The plot focuses on a group of backpackers in Brazil who find themselves in the clutches of an underground organ harvesting ring. It was shot in the Chapada Diamantina, a region of Bahia state, and in the Litoral Norte, the easternmost coastal part of the São Paulo state.
Three young American tourists, Alex (Josh Duhamel), his sister Bea (Olivia Wilde), and her friend Amy (Beau Garrett), are backpacking in Brazil. They decide to go by bus and visit parts of the country instead of flying directly to the Northeastern beaches they wish to visit. After a bus crash leaves all the passengers stranded, they are joined by two English men, Finn (Desmond Askew) and Liam (Max Brown), and an Australian woman, Pru (Melissa George), who is fluent in Portuguese. The group find a cabana bar where several other tourists and locals are partying. After spending the day on the beach, they are served drugged drinks and pass out.
The next morning, they awaken on the deserted beach, robbed of their luggage, money, and documents. Looking for help in the nearby village, they encounter conflict with locals as they see some of their belongings worn or lying around. Offering help, Kiko (Agles Steib), a local who speaks some English, volunteers to take them to an isolated cabin in the forest, where they can wait for help. In a long walk through the wilderness, Kiko shows them a “secret" cave beneath a waterfall, but, taking a bad dive into the river, Kiko hits the rocky bottom, and is rendered unconscious and begins bleeding profusely from a cut in his head. Proceeding to the cabin in the jungle, they find food, clothes, and a number of prescription drugs, as well as a drawer filled with other people’s passports. They manage to heal Kiko's wound and reluctantly decide to spend the night at the cabin.
They are awakened in the middle of the night by a helicopter bringing Zamora (Miguel Lunardi), a physician, and a few associates and doctors, surrounded by armed henchmen. A woman who arrives advises them to flee, but they are confused and try to fight them, only to be beaten into submission. Zamora proceeds to a makeshift operating room where he removes organs from a sedated Amy, while he explains to Finn, who is tied up, that organ theft for transplant from Brazilians by rich gringos is part of a pattern of exploitation of Brazilian "resources", and that it is time to "give back". Victims' usable organs are being harvested and sent to the People’s Hospital in Rio de Janeiro and used for the benefit of the poor. After her liver and kidneys are removed, Amy dies on the operating table.
Meanwhile, the rest of the group outside manages to break free from cages they have been contained in, and fight and kill one of Zamora’s associates, with the aid of Kiko, who returned after being sent away by Zamora. While Bea and Pru flee into the jungle, Alex, Kiko and Liam attempt to raid the cabin. They successfully rescue Finn, who is unable to walk because he has been sedated, but while they are running away from the cabin, Finn is shot in the head. Alex realizes they have to resume their escape, but Liam decides to stay behind to fight back, only to be shot and taken away to be "salvaged" .
Bea and Pru are separated in the jungle, and Alex and Kiko find Bea the next morning hiding near the river. The three head to the flooded cave, eluding one of Zamora’s associates who is trailing close behind, armed with a bow and arrows. For a time, they are able to put some distance between themselves and their pursuers. They enter the cave where they find Pru hiding. Diving and swimming to the cavern's secondary entrance, they find Zamora is also there, and he shoots them in the water, killing Kiko and injuring Alex.
The survivors are forced to backtrack into the water of the cave, where they can take air at only a few places. They are split up, looking for breathing points, trying not to be noticed and fall prey to the archer. Bea and the archer meet at the same breathing spot, but Bea grabs an arrow from the man, stabbing him in the neck and killing him. Alex, Bea and Pru get out of the cave only to run into Zamora at the exit. Alex attacks Zamora and repeatedly hits him in the head with a rock, but is interrupted by one of Zamora's henchman who is armed with a rifle. Zamora instructs him to kill the foreigners. Seeing the trio of survivors vulnerable and scared, and Zamora in agony, the man hesitates. This infuriates Zamora, who orders the gunman to carry out the killing. Pru tries to convince the gunman to spare them, pointing out Zamora's poor treatment of him. Zamora calls the gunman a coward, and is shot in the head by the gunman who turns and walks off. Soon after, the survivors, coming out of the jungle, meet local villagers who take them in.
Later, Alex, Bea, and Pru stand in line, waiting to board an airplane in silence while a couple of tourists behind them argue over going by bus. Alex turns and advises them to take the plane. The male tourist (director John Stockwell) says "thanks man", and they all board the plane. The last scene shows Alex, Bea and Pru sitting in the plane as it flies away.
The film was poorly received by the critics, receiving a combined score of 16% from Rotten Tomatoes, though the film received some praise for its scenery and cinematography. The New York Times reported that the movie was "plain stupid", while The Hollywood Reporter felt that an unsettling atmosphere was built at the start but that "the movie begins to fall apart around the halfway point". The film did, however, receive a positive review from Larry Ratliff, film critic for the San Antonio Express-News, who said that the film was "shockingly brilliant". He was fired immediately after. Fangoria Magazine, meanwhile, claimed that it was "a better and scarier film than Hostel".
The movie was boycotted in Brazil because of the image portrayed of the country, and American actor Josh Duhamel apologized to the Brazilian government and to the Brazilian people during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He said that it was not the intention of the film to stop tourists from visiting Brazil. Embratur, the Brazilian government's agency of tourism, issued a statement grateful for the bad critical reception in North America. The agency stated they did not feel that Turistas would hurt Brazil's image as viewers would differentiate reality from fiction.
In the United States, Turistas came out on DVD March 29, 2007, and was released in a rated theatrical version, with a running time of 93 minutes. An unrated version was also released the same day with a running time of 96 minutes, and was advertised as being "Too Gruesome For Theaters".