Explore gay Brazil: from gay Rio to Praia do Sancho, discover our 10 favourite Brazilian wonders

Three parts natural wonder, two parts idyllic coastline, one part cosmopolitanism, and adornment of bronzed, carnival-ready bodies, Brazil serves up a potent blend that’ll make you giddy with possibility. South America’s largest nation, Brazil is all about sunshine, sea and soccer, boasting a population that is passionate yet laidback; bootylicious yet humble. Brazilians will certainly show you what a good time looks like, but it is the rainforest and that will leave you dumbstruck. Around Brazil’s best cities lie large swaths of rainforest that safeguard incredible biodiversity and indigenous life, all awaiting your visit. Discover both metropolis and mangrove within our rundown of gay Brazil and our 10 favourite Brazilian wonders.

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LGBT travellers in Brazil

One of the more liberal countries in Latin America, Brazil can be a haven for the gay community. Although ‘machismo’ culture is prevalent and locals in rural towns may disapprove of same-sex couples, this shouldn’t put you off what is otherwise a welcoming and diverse nation. To find our people, big cities are of course the best bet, with Rio, São Paulo and, to a lesser extent, Salvador home to lively gay communities and a strong stock of gay bars, clubs and cafés. The tech takeover of hook-up and dating apps means there are fewer gay and lesbian bars than in the past, but opportunities to meet are better than ever. Mixed crowds and all-welcome affairs are common in bars and clubs, where dancing in good company is the main agenda.

Outside of the big three, other Brazilian cities to host annual gay pride events include Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Florianópolis and even Manaus – a city deep in the Amazon rainforest. If in doubt while travelling around the country, the capital cities within each state are most likely to offer LGBTQ+ meeting points. Follow local guides and events listings to discover regular gay events, parties and festivals running throughout the year.

Photo: Davi Moreira

Photo: Cerqueira

1. Rio de Janeiro

Our first Brazilian wonder lies among the people in the carnival capital of the world, Rio de Janeiro. Once voted the sexiest city on Earth among LGBTQ+ people, Rio has since become a hotspot for queer folk with a love of dance parties and all-over tans. Moments from both sea and rainforest, Rio offers all manner of adventure excursions. The city’s local beaches, such as Ipanema and Copacabana, offer opportunities to mingle with the LGBTQ+ community with the additional option of full nudity on Abricó Beach or something a bit naughtier at Farme de Amoedo. Inland slightly, Brazil’s stunning mountains and wildlife-packed forests present more possibilities, such as trekking, bird watching and swimming in epic surroundings.

The Rio de Janeiro gay scene has been alive and kicking since the ‘gay ball’ heyday of the 1930s, a scene which still exists to the day. Festival season is another excuse for a party, with February’s Mardi Gras and June’s Pride Parade taking the festivities from street to beach. Carnival happens at the start of Mardi Gras and of course takes the prize for top gay attraction, allowing for wild costumes and heavily sequined self-expression! Festival season or not, start the party with a trip to the Ipanema and Leblon neighbourhoods where gay Rio de Janeiro comes together for gay venues, art galleries and fun shops. Get more Rio de Janeiro turismo insights, uncovering the city’s best attractions, hiking spots and samba halls in our Rio de Janeiro travel guide.

Photo: Elizeu Dias

2. Salvador

Moving up the east coast into the State of Bahia, we eventually come to the lively city of Salvador, the former capital of Brazil. Carnival rhythms survive in Salvador year-round, energising the city’s bars and clubs and seeping into the hearts and minds of locals and travellers. Vivid colours add to Salvador’s burning intensity, whether that’s painted heritage houses, exotic market handicrafts or local delicacies of acarajé (black-eyed fritters) and moqueca (seafood stew). Beaches and forests lie within easy reach, separated from the Upper City yet accessible via the impressive Lacerda Elevator. Once at sea level, get an even better perspective on the region with a ferry ride through the Bay of All Saints, stopping off at the famed Itaparica Island for a tranquil retreat. The Barra Lighthouse and port on the mainland also offer calm moments amid stunning sundown views.

When the party comes calling, make your way to the Red River neighbourhood for bohemian vibes and cachaça-laced lime cocktails with flirtatious locals. The culmination of the yearly calendar for Gay Salvador de Bahia is the huge carnival – one of the nation’s largest street events – when the entire city comes outside to appreciate music, dance and culture as one. Another of the best annual LGBTQ+ events in the vicinity is the San Island Weekend, a local favourite based in the nearby city of Morro de São Paulo.

As well as the colourful nightlife, come to Salvador to experience the mystery and allure of ancient Brazil. One of the country’s main cultural centres, with a diverse blend of African, Amerindian and European traditions, the city offers up a unique composition, particularly in its food, folklore and handicrafts. Pelourinho, dubbed with UNESCO World Heritage status, is the oldest part of the city and holds the largest colonial-era neighbourhood in Latin America, where baroque churches, mansions and palaces from the 16th and 17th centuries imbue the city with an air of sun-worn riches. Fill your schedule with water sports, outdoor excursions and dance lessons, reading up on Mr Hudson’s top things to do in Salvador before you go!

Salvador | Photo: Soel84

3. Armação dos Búzios

Escape the urban chaos for an interlude along the southeast coast within the charming town of Armação dos Búzios. The one-time beach retreat of ’60s icon Brigitte Bardot and a jewel of Rio de Janeiro state, Armação dos Búzios lies on a jagged peninsula making for some fantastic views and numerous hidden beach spots. What was a 18th-century fishing village has since become a luxury vacation destination among tourists and locals alike. Depending on what you like to get up to, Armação dos Búzios has a beach for it. Its southern beaches generally benefit from the best surfable waves and unkempt beauty, while in the north – closer to the town centre – you’ll find calmer shores and better amenities.

Once the sun sets on Buzios’ beautiful surroundings, the town’s many shops, bars and restaurants become alive with cheery beachgoers heading back through Centro after a day of sunbathing, snorkelling and scuba diving. Join them on the main streets or head to more exclusive spots such as a rooftop bar and salsa club. Either way, while there are no official gay bars, you’re bound to meet like-minded gay tourists and locals at some point. To leave nothing to chance, schedule your visit in July for the town’s carnival when gay Buzios comes out in full (and feathered) force.

Armação dos Búzios | Photo: Tadeu Jnr

Photo: Philipe Cavalcante

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Self-titled the eco-tourism capital of the world, Bonito is a small slice of luxury surrounded by nature in the central-west state of Mato Grosso do Sul

4. Bonito, Mato Grosso do Sul

Self-titled the eco-tourism capital of the world, Bonito is a small slice of luxury surrounded by nature in the central-west state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Bordering Bolivia and Paraguay and serving as the gateway to the Pantanal wetlands in the northwest, this region is best known for its natural beauty; abundant in wildlife as well as natural caves, lakes and lagoons. While the state capital is Campo Grande, Bonito Brasil wins our vote thanks to its eco-tourism credentials and its proximity to outdoor adventures such as jungle trekking, river cruising, snorkelling and swimming.

One of Brazil’s best kept secrets and all the more special for it, Bonito Mato Grosso do Sul is sure to be a trip highlight. Leave the partying for a few nights to embrace Bonito on its own terms. You may think you’ve tried snorkelling before but we guarantee visiting either Rio de Prata ecological preserve or Rio Sucuri will bring a whole new meaning to the term. Book a boat and snorkelling tour winding through the jungle along the Prata or Sucuri Rivers before submerging into some of the clearest waters on earth. Better than any aquarium, the Prata River (as well as many of the region’s lakes and caves) teem with colourful marine life and bubbling sand activity that’ll leave you awestruck. Get to Bonito via Campo Grande bus terminal or Pantanal, both journeys taking around five hours. Note that some tour operators in Pantanal throw in transport to or from Bonito for free, meaning less hassle for you.

Photo: Renan Araujo

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Gay pride Sao Paulo draws in over four million people from all over the world, making it South America’s most important LGBTQ+ event and a Guinness World Record titleholder for the largest party in the world

5. São Paulo

Drumroll for this next one, because now we head to São Paulo, the largest and gayest city of them all. The country’s business and economic centre, São Paulo is also so much more; home to countless museums, art galleries and a sprawling skyline of neo-gothic and futuristic styles. Discover São Paulo’s best bits at street level; joining easy-going locals in the city’s parks and gardens or taking a walking tour downtown. From colonial-era cathedrals to heritage theatres, the city is steeped in history – even its coffee houses hold a story, such as Café Girondino; the oldest café in the city. As well as coffee, learning about São Paulo’s history can also be done while eating – a historic city of migrants, diverse fusion cuisine is everywhere in the city, with the Mercadão allowing you to sample it all at once, from ceviche to canjica.

Gay Sao Paulo is a clear winner for party animals, as the city offers an array of lounges, bars, clubs and pubs to cruise at will. There’s an event for whatever you’re looking for, particularly on weekends when the best gay nightclubs host live music, drag shows, striptease and all-night DJ sets from global acts. Find the gay scene centred in Jardins Quarter, between the financial district of Avenida Paulista and the stylish R. Oscar Friere shopping district. One of the city’s most upmarket neighbourhoods, Jardins Quarter is not so cheap but one can walk the streets alone in safety. In June, Gay pride Sao Paulo draws in over four million people from all over the world, making it South America’s most important LGBTQ+ event and a Guinness World Record title holder for the largest party in the world. See our São Paulo travel guide for more of the best things to do, see and consume within South America’s most multicultural city.

Photo: Scorpio Creative

São Paulo | Photo: Joao Tzanno

6. Florianópolis

Florianópolis wows from the moment you cross the impressive Ponte Hecílio Luz bridge from the mainland over to Santa Catarina, the so-called Island of Magic. Florianópolis is the capital city here, straddling both island and continent and bringing some energetic spice to this subtropical beach retreat. Otherwise known as Floripa, the city serves as a top summer vacation destination for Brazilian mainlanders, thanks to its chilled atmosphere and festival spirit. International holidaymakers meanwhile love the unique blend of Portuguese colonial influence with German and Italian merchant cultures which shows itself in the food, local accents and lifestyles. When comparing Florianópolis with other cities in Brazil, we’d have to say its hotter and slower than most, with easy access to the most beaches (our favourites being Praia de Jurerê Internacional, Praia Galheta – a nudist and cruise spot – and Praia Mole near Lagoa Central) as well as numerous surf spots and opportunities for whale watching.

The state carnival, while not on the scale of Rio’s, is a triumph. Less stress and less chaos than its elders, Floripa carnival attracts people from across the country. Gay Florianopolis lives on after carnival, with gay celebrations such as Parada da Diversidade (diversity parade) and Pop Gay drag competition carrying the torch. The city’s gay megaclubs organise a number of parties around each festival, luring mainlanders year-round. Off the island a short taxi ride away, the towns of Camboiú and Curitiba also offer gay nightlife on a smaller scale. An easy-going seaside region, Santa Catarina is pretty open-minded when it comes to same-sex relationships with anti-homophobia laws in place since 2009.

Florianópolis | Photo: Will Terra

7. Iguazu Falls

Perhaps one of the most well-known natural attractions in Brazil is Iguazu Falls. Brace the crowds and prepare to be bowled away! Found on the border to Argentina, Iguazu Falls is the largest waterfall system in the world – think the Mother of all Niagaras – sending thousands of gallons of white Paraná River water plummeting each second through a 60 meter wide, 31 meters tall volcanic crack in the earth. Pay 64 Brazilian Reals (around $19USD) to enter on the Brazil side, benefitting from a full day pass and transportation to (and from) the trailhead along the river. The trek takes just 1.5-3 hours, ending at the grand spectacle of the falls itself. Iguazu Waterfalls is a year-round wonder but spring and fall can’t be beaten thanks to lower humidity and manageable temperatures.

Part of the Iguazu National Park, there’s plenty to do besides the falls while in the area, with more trekking, wildlife watching and cultural experiences to be had. Foz do Iguaçu is the closest city to the park but there are also many towns catering to tourists around the park, all regarded as gay friendly. While you can’t expect a party while lodging in the region, there are several mixed gay hangouts and gay-friendly hotels to be found, such as Concept Design Hostel & Suites and Space Free Dance nightclub.

Iguazu River | Photo: Pau Sayrol

8. Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

A veritable must-see while in Brazil are the rippled plains of Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, its desert-water landscape serving as the location for planet Vormir in Avengers: Infinity War. Marvel fan or no, come to Lençóis to marvel at surrealism in nature; a desert slaked by rainwater lagoons, rivers and mangrove swamps that feed into the ocean. A coastal environment as much as a desert, the park is made up of midnight blue ponds staggered across 1,550 square kilometres of open land, along a 70-kilometre length of coastline. Not always as wet all year round, visit Lençóis in winter to see the lagoons in all their glory, exploring either on foot, by car or on the back of a camel. Expect high winds whipping up the sand in October and November, with the best time to visit between June and September to avoid the rainy season earlier in the year. Walking shoes, sun proofing and lots of water are all vital, with trunks optional to make your obligatory plunge in a lagoon after a long, sweaty trek across the dunes.

A wild and unexpected outcrop in northern Brazil’s Maranhão state, this national park is accessible via the colonial city of São Luis, where your guide or host can arrange a transfer for you. Gear up for a four-hour journey in the morning, entering the park through the sophisticated visitor village of Barreirinhas where you can find lodging and entertainment for the night. From there, the park is all yours with optional adventures on the Preguicas River for paddleboarding, kayaking and mangrove swamp tours. Two alternate entrances into the park lie on the opposite side – Santo Amaro and Atins – reserved for travellers looking for upmost solitude and rudimentary accommodation. A harsh environment with dirt paths and hardly any electricity, these places are nonetheless remarkable, serving nomad kiteboarders with one quirky boat bar named Bar.co. making Wi-Fi irrelevant anyway.

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park | Photo: Fabio Hanashiro

Lençóis Maranhenses | Photo: Fabio Hanashiro

9. Brasilia

The nation’s most underrated metropolis and the new Brazilian capital, Brasilia is well worth a gander, just two hours from São Paulo by plane. The city, raised on a plateau flanked by both the Preto and Descoberto Rivers, is a feat of modern urban design, showcasing 1950’s architecture by Lucio Costa in simple yet symbolic styles. Planned meticulously and built over four years, Brasilia is a city designed to take your breath away, be that with its grand architectural plan (resembling the shape of a plane from above) or its multitude of huge parks and green spaces. While the utopian vision under which Brasilia was built may fall short (mainly regarding traffic), short term visitors of the city will be left spellbound. Look behind the futuristic façade and you’ll find Brasilia to be youthful, lively and up for a good time. Gay Brasilia is small yet established, with bars, clubs and saunas tempting queer travellers and locals to the Asa Sul area. As an added bonus, the delightful food scene here means a post-party breakfast is a must!

One of Brasilia’s most exciting natural wonders is the Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park. A vast central space comprised of freaky rock formations, roaring waterfalls and untold natural swimming spots, Chapada Veadeiros can keep eco-tourists happy for days with its enchanting cerrado scenery making for ultimate hiking and wildlife watching excursions. Stealthy visitors will be rewarded with sightings of jaguars, armadillos, toucans and more, amidst a protected natural habitat that extends into privately owned rainforest. It will take two days to see the park’s main attractions, with the best time to visit being April to October when the trails and roads are at their driest. Alto Paraíso de Goias and São Jorge are two towns positioned near the southern entrance to Chapada Veadeiros offering lodgings and amenities for park tourists. The bus from Brasilia is one option, but we recommend hiring a car and enjoying the 3-hour road trip northwards amidst Brazil’s most spectacular landscapes.

Photo: George Kedenburg

Brasilia | Photo: Wellington Ferreira

10. Fernando de Noronha

Lastly, giving Florianópolis a run for her money, is the beautiful volcanic archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, off the northeast coast. Rugged and beloved by locals, Noronha is not just your average island getaway. The largest island of Morro do Pico spans only 17 kilometres yet juts high into the sky akin to a giant phallus. The other islands and surrounding shores all feature these ‘rock needle’ formations, though varying wildly in size and shape! Aside from penis-shaped rocks, visitors can admire deserted beaches and dense tropical forests that cling haphazardly to cliff and volcano, brightening the rocky colour palette. Ecotourism on Noronha is booming lately, and while the information in English is somewhat lacking, your pousada host will bend over backwards to make your trip a memorable one. Environmental tax must be paid by all visitors, but this only ensures the islands stay well managed and sustainable. High season is in the dry season from September to January but fares and accommodation rates will be at their highest.

Declared a maritime national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site after being given back by the military in 1987, the archipelago is now almost wholly protected meaning conservation regulations are strict. This is to protect the native wildlife and ecosystems that thrive here, including the world’s largest number of spinner dolphins and upwards of 1,000 other marine mammals spotted from the Baia dos Golfinhos alone. Snorkelling is a prime activity here, particularly in Baia de Sueste where shallow-water coral reefs act as a playground for sea turtles. Baia do Sancho is another great snorkel spot with crystal clear waters, steep sheltering cliffs, and barely any people, very much earning the title of best beach in Brazil. Meanwhile, scuba diving off the shore of Baia do Sancho may reward you with sightings of tuna, barracuda and (small) sharks. Atalaia Beach is another underwater paradise, requiring a one-hour trek to reach a series of natural pools basked by tropical fish, octopi and more sharks.

While you won’t find any LGBT services or official gay bars on the archipelago, pleasingly, the hotels, bars and restaurants on Noronha are all small scale and gay-friendly. It’s also easy to create your own gay paradise while island-hopping by turning any isolated beach into an impromptu queer hotspot if you so wish!

Fernando de Noronha | Photo: Rodolfo Barreto

Photo: Samanta Santy

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Lençóis Maranhenses National Park | Photo: Roi Dimor

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