you arrive in Jeri. This would, however, also be a more expensive alternative. The agency brings you to Barreirinhas, in the Lençóis Maranhenses national park, but first will make a stop in the Parnaíba Delta, in Piauí.

There is also a cheaper way of reaching the Parnaíba Delta: Go to Camocim first, on a trip that lasts about two hours and has daily transfers by 4x4 vehicles leaving from Jeri. You can schedule it at your hotel. From there, take a bus to the Delta. The company that does this route is called Expresso Guanabara.

Stay two or three days in the Delta and go to Barreirinhas, gateway to Lençóis Maranhenses. If you hired the rota das emoções travel package, this stretch will be covered as well. If you prefer to save money, the alternative involves another stopover, this time in Paulino Neves. The trip takes 3,5 hours and is done by Viação Coimbra. From there, you can take a 4x4 to Barreirinhas, a journey of 2,5 hours. Generally, the best way to organize all of this is talking with the reception of your hotel or look for agencies in the city itself.

Lençóis » São Luís

Did you arrive in Barreirinhas? Stay four or five days at least. So you will have plenty of time to discover the Lençóis Maranhenses. From there, go to São Luís, on a path that lasts between four and six hours and can be made by van or bus. The van is faster and leaves you at your hotel in São Luís, while the bus has more stops along the way and leaves you at the São Luís bus terminal.

That's it! Spend the rest of your time to get to know the capital of Maranhão and from there you can take your flight back home.

Historic cities of Minas Gerais

The previous route might be a little complex, unless it is done through a travel agency, but the next travel route is much simpler. And your best bet, especially if you are not travelling alone, is to rent a car. On this route you don't need to buy a ticket for multiple destinations – buy a roundtrip to Belo Horizonte. You will travel around 600 kilometers and return to the state's capital.

Stops on this route

A – Belo Horizonte

B – Ouro Preto

C – Mariana

D – Congonhas

E – São João del Rei

F – Tiradentes

G – Inhotim / Brumadinho

If you choose to rent a car, you have two options: do it as soon as you get off the plane at the Tancredo Neves international airport or in the city center. The first choice facilitates your displacement to the center of Belo Horizonte (BH), but the car may not be as useful while you are in the capital. If your trip is on a weekend, great, you will have less traffic or difficulty finding parking spaces.

If the trip is during the week, it may be best to go to BH by Uber or take the airport connection bus. Get to know BH on foot and public transportation, and rent a car when you start your route to the historic cities. Stay at least two or three days in the city.

Belo Horizonte » Ouro Preto

From BH go to Ouro Preto, which is about 100 kilometers from the capital. For this, take BR 040, direction Rio de Janeiro. Stay at least two nights in the city, which can serve as a basis for visiting Mariana – the first capital of Minas Gerais – and Lavras Novas – a charming district of Ouro Preto.

If you're without a car, the Pássaro Verde bus company facilitates the stretch BH – Ouro Preto. The trip lasts just over two hours and leave every hour from the bus terminal of Belo Horizonte, in the city center. Use the urban transportation in Ouro Preto to visit Mariana and Lavras Novas.

Ouro Preto » Congonhas » São João del Rei » Tiradentes

About 60 kilometers separate Ouro Preto from Congonhas, the historic city of the prophets of Aleijadinho. You can visit this city in a day and leave after getting to know the prophets and the other attractions that the city has to offer, or you can spend a night there. By bus, this stretch involves a stopover: you need to go to Ouro Branco and from there to Congonhas.

From Congonhas, head to São João del Rei, on a trip of 110 kilometers. Not travelling by car? The good news is that the buses that make the route BH - São João del Rei, stop in Congonhas. The bad news is that they can arrive crowded, so book in advance.

You can stay one night in São João del Rei and then head to Tiradentes, a tiny, but friendly city. The two cities are practically siblings: there's only 16 kilometers between them. There are frequent buses between the two or you can consider Uber or taxi, but it is also possible to make the route with Maria Fumaça – a train that is also a tourist attraction.

Tiradentes » Inhotim

After two or three nights in Tiradentes, go back in the direction of BH. Whoever is by car does not need to enter the capital. You can go until the Serra da Moeda and from there arrive in Inhotim for an alternative (and much more beautiful) route.

The Inhotim is home to one of the largest foundations of contemporary art in Brazil and one of the largest outdoor art centers in Latin America. It is recommended to stay at one of the inns that appear more or less around the museum, in Brumadinho or Casa Branca, and then return to Belo Horizonte. Whoever goes by bus must return from Tiradentes to Belo Horizonte and from the bus terminal take another bus that goes to Inhotim.

Rio Grande do Sul & Santa Catarina

During this trip you will get to know the two states of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina, in the south of Brazil. This time a multi-destinations passage is advised, with arrival in Porto Alegre and return from Florianópolis (or the other way around). Therefore, it only makes sense to rent a car for specific stretches, but for the whole trip the best means of transport would be by bus, or a privately owned car.

Stops on this route

A – Porto Alegre (RS)

B – Gramado (RS)

C – Canela (RS)

D – Balneário Camboriú (SC)

E – Blumenau (SC)

F – Florianópolis (SC)

Arrive in Porto Alegre and stay two or three nights there. The old town and the Moinhos de Vento neighborhood have good lodging options. After getting to know the highlights of Porto Alegre, go to Gramado. There are several buses a day, both from the bus terminal and from the airport.

Porto Alegre » Gramado

Stay two or three nights in Gramado and take the chance to get to know Canela as well, a neighboring town that is full of attractions, such as the Caracol Park and the Catedral de Pedra. Urban buses connect the two cities, which are very close to each other.

In this region you also have the opportunity to ski, because in Gramado you can find Snowland – the first indoor snow park of Latin America. If you are travelling at the end of the year, be sure to visit Natal Luz – a festival that takes place annually within the city.

Another option is to go from Gramado to Bento Gonçalves, a city that serves as an entrance to the beautiful vineyard valley – the most important region for the production of wines in Brazil. There are 111 kilometers of road to cover – various tourist agencies offer tranfers, which end up being the most practical way to travel there.

Gramado » Balneário

Time to continue to Balneário Camboriú. There are daily buses between Gramado and the city in Santa Catarina. The company that does the journey is ViaSul, which leaves every night.

Stay four or more nights in Balneário Camboriú, giving you time to enjoy the city's beaches. Good places to stay can be found at the central beach or along the Interpraias road. It is worth remembering that Balneário has a bustling nightlife, various tourist attractions and is very busy in high season.

Balneário » Blumenau » Florianópolis

From Balneário you can get to know another city of Santa Catarina: Blumenau, which has a strong German inheritance. It is the place where the Oktoberfest of Brazil takes place every year. The trip between the two cities takes about 1,5 hours with the bus company called Catarinense. It is possible to make it back on the same day or stay overnight in Blumenau. Another possibility is to spend a day at Beto Carrero World, which is the largest theme park in Latin America, at 40 kilometers from Balneário.

Now it's time to go to Florianópolis, where you stay until the end of your trip. Bus company Catarinense also facilitates this leg of the trip, which lasts about 1,5 hours as well. And Floripa doesn't need an effort of convincing you to visit, it will be another highlight of the trip!

Bahia & Espírito Santo

On this trip you will get to know some of the most famous beaches in Bahia, but you will also be able to unravel a very beautiful state, still little known by Brazilians themselves: Espírito Santo.

In the region of the Costa do Descobrimento (Discovery Coast), in the south of Bahia, it is possible to learn about the origins of the country, in addition to the incredible natural beauty that will enchant those who visit for the first time.

Stops on this route

A – Vitória & Vila Velha (ES)

B – Guarapari (ES)

C – Conceição da Barra & Dunas de Itaúnas (ES)

D – Porto Seguro, Arraial d’Ajuda, Trancoso & Caraíva (BA)

E – Itacaré (BA)

F – Salvador (BA)

This is the biggest of the five routes we discuss here. Not in distance – it's about 1400 kilometers, just 200 kilometers short of the next route – but in number of places to visit. As many of these places are beaches, the total duration varies according to the time you want to stay, and relax, in each place.

Again, it's advised to buy a passage with multiple destinations with arrival in Vitória, in the state of Espírito Santo, and return from Salvador, Bahia (or the other way around). Stay at least two nights in Vitória, take the opportunity to get to know Vila Velha as well, and witness the beautiful view from the Convento da Penha.

Vitória » Guarapari

From Victoria you could take advantage of the opportunity to make trips to attractions around the capital. Serra Capixaba is a possibility close to Vitória, as well as Guarapari, the largest seaside resort in the state. Guarapari is worth a strategic stop of two or more days, especially if you're not travelling in high season when the city gets very crowded and chaotic.

Because of the large number of attractions around Vitoria, it is interesting to rent a car for that part of the trip. This will give you the freedom to get to know everything calmly. If driving is not an option, you can still go by bus. For example, the trip between Vitória and Guarapari leaves throughout the day and lasts about one hour.

Guarapari » Conceição da Barra » Porto Seguro

It's a 5,5 hour bus trip to Conceição da Barra, which has beaches with warm waters and deserves a couple days of travel. But the great attraction there is Dunas de Itaúnas, a village that was buried by sand dunes decades ago and had to move to a different place. In addition to beautiful beaches, one of the highlights is the nightlifte, which is known for its forró (a northeastern music and dance style). Busses make the route between the two cities daily, which takes 50 minutes.

After two days in Itaúnas it's time to go to Porto Seguro, for which it's necessary to go back to Conceição da Barra and from there catch a bus to São Mateus. The route between São Mateus and Porto Seguro has two daily outputs and takes around 7 hours. You've arrived on the Costa do Descobrimento!

Porto Seguro » Itacaré » Salvador

As it was convenient to rent a car in Vitória, it will be even more so in Porto Seguro. It will really facilitate your travels to get to know cities and districts around, such as Santa Cruz Cabralia, Arraial d'Ajuda, Trancoso, Praia do Espelho and Caraíva. It is also possible to visit these places using public transport, mainly Arraial d’Ajuda, for which you just need to take a ferry, and Santa Cruz, which can be visited easily without a car.

Next stop: Itacaré. This is the longest stretch you'll need to cover, around 8 hours by bus. Destination for adventure tourism, beautiful beaches and a friendly village, all of which makes Itacaré a special place. Stay at least three nights there. From Itacaré we continue to the last stop: Salvador. For this, the best way is to get a bus to Bom Despacho and from there catch the ferry to the Bahian capital. Some Itacaré travel agencies offer transportation to Salvador, but this is a more expensive option.

Manaus to Belém by boat

Certainly the north is the most exotic region to discover in Brazil. This area houses most of the Amazon rainforest, a region rich in natural beauty, history, art and gastronomy.

This route is popular with foreigners who wish to explore the world's largest tropical rainforest. The two largest cities in the region – Belém and Manaus – are port cities and receive dozens of vessels every day. Among them, boats that offer transfers between the municipalities.

Stops on this route

A – Manaus (AM)

B – Parintins (AM)

C – Santarém (PA)

D – Alter do Chão (PA)

E – Ilha de Marajó (PA)

F – Belém (PA)

There are more than 1600 kilometers to cover by water between Manaus and Belém, altogether those are four days of travel on board of regional boats. It is possible to do the trip in the other direction, but you will be travelling upstream so it will take a little bit longer (5 days) – so keep that in mind. During this trip, travellers have the opportunity to talk to natives and tourists from all corners of the world, besides experiencing the routines of people living in this region, appreciate beautiful Amazonian landscapes and getting to know riverside communities.

Do not expect luxury on this trip in the north of Brazil, the boats do not offer much comfort or memorable gastronomy. All very rustic, but an unforgettable experience. The wings of accommodation are separated into two classes: the ward of hammocks, where travellers sleep together in the same space, and private cabins, which are small rooms with just a bed.

The experience of travelling the Amazon river in traditional vessels for a few days, no doubt will stay in your memory. To make the most of the journey the ideal is to add some stops along the way and discover some of the most desired travel destinations in Brazil, such as Alter do Chão, Ilha de Marajó and Parintins.

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