While flying on down to Brazil nonstop from the U.S. to one of seven possible gateways, almost everyone’s first stop is either Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. So why not visit both of these marvelous cities? Better yet, make the trip between the two by car. Following a well-maintained coastal road, along the way you’ll certainly want to stop in the colonial jewel of a town, Paraty, and stay in a pousada near one of the idyllic beaches of Ilha Grande—accessed by boat from Angra dos Reis.
2 Days in Sao Paulo
Because doing business is Sao Paulo’s business, South America’s largest metropolis enjoys the fringe benefits of some of Brazil’s best hotels and restaurants, plus wonderful museums and fabulous nightlife.
Day 1: Why not start the day in the delightful Botanical Gardens whose greenhouses are abloom in orchids and other rainforest species. Include a visit to the historic Monastery of Sao Bento and/or the grand Metropolitan Cathedral before lunch. Sao Paulo is Brazil’s finest destination for art, so plan a half-day to visit the Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo (MASP), exhibiting works from Rembrandt to Picasso, along with Brazilian artists, and/or the Pinacoteca do Estado focusing on Brazilian works only. Dining out: The Paulistas love their Italian eateries, and Famiglia Mancini is a Sao Paulo institution.
Day 2: Any day but Sunday, drop in early at the enormous Mercadao, a super-duper fresh-produce market covering 135,000 sq. ft. Then leave plenty of time to visit the Museu Afro Brasil and/or Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM) at the Parque do Ibirapeura, a 400-acre parkland of lakes and gardens, plus the Japanese Pavilion and a planetarium. With the World Cup coming to Brazil in 2014, this is a good time to drop into the Museu do Futebol. Dining out: A good night for a great steak at Figueira Rubaiyat or classics of Brazilian home-cooking at Bar da Dona Onca.
4 Days in Rio de Janeiro
Everyone loves to stay and play at one of Rio’s seaside hotels, stepping out to dine Brazilian-style at a churrascaria and take in a Las Vegas-style samba review.
Day 1: Start the day early (to avoid the crowds) with a cog-wheel train ride up to Corcovado, crowned by the Art Deco statue of Christ the Redeemer—it’s Rio’s most spectacular viewpoint. Hit the beaches of Copacabana or Ipanema for lunch and some fun in the sun. Dining out: At Ipanema or Leblon, followed by a chope (draft beer) at a botequim (neighborhood-style bar).
Day 2: After a morning jog along the beach, it’s time for a cable car ride to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain. Make it a point to work in lunch (or at least coffee and pastries) at Confeitaria Colombo, whose interiors are Belle-Epoque wondrous, and while downtown, take a sunset cruise around Guanabara Bay and make a reservation for a razzle-dazzle samba show.
Day 3: Take a cool, early morning walk around the Jardim Botanico, a 350-acre park with over 7,000 varieties of tropical plants. In the afternoon, if it’s Sunday, hit the Feira Hippie market in Ipanema. Otherwise, take a tour of one more of the flavela neighborhoods or get above it all and take in Rio in all its splendor on a (pricey) helicopter tour. Dining Out: At a churrascaria, serving up, Brazilian-style, all the meat one can eat.
Day 4: A few choices to consider. Take a day cruise to Paqueta Island, the most picturesque of the 84 islands in Rio’s bay. Or, get out of town on a jeep tour through Floresta da Tijuca, an oasis of native Atlantic forest, or head for the hills for a carriage ride around lovely Petropolis, offering a peek into the glory days of Brazilian royalty with a visit to a former summer home of Emperor Pedro II, now the Imperial Museum. Dining Out: In one of the small restaurants in hilltop Santa Teresa, then adjourn for samba and choro in the bars and clubs of the Lapa district.