By Andy Hoskins | May 2015 | 5 minute read
Has Rio de Janeiro ever had it better? Last year the city played host to the football World Cup final; next year the Olympic Games come to town for four weeks. In March the city marked its 450th anniversary and has a busy programme of events planned throughout the year to celebrate the city's cultural and social diversity.
“Brazil has always been expensive and the Olympics won't help, but good value rates are still possible if you are flexible with dates and location”
STUART WHITTINGTON, JOURNEY LATIN AMERICA
Rio de Janeiro: The first stop on most itineraries. Blessed with a stunning setting, the famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema and sights such as the Christ Redeemer statue and Sugar Loaf Mountain.
Beaches: Brazil has an enormous Atlantic coastline and a vast array of beautiful beaches, from quiet coves to bustling city bays.
Amazon: Head to the city of Manaus in the heart of the Amazon and take to the river to explore the steamy rainforest.
Salvador: This colonial city is known for its distinct Afro-Brazilian culture and its carnival celebrations are an excellent alternative to Rio’s.
Iguazu Falls: Higher than Niagara, these falls are a must-see for most first-time visitors to Brazil.
Carnival: Rio’s annual carnival is world-famous but the occasion in celebrated across the country.
Pantanal: This vast of tropical wetlands is home to abundant wildlife. There’s good lodge accommodations and visitors can explore by boat, hiking or on horse-back.
Fernando de Noronha: Way out in the Atlantic, this marine reserve is a mecca for scuba divers and snorkelers.
The classic Brazil
Destinations that are commonly included in Brazil itineraries are Rio (some paying the inflated rates and abiding by the minimum stays that are required during the city’s famous annual carnival every February or early March); Iguazu Falls, on the border with Argentina; the pretty colonial city of Salvador; and miles of beautiful Atlantic beaches. And then of course there’s Brazil’s rich wildlife, with both the Amazon rainforest and the Pantanal adding to its rich appeal and diversity.
“The spectacular Chapada Diamantina National Park is a must-see,” says Journey Latin America's Stuart Whittington. “It’s a bit of a long drive from Salvador, but it’s definitely worth it.”
Further north, visitors can experience the unusual Lençois Maranhenses, an unusual landscape of sand dunes and bright blue lagoons. And back in the south of the country, Passion Brazil’s owner, Mariana Rosa picks out Mato Grosso do Sul and its wealth of ecotourism opportunities as a highlight.
Lloyd Boucher from Sunvil Holidays recommends driving along the cost to Buzios, a resort made famous by Brigitte Bardot in the 1960s. “There are great seafood restaurants and it’s not gone mad with building and development,” he says.
What the experts say
“Head west from Rio to the beaches of Ilha Grande and Paraty. Ilha Grande is largely undeveloped, features lush vegetation and beautiful unspoilt beaches, while Paraty is a pretty town brimming with historic buildings and accommodation in charming Pousada style hotels.”
JUSTINE EGAN, TRAVEL 2
“Brazil has always been expensive. The World Cup knocked up prices and the Olympics are likely to do the same over those key booking dates, but good value rates are still possible if you are flexible with dates and location.”
STUART WHITTINGTON, JOURNEY LATIN AMERICA
“We now have great hotel chains opening new properties in Rio, such as Accor, Hyatt, Hilton, Pestana, Windsor, Emiliano and Vila Galé. Many hotels have been renovated and their quality has really been improved.”
MARIANA ROSA, OWNER, PASSION BRAZIL
Accommodation: The Butterfly House, an eco-retreat in the Marau Peninsula of Bahia, is adding 10 new guest cottages this year including four ‘shabby chic’ Fisherman’s Cottages and two luxury Tree Houses. The hotel first opened in 2013 with eight villas, pool, restaurant and tropical gardens.
YOO Hotels & Resorts will open the first of its new design-conscious YOO2 portfolio in Rio de Janeiro later this year. The YOO2 Botafogo will have 144 guest rooms and suites, a dramatic entrance and lobby lounge and a rooftop terrace with views of the bay and Sugarloaf Mountain.
Tour operators: Bespoke Brazil, in partnership with Go Brazil Wines - the UK’s leading importer of Brazilian wines – has introduced a range of wine tours to Brazil, incorporating the leading vineyards of the Serra Gaúcha and Santa, Catarina regions of southern Brazil.
Where to book it
Popular with first-time visitors to the country is Rainbow Tours' 12-day Classic Brazil itinerary. It costs from £3,210pp (including flights) and visits Rio de Janeiro, Iguazu Falls, Manaus, the Amazon rainforest and Salvador.
Travel 2 has a five-day beaches of Ilha Grande and Paraty independent tour starts from £779pp (Aug-Sep 2015) and is a suitable add-on to stays in Rio de Janeiro. Return flights from London to Rio cost from £696pp.
For nature lovers with a big budget, recommend Journey Latin America’s 14-day Brazil wildlife: explore Mato Grosso holiday. It visits three locations – Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul and Altea Floresta – and costs from £5,734pp on a full board basis, excluding international flights.