The largest country in South America, Brazil stretches from the legendary Amazon Rainforest to the sun-drenched beaches and colonial cities of the southeast. It’s garnered a reputation for its spirited people and love affair with football, which saw it the centre of the world’s attention during the 2014 World Cup.

Brazil is brimming with destinations not to miss. But if time’s limited, here’s our pick of five that should be at the top of your list, from one of its liveliest cities to wildlife-filled landscapes and otherworldly dunes.

Rio de Janeiro

Framed by Sugarloaf Mountain and with stunning beaches on all sides, Rio de Janeiro is arguably one of the world’s most beautiful cities. It’s watched over by the 38-meter tall Christ the Redeemer and clustered with colourful neighbourhoods such as Santa Teresa and Lapa with its mosaic Escadaria Selaron. Kick back on the sands of Copacabana or experience the passion and energy of a football game at the world-famous Maracanã.

“An elevated views looking down across the city of Rio”

Iguaçu Falls

Straddling the border between Brazil and Argentina, the Iguaçu Falls are one of many South American natural wonders to tick off your bucket list. Walking trails that lead to viewing platforms meander through the UNESCO-listed park, with the Brazilian side renowned for its views that encompass the cascade in its entirety. If time allows, cross over to the Argentinian side to explore the more extensive forest trails and experience the “thunder” of Iguaçu from the Garganta del Diablo (“Devil’s Throat”).

“Surrounded by lush jungle, the Iguaçu Falls comprise the largest waterfall system in the world”

The Pantanal

Teeming with native wildlife, such as jaguars, capybaras and tapirs, the Pantanal is a sprawling wetland in the state of Mato Grasso do Sul. It’s an animal enthusiasts paradise, with more than 1,000 bird species and 10 million caimans having been recorded here. Compared to the Amazon jungle, the vegetation is far more conducive to wildlife spotting, with your choice of jaguar patrols, birdwatching tours and wildlife safaris that will get you up close.

“Wildlife-spotting in the Pantanal”

Salvador da Bahia

With its unique Afro-Brazilian culture, Salvador da Bahia is a vibrant coastal city that’s been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It clusters around the historic district of Pelourinho whose atmospheric, cobblestone streets are lined with colourful buildings and open-air squares where you can watch the world go by. From admiring the architecture of São Francisco to seeing a live capoeira dance performance and kicking back on the sands of Porto de Barra, Salvador da Bahia offers plenty to keep you entertained.

“Colourful colonial buildings line the streets of Salvador”

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

Situated in the northeastern state of Maranhão, the Lençóis Maranhenses National Park protects a vast area of immense sand dunes that have been sculpted over centuries. The park is at its most spectacular following the rains when lagoons form within the undulating landscape to create natural swimming holes. Mangrove swamps teeming with wildlife fringe the dunes while unique species such as tiger fish lay dormant in the mud throughout much of the year, waiting for the park to transform into a watery wonderland.

“Seasonal rainfall creates a natural lagoon in the dunes of Lençóis Maranhenses”

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