An ideal first visit to Brazil, including Rio de Janeiro, Iguassu Falls, the Amazon, and Salvador
Rio de Janeiro
Day 1 Most flights from Europe arrive in Rio in the morning. You are met on arrival at the airport and transferred to a mid-range hotel overlooking Copacabana beach and a short walk from Ipanema. You stay here for the next 3 nights. The rest of the day is free to relax after your long flight at your hotel or on the beach.
Christ the Redeemer, 'historical Rio' and Ipanema
Day 2 BL Today you are taken on a full day guided tour of Rio taking in some of the highlights of the 'marvellous city' as Brazilians call it. Make sure your camera battery is fully charged!
An early morning start to the foot of Rio's most iconic landmark, the statue of Christ the Redeemer, and to see one of the best views in the world. You take the train up Corcovado mountain to the foot of the statue where the whole of Rio is spread out below you. Straight ahead is Sugar Loaf mountain, Guanabara Bay, and across it the successions of pepper-pot hills that spread out beyond the city. Facing the Atlantic, the Rodrigo Freitas lagoon lies close to the foot of the mountain, with beyond it Copocabana, Ipanema and the beaches of the southern zone facing the ocean. Inland behind the mountain are the downtown areas of the city, spreading onwards to the Maracana stadium and much more besides.
You will then be taken down to "old" Rio, visiting the old historic centre, with its museums, colonial buildings and baroque churches such as the exuberantly decorated Igreja São Francisco de Penitencia.
Stop for a light lunch at the delightful Confeitaria Colombo, an art nouveau cafe in the heart of downtown Rio that is traditionally frequented by artists, intellectuals and politicians.
In the afternoon your guide will take you back to the 'zona sul', or southern zone of the city, to Ipanema - its streets lined with trendy boutiques, cafes, bars and restaurants. Zona sul's long beaches are divided into sections or 'postos', each of which attracts its own community of like-minded locals.
Walk the swirling black and white tiled beachfront promenade, designed by Roberto Burle Marx, or sit on the sands of the beach and watch the 'cariocas' go about their daily life. It may be corny, but you might stop for a cold beer at the corner bar where a girl walked by, looking straight ahead on her way to the sea, and made the hearts of composer Tom Jobim and poet Vinicius Moraes skip a beat, or sip a coffee at the 'Girl from Ipanema' cafe run by the lady herself.
Sugar Loaf Mountain, Tijuca Forest, and the Botanical Gardens
Day 3 B This morning you will be collected from your hotel by your private guide and be taken to the Tijuca National Park, the worlds largest forest in an urban area and a UNESCO natural heritage site.
The park is home to numerous waterfalls, wonderful viewpoints over the city and well-marked walking trails. Hopefully you will have the chance to spot some of the wildlife that frequents the forest, including monkeys, iguanas and a variety of birds.
You then descend to visit the Botanical Gardens (itself another UNESCO natural heritage site), which holds a large collection of tropical and subtropical plants and trees, including orchids, water lilies and towering palms. It is also a research institute and home to Brazil's biggest botanical library. After a stop for lunch of your choice (at your own expense) you are taken to the neighbourhood of Urca to ride the cable car up to Sugar Loaf mountain for more fantastic picture-postcard views of Rio.
As this is your last night in Rio (until you come again!), you might choose to linger at the summit until sunset to see darkness fall over the city and twinkling lights start to illuminate the curvaceous cityscape.
Day 4 B This morning you are transferred to Rio de Janeiro airport to catch your flight to Iguassu. You are met on arrival at Iguassu airport and transferred to a mid-range hotel in Iguassu, where you stay for the next 3 nights, set within well-maintained grounds a short distance from the entrance of the Iguassu National Park. The rest of the day is free to relax at your hotel.
Brazilian side of Iguassu Falls
Day 5 B This morning you are collected from your hotel and taken on a private tour of the Brazilian side of the Iguassu Falls.
You begin at the modern visitors centre at the entrance to the National Park where there is a small museum with interactive exhibits, information and facts about the falls.
You are then taken to the start of the 'Waterfall Trail', a 1,200m paved trail dotted with superb viewpoints looking onto different parts of the falls, culminating in a catwalk that leads you to the base of the almighty Devil's Throat cascade, a sheer mass of thundering water that is undoubtedly the most impressive part of the falls.
This trip ends at the upper part of the Iguassu river which is accessed by a panoramic lift, which gives you a view of the falls from above.
You will then be taken on the 'Macuco' safari boat trip, which starts with a 3km ride through the forest in a wagon pulled by an electrical vehicle (which sounds corny but is actually quite good). There is an English-speaking guide with you who will point out the surrounding flora and fauna and tell you something about them. After a 500m walk in the forest to the riverbank you board an inflatable speedboat specially designed to get as close as possible to the waterfalls. Prepare to get soaked!
We have not included today's lunch so that you can choose from the several places to eat around the park.
Iguassu Falls from the Argentinian side
Day 6 B This morning you are collected from your hotel and taken over the border to Argentina for a different perspective of the falls.
Board the small 'Tren Ecologico' or Rainforest Ecological Train which winds through the National Park dropping visitors off at the various walkways. Visit both the lower circuit catwalk, a 1.5km loop offering views of smaller but spectacular falls such as Ramirez and Bosetti and the upper circuit catwalk, a short trail in the forest above the first few waterfalls. Keep your eyes peeled for 'toco' toucans.
You are then taken by train to Devils Throat station from where you walk 1,100m along a flat catwalk suspended over the Upper Iguazu river. The lookout point at the end of the catwalk offers stunning views over this side of the Devil's Throat falls, a very different view from the one you experienced yesterday.
Next, a change of scale to visit Puerto Iguazu town and the garden of a local family which has been transformed into a delightful 'Jardin de los Picaflores' or hummingbird garden, full of flowers and suspended water feeders filled with sweetened water which attract a variety of different species of hummingbirds. It is a magical sight to see so many of these tiny birds up close and hear the fast-paced buzz of their wings as they hover at the feeders.
You are then transferred back over the border to your hotel where the remainder of the day is free to relax. There may be time for an optional excursion at additional cost. You might visit Itaipu Dam, go on a canopy tour, go walking on a nature trail in the National Park, or visit the rather incorrect 'Parque das Aves' or Bird Park - a series of aviaries within the humid subtropical forest, which houses over 800 species of birds, as well as alligators, butterflies and anacondas.
The Amazon and Manaus
Day 7 B An early start this morning to catch your flight to Manaus, the cosmopolitan heart of the Amazon, changing planes in Sao Paulo.
You are met on arrival at Manaus airport and transferred to the Hotel Tropical Manaus, located on a river beach 16km from downtown Manaus where you stay for the next 2 nights.
Manaus is the financial and industrial capital of the Amazon and the chief port and hub for the region's extensive river system.
In the mid-afternoon you are collected from your hotel for a tour of Manaus, visiting its famous Opera House, the Indian museum (with fine collection of ceramics, sacred masks and replicas of Indian dwellings), the rubber museum, which shows the great wealth of the city during the rubber boom and the local fish market where weird river fish are laid out for your inspection.
Afterwards you are driven back to your hotel where the rest of the day is free.
Day 8 BLD Early this morning you are picked up from your hotel and driven on asphalt road for a 2h 45min trip to the port of Novo Airão, where you board a motorised boat for a 15 minute trip to your base for the next 2 nights, the Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge.
The Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge is a small, stylish hotel in a vast stretch of untouched rainforest adjacent to the Anavilhanas archipelago, the largest fluvial archipelago in the world.
The lodge offers an all-round experience of Amazonian wildlife. You stay on a full-board basis in comfortable suites with twice-daily wildlife excursions led by experienced English-speaking local guides. After an welcome drink and lunch, you will embark on an afternoon tour of the Anavilhanas islands in regional watercraft.
You stop at one of the islands to disembark for a nature walk to experience a small example of the Amazon's immense array of plant and wildlife. After dinner at the Lodge get ready for a night-time alligator-spotting excursion where you are likely to see other nocturnal fauna too.
Day 9 BLD A full day discovering the Amazon based at Anavilhanas. After breakfast embark on a 2 hour forest hike (dry season) accompanied by a local guide who will escort you through the mainland forest.
In the afternoon you will set out on an excursion in wooden canoes around the regional riverbanks, hoping to see Amazonian dolphin and to try your hand at piranha fishing.
After dinner, you will have a chance to hear about the surrounding Amazon environment and the Anavilhanas Lodge in a lecture given at the lodge.
Day 10 B This morning you are transferred by boat and road to Manaus and on to the airport for your flight to Salvador.
You are met on arrival at Salvador airport and transferred to your chosen hotel in the heart of this fascinating city where you stay for the next two nights. Salvador is the capital of African-Brazilian Brazil, an intoxicating mix of sights, sounds and flavours.
Recancavo and Cachoeira
Day 11 BL For a good introduction to Bahia today you take a day trip out into the countryside around Salvador, to the fertile Reconcavo farming region which surrounds the Bay of All Saints to visit the delightful, sleepy, river port town of Cachoeira.
The Reconcavo grows much of Bahia's fruit and also spices such as peppers and cloves. In past centuries this was the plantation zone where sugar cane and tobacco were harvested by slaves. These crops brought riches to the region and paid for the fine colonial buildings in Salvador and Cachoeira.
The day starts with a brief stop in Santo Amaro (hometown of two of Brazilian most popular musicians Caetano Veloso and his sister Maria Betania) to visit the local market.
Here the stalls are piled with all sorts of local produce: pineapples, chillies, exotic gnarled squash, coconuts, melons, tarry black coils of chewing tobacco, and blue-legged crabs all covered in mud.
From here you continue to the pastel painted town of Cachoeira which nestles at the foot of a hill spread out along the Paraguaçu River. Depopulated since the crash of sugar prices in the 19th century, Cachoeira remains as it was then - seemingly untouched by modern life.
You'll be able to look into some of the local churches, and visit the Dennemann cigar factory, across the iron bridge in Sao Felix, where you can watch Brazil's finest cigars being hand rolled and learn about the beliefs and rituals of candomble.
Salvador's Pelhourino, Cidade Baja and Igreja do Bomfim
Day 12 BL Today your local guide will accompany you on a full day tour of Salvador, visiting the cobbled streets of the Pelhourino district and some of the lower town.
The Pelourinho is the historic centre of Salvador and it is a UNESCO world heritage site, bursting with well preserved colourful colonial buildings (Salvador contains the largest collection of colonial architecture in Latin America).
We suggest you start the tour with some early morning street photography to best capture the different pastel shades of the fine colonial houses before the city comes to life. Then you will visit the Sao Francisco church - one of the richest churches in Brazil. It has a painted ceiling, blue and white azulejos tiled cloisters and an extravagantly carved Baroque interior gilded with 800kg of gold leaf except at the rear where the slaves worshipped. There are many other interesting churches, such as the Catedral Basilica and several museums. Your guide can adapt the day's schedule to best match your interests.
There will be time to window shop in the artisan's boutiques, and soak up the city's great atmosphere. Bahian ladies dressed all in white wander the streets selling delicious freshly cooked acaraje (deep-fried black-eyed pea fritters stuffed with caramelized onions and shrimp) whilst the hypnotic sound of the berimbau and capoeira chants permeate through the air as a group of locals perform impromptu capoeira shows in church squares.
You will then be taken to visit the lower town. Starting with the 18th century Igreja NS do Bonfim church. This is the most important church to the followers of Candomble who syncretize Jesus Christ (Nosso Senhor do Bonfim) with Oxala, their highest deity. This is where the colourful bands of cotton, fitas, which have become a symbol of Bahia are tied around peoples' wrists. They are tied on with three knots and with each knot you make a wish which it is said will come true by the time the fita falls off. It's bad luck to cut off the fita and they can take two years or so to fall off by themselves. The church is a popular shrine as Bonfim is said to have miraculous healing powers. In the room of miracles devotees leave ex votos, photos and prayers for those who need healing.
Then take in the view of All Saints Bay from the battlements of nearby Forte de Sao Felipe on Monte Serrat hill. There is time for dinner before you are driven to Salvador airport for your international flight home overnight.
12 days / 11 nights.
Guide Price: £call
based on two people sharing a double rooms subject to confirmation of availability in Brazil.
All transport within Brazil including domestic flights Rio de Janeiro- Iguassu-Manaus and Manaus-Salvador in economy class; services of a private guide/driver on days 2-7 and 11 and 12; 11 nights accommodation, meals as indicated: B = breakfast, L = lunch, D = dinner, all excursions as described in the itinerary (shared services of naturalist guides in Anavilhanas).
International flights with e.g TAP Air Portugal London-Rio de Janeiro-Salvador-London return; ; travel insurance; Brazilian departure tax, (allow USD$36 pp); items of a personal nature, e.g drinks, tips, laundry, any optional excursions.
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