Arrive in Rio de Janeiro at any time. We will be departing by midday on Day 2. There are no planned activities, so check into to centrally-located hotel in Copacabana (check-in time is approx 3pm) and enjoy the city. In the late afternoon (approx 7pm) you will meet your fellow group members to go over the details of your trip. Check the notice board (or ask reception) to see the exact time and location of this group meeting. After the meeting we will be heading out for a meal in a nearby local restaurant (optional). If you arrive late, no worries, the leader will leave you a message at the front desk. "God made the world in six days, the seventh he devoted to Rio," so say the Cariocas, residents of this beautiful city. This is a densely packed city of over 9 million inhabitants, whose economic foundations lie in the cultivation of sugar cane and gold mining. Referred to as the “cidade maravilhosa” (Marvellous City), few cities enjoy such a dramatic setting as Rio. The brilliant, white beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, deep blue waters of the Atlantic, luminescent green of Guanabara Bay and bare blue slopes of the Sugar Loaf mountain combine to give Rio one of the most stunning cityscapes in the world. Standing over it all, atop Corcovado (Hunchback) mountain, is the huge statue of Christ the Redeemer, symbol of Rio and the best place from which to appreciate the city. Superb panoramic views of the city and area can also be found from the top of the Pao do Açucar (Sugar Loaf), reached by cable car. Head to some of the famous beaches, and prepare yourself for an experience unlike anything else on Earth. Although the Portuguese were the first Europeans to sail into the bay, it was the French who first established a settlement in the area, logging Brazil wood along the coast. Their first permanent settlement lasted a brief five years, when they were attacked and driven from the area by the encroaching Portuguese. A series of skirmishes ensued, with the Tomaio people allied with the French against the Portuguese. In 1567, the Portuguese began construction of a fortified town to repel any invaders, naming it Sao Sebastiao do Rio de Janeiro. Amassing wealth with the gold rush of Minas Gerais, in the early 18th century Rio became Brazil’s most important city and a great temptation to the French who, in 1710, waged war against the Portuguese and held the city for a sizeable gold ransom. Again, in the 19th century, under threat of Napoleon’s invasion, what remained of the Portuguese monarchy fled to Brazil where they set up court in grand style; many of today’s older structures date from this period. The gold rush was followed by a coffee boom in the mid-1800s and the wealth generated led to the city’s initial modernization. Replacing Salvador de Bahía as the colonial capital in 1763, the city remained the capital until 1960, when it was replaced by Brasilia. Today, the city is a magnet for tourists who come to walk the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, and generally partake in the Carioca zest for life. Many ascend the Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao do Açucar), whose image is nearly synonymous with Rio and Carnival. Modern Rio is perhaps best known for the contrasting images offered by the favelas (shanty towns), and the glitz and glamour preferred by the Samba schools and their Carnival celebrations. Rio is divided into a Zona Norte (North Zone) and a Zona Sul (South Zone) by the Serra da Carioca; steep mountains that are part of the Parque Nacional da Tijuca. These mountains descend to the edge of the city centre, where the two zones meet. Rio is definitely a tale of two cities: the upper and middle classes reside in the Zona Sul, the lower class in the Zona Norte. Favelas cover steep hillsides on both sides of town - Rocinha, Brazil's largest favela, is in Sao Conrado, one of Rio's richest neighbourhoods. Most industry is in the Zona Norte, as is most of the pollution. The ocean beaches are in the Zona Sul.
From Rio head south along the Atlantic coast to one of the picturesque, laid-back islands on the coast, llha Grande. Relax and walk the clean sand beaches or bathe in the warm waters of this island paradise. Options include hikes through the jungle to waterfalls, a nearby black sand beach, boats or hikes to other secluded beaches or just hanging out in the laid-back World Heritage town centre. The local fauna and flora in Ilha Grande, a Nacional Patrimony protected area, are extremely diverse. The state park was created in 1971 and encompasses 4.500 hectares of wilderness. Mountain range, coastal, mangrove and prairie vegetation are all found here, along with an astonishing collection of bird life, including parrots, woodpeckers, Brazilian thrushes and saracuras. There are also different kinds of monkeys, squirrels, armadillos, pacas, hedgehogs and snakes, as well as endangered species such as the Alouatta Fusca, generally known as Bugio monkey. Rio de Janeiro to Ilha Grande Approximate distance:150km Estimate travel time:4 hours (1 hour by ferry)
This quaint, colonial town is an architectural gem famous for its churches. Located on Brazil's Costa Verde or "Green Coast," UNESCO World Heritage Paraty is known as much for the natural beauty of its surroundings as it is for its excellent cachaça. Explore the cobblestone streets and cafés of the historical centre of Paraty; a fun option during your time here is a “booze cruise” around the picturesque beaches and coves of the area. On Day 6 we leave the coast and head inland to Foz de Iguaçu, arriving the morning of Day 7. 125 miles from Rio de Janeiro, on the edge of picturesque Ilha Grande Bay, Paraty is a lovely colonial town. On the border between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo states, it is a favourite with those looking to ‘get away from it all’—Brazilians and visitors alike. Considered one of the world's most important examples of Portuguese colonial architecture by UNESCO, the historic centre is a well-preserved national historic monument, and today has been closed to vehicles to preserve its laid-back colonial ambience. During high tide, the Portuguese cobblestone streets are partly flooded by seawater, adding to the fairy tale atmosphere. Located between the lush green mountains and the sea, Paraty (sometimes spelled Parati) was once a place of significant economic importance due to its sugar cane mills. At its peak the city was home to over 250 distilleries, and the name Paraty was synonymous with world-class sugar cane rum. Founded in 1531, the original settlement was on the opposite side of the river, where a church was erected to their patron "St. Roque." Around 1640, the Indians, who used to live here, were driven away and the town moved to where it stands now. The founders named it Nossa Senhora dos Remédios (Our Lady of the Medicines) as the patron saint and built the main church in her honour. Enlarged and remodelled over the years, the church is now the focal point of the annual Festa de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios on September 8. The festival has been celebrated for over 300 years since a wealthy and reverent benefactor, Maria Jácome de Mello, donated the land to the town for the church, requesting only an annual mass in return. The mass has grown into a procession of the wooden effigy of the Virgen though the town, adorned with gold and silver jewellery. In the 1700s, when the mines of Minas Gerais were pouring out gold, the perfect bay of Paraty was a busy port, the second most important in Brazil during the ‘Golden Century.’ The best pinga or cachaça (sugar cane liquor) of Brazil was produced here and the name Paraty became synonymous with the liquor. Later, coffee was brought from the valley of Paraiba to be shipped to Portugal, sparking another economic boom. In 1888 with the abolition of the slavery, Paraty became almost forgotten in time, and a large exodus left only a population of around 600, a considerable difference from the 16 000 of the town’s prime. In 1954 a road was opened linking the town to the rest of the country through the valley of Paraiba, but it was not until 1973-75 with the opening of the highway BR-101 that Paraty’s rebirth as a tourist town began. It was declared a national monument in 1966. Paraty's bay is filled with over 65 tropical islands and dozens of beaches, each offering something different, and all covered with vegetation that remains lush and colourful year-round. The water of the bay is always the right temperature for swimming, diving and snorkelling. The national parks that encircle the town are filled with trails, wildlife and waterfalls. Hiking or horseback riding, for the sports minded, or a jeep or van tour are both excellent ways to appreciate this natural wilderness. Ilha Grande to Paraty Approximate distance:100km Estimate travel time:2.5 hours (1 hour by ferry)
Leaving Paraty, head west via São Paulo on a night bus to magnificent Foz do Iguaçu (Iguassu Falls), on the 3-way border between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. In order to see the falls properly you need to view them from both the Brazilian and Argentine sides. The Brazilian side offers the grand overview, the Argentine side a closer look. Sit back and soak in the stunning beauty and raw power that is Iguassu, or take a boat tour directly into the spray of the falls. Note: If you have booked the Iguassu Falls Boat Ride Theme Pack, you will do it on day 8 or 9 when visiting the Argentine side of the falls. At Iguassu there are 275 individual falls spread over a 3km (almost 2 mile) area. Some are over 80m (2642 ft) in height, making these cataracts both wider than Victoria Falls and higher than Niagara; in 1986 UNESCO declared the region a World Heritage Site. The falls were originally “discovered” by the Spaniard Juan Alvar Nuñez in 1541, when he named the falls Saltos de Santa María; the name we use today means “great waters” in the Tupi-Guarani tongue. Film buffs know Iguassu as the site of several scenes from The Mission, and not far from the falls, the ruins of Jesuit missions of the era can still be visited on a day trip. The best time of the year to view the falls is from August to November, as during rainy season flooding often prevents closer viewing from the catwalks. After a stop at the magnificent Iguassu Falls we travel overnight to cross the vast cattle ranches of Mato Grosso do Sul en route to Western Brazil on Day 9. Paraty to Sao Paulo Approximate distance:298km Estimate travel time: 5 hours Sao Paulo to Foz do Iguacu Approximate distance:1028km Estimate travel time: 14.5 hours
Bonito, as the name (“beautiful”) implies, is a great place for nature lovers. Just outside the Pantanal area, this is water and jungle country where brilliantly coloured fish fill the area’s crystalline rivers. Explore nearby underwater caves and waterfalls, go rafting or snorkelling, or simply spend a lazy day by the river. Foz do Iguacu to Bonito Approximate distance: 960km Estimate trave time: 12 hours
Next stop is the Pantanal, an immense wetland area famed for its profuse wildlife, where we take a two-day wildlife excursion to fully appreciate the area’s beauty and bounty. Accommodation is rustic but beautifully situated in the heart of the Pantanal. Little known outside of Brazil and South America, the Pantanal, a largely flat wetland area about half the size of France, is one of the best places in the continent for observing wildlife. This vast alluvial plain, seasonally flooded by the Paraguay River from October to March, is all that remains of an ancient inland sea which began to dry out 65 million years ago. Today it is an area rich in bird life such as macaws and Jabiru storks, and with luck and the right weather you may spot capivara (capybara), howler monkeys, caiman, giant river otters, anacondas and anteaters. The area is sparsely populated and what few roads exist are in poor condition. Most people use small airplanes, 4-wheel-drive vehicles and motorized canoes to get around, so expect some rough travel and more rustic accommodations while visiting the area. The area’s Transpanteneira, an elevated dirt road, which extends 145km (91 miles) from outside Pocone to Porto Jofre, becomes an island during the wet season. Unfortunately, as in other areas, poachers continue to do damage, and official government resources to protect the zone are scarce. This, combined with corrupt officials and a lack of commitment on the part of the government, have resulted in widespread poaching; latest estimates indicate that anywhere from half a million to two million animals are killed annually in the Pantanal. Bonito to Pantanal Approximate distance: 130km Estimate travel time: 3 hours