Brazil: Beyond Rio

Written by  Stillman Rogers

LATIN Brazil
There’s more to South America’s largest country than Rio’s carnival and the golden sands of Copacabana. Along the coast north of Rio stretch the beaches of Pernambuco, punctuated by its lively capital of Recife. Between Rio and Recife, beautiful Salvador is filled with Colonial buildings and sits close to some of the continent’s finest diving waters. Inland is the gold-washed colonial capital of Ouro Preto and the city of Belo Horizonte, filled with art deco buildings and modernist landmarks. Help your clients plan their itinerary to include some of these places they may not have heard of.

Salvador da Bahia
Surrounded on three sides by water - the Atlantic and the large Bay of Todos Santos - Salvador shows its origins as a Portuguese Colonial outpost. Clients can stay in one of the finest of these buildings, Pestana Convento do Carmo ( and have private tours of the adjoining church and it famous ruby-studded statue of Christ, housed in a sacristy that’s considered Brazil’s finest baroque interior. The former convent and its serene cloisters have been renovated into guest rooms and public areas that include a restaurant, terrace café, library and a spa. Salvador’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its ornate churches, monasteries and other 17th- and 18th-century colonial buildings. Suggest Salvador as a lively, colorful and more authentic alternative to Rio during Carnival season.

Recife and Pernambuco Beaches
Along the coast north of Salvador your clients can find more exotic culture, as well as more white sand beaches and water sports, in Pernambuco and its capital of Recife. Almost unknown to American travelers, this coast offers everything sun-lovers look for. The south end of the city, known as Bairro Boa Viagem, faces some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Their miles of soft white sand never seem busy or crowded, and warm waters are perfect for swimming, protected from Atlantic breakers by an offshore reef. Golden beaches give Recife a head start for tourists, but its mixture of cultures - Portuguese, African, Dutch and others - gives it a jolt of life. Six centuries of history has left architecture from Colonial to Art Deco and South America’s Oldest Synagogue, built in 1636.
Recife is known as the Venice of Brazil for the waterways slicing through it and for the graceful bridges that cross them. One of the nicest ways to get a sense of the city is by water. Catamaran Tours ( has three daily tours and an evening cruise that give a completely new perspective on the city and its rows of grand homes along the river bank.
Recife is the closest airport to Porto de Galinhas, a lively laid-back little beach town where palm shaded bars and restaurants overlook long wide sands protected by a barrier reef. Wooden sailboats shuttle passengers out to the reef to wade in shallow pools filled with colorful tropical fish that swim about their feet. Clients can kayak in mangrove forests and look for seahorses in sandy tidal pools, or ride the waves at the idyllic surfing beach of Maracaipe, nearby.
Porto de Galinhas offers resorts that range from budget-friendly family getaways to ultra-luxe complexes, each with its own style and feel, from South-Seas-Island to strictly modern. The high end of the price scale is Nannia Beach Resort (, which has a definite South Pacific mood with lots of thatch and open beams. A mid-range price option is the Summerville Beach Resort (, which has the feel of a modern grand hotel with large open spaces filled with swimming, wading and reflecting pools.

Belo Horizonte
Carved from the forest in the late 19th century as a new capital for the state of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte lacks the baroque churches and colonial mansions of older Brazilian towns. But this gives it a character of its own, and its architecture includes wonderful examples of Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Modernism, interspersed among the contemporary skyscrapers that dot the city.
Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer began his career here in the 1940s, leaving the city a living museum of Niemeyer designs. The first project, completed in 1943, was a trio of buildings set around a lake in Pampulha, a park-filled suburb. In the center of town, another rises in sensuous curves alongside the more traditional buildings around the beautiful tree-shaded Praça Liberdad.
This is a city of wide tree-lined avenues and garden-filled parks. The Municipal Park is home to the civic arts center, where there is an artisans’ handcraft shop in yet another stunning Niemeyer building. The Museu de Artes E Ofícios at the Praça de Estação is the only museum in Latin America dedicated to local traditional crafts and their preservation. Above the city, the Praça do Papa (Square of the Pope), site of a Papal Mass in 1980, has great views over the city and provides a sense of its scope and mountain-ringed setting. Suggest sampling Brazil’s famous grilled meats and other local specialties at Fogo da Chao ( Clients can fly direct from Miami to Belo Horizonte with American Airlines’ nonstop service (

Ouro Preto
Before Belo Horizonte, the hilltop city of Ouro Preto flourished as capital of Brazil’s Minas Gerais state. By the time the capital moved to Belo Horizonte, the wealth generated by gold in the 18th and 19th centuries left behind a cultural heritage of Baroque art and architecture unmatched elsewhere in the world. Call clients’ attention particularly to the gold-encrusted Our Lady of Pilar and the hilltop Our Lady of Carmel. The Museum of Science and Industry is known for its extraordinary display of minerals from around the world, including the famed precious stones of Brazil, many of which originate in Minas Gerais. Suggest dining at Bené da Flauta (, located in a gracious colonial mansion.
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