PHOTOS: The best beach towns in Brazil – our top 8 picks

There’s more to Brazil than carnival. Whether you are a laid-back beachcomber or die-hard partier, Brazil has a beach for you!

The largest country in South America, Brazil has over 4,600 miles of coastline and is home to hundreds of amazing beaches. We had the chance to explore many of them during the two months we spent beach-hopping from Sao Paolo to Natal.

Below are the 8 most beautiful beach towns we visited.

Maceio Brazil Beach Sea Urchin

Leslie and Jake befriending sea urchins off the coast of Maceio, Brazil.

>> Is your favorite Brazilian beach missing from this list? Share it with other readers by leaving a comment below!

#8. Trindade

Paraty Brazil Beach Coastline

Trindade is the quintessential beach town. Dreadlocked hippies roam the beaches selling handcrafted jewelry, vacationers sip beer at beachfront cafes, and more adventurous travelers hike up rock formations for stellar views of the coastline. Trindade offers great swimming, hiking and fine white sand. What more could you ask for in a beach destination?

#7. Paraty

Paraty Brazil Beach Rocks

Just a 45-minute public bus ride from Trindade is the colonial town of Paraty, an excellent base of operations for your Brazilian beach vacation. You can easily fill your days snapping photos of 18th century buildings, eating traditional Brazilian meals, visiting neighboring beaches and going down the natural “waterslide” (a boulder sitting in the middle of a waterfall). Four nights is more than enough to experience the local attractions– but you might find it hard to tear yourself away!

#6. Praia da Pipa

This laid-back beach town is a 2-hour bus ride from the northern city of Natal. Popular among European tourists, it is known as a good place to swim with dolphins. If you are looking to get close to these intelligent mammals, simply walk to the public beach, wade in and wait for an encounter. (To maximize your chance of a dolphin sighting, bring a flotation device so you won’t tire as quickly and can spend more time in the water). If hiking is more your style, head to the Ecological Sanctuary to walk in the forest; don’t miss their miniature labyrinth, which is surprisingly challenging. You wouldn’t come to Brazil just to visit Pipa, but it is a pleasant stop on the Brazilian coast.

#5. Maceio

Maceio beach Brazil

When you think of Brazilian beaches, this port city in Alagoas state would not come to mind. It is barely mentioned in the Lonely Planet and we didn’t encounter any American tourists during our stay. However, Maceio offers the comforts of an urban destination (like business hotels and solid public transportation) with beautiful, uncrowded beaches. Fishing boats line the shore and offer to ferry visitors to a nearby reef for about $9 each (depending on your ability to haggle in Portuguese).

#4. Praia do Gunga

Praia de Gunga Beach in Brazil

We took a boat excursion from Maceio to the island of Praia do Gunga, considered one of Brazil’s most beautiful beaches, for under $10 per person. Since this area isn’t geared toward international tourism, a working knowledge of Portuguese or Spanish will help you get by. We became friendly with a Brazilian couple at our hotel in Maceio and they helped us to book this boat trip. While there may be a language gap, Brazilians are usually very friendly and willing to help!

#3. Ilha Grande

Ilha Grande Beach in Brazil

This island is located just off the coast of Rio de Janeiro but is a world away. You won’t find chain hotels or cars plying the cobblestone streets and the main activities are swimming, hiking, indulging in decadent desserts and having a drink in the village square. Most hostels and family-run guest houses (known as “pousadas”) are located on the hills surrounding the square; they are affordable and typically include a homemade breakfast. The beaches are adequate (and perhaps the best you will find so close to Rio de Janeiro), but we were more attracted to the hiking trails that led to a swimming hole, an aqueduct and the ruins of a colonial prison.

#2. Morro de Sao Paulo

Located off the coast of Salvador de Bahia, this island is known for its nightlife. While it is a required stop on the Brazilian backpacker trail, Morro de Sao Paulo is not filled with 18 year old “gap year” students; in fact, when we visited most travelers were Argentine. The island is safe, laid back and charming; since cars are not allowed, local men offer to transport your luggage on wheelbarrows. Each beach has a unique character and we enjoyed exploring them all. It’s easy to walk from one beach to the next, although you may have to keep tides in mind when you make your crossing. Morro de Sao Paulo is the perfect compliment to the bustling city of Salvador, which offers rich Afro-Brazilian culture and delicious cuisine.

#1. Fernando de Noronha

Leslie_Fernando de Noronha Brazil

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again… Fernando de Noronha has the most beautiful beaches in the world! This remote archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean can only be reached by by plane from the mainland cities of Recife and Natal. Tourism on this UNESCO World Heritage Site is restricted and a visitor’s fee is required in order to preserve the abundant marine life, which includes dolphins and sea turtles. As a result, you can spend hours hiking or swimming without seeing another traveler. You won’t find a Marriott here; most visitors stay in locally-owned guesthouses known as pousadas that offer homemade breakfast and tourist tips. Off-shore snorkeling is allowed at most beaches and scuba diving is excellent. We brought our own snorkel gear and came across giant sea turtles about 10 feet from the beach. This is not a budget destination– but it is well worth the cost of the flight and entry fee.

For more info

To learn more about Brazil’s beach destinations, visit the Brazilian tourism website or follow Visit Brazil on Twitter (@visitbrasil) or Facebook.

We fell in love with Brazil during our beach-hopping adventure and are always looking for new areas to explore. If you have a favorite Brazilian destination, please share your pick by leaving a comment below! If you are reading this via email or RSS subscription, click on Downtown Traveler to leave a comment.

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About Leslie Koch

I'm a New Yorker with a passion for travel and art. I founded DowntownTraveler.com after returning from a year-long backpacking trip around the world. Find me on Twitter at @leslietravel.