Brazil is a sensory overload with dazzling sandy beaches, tropical rainforests, Portuguese colonial towns and remote islands. It is also famous for its international football team and its rich musical traditions that include Samba and Bossa Nova. The people are as diverse as the landscape and its passions; from Amazon tribes to African descendents to European colonialists.
Rio de Janeiro, known locally as ‘a cidade maravilhosa’, is an addictive inspirational city which seldom sleeps. The Cariocas (locals from Rio) are passionate and welcoming, keen to showcase their city of historic architecture shadowed by verdant forests which merge with the sprawling residential areas of the city. Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado maybe the most iconic features but there is so much more to be discovered. Here glitzy mansions border thriving favelas and fabulous street food nestles beside Michelin restaurants and glamorous boutiques. The most famous suburb is Ipanema. This fashionista neighbourhood was immortalized in the song “A girl from Ipanema”.
In total contrast to Rio is the colonial town of Paraty. Founded in the 17th century, it is one of Brazil’s prettiest colonial towns situated a few hours south of Rio on the lovely Costa Verde. Many of the historic buildings remain and have been immaculately restored. The town has a wonderful buzz, especially at weekends creating a wonderful escape for low-key nightlife, fine dining and gentle walks. Although there is no beach to speak of right in Paraty, the willing boatmen at the marina will happily chauffeur you to nearby deserted islands, waterfalls and palm fringed beaches.
Salvador is the African heart of Brazil where you will see the martial art ballet of capoeira being performed on the beaches, squares and cobbled streets of the city’s historic centre, Pelourinho. This is also home to one of the most impressive collections of colonial architecture in South America. A multitude of baroque churches are decorated in gold plate with statues of black saints to celebrate its African heritage.
Iguacu Falls on the Rio Iguacu (meaning ‘big water’) form the border between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. An impressive 275 waterfalls create an amazing spectacle of thrashing rivers and falls of all shapes and sizes.
Carnival takes place in the streets to the pounding rhythms of axê music where onlookers may dance the night away as the procession rambles through the city. Salvador too is the jumping off point to the inland table-top mountain region of Chapada da Diamantina, a trekkers paradise and one of the least touristy regions of the country. And for the ultimate hideaway, you can fly to Fernando de Noronha which is home to the country’s best diving, dolphin spotting and deserted beaches.
Iguacu Falls on the Rio Iguacu (meaning ‘big water’) form the border between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. An impressive 275 waterfalls create an amazing spectacle of thrashing rivers and falls of all shapes and sizes. The Devil’s Throat is the jugular of Iguacu Falls and well worth the exhilarating powerboat ride for a thorough soaking and cooling off! Away from the Falls you can visit the local bird parks and wildlife centres.
The Brazilian Amazon encompasses a plethora of landscapes larger than Western Europe and borders eight South American countries. Manaus is the capital of the Amazon Basin where many safari cruises and nearby lodges are based but we recommend traveling deeper into the region for a truly experiential stay – the best being Mamiraua Ecological Reserve.
Belem, at the mouth of the Amazon, began life as a colonial slave port and provides the best alternative cultural scene in Brazil. Caiman, monkeys and pink and grey river dolphins are a common sight but venturing into the forest will bring you closer to a far wider range of lowland animals.
The gleaming expanse of golden beaches in Trancoso, Southern Bahia has become a destination for A-listers across the globe who enjoy the low key, tranquil atmosphere. Exclusive yet homely restaurants offer some of the best food out of Rio and Sao Paulo. Trancoso itself remains a simple town at heart and herein lies its charm, especially around the central Qudrado. The most famous beaches are Praia do Trancoso and Praia dos Navitos where the designer label brigade hang out in a cluster of shabby-chic huts. Itapororoca is a deserted beach with just a few luxury homes dotted around and is an excellent place for good clear water snorkelling.
The hidden gem of Fernando de Noronha was once reserved for the Paulista elite but is very slowly opening up to the most discerning of travellers wanting an other worldly experience. The small volcanic island is 350km off the coast, accessible by air and represents one of the world’s great romantic destinations. Blessed with rugged beauty and surrounded by clean natural beaches that are exposed to the full force of the ocean, this is a diver’s paradise with an incredible biodiversity where reef fish, turtles, marine birds and dolphins mingle among rock pools in the indigo waters.