Rio de Janerio
After winning bids to host both the 2014 World Cup soccer and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, Rio de Janeiro—already a prized destination for American travelers—is solidly in the spotlight. To meet the expected rush of visitors, a massive urban revitalization project is underway, including the harborside Museu do Amanha (Museum of Tomorrow), designed by famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and focusing on science and sustainability. The same Pier Maua area is also the location for the now annual contemporary art fair ARTRio, that brings leading international buyers and sellers to four waterside warehouses along Guanabara Bay in September. Other artsy things to see and do include taking the 215 steps of the mosaic-tiled, Escaderia Selaron stairway that bridges the neighborhoods of Lapa and Santa Teresa; tramming-it up to the massive Christ the Redeemer statue that tops Corcovado mountain (recently chosen as a new Seven Wonders of the World); looking at Brazil through the eyes of the funky Carmen Miranda Museum; jogging along the undulating white- and black-patterned side walk bordering Avenida Atlantica, an iconic symbol of Rio; breaking for tea in the gorgeous belle epoque cafe, Confeitaria Colombo. On Saturdays you’ll want to shop for gemstones and resort wear, and on Sundays hunt for bargains at the Hippie Fair; and right up to Carnaval time, Saturday night is the time to catch a samba school rehearsal for this Mardi Gras event: in 2013, Feb. 8-13. Then, of course, there are the justifiably famous beaches, such as Copacabana and Ipanema. (The Fasano hotel sits seaside here; in addition to Sao Paulo, expect three additional Fasano outposts to open elsewhere in Brazil before the World Cup.) Of note: many insiders head southwest to Prainha for some of the area’s best surf and views.
For longer stays nearby, pack a bikini and sunscreen and book a room in the stylish resort of Buzios (85 miles east of Rio); hotel-wise, Casas Brancas is a good choice; artsy Insolito is another. Alternately join the beautiful people on some of the most beautiful beaches in southern Brazil on Ihla Grande, a ferry ride away from Angra dos Reis (which is 100 miles from Rio).
BEST TIME TO GO: Summer in Brazil, December through March, is hot; winter months, June through September, are mild to cool and cooler, depending on latitude and altitude. In Amazonia, the dry season lasts June to December
FUN-FACT: Once President Juscelino Kubitschek decided to move Brazil’s capital inland from Rio, the new capital city of Brasilia was built in just 41 months—officially open for business on April 21, 1960
ENTRY DOCUMENTS: Valid passport, valid for six months beyond Brazil visit, and a tourist reciprocity visa,
obtained in the U.S. Visa cost is $140, valid for 10 years
CURRENCY: Brazilian real
MUST-TRY LOCAL FOOD: Richly influenced by Africa, the foods of Bahia occupy a culinary world all their own: moqueca, the most popular dish, is a rich stew made with fresh fish or seafood, coconut milk, lime juice, cilantro, spicy peppers and dende palm oil; in Salvador, visitors often choose to dine out at Solar do Unhao (set in an 18th century sugar mill) to sample Bahian specialties
BEST BUYS: It comes as no surprise that the largest shopping mall in Latin America is Barra Shopping in Rio; smaller boutiques are the place to go for particularly Brazilian buys such as gemstones, music CDs, shoes and beachwear
INFORMATION PLEASE: Brazil Tourist Board—braziltour.com