Brazil: The name itself evokes images of colourful Carnaval samba parades, golden sandy beaches, notorious favelas, and the Amazon rainforest. I’ve long dreamed of going to Brazil to experience this unique mélange of culture, and I recently had the chance to explore the country with G Adventures.

The “Wonders of Brazil” trip brought me through the southern parts of the country, showing me its various sides, including colonial towns, jungles, waterfalls, and beaches. We not only got to see the essential sights, but also got to meet Brazilians along the way, sample the local cuisine, and dig deep through layers of culture.

Out of all the amazing memories I made on this trip, here are five of my favourites:

1. Island-hopping in Paraty

Our first stop was the quaint fishing town of Paraty, located on Ilha Grande Bay. Brazil’s southeastern coast is dotted with over 65 islands – some of them have been converted into private resorts, while others remain uninhabited and remote. I took the opportunity to go island-hopping on a schooner and it was tons of fun swimming in the warm sea, hiking up to the islands, watching golden lion monkeys in their natural habitat, and drinking way too many capirinhas with my travel mates.

Boats line the harbour in the quaint fishing town of Paraty.

2. Feeling the power of the Iguassu Falls

I’ve seen quite a few waterfalls in my life, but none of them come close to Foz do Iguaçu – Iguazu Falls. Standing next to it, with the spray in the air and the sound of thundering water from afar, it’s hard to not be moved by this wonderful masterpiece of nature. From the Argentinean side, we could literally walk into the heart of the falls (at the Devil’s Throat) and take a boat ride under the tumbling waters. On the Brazilian side, we feasted on panoramic views of the falls from all directions.

I’ve seen quite a few waterfalls in my life, but none of them come close to Foz do Iguaçu – Iguazu Falls.

3. Indulging in Brazilian churrasco and caipirinhas

Before going to Brazil, I’d long heard about the famous churrascarias (steak houses) and rodízios (meat buffets). In Iguassu, a friend of our CEO invited us to his home for an authentic churrasco, and we jumped at the opportunity. Our gregarious host tossed chunks of fresh red meat onto his grill and cooked them to perfection over the charcoal spit. It turned out to be the best meal we had in the whole trip. After the feast, there was an endless flow of capirinhas and hip-hop tunes – and even a surprise appearance of two sexy samba dancers!

The Brazilian churrasco.

4. Wildlife-watching in the Pantanal

Towards the end of our trip, we headed into the Pantanal for a two-day excursion. A large, flat wetland area about half the size of France, the Pantanal is considered one of the best places in the country to encounter wildlife. Led by our indigenous guide Carlos, we explored on foot, on horseback, and by open-roofed truck and spotted quite a handful of animals: howler monkeys, several types of macaws, caracara (falcon), geckos, anaconda, and hundreds of caiman. Sadly, according to Carlos, the area has been suffering from drought for over three years and the water levels are decreasing rapidly. The animals are slowly losing their habitat and the their lives are at stake.

A Caiman lurks in the waters of the Pantanal.

5. Experiencing Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro

I also had the good fortune to visit Brazil during the biggest festival of the year: Carnaval. Every February, Rio plays host to the world’s biggest street parties and samba parades. Along with my travel mates, I danced and sang to samba beats for days and nights on end.

Undoubtedly the highlight of Carnaval is the samba parade at the Sambadrome. With their 20m-high (66 ft) elaborately decorated floats, troupes of costumed dancers, samba drummers in the thousands, and sexy Carnaval queens and transvestites, the Sambadrome parade is known as one of the biggest shows on Earth. It was definitely the most impressive show I’ve seen in my life, in terms of magnitude, atmosphere and the sheer energy of participants.

Thrilling! The samba parade at the Sambadrome.

Getting There

Looking to make a Brazil top five for yourself? G Adventures runs a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you Brazil in a way you’ve never seen it — check out our small group trips here.