Where: From the city to the country
Why: With its instantly recognisable vistas, iconic beaches and high-octane nightlife it’s no wonder Rio remains a central pillar on so many Latin American itineraries. Factor in Brazil’s other big draws, from Amazon cruises and the Pantanal’s wetland wildlife to beach bumming around Pernambuco and the Ceara Coast, and it’s a recipe for a tourism powerhouse.
Norwegian’s launch of a London Gatwick to Rio de Janeiro service on March 31 threw down the gauntlet to the incumbent British Airways, which flies from Heathrow, and next year will see Virgin Atlantic launch its new route from Heathrow to São Paulo.
Rio’s entrancing beachside neighbourhoods range from Leme to exclusive Leblon but new arrivals usually beat a path to world famous Copacabana and Ipanema, watched over by Sugar Loaf Mountain and the outstretched statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado.
Taking the cable car up Sugar Loaf for sunset scenes and Christ the Redeemer snaps is a staple. Other tours take in Rio’s green lungs such as Tijuca rainforest and Flamengo Park or venture into the city’s favelas. Come nightfall, districts such as Lapa keep the party pumping once the February Carnival and Sambadrome have grown quiet while Santa Teresa offers glimpses into the arty side of the city.
More urban pleasures await in São Paulo, from nightlife and gastronomy to its thriving art scene, from the exhibitions at Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) to the colourful street murals of local artists such as Eduardo Kobra.
Heading north, Pernambuco lures with its idyllic beaches, excellent diving and lively centres such as Recife. Further north, Fortaleza is the gateway to the Ceara Coast, whose suitability for beach extensions gained a boost in 2017 with the opening of Comandante Ariston Pessoa airport.
Brazil’s Amazon is typically accessed via Manaus, whose attractions include the historic opera house. River cruises offered by operators such as Amazon Clipper Cruises’ take in sites such as ‘the Meeting of the Waters’, where the Solimões River meets the darker waters of the Rio Negro.
Highlights of the south include the Pantanal and Iguazu Falls. The Pantanal is the world’s largest wetlands area, typically accessed by flying to Cuiaba or Campo Grande, its wildlife best seen in the dry season from May to September.
Pair it with
Brazil twins especially well with Argentina. Itineraries linking Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro via the Iguazu Falls remain a popular option, backed by internal flights to and from the two sides of the Falls. Rio is also a common inclusion on wider tours of the region such as Tucan Travel’s new 55-day Ultimate South America tour from Cartagena, Colombia to Rio.
How to do it
Lllama Travel’s 15-day Highlights of Brazil starts in Rio before flying on to Iguazú Falls and Manaus in the Amazon before ending in Salvador, Brazil’s other carnival capital. From £2,749pp, including flights to Rio and out of Salvador.
Q&A: Laura Rendell-Dunn, Destination Specialist, Journey Latin America.
What makes Rio such an unmissable destination?
In my opinion, Rio is the most exciting and beautiful city in all the Americas, if not the world. Where else can you find a city that has rainforest growing inside it, where huge outcrops of rock pepper the landscape and white sand beaches hug the coastline? Apart from Rio’s topography, what really makes this city so special are the locals, who are famous for their easy-going nature and party-loving reputation.
Any advice for selling to first-time visitors?
For a first-timer, a stay in the coastal neighbourhoods of Copacabana and Ipanema, south of the city, is a must. They’re close to the main attractions and buzz at night, thanks to the huge variety of restaurant and bar options. If budget allows, offer a glamorous stay at the opulent Copacabana Palace. For a more contemporary option, the Winsor Miramar, another oceanfront property in Copacabana, offers great value for money. Personally, my favourite months are April to June as it’s mostly dry and not too hot.
What not to miss?
A visit to Rio is not complete without a trip to Sugar Loaf Mountain. My top tip — instead of taking the crowded cable-car — is to go for a stroll along the beautiful shoreline pedestrian path, popular with walkers and joggers. This is followed by a weaving hike up a trail with awesome views of Guanabara Bay. Escape the heat and buzz of the city with an exploration of Tijuca.