Brazil Paraty is a historic town near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Published on December 13th, 2015 | by Mark Chesnut

Paraty is a historic town near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Rental Car Road Trip: Top 5 Greatest Side Trips from Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro has a long-standing reputation as a vacation hotspot for well-traveled globetrotters — indeed, it was a jet setter’s paradise even before jets existed (prop planes did the trick in the early days). The 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics are helping to keep Rio de Janeiro on travelers’ minds nowadays, and current economic conditions actually make Brazil one of the two best places for amazing hotel deals in South America right now. So it’s a great time to consider a vacation in Rio de Janeiro, where sun and sand is set against a backdrop of stunning mountains and big-city sophistication (not to mention an awful lot of tiny bathing suits).

Rio may be exciting enough on its own for a Brazil beach vacation, but if you’re willing to travel just a bit more by car, you can enjoy an even larger array of beautiful settings, both on the water and off (remember Rio de Janeiro is an entire state, not just a city). Whether you’re into nature, history, the elegance of the nation’s royal past, or just some extra Brazil beach time on a quiet stretch of sand. Here are three great rental car road trips from Rio de Janeiro, all of which can provide a whole new dimension to your next vacation.

This feature is #sponsored by Alamo Rent A Car, which has rental locations around Latin America — but the content and travel tips are all mine!

Travel from Rio de Janeiro to Buzios
Just two hours by car from Rio de Janeiro, Buzios is a beach-lover’s dream come true; there are, in fact more than 20 beaches from which to choose here. You can also go diving and snorkeling, and stroll the streets of what was once a sleepy fishing village and today — thanks in part to French actress Brigitte Bardot, who “discovered” the place back in the 1960s — and now is a stylish-yet-relaxed Brazil beach destination. Buzios has all of the allure of Rio de Janeiro, but a more tranquil vibe, and it’s a rewarding place to stake out a place in the sun.

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Travel from Rio de Janeiro to Angra dos Reis
Another must-see for beach lovers is Angra dos Reis, which is about three hours from Rio de Janeiro. This archipelago offers even more choices when it comes to scenic sands — there are something like 2,000 beaches and 365 islands gracing the region. Moneyed travelers often come here to private homes on equally private islands, but not to worry; you can carve out your own prized space here too, with a variety of accommodations and luxury vacation homes available for shorter stays. Angra dos Reis is also a rewarding place for nature lovers; it’s home to several endangered species, including including the maned sloth, brown howler monkey and red-browed amazon parrot.

Travel from Rio de Janeiro to Ilha Grande
This island located off the coast, in the municipality of Angra dos Reis (so it’s technically part of the recommendation above, but is worth noting on its own), was once home to a leprosy settlement and a top-security prison. Today, a state park covers much of the island, providing an idyllic vacation setting with no roads or motorized vehicles (you’ll leave your car on the mainland and take a ferry or catamaran over). You can hike, sunbathe and visit postcard-perfect mountain trails and waterfalls.

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Travel from Rio de Janeiro to Paraty
Like Buzios, Paraty was once a decidedly quiet fishing village. But its beautiful beaches and Atlantic rainforest couldn’t keep the destination in obscurity for long. Today, it’s a favored getaway for travelers looking for sun, sand and nature, as well as history. Paraty has a lovely colonial center, with historic architecture and cobblestone streets, and dozens of beaches within a two-hour radius. In addition, nature lovers can explore Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina, a national park that’s part of the Atlantic rainforest.

Travel from Rio de Janeiro to Petropolis
For a trip back in time, consider a one-hour drive to Petropolis, a mountain town that was once the summer retreat for the 19th-century imperial court. You’ll still find horse-drawn carriages here, and the historic homes, bridges and parks make for a charming and pleasant setting that offers a touch of Europe in the mountains. Don’t miss the Museu Imperial, a 19th-century palace that offers a glimpse at what royal life was like.

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About the Author

The founder and editor of, Mark has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and manager. He's worked with some of the biggest consumer, in-flight and travel trade publishers that cover Latin America.

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