Arrive in Rio de Janeiro at any time. Your Chief Experience Officer (CEO) will hold a general briefing in the evening, normally between 7pm and 8pm (a note will be posted in the arrival hotel with details). Enjoy any free time to explore the wonders that this city has to offer from our centrally-located hotel in Copacabana or take an optional city tour. "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 metropolis 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. Brilliant, white beaches in Copacabana and Ipanema, the deep blue waters of the Atlantic, the luminescent green of Guanabara Bay, and the bare blue slopes of the Sugar Loaf combine to make Rio unique. Standing over it all, at the topo f Corcovado mountain, is the huge statue of Christ the Redeemer; the best place to appreciate the city. Superb panoramic views of the city and area can also be found from the top of the Pao de 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 first sailed and entered the bay, it was the French who first established a settlement in the area, logging Brazilian 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 the construction of a fortified town to repel invaders, naming it Sao Sebastiao do Rio de Janeiro. With the amassing wealth of 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. In the 19th century, the last members of the Portuguese monarchy fled to Brazil under the threat of Napoleon’s invasion. Many of today’s older structures of the city 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 Bahia as the colonial capital in 1763, Rio remained the capital until 1960, when it was replaced by Brasilia. 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 definitely a tale of two cities: the city 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. 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 and beaches are in the Zona Sul.
Head down the beautiful Costa Verde to the colonial town of Paraty, and spend the afternoon exploring the cobblestone streets and cafés. Our second day is free to enjoy island-hopping from beach to beach in the Ilha Grande Bay, snorkelling or a visit to a typical fazenda or farm to sample local cachaça. Paraty is a lovely colonial town 125 miles from Rio de Janeiro on Ilha Grande Bay, Brazil's southeastern coast. It lies on the border between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo states, and 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. 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, with Our Lady of the Medicines as the patron saint, and they 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 1700's 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 16000 when the town was in its prime. In 1954 a road was opened linking the town to the inland 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. Paraty 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. Rio to Paraty Approximate distance:250km EStimate travel time:4 hours
We skip the 19-hour journey by land and put a flight in from Sao Paulo to give you more time to enjoy the next spot - Foz do Iguaçu, or Iguassu Falls. Spend the next two days plus exploring this tri-border region where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay meet at the junction of the Parana and Iguazu rivers. The focus is, undoubtedly, the magnificent Foz do Iguaçu, or Iguassu Falls. In order to see the falls properly you need to view them from both the Brazilian and the Argentinean sides. The Brazilian side offers the grand overview and the Argentine side, a closer look. On the Brazilian side, we have the opportunity to visit the bird park filled with beautifully coloured local wildlife and enjoy an optional helicopter ride for a birds-eye view of the falls. On the Argentinean side we are able to get close enough to almost reach out and touch the waters from the many jungle walkways and take an optional and exhilarating boat trip at the base of the falls. Note: If you have booked the Iguassu Falls Boat Ride Theme Pack, you will do it on Day 5 or 6 when visiting the Argentine side of the falls. The torrential Iguassu River crosses the State of Paraná in Southern Brazil from East to West. A few kilometres before its junction with the Paraná River, it forms one of the most splendorous natural beauties of the world: Iguassu Falls. Over 2.7 kilometres long and an average flow of 1.750 m3/s, this wonder is located in a very special place: the contrast between the green of the vegetation and the dark colour of the basalt rocks with whirring waters plunging from a 72 meter high cliff is magical. At Iguassu there are 275 falls in all, some over 80m (262.4 ft) in height, making these cataracts wider than Victoria Falls and higher than Niagara! It should come as no surprise that UNESCO declared the region a World Heritage Site in 1986. Originally “discovered” in 1541 by the Spaniard Juan Alvar Nuñez, he named the falls Saltos de Santa María. The name we use today means “great waters” in the Tupi-Guarani language. The falls are protected by two National Parks — one in Brazil and another in Argentina. Tours utilise trails and catwalks adapted to the landscape of the area, and walking is easy for all ages; guided tours of the complex are available several times a day. The best time of the year to visit is from August to November, as during the rainy season from May to July flooding will likely prevent closer viewing from the catwalks. Film buffs will remember that Iguassu was the site of several scenes from the film “The Mission.” Not far from the falls, the ruins of the Jesuit missions of the era can still be visited on a day trip. Also of interest in the area is Itaipú, the largest hydroelectric complex in the world. Experience an exhilarating optional boat tour or helicopter trip for a bird's eye view, or simply marvel at nature’s breadth and the roar of the falls.
On Day 7, travel by bus to Bonito. We leave Foz do Iguazu in the morning and travel a whole day to Bonito. Day 8 and 9 are free for optional activities in the area. Bonito (Beautiful), as the name implies, is a great place for nature lovers. Just outside the Pantanal area, this is water and jungle place with abundant colourful fish in the area’s crystalline rivers. Explore nearby underwater caves and waterfalls, go rafting or snorkelling down the crystal clear Rio de la Prata, visit macaw nesting spots, or simply spend a lazy day by the river. Foz do Iguacu to Bonito Approximate distance:768 km Estimate travel time:15 hours
We make our way to 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 basic but unique - we stay in a large tent and sleep in hammocks. Less known outside of Brazil and South America, the Pantanal, a largely flat, wetland area about half the size of France, is still 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 from 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. With luck and appropriate weather you may spot capivara (capybara), howler monkeys, caiman, giant river otters, anacondas and anteaters. The area is sparsely populated and its few roads 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’s (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. After two nights in the bush, we return to civilization. Bonito to Pantanal Estimate travl time:4 hours
From the state capital of Campo Grande, an internal flight takes us back to Rio for one last night in paradise. Pantanal to Campo Grande Estimate travel time:6 hours Flight to Rio de Janeiro: 1.5 hours
Depart at any time.