Renowned for its diverse heritage, Brazil has long served as a getaway for Black travelers looking to escape to warmer weather,picturesque beaches and breathtaking landscapes. Home to the largest population of African descent outside of Africa, with around 56 percent of Brazilians identifying as Black, the country is filled with strong diaspora customs that show the importance of our contributions. It’s why from the moment you step off the plane, the energy and familiarity of both the people and the place engulf you.
The country’s main destinations, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Salvador da Bahia, each offer something different for the Brazil–curious traveler. Rio is known for its natural wonders, world-famous tourist spots, exciting nightlife and beautiful beaches. It’s usually the first city that comes to mind when you think of Brazil. São Paulo, on the other hand, is the country’s cultural epicenter. Similar to what New York is to the United States or Mexico City is to Mexico, São Paulo features numerous museums, luxury hotels and eclectic dining experiences, plus an abundance of street art and a multiethnic social scene. And then there’s Bahia, the mecca of the Afro-Brazilian experience. As -Brazil’s most African state, it is the heartbeat of the nation, filled with a rich and flavorful history of diasporic culture.
Of course, you may also want to sunbathe on world-famous Copacabana Beach, see the historic Christ the Redeemer statue and take in the magnificent views from Sugarloaf Mountain.
For those visiting Brazil for the first time, here are some don’t-miss experiences in this vibrant South American country.
SEE: Considered among Rio’s most famous landmarks, Escadaria Selarón, or the Selarón Steps, are the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón. He decorated the steps as his “tribute to the Brazilian people,” and they have even become popular in American culture (they appear in Snoop Dogg and Pharrell’s “Beautiful” music video). The steps run from Joaquim Silva Street to Pinto Martins Street and are so striking, they’re hard to miss.
EAT: In Rio, the Black woman–co-owned Meza Bar helped to establish Botafogo as a dining and nightlife hot spot when it opened in 2008. This and Yayá Comidaria are chef Andressa Cabral’s sought-after eateries, with visitors always coming back for more. Biyou’Z Gastronomia Africana, in São Paulo, is a traditional African restaurant serving authentic dishes such as croquetas and crudo.
DO: One of the biggest draws to the country is its Carnival celebration, typically in January or February. Thankfully, you can experience this all year long with the Carnival Experience at the Grande Rio Samba School. Open to visitors who want to know a little more about the creation and production of Carnival parades, the school operates in the months leading up to the annual event at Sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí, each Carnival season. You’ll get to go behind the scenes to see how the costumes and the assembly of the big cars are done by hand—and to meet the hard-working people behind the revelry.
STAY: While you’re in Rio, a hotel on the beach will put you close to all the action. Fairmont Rio de Janeiro Copacabana is located in one of the most spectacular places in the seaside city, the -Copacabana Beach, while Hotel Fasano Rio de Janeiro is situated on Rio’s legendary Ipanema Beach. Both offer sophisticated luxury and are rated among the city’s best accommodations. In São Paulo, the art-filled JW Marriott São Paulo, located in the upscale business district of Chácara Santo Antônio, will take your breath away when you walk through its lobby doors. It’s a no-brainer as one of the best hotels for a unique local experience.
This originally appeared in July/August 2023 issue of ESSENCE magazine, on newsstands now!