Rio de Janeiro is a city that should be on every travellers wish list. The Iguazu Falls are still relatively little known compared with the Niagara and Victoria Falls. The Costa Verde south of Rio de Janeiro is absolutely beautiful with stunning beaches against a backdrop of lush Atlantic forest. Sao Paulo is one of the greatest cities in South America, the powerhouse that drives the Brazilian economy.
Rio de Janeiro has the most spectacular setting of all the South American cities, dominated by the twin peaks of Sugarloaf and Corcovado with its statue of Christ the Redeemer and fantastic views of Guanabara Bay. The world-famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema are the life and soul of the city.
The Iguazu Falls really must be seen to be believed. 275 waterfalls which make up the Iguazu Falls and there are paths to follow on both the Argentine and Brazilian sides of the falls. The falls are fullest in the wet season (December to February). If there is time we recommend a visit to the nearby Itaipu Dam.
Ouro Preto was the centre of the 18th century Gold Rush when rich merchants competed with each other to build ever more elaborate and baroque churches. We also arrange visits to a mine and a trip on a narrow gauge railway. The nearest airport is Belo Horizonte.
Belo Horizonte was founded in 1897 and has grown to become the third largest city in the country. It has the curious distinction of being known as the “capital of bars” with 14,000 in the city. There is an annual contest to determine which are the best in a range of categories.
Angra dos Reis is set in a bay just a couple of hours south of Rio de Janeiro with 365 islands nearby.
Ilha Grande was once the haunt of pirates and later a landing point for slaves. It was also a leper colony and then, for most of the 20th century, a high-security prison island (which closed in 1994).
Ilha Grande has some lovely beaches and is dotted with small boutique lodges (pousadas).
Paraty is a beautiful coastal town in the bay of Ilha Grande about 4 hours south of Rio de Janeiro by road. Paraty grew to prominence for the export of gold from the state of Minas Gerais in the 17th century and coffee in the 19th century. You can also pick up a boat to visit the beaches on nearby islands, some of which have simple bars and cafes, some are practically deserted. Trinidade, a little further on from Paraty, is renowned for its surfing.
These resorts are just a couple of hours east of Rio and are very popular at weekends. The main beach at Cabo Frio, Praia do Forte, is 7½ km of white sand and clear water.
Buzios was a small fishing village for a couple of hundred years until Brigite Bardot arrived in the 1960s. There are over 20 beaches dotted around the peninsula, with fantastic sailing, surfing, diving, snorkelling, kite surfing, jet skiing and wind-surfing. Great restaurants too.
Sao Paulo is the vast commercial heart of Brazil and is the largest city in the Americas (three times the size of Paris) with a distinctly cosmopolitan ambiance. The city has the largest Japanese community outside Japan and a huge Italian population.
Despite its imposing size and skyrise buildings Sao Paulo is home to some of the countries most exiting new restaurants, designer hotels and the most diverse and flourishing cultural life.
Florianopolis was founded in 1726 on the island of Santa Catarina which is connected to the mainland by bridges.
The island itself boasts 42 beaches making it a magnet for holidaymakers from Argentina and Paraguay in the summer months between December and February.
Porto Alegre is the capital city of the state of Rio Grande do Sul and is a thriving commercial hub. It was also home to the poet Mario Quintana whose house has been turned into the Casa de Cultura, a lively centre for the arts with permanent and temporary exhibitions. The Jardim Botanico is also worth a visit.
The Pantanal is a vast floodplain and major wildlife reserve covering 250,000 sq km across Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay while the savannah of Chapada dos Veadeiros has canyons, caves, waterfalls and impressive rock formations. Brasilia, by contrast, is a modern metropolis which was inaugurated as the country’s capital in the 1960s.
The northern Pantanal is higher than the southern Pantanal and is more influenced by the Amazon rainforest than by the Chaco. You are more likely to spot jaguars here in the dry season (July to October). Cuiaba is the gateway both to the northern Pantanal and to the impressive plateaux, rock formations, canyons and waterfalls of Chapada dos Guimaraes.
Campo Grande is the gateway to the southern Pantanal and the caves, waterfalls and crystalline waters of Bonito. The southern Pantanal is slightly lower than the northern Pantanal and in the wet season much of the wildlife migrates to the north. In the dry season, July to October, animals and bird tends to congregate at the remaining pockets of water.
Cuiaba is the gateway to the northern Pantanal and to Chapada dos Guimaraes. The historic centre has been restored in recent years. The Museu Rondon do Indio has an extensive archive of films and photographs of the rituals and activities of many indigenous groups.
The Museu de Pedras Ramis Bucair displays a large collection of precious and semi-precious stones, rocks and archaeological finds, cave paintings and Neolithic stone axes.
Campo Grande is the starting point for trips into the southern Pantanal. The city was founded in 1899 and now has a population of around 800,000. Because of the red soil, it is also known as the Ciadade Morena. The craft centre at the Casa do Artesao is worth visiting.
The Pantanal train departs on Saturday at 10a.m and arrives at Miranda, 220km away, at 8 p.m with a stop at Aquidauna for lunch. It returns on Sundays.
The newly founded city of Brasilia became the capital of Brazil on 21 April 1960, the culmination of a long-cherished initiative to create an inland centre of Government. The design of the city, respresenting a bow and arrow (although some suggest it looks like a bird from above) was by Lucio Costa with many modernist buildings by celebrated archictect Oscar Niemeyer, including the Palace of Justice, National Congress and the Cathedral. Brasilia is the first modern city to have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2001.
It is a region of outstanding beauty and part of the high plain of central Brazil, consisting of wide plateaux, attractive waterfalls, deep canyons and valleys.
The Chapada provides a rich habitat for wildlife including jaguars, giant anteaters, giant armadillos, maned wolves and pampas deer.
The Amazon rainforest covers a staggering 6 million sq km (2.3 million sq miles) in nine different South American countries, of which 60% is in Brazil. It is the planet’s largest and most dense rainforest. The Amazon river is believed to contain somehere around 2,000 species of fish as well as cayman, anaconda, amazonian manatee and the pink river dolphin.
One of the best ways to explore the Amazon is to use a jungle lodge as a base. We usually suggest 3 nights’ accommodation for a first time visitor to the rainforest. All excursions are included with local English-speaking guides. Wherever possible, we try to include the “Meeting of the Waters” where you can see how two important tributaries of the mighty Amazon – the Solimoes River and the Rio Negro – converge and run side by side for four miles but do not mix.
If you have always dreamed of travelling up the Amazon, now you can. We offer short cruises from Manaus which explore some of the tributaries of the mighty Amazon and a longer itinerary which starts in the Caribbean and travels down to Devil’s Island off the coast of French Guiana and round the northern coastline of South America before entering the Amazon at Belem. Please contact us for further information and details.
As you come out of the rainforest, spend the night at a hotel in Manaus. There is usually time for a tour of this jungle city which today has a population approaching 2 million.
The famous Teatro Amazonas, which reflects the glory days from the rubber boom of the 1880s, should not be missed. The opera season is April-May but there are frequent ballet and theatre performances during the rest of the year.
Belem is a modern metropolis and the principal port of the Amazon. It is worth visiting the Forte do Castelo which formed the defence of the city, where the Rio Guama meets the Baia do Guajara. The Mercado Ver – 0 Peso is one of the most varied in South America but do watch out for pickpockets. Belem is the starting point for some of the shorter river tours taking 2½ days to reach Santarem upriver and 5 or 6 days to reach Manaus.
The North East
The cities and beaches of the North East are a far cry from those of the South, characterised by sunshine, sand dunes and coastal landscapes. Olinda offers a delightful touch of colonial charm dating back to 1537 whilst the achipelago of Fernando de Noronha is a marine reserve with excellent snorkelling and diving.
The coastline around Natal is famous for its sand dunes, cliff formations, small coves and attractive beaches, making this a popular destination for those seeking sunshine, sand and sea. Ponte Negra is Natal’s best beach with good tourism infrastructure.
30km north is Genipabu, with picturesque dunes which are ideal for beach buggys, sand boarding and camel rides.
Praia do Pipa, 85km south, offers kayaking, surfing and kite-surfing during the day, and a vibrant nightlife in the restaurants and bars along the seafront.
This small archipelago consists of 21 islands and islets, of which only the largest is inhabited. Probably discovered by Amerigo Vespucci in 1503 (there are some claims that it had been sighted and mapped earlier), the islands were once a refuge for pirates and later used as a prison colony.
Today Fernando de Noronha is a marine reserve with World Heritage Site status. It is home to dolphins, albatrosses and sea turtles as well as some unique bird species and rare plants.
Fernando de Noronha is reached by plane from Natal or Recife.
Recife is a modern high-rise metropolis with a population of 1.5 million. The historic centre of Recife Antigo has been restored in recent years with a good range of restaurants and bars, particularly around Marco Zero. Neighbouring Olinda is a colonial gem, founded in 1537 and recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Fortaleza is now the fourth largest city in Brazil with a population of around 2.5 million. It has a lively nightlight, particularly in the streets around the Centro Cultural Dragao do Mar with attractive turn-of-the-century buildings. The Praia do Futuro is the most popular beach, 5 miles southeast of the centre.
Salvador and the Discovery Coast
They say that Salvador is the point where Brazilian, African and Caribbean influences meet whilst the unspoiled coastline here means you are never far from a beautiful tropical beach paradise, a perfect place to unwind at the end of your holiday. Inland, the Chapada Diamantina National Park covers 1500 sq km of outstanding natural beauty including table-top mountains, caves and waterfalls.
Salvador was founded by the Portuguese in 1549 on the high ground in the mouth of the Baia de Todos os Santos. The Pelourinho district in the colonial heart of the city is a lively area of bars, restaurants, cafes and shops.
Please contact us to discuss activities and preference if you would like to organise something in particular: Capoeira classes, followed by a show, perhaps, or a cooking masterclass.
Many of our passengers like to book a full day tour of the bay, visiting the islands of Itaparica and Ilha dos Frades.
The Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina was created in 1985 and covers 1500 square kms of attractive countryside, table-top mountains, impressive valleys, waterfalls, caves and rivers. Lencois, 408 km from Salvador, is the main gateway for excursions into the national park.
Gruta da Lapa Doce is one of the most important and extensive caves. Morro do Pai Inacio offers the best views. The Gruta da Torrinha is probably the most attractive grotto, full of stalactites and stalagmites. Poco Encantado is a cave with beautiful blue water.
Praia do Forte is an attractive little coastal town about 55 miles north of Salvador along the “Coconut Road” bordered by sand dunes, pristine beaches and mangroves. Praia do Forte was once a quiet fishing village but is today a friendly beach resort with wonderful seafood, cafes and local shops. There is excellent birdwatching nearby.
Costa do Sauipe is a purpose-built resort complex stretching 3.7 miles along the coast of north of Salvador which opened in 2000.
Whilst Costa do Sauipe is not everyone’s cup of tea, accommodation ranges from premium apartments and all-inclusive hotels to simple guesthouses in the style of traditional pousadas.
Morro de Sao Paulo is a picturesque beach destination on the Island of Tinhare, two hours from Salvador by catamaran, or 20 minutes by light aircraft. It also boasts a lively nightlife with a mix of beach parties, capoeira and traditional dance, disco, pop, house, electronic music and samba rhythms.
Just south of Tinhare is the island of Boipeba, an altogether quieter place with semi-deserted palm-fringed white sand beaches and clear warm waters. The Marau Peninsula, a 30 minute flight from Salvador, is an ideal location for a luxury beach hideaway.
The beaches of Ilheus are the principal tourist attraction but visitors may be interested to learn that the area around Ilheus produces something like 65% of Brazilian cocoa. Indeed, we thoroughly recommend a visit to a cocoa farm during your stay here.
Ilheus was home to Jorge Amado and the setting for one of his novels, Gabriela, cravo y canela (Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon). His house is now open as a museum.
There are good beaches at Uma, just south of Ilheus and on the way to Olivenza.
On 22 April 1500 Portuguese navigator Pedro Alves Cabral sighted land at Monte Pascoal, forty miles south of Porto Seguro. Sailing north in search of a good landing point, he anchored at the site that would become Porto Seguro (safe port). The historic centre contains some of the first buildings from the Portuguese colonial era. Although the beaches are the principal attraction, we recommend an excursion to the Pataxo indigenous reserve of Jaqueira.
With white sand beaches and laid-back charm Trancoso has become very popular and chic, with small luxury hotels and houses to rent. The main square (Quadrado) comes alive in the late afternoons and evenings with bars, restaurants and designer shops. Already some of the big chains have begun to muscle in.
We recommend you get here before it changes beyond recognition.
ADVICE AND EXPERTISE
We hope that some of the following pointers and tips provide helpful information for all travellers to Brazil. For further details about Brazil including visas, vaccinations, money and travel advice, please visit our information pages.
Brazilian cuisine has European, African and indigenous influences making it very diverse and varied. The national dish is feijoada, made from black beans and pork, served with white rice, vegetables and slices of orange. Brazilian wines are making great strides (particularly merlots) but instead of a caipirinha why not try a caipiroska?
There is a thriving music scene in Brazil, the home of samba and bossa nova. From traditional choros (laments) and songs to accompany capoeira, Brazil has produced zouk-lambada and funk carioca, a type of dance music from Rio de Janeiro. The opera season at the famous theatre in Manaus is April-May.
The vast wetland of the Pantanal is home to myriad species of birds and an abundance of wildlife. You will see more wildlife here than in the Amazon rainforest. It is remote and not easy, but very special. The best time of the year for the Pantanal is March to October.
Whether it is trekking in Chapada Diamantina, cycling or waterfall rappelling at the Iguazu Falls, snorkelling in the crystalline waters of Bonito, sailing or surfing in Buzios there is plenty of adventure to be enjoyed in Brazil. About the only thing they don’t have is snow.
With a coastline stretching for thousands of miles finding a beach in Brazil is not difficult. Please call us to discuss your arrangements and preferences, from stylish resorts with lots of nightlife to hidden gems, hideaways and island retreats reached by light aircraft.
Whilst Brazil is synonymous with football, the Rio Games of 2016 have brought new interest in other sports including judo, athletics, sailing, swimming, boxing, tennis and curling. Volleyball and Footvolley (a mixture of football and volleyball) are widely practiced on the beaches.
Rio’s spectacular carnival is probably the most famous in the world. Twenty-five samba schools compete for the championship and work goes on throughout the year to get floats and costumes ready for the annual extravaganza which takes place in the city’s purpose-built Sambadrome.
Please call us to arrange a visit to a rehearsal or the event!
Brazil can easily be combined with the neighbouring countries of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay or you can have a stopover in Brazil on the way to or from Chile and Peru.
As Latin America specialists we will be happy to advise you on transatlantic flights, airpasses and multi-sector itineraries.