With 80km of beachfront, a dusk-till-dawn club scene
and world-recognised icons such as Christ
the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro attracts more tourists than any other South
American city – around 2.8 million each year. Thankfully, the city has a host
of options to escape the crowds and uncover stunning Brazilian scenery beyond
the beaches and skyscrapers.
Rent a bike from downtown Rio and cycle 13km south to Ipanema,
an upscale beachfront neighbourhood that helped birth bossa nova music in the
1960s. With a grid layout that is easy to navigate on two wheels, Ipanema has a
mix of beach and street bike lanes for easy, laid-back cruising.
From Ipanema, ride 2km west to Jardim de Ala – a park and
canal that separates Ipanema from its wealthy neighbour Leblon – and follow the
waterway to the paved 7km bike path around Lagoa
Rodrigo de Freitas, a large lake connected to the Atlantic Ocean by the nearby
canal. Stop for a bite of a Rio street food favourite, tapioca pancake filled
with sweet or savoury fillings, at one of the many food carts lining the water,
or rest up with a beer and bratwurst at Bar Lagoa, housed in an Art Deco
building dating from 1934. For a break from biking, rent a swan pedal boat and tour
the lagoon that will host the 2016 Olympic rowing events.
For a guided bike tour
around Ipanema and the lake, BikeInRioTours.com runs three-hour trips for 65 Brazilian reals.
If it is people you are trying to escape, five small uninhabited
islands off Rio’s southern coast definitely fit the bill. The Ilhas Cagarras feel strangely peaceful,
even with Rio’s skyscrapers in full view. Locals sail around the rocky islands to
scuba dive and fish, or jump in the choppy waters away from the Ipenema and
Copacabana beach crowds.
Home to black and white frigate
birds and blue-footed boobies, the Ilhas Cagarras are a prime spot for wildlife
watching. Between May and December, dolphins, sea turtles and even the
occasional humpback whale swim off-shore. Divers can explore a shipwreck below the
waters near Comprida, the longest island in the chain, while less adventurous
types can snorkel or swim. Some boat tours also offer fishing for a chance to
catch grouper, snapper and squid.
Book a four- or eight-hour
sailboat tour for 160 Brazilian reals on the 36ft Gandaia, or get there faster on a 28-seat speedboat with Macuco
Rio, which offers three-hour
tours twice a day.
About 240km west of Rio, the well-preserved Portuguese colonial town of Paraty
is a slice of old Brazil by the sea. Founded in 1667 as a sugar cane mill, the
town retains much of its colonial character in its cobblestone streets and
colonial-style churches, while its lush and verdant seaside location makes for incredible
contrasts between history and nature – along with equally incredible photo opportunities.
Today, cars are not allowed in the town’s centre to better preserve the
old-world charm. And every June, during the Catholic Corpus
Christi festival, residents cover the streets with intricate tapestries
created from coloured sawdust, dried flowers and coffee. In other months, examples
of the sawdust carpets and other cultural touchstones can be seen at the Casa
da Cultura Paraty (Paraty’s Culture House).
A variation of the town’s name (parati)
was once a common synonym for “a very good sugar cane rum” – so be sure to try some
of the local cachaça from one of the town’s seven distilleries, or visit in
August during the Festival
da Cachaça (also called the Festival da Pinga), where local stills offer tastings
and bands provide entertainment.
Avis, Localiza and other car hire
companies are available from the airport. From there, take Av Brasil (BR 101)
to the Rod Rio Santos that runs along the coast to Paraty. The resort town of Villa
Muriqui, about 80km west of Rio, makes for a good petrol and food spot.
Only a two-hour flight from Rio, Brazil’s Foz
do Iguacu Airport is the ideal landing spot to see one of the most stunning
waterfalls in the world. Three times taller and four times wider than Niagara
Falls, which separates Canada and the US, Iguazu Falls separates Brazil and
Argentina and in 2011 was named one of the New Natural Seven Wonders of the World.
More than 275 individual falls make up the incredible cascade, and
visitors can view them on landings close enough to feel the mist. After taking
in the rushing water, hike the jungle trails of Iguazu
National Park for the chance to see local wildlife including swallowtail
butterflies, toucans and prego monkeys.
After relishing in nature, take a bus or drive across the border to the Argentinean
spa resort town of Puerto Iguazu, only 20km northwest of the park. Book a stay
at the Iguazu
Grand, consistently rated one of Argentina’s top resorts for its
spacious rooms, lush grounds and the man-made cascades that dot the property’s
three interconnected pools.
TAM Airlines offers daily flights from Rio to Foz do
Iguacu Airport. Renting a car can make the trip between the airport and the
falls easier, though the city bus can be taken to the falls for only 2.65
Brazilian reals. Once at the falls, buses run from both the Brazil and
Argentinian sides of the park to Puerto Iguazu in Argentina and cost between 30 to 50 Argentinian pesos.