Best forâ€¦ Beautiful people
Day: Rioâ€™s legendary Ipanema is fashion-shoot Brazil: famous backdrop, beautiful creatures, skimpy bathing costumes â€“ and thatâ€™s just the guys. Like Copacabana next door, Ipanema isnâ€™t just a beach â€“ itâ€™s a world. You can have lunch, a massage, a new tattoo, a Samba class, a Pilates workout or a political debate. Alternatively, stick to simpler pleasures â€“ a grade-A tan, an ice-cold beer or an impromptu game of volleyball.
Night: The epitome of Ipanema cool, the Philippe Starck-designed Fasano hotel (00 55 21 3202 4000, fasano.com.br; doubles from Â£465, room only) has an infinity pool, stunning views and spacious bedroom lounges. Or book a room at the Ipanema Inn (00 55 21 2523 6092, ipanemainn.com.br; doubles from Â£105, B&B).
Get there: The Ultimate Travel Company (020 3411 1948,theultimatetravelcompany.co.uk) has a week in Ipanema from Â£1,823pp, B&B, including flights from Heathrow.
Or try: The Praia da Barra da Tijuca, with more than 12km of gorgeous sands, is one of a string of beaches that extends westward through the Rio suburbs into tropical rainforest. A less intense and less crowded introduction to Rio beach life, it still has the buzz of the city, with dozens of bars and restaurants. The Surf Bus (surfbus.com.br; Â£2) runs there every day from the central Largo do Machado metro station.
Best forâ€¦ Postcard Beauty
Day: In trendy Bahia, a back road leads south from the funky beach town of ItacarÃ© to a chain of fine beaches: Resende, Tiririca and Ribeira. From here, youâ€™re on foot, following a coastal trail through rainforest for half an hour to Prainha. Absurdly pretty, in a perfectly symmetrical bay, the crescent beach is backed by tilting palms. By day, there is a coconut stall. At night, thereâ€™s just the moonlight.
Night: In Tiriricaâ€™s open-air bars, thereâ€™s forrÃ³ music â€“ dancing couples grind hips with an intimacy rarely seen outside the bedroom to the sound of traditional Brazilian beats. When the bedroom eventually beckons, try the Pousada Sage Point (00 55 73 3251 2030, pousadasagepoint.com.br; doubles from Â£74, B&B) on Tiririca beach â€“ all polished teak, wafty muslin and slow-turning ceiling fans.
Get there: From Rio, fly to IlhÃ©us with TAM (020 8741 2005, tam.com.br) from Â£103 return. From there, itâ€™s a two-hour drive north to ItacarÃ©; hire a car at the airport from around Â£220 a week (00 55 31 3247 7661, www.localiza.com).
Or try: BÃºzios peninsula, a couple of hoursâ€™ bus-ride east of Rio, is the so-called St Tropez of Brazil â€“ cobbled streets and terrace cafes do give ArmaÃ§Ã£o town a Mediterranean feel. Each beach is more beautiful than the last â€“ but the most picturesque are Azeda and Azedinha.
Best forâ€¦ Windsurfing
Day: A fishing village thatâ€™s become a beach-bum magnet, Jeri has a young, chilled vibe and international renown. Itâ€™s still a village of sand streets, mind â€“ only itâ€™s one where you can get dreamy pistachio ice cream and pannacotta. Just along the sands, at Praia do PreÃ¡, is some of the worldâ€™s best wind- and kitesurfing; hire windsurfs from Club Ventos (00 55 88 3669 2288, clubventos.com; Â£49 a day) or book hour-and-a-half lessons for Â£64.
Night: The Pousada Cabana (00 55 88 9920 6658, pousadacabana.com.br; doubles from Â£45, B&B) has classic Jeri thatched cabanas that manage to be both rustic and comfortable, as well as a Jacuzzi pool and a jungle of exuberant plants.
Get there: Itâ€™s around five-and-a-half hours by coach from Fortaleza airport (00 55 85 3402 2222, fretcar.com.br; Â£15). Or get your hotel to book a 4WD with a driver for you, from Â£142 one-way.
Or try: South from Recife is a classic beachcomberâ€™s and surferâ€™s coast â€“ cafes serve the morningâ€™s catch and pousadas offer simple, inexpensive rooms. For windsurfing, it has to be five-kilometre-long Praia da Ponta de Serrambi. Hop on a bus from Recife to Porto de Galinhas (one hour; around Â£2), then hail a dune buggy (around Â£5) to take you down the coast.
Best for postcard beauty? Prainha (SuperStock)
Best forâ€¦ Wilderness
Praia do Leao
Day: An archipelago of islands around 300km off Brazilâ€™s northeast coast, Fernando de Noronha is a marine national park famous for its pristine beaches. Instead of coconut stalls, beach cafes and sarong sellers, youâ€™ll find turtles hatching, rare seabirds nesting and dolphins cruising into the bays in their hundreds. Thereâ€™s stiff competition for â€˜best beachâ€™ here, but Praia do LeÃ£o has an exquisite balance of sand, blue sea and overreaching sky.
Night: On an isolated hill, the Pousada Maravilha (00 55 81 3619 0028,pousadamaravilha.com.br; doubles from Â£440, B&B) has spectacular sunsets. As night falls, thereâ€™s the glorious sense that you have nothing to do except eat, talk and gaze at the moonlight skimming the empty ocean. Or, nearer the village bars, book the friendly Pousada do Vale (00 55 81 3619 1293, pousadadovale.com; doubles from Â£189, B&B).
Get there: Azul (00 55 81 4003 1118, voeazul.com.br) has daily return flights from Recife to Fernando de Noronha from Â£266.
Or try: Nowhere else in Brazil has beaches like this but there are another dozen or so on the Fernando archipelago. Praia da BaÃa do Sancho, accessed only via cliff ladders, is like a secret world. The sands are pillow-soft; the waters emerald-green; the only sounds, birds, waves and wind in the pines above.
Best forâ€¦ Surfing
Day: South of Rio, Ilha Grande is a jungle island teeming with parrots, hummingbirds, monkeys and butterflies the size of dinner plates. A trail snakes across the island, emerging on Lopes Mendes, a wild three-kilometre scythe of sand where you can hire surfboards (around Â£10) â€“ the rollers are magnificent. Other than by foot, the only way to reach it is by boat from Vila do AbraÃ£o, the sole town on Ilha Grande.
Night: At Sagu Mini Resort (00 55 24 3361 5660, saguresort.com; doubles from Â£122, B&B), created by an Italian filmmaker who lost his heart to the island, hammocks hang on the balconies for post-dinner meditation on the stars.
Get there: From Rio, take a bus (costaverdetransportes.com.br; Â£12) to Angra dos Reis, three hours south, where ferries run daily to Ilha Grande (www.barcas-sa.com.br; Â£2). Or Resa Mundi Eco Tours (00 55 21 2545 0036, resamundi.com.br) can arrange transport, hotels, boat tours and surfing; it offers two nightsâ€™ room-only accommodation, with transport from Rio, from Â£200pp.
Or try: Santa Catarina island, in Brazilâ€™s deep south, has some of the countryâ€™s top surf spots along its east coast. Fly from Rio to FlorianÃ³polis (around 90mins) to reach Praia da Joaquina, the scene of Brazilâ€™s national surf championships, then head south to the emptier, wilder Praia do Campeche.
Praia da Pipa
Day: The hippest beach town in the northeast, 80km south of Natal, is a cluster of small-scale pousadas, funky cafes and smart boutiques that draw a global cast of beachcombers. Lunch at beachside Garagem (00 55 84 3246 2154; mains around Â£5) â€“ fresh fish, cold beer, good tunes â€“ then follow the retreating tide to Baia dos Golfinhos, where the dolphins play.
Night: Pick of the pousadas, Toca da Coruja (00 55 84 3246 2226,tocadacoruja.com.br; doubles from Â£185, B&B) has elegant thatched villas set in jungly gardens. In the evenings, when the scent of blossoms hangs heavily, follow the illuminated boardwalks to candlelit dinners or nights in a bar thrumming with forrÃ³ music.
Get there: Fly to Natal from Rio with TAM (020 8741 2005, tam.com.br; from Â£226 return). Then hire a car (00 55 31 3247 7661, www.localiza.com; from Â£183 a week) for the 80-minute drive south along the coast road.
Or try: Trancoso, a 15-minute bus-ride south of Porto Seguro, in the southern reaches of Bahia, is more exclusive than Pipa, but just as friendly and laid-back. Espelho is the best, with golden sands and reef-protected waters. Lunch on the dayâ€™s catch at Silvinhaâ€™s (00 55 73 9985 4157; around Â£13), a simple beach hut.