Brazil for Awesome People
January 29, 2012 8:32 PM   Subscribe

After finding ourselves in the unexpected position of having a two-week trip but no idea where to go on it, my boyfriend and I have decided to go to Brazil! Which is a gigantic country, so your help, opinions, and itineraries are much desired.

Our original trip idea was to visit Socotra (dashed by Yemeni terrorism); our second-choice Madagascar (dashed by monsoon/cyclone season). I'd like to get a few of the same elements in Brazil that we were hoping to get out of those places:
- A feeling of otherness
- Natural beauty
- Interesting/good/unique food and drink
- Great stories to tell our friends and loved ones upon return

The trip parameters are:
- We've got 10 days, including travel time from NYC.
- We'll be there directly after Carnival, arriving the last week of February. (Is that a terrible time to visit, btw? Will everything be Lenten and morose?)
- I have a cousin who's living in São Paulo who is fantastic and with whom we'd like to spend at least 2-4 days at some point in the itinerary. It seems likely that we'll fly into São Paulo and do the cousin time first — good idea? Bad idea?
- For the sake of leaving no option off the table, let's assume money is no object.

A general idea we have (that's in no way set in stone) is to do a few days in São Paulo, a few days in Rio, and then a few days at either Iguazu Falls or at Paraty. I realize Rio and São Paulo aren't going to provide Socotra-level otherness and beauty, so that's where the Iguazu/Paraty comes in — are there other/better places to get in that away-from-the-usual feeling? (Sadly, we won't have time for a full-blown trip to the Amazon — will we?)

Will you share your Brazil highs and lows, itineraries, can't-misses, hotels, restaurants, tours, spots, wishlists, etc.?

Note that the "Awesome People" referred to in this post's title are you guys.
posted by firstbest to Travel & Transportation around Brazil (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'd skip Iguaçu and stick to Paraty - 10 days is probably too short to go all the way South. So you're right, Amazon is far and huge and needs its own 10 days. While in Paraty, if you have a chance, check Trindade - a cluster of beaches just south of the town. It's beautiful.

Not a bad idea at all to start with São Paulo, and it's great you'll have a host there, right at the beggining of your trip. What do you like to do? If you like partying, check Baixo Augusta, a downtown neighbourhood known for its nightlife. That NYT article doesn't make it justice: the place is a bit crazy and it's fun just to walk down the street beer can in hand. My favorite spot is Bar do Netão with its tiny dance floor.

Things are not going to be morose. If anything, for the beaches at least, it's a better time, less crowded.

Rio is a stunning city. Check Lapa for samba places. Ask around, things keep changing. I love Rio Scenarium when I went there years ago.

Check modernist architecture in both cities, if that's your thing. A few key architects: Oscar Niemeyer, Paulo Mendes da Rocha, Lina Bo Bardi, Vilanova Artigas

I can talk for hours for things to do in São Paulo and Rio, so I'll leave at that for now.

Try to learn a bit of Portuguese! It'll come handy.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 9:20 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I enjoyed a trip to Ouro Preto, an old mining town where all the old, pretty colonial architecture is maintained citywide. (You're not going to see much of that in the big cities.)

Rio is most beautiful from a slight distance-- from the beach, from the Pão de Açúcar, from the statue of the Cristo Redentor.

Brazil is biiiiig. Don't try to see too many places or you'll be spending all your time in airplanes.
posted by zompist at 9:28 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

You've got the visa situation covered, right? US citizens have to get the $100 visa valid for 90 days (I think, unless that's changed recently) in addition to having a US passport. Just a heads-up in case you haven't done that yet, as it will take a couple weeks to process.
posted by misha at 9:37 PM on January 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

I recommended you Colombia instead and I still do. But for Brazil

> We've got 10 days, including travel time from NYC.
10d isn't much. You can look into it an see if the "Brazilian Air Pass" is still available.

> We'll be there directly after Carnival, arriving the last week of February.
After a week of partying the country basically goes to sleep for a week. Not a good idea to go then IMHO.

>Is that a terrible time to visit, btw?

>I have a cousin who's living in São Paulo who is fantastic
I would have said: Skip SP but if you know somebody then SP can be decent, the night life is fun IF you know somebody.

> It seems likely that we'll fly into São Paulo and do the cousin time first — good idea? Bad idea?
Likely you have to fly to SP anyway. It is the major Brazilian and South American HUB.

>For the sake of leaving no option off the table, let's assume money is no object.
OK. Otherwise I had told you that Brazil has become a very expensive country, even outpacing NYC sometimes. When I was in Brazil the first time, over 10y ago, it was a crazy place, not cheap, but people were very friendly and very curious for foreigners. This has changed. Brazilians have become slightly xenophobic. So being a gringo now might not open doors but close them. I speak decent Portuguese and it is advisable to be at least able to speak a little bit. Crime is endemic but has declined a little bit. I never had serious problems but you CAN get serious problems. If you get robbed just don't fight back. BTW, I never walk in a city with short trousers. Walking in Rio in the summer with jeans (and obviously no camera, backpack etc.) has always enabled my to be low profile and just blend in.

Foz de Iguazu is impressive but will also cut several days out of your trip. Places you could look into:

SP: Big city, great nightlife, you have to know somebody.

Rio: God made the world in 6 days, rested on the 7th and made Rio on the 8th. Very beautiful.
- Take a beautiful bus ride to Barra da Tijuca and take a swim.
- Visit the old Santa Teresa, bohemian, artist district on the hill (The Tram is unfortunately out of service as far as I know).
- Drink with some tourists and Brazilians in on of the Bars in Copacabana. Preferably DON'T take as swim there.
- Party with the young crows on the streets in Lapa on a weekend
- Drink a decent cafe in "Cafe Colombia" in the center.
- If you have balls like a bull and can blend in, go to a baile funk in a favela on the weekend. 15 years old with bullet proof west and AKs/automatic guns will walk around but if you are into the music... (you really have to know somebody. Suicide otherwise)
- Just get feel for the vibe of the city
- Capo Frio can be reached from Rio but I have not been there

- Ouro Preto. The "Heidelberg" of Brazil. Decent city, great story with the incredible artist Alexandrinjo.

- Porto Seguro, small old (actually the oldest) city in Brazil. Nice beaches. Nearby is "Arrail d'adjua" with the young party crowd.

Recife, the Venice of Brazil, is highly overrated in my opinion. Did not connect so much with Salvador either.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 3:19 AM on January 30, 2012

For the chance getting killed: Interesting/good/unique food and drink

Brazil is not the place for food. But what comes to mind:

- Decent BBQ (Churassco)
- Romeo e Julietta (Cheese with Goiabada)
- Carne de so com manioca (Sun dried beef with Manioc)
posted by yoyo_nyc at 4:05 AM on January 30, 2012

Good ideas so far. Here's another: You could head north and check out the Chapada Diamantina in Bahia. (I live in Salvador and am very pro-Bahia. If you want something beach-ier, I can give you other suggestions!)

I don't think right after Carnaval is a terrible time to visit. No one is lenten (maybe a little hungover) and after a couple of days everything gets back to normal. Everyone is finally back at work after the January summer holidays, the kids are back in school and the bulk of the tourists head home.

I think 10 days can be plenty of time. One advantage to domestic travel in Brazil is that the airports operate around the clock. You can hop a flight between major cities at 3 a.m. and not give up half a day to travel. (And there are plenty of overnight buses, too.)

I love street food--in my city it's acaraje and beijus de tapioca. I could eat them every day.
posted by wallaby at 5:27 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lucky you! It's a stunning country.

If your budget allows, make sure you hit Aprazível in Santa Teresa.
posted by Ziggy500 at 7:09 AM on January 30, 2012

A nice trip is São Paulo — Paraty — Rio by BR-101, the coastal highway, excellent scenery. If taking the bus, sit on the right side :-)

br 101 ubatuba paraty
posted by Tom-B at 7:40 AM on March 5, 2012

ps. I'm in SP, let's have a mefi meetup! MeMail me!
posted by Tom-B at 7:41 AM on March 5, 2012

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