With arty, bohemian neighbourhoods, cool street art, beautiful beaches, pulsating nightlife and a distinct ‘Carioca’ personality – you’d be mad to miss Rio de Janeiro off your Brazil travel list.
However, if the pace of the city gets a bit too much and you need a break from the crowds, don’t worry! The state of Rio de Janeiro is a nature lover’s paradise and many incredible destinations are easily accessible within a few hours of the metropolis.
These day trips from Rio de Janeiro offer cleaner air, a more relaxed attitude and less to worry about in terms of personal safety. Read on and you’ll see why the state of Rio de Janeiro is one of the most diverse and interesting places to backpack!
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Top 11 Day Trips From Rio de Janeiro
Just 4-5 hours from Rio by bus, you’ll find the beautiful colonial city of Paraty. Famous for its 17th and 18th-century Portuguese architecture, whitewashed churches and cobbled, traffic-free streets, this idyllic spot is a must-visit.
Once a strategic port for sending the gold mined in Minas Gerais to the empire’s base in Lisbon, Paraty was rediscovered in the 1970s as a tourist destination after being declared part of the Brazilian Historical Heritage in 1966.
Although Paraty itself can get crowded during high season and weekends, the city is surrounded by national parks, unspoilt secluded beaches, waterfalls and jungle-clad mountains, perfect for those wanting to immerse themselves in Brazil’s glorious nature.
Explore the sugar plantations, take a boat trip to the nearby islands and coves or hike in the ancient ‘Mata Atlantica’ or Atlantic Forest, a place of extraordinary biodiversity, of which only 15% of the original forest remains.
Less than two hours north of Rio, Búzios is a peninsula surrounded by beautiful beaches on all sides. Weekending ‘Cariocas’ (people from Rio) head to Búzios for fishing, kite surfing, sailing, golfing and scuba diving.
Growing from a sleepy fishing village to an upscale seaside resort during the 1960s, some refer to Búzios as the St. Tropez of Brazil. The resort consists of three separate settlements – Ossos, Manguinhos and Armação de Búzios. Ossos is the oldest and prettiest, Manguinhos is the most commercial and Armação is famous for its lively nightlife.
With fine restaurants, posh bars and luxury pousadas lining the picturesque seaside promenade, backpackers might feel out of place here.
3. Arraial do Cabo
Much more low-key and less touristy than Búzios, Arraial do Cabo is a more affordable and backpacker-friendly ‘beachy’ escape from Rio de Janeiro.
Surrounded by glistening white dunes, amazing beaches and crystal clear turquoise waters, Arraial is famous for diving (rumoured to be the best in Rio state) and humpback whale watching. The working fishing port of Porto do Forno is a refreshing slice of authentic Brazilian seaside life.
4. Ilha Grande
By no means a secret, Ilha Grande (Big Island) is a paradisiacal retreat just 150km (2-3 hours) from Rio. Throughout its colourful history, the island has been a pirate’s hideout, a leper colony and an island prison.
There are no roads nor cars on the island and the biggest town (village) is the settlement of Vila do Abraão, home to around 3,000 people with a large concentration of guesthouses, restaurants and bars.
It’s easy to escape the throng of tourists in Abraão’s small dirt streets, as hiking trails head out into the hills in all directions. Follow these magical routes leading into the rainforest to discover waterfalls, blue lagoons and tropical, secluded beaches.
If you originally visit Ilha Grande as a day trip from Rio and fall in love with it, we definitely recommend staying longer. Those who have more time can hike around the whole island in 4-5 days. Ilha Grande is perfect for snorkelling, diving, trekking or just relaxing amidst nature’s great treasures.
5. Angra Dos Reis
Around 2-3 hours south along the coast from Rio, you will come across the town of Angra Dos Reis (meaning King’s Creek or Bay). Mainly a jumping-off point for the island of Ihla Grande, the port town is a rather ugly industrial affair, but not so far away there are many beautiful beaches to explore, over 2,000 of them to be exact!
The archipelago of Angra Dos Reis consists of 365 islands, (including Ihla Grande) making up part of the Fluminense Green Coast, a popular destination for holidaying Cariocas. Diving, boat trips, snorkelling and water sports are all possible here in this beach bummers’ paradise.
If you’re feeling adventurous, canoe out to the secluded and peaceful island of Juruba where floating bars serve drinks and snacks to the visiting boats.
Also read: Amazing Islands in South America.
6. Serra de Bocaina National Park
Situated in between the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, this national park comprises 200,000 hectares of jungle, coast and mountain range, with gushing waterfalls and peaks higher than 2,000 metres.
Hikers will delight at the historic cobbled paths of ‘Trilha do Ouro’ (The Gold Trail), the main path through the park. This was built by slaves in the early 18th century to bring gold from Minas Gerais to the coast.
The most famous, best-preserved stretch of the trail is the 100km over the Serra do Mar to the coast at Mambucaba. On this route, you’ll pass through virgin rainforest, high waterfalls and old farms along an undulating path that offers incredible views over the Atlantic Ocean down to Paraty.
Also read: Amazing National Parks in South America.
7. Ilha de Paquetà
An easy escape from Rio’s hustle and bustle, the quaint Ilha de Paquetà in Guanabara Bay is just over an hour’s ferry ride from the city, costing around 10 reals to get there. Instead of cars, the transport consists of horse-drawn carts which adds a certain old-fashioned charm to the colonial streets, or bicycle, which you can rent by the hour for around 5 reals.
Due to its proximity to the city, the island gets crowded at weekends, so it is best to visit during the week. Measuring only 1.2km X 8km, Ilha de Paquetà is tiny, with only four hotels! Despite this, it is incredibly rich in history and nature.
Paquetá is one of only two places in Brazil where you can find the African Baobab tree. There are 20 of these rare trees on the island, the most famous being ‘Maria Gorda’ or Fat Mary. Kiss her and you’ll be granted years of good luck!
About one hour from Rio, you’ll find this historical city nestled in the mountain range of Serra dos Órgãos (the Range of Organs) named for the way the peaks resemble the pipes of a church organ pointing into the sky.
With a cooler climate than Rio and streets far less crowded, Petrópolis, also known as the ‘Imperial City’ offers a more chilled-out experience of a Brazilian city. Surprisingly, it is often missed by backpackers and international tourists, yet treasured by nature-loving Brazilians.
With original cobbled-stone streets in the centre, colonial mansions and neo-gothic cathedrals, you could spend days ambling around the city breathing in the fresh mountain air, popping into museums, drinking wine and listening to traditional Brazilian music.
Just outside the city, there are spectacular opportunities for hiking to fresh mountain springs, trekking to waterfalls or rock climbing the interesting rock formations of the Serra dos Órgãos.
9. Parque Nacional do Itatiaia
Located on the border of Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais states, Brazil’s oldest national park is ruggedly beautiful and home to a unique array of flora and fauna, as well as rivers, lakes, lagoons, waterfalls and Atlantic rainforest.
Reaching an altitude of 2,800 metres, temperatures in the park can be cold, particularly in winter (June) and snowfall is not unusual in the highest parts.
The road that runs through the park, the BR-485, climbing to 2460 metres, is considered the highest road in Brazil, although it is now closed to cars.
Visited by very few international tourists, you can go a full day hiking without passing another person on the trails in this wild and beautiful National Park. It can be reached in around 3-4 hours if you’re travelling by bus from Rio.
10. Cabo Frio
When it comes to day trips from Rio, this is arguably one of the most popular. Located north of the popular escape Arraial do Cabo, Cabo Frio is a haven for water enthusiasts. Its choppy waves make it a hub for both surfing and kite surfing.
As well as being a trendy surf spot, Cabo Frio also boasts an incredible blend of new and old. Passagem is the oldest neighbourhood in the city – look out for pretty cobbled streets featuring whitewashed colonial houses.
While you’re here, don’t miss the opportunity to try some of the delicious seafood on offer. The catch of the day can end up in a whole manner of mouthwatering dishes including an epic seafood platter or moqueca (a Brazilian fish-based stew).
11. Tijuca National Park
Also known as Tijuca Forest Park, this nature-filled destination is a quick drive from the centre of Rio de Janeiro, making it the ideal day trip. Essentially, it is a huge forest within the city.
Around half an hour’s drive from the centre, this urban forest is home to a wide array of flora and fauna, making it a great destination for wildlife lovers. If you get lucky, you could see Capuchin monkeys, coati and even sloths!
The park is full of cascading waterfalls and is even home to Corcovado Mountain, most famous for being the hill that the world-famous Christ the Redeemer statue sits atop. Full of epic hiking trails, it is also a fabulous destination for walkers.
Rio de Janeiro is one of the most exciting, enthralling and beautiful cities in the world. The iconic images of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) and the unusually shaped sugarloaf mountain are famous worldwide, as well as the renowned beach resorts of Copacabana and Ipanema. It is a must-visit location for anyone visiting the country.
Yet, there is no denying that Rio can be an exhausting place to travel. Concerns over safety, plus the heat and the crowds can take their toll after a few days. All of the above day trips from Rio have amazing things to offer travellers and promise to deliver that change of pace that you’ve been looking for.
What is your favourite day trip from Rio? Let us know in the comments!