Fly in to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second most populous city and the world’s carnival capital. Brimming with contrasts of colour, culture and scenery, it’s easy to see how Rio earned its nickname – Cidade Maravilhosa (the Marvelous City). Transfer to the luxurious Belmond Copacabana Palace, your five-star home for the next few days. Mingle over apéritifs to the jazz rhythms playing in the Piano Bar, or paddle off your jet lag in one of the city’s largest pools, before heading out to your welcome dinner at a local churrascaria.
From the neighbourhood of Cosme Velho, hop on the cog-wheel train as it makes the steep climb to the summit of Corcovado Mountain, admiring the panoramic view on ascension. At its peak, stand in the shadow of the towering Cristo Redentor – Christ The Redeemer.
In the afternoon, gain a glimpse behind the scenes of Rio’s lively annual carnival; amble in the shade of the Botanical Gardens’ 140-hectares of tropical greenery; master the caipirinha (Brazil’s national cocktail) during a mixology workshop; or explore Rio’s rich history on a walking tour.
A cycle tour of the city’s South Zone is a must to experience life like a carioca (a Rio native). Wind through coastal Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon and Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon – pausing to sample the diverse flavours of the busy markets en route.
Later, ride a glass-walled cable car to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain for a sundowner. From the peak, looming 396 metres over the harbour below, you can see Rio in all its glory: curving coastline, jutting green mountains and sprawling bairros, under an impossibly blue sky.
Today, fly in to Foz do Iguaçu for a tour of the largest waterfall system in the world. Located within Iguaçu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Iguaçu Falls are taller than the Niagara Falls and twice as wide. From the glass-viewing platform, savour the spectacle of 275 magnolia-white cascades spilling over dense green jungle.
Afterwards, retire to the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, a grand property uniquely set within the national park. The hotel boasts exclusive access to the falls when the park closes to other visitors.
The Iguaçu Falls look just as beautiful from the other side of the river. Cross the Tancredo Neves Bridge into Argentina, then follow the walkways through lush greenery dotted with swaying orchids. From the platform at the brink of Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), the narrow stretch of river preceding a plunge of 80 metres, definitely do look down.
Afterwards, spot colourful birds behind the scenes of Parque das Aves. Or enjoy an unrivalled view of Três Fronteiras (Three Borders) from the dizzying heights of a helicopter flight.
Touch down in the buzzing capital of Brasília. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city welcomes one million visitors annually and is the centre of the federal government. During a half-day tour, admire Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer’s unique architecture: the jagged white crown of the Cathedral of Brasília, the magnolia monoliths of Three Powers Square and the Eiffel-esque TV Tower, among other iconic buildings. Located minutes from the airport and Brasília’s main tourist spots, the Windsor Plaza Brasilia offers comfortable contemporary rooms and is your home for the night.
Take a moment to explore more of Brasília’s cultural side, then fly out to Salvador, the heart of Bahia culture and Brazil’s colonial-era capital. Enjoy an evening immersed in African heritage at the Miguel Santana Theatre, as the Balé Folclórico da Bahia (Bahia Folklore Company) perform the sacred dances of candomblé. Acrobatic capoeira, colourful costumes and pulsing percussion combine to thrilling effect.
Afterwards, let your pulse settle at boutique hotel Villa Bahia in the heart of Salvador’s historical centre.
Trace the development of Salvador from humble beginnings to fourth-largest city in Brazil. Travel to the mouth of the Bay of All Saints along tree-lined avenues, admire the colonial architecture of the Pelourinho (Historic Centre) and whisper a prayer from a pew in the gold-leafed São Francisco Church. While strolling between pastel buildings down narrow streets, soak up the atmosphere of this vibrant city. Later, soak up a little cachaça, too, with a tasting experience. Brazil’s national spirit, cachaça is made from distilled sugarcane and best when aged and sipped.
There are few better places to people watch than at a local market. Salvador’s centuries-old São Joaquim market sells less tobacco and sugar than it used to, but you’ll still find everything from religious artifacts to the ingredients for moqueca, the signature dish of Bahai cuisine – sample the famous fish stew at a restaurant after touring the bustling stalls.
Next, catch the rhythm of Bahia under the expert guidance of a local percussionist. Try your hand at the traditional drums of candomblé, samba-reggae and capoeira.
With your feet still tapping a Bahia rhythm, bid a fond farewell to the sights and sounds of Brazil.