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Private Journeys

Family Brazil: Rio, Iguazu Falls and Bahia

15 days from £4,740pp



map marker Map

Day 1

Transfer from the airport to your hotel in Copacabana.

Yes! You head straight for the beach at Copacabana and your seafront hotel. The excitement starts here:  market stalls sell all sorts of souvenirs, T shirts, hats and beach throws; people cycle in leisurely fashion along the wide promenade, youngsters play football or volleyball on the wide golden sands, beach kiosks are groaning with coconut drinks.

If your flight arrival schedule allows, you might opt for an optional walking tour downtown. Here, there’s a very different feel: it’s not only the business centre. The redundant port facilities (as in London or Cape Town) have been regenerated to welcome visitors, with some incredible street art, more artisan markets and a huge open space housing a fantastic, interactive and space-agey museum, the Museum of Tomorrow.

ShutterStock ©

Day 2

Samba school experience and cable car up Sugar Loaf Mountain.

You have two very contrasting excursions to enjoy today. As you can imagine, Rio Carnival, with all the parades, bands, dancing and elaborate costumes, doesn’t just happen spontaneously overnight. All over Rio, preparations and rehearsals take place over up to three months before Mardi Gras, and the creating of the costumes and floats is in process throughout the year. On this guided tour in the outskirts of Rio you will visit the warehouse of one of the city’s many samba “schools” which are organised into leagues. Many costumes are on display, and you can even try one on for the ultimate selfie. Your guide will explain all about the history of samba and the structure and competition involved in the carnival parades where each school chooses an annual theme.

In the afternoon, take the cable car up hump-backed Sugarloaf Mountain, from the top of the higher of two peaks there are breath-taking views over the city. There are walkways at the top and viewing platforms facing all directions; on clear days, you’ll be treated to a panorama of the sweeping arc of Copacabana beach, the 12km bridge across Guanabara Bay the port of Rio and the city’s magnificent mountainous backdrop. For a special treat, you might add on an optional short (6 minute) helicopter flight departing from and returning to the Sugar Loaf. Yes, this offers awesome views, but maybe for children and teens this is the first opportunity actually to ride in a helicopter, and it may be some time before they do it again.

Later there’s time for a brief glimpse of downtown Rio, a grid of narrow streets and grand plazas hosting impressive baroque churches. The striking Arcos da Lapa (Lapa Arches) form an old aqueduct which carries tram cars. You’ll also observe the modernistic upturned flower-pot   cathedral, built in the 60s, and the ornate municipal theatre with its golden eagles.

Rio Carnival 2011

Day 3

Visit the Maracanã stadium, take the cog railway up Corcovado mountain.

Head to the Maracanã for a behind-the-scenes tour of what, without doubt, is the world’s most famous football stadium. In 1950, the year of its inauguration, a world record breaking 199,854 spectators watched the World Cup final between Brazil and Uruguay. It also packs out for high profile rock concerts and has hosted Pope John Paul II. More recently it was the venue for several matches in the 2014 soccer World Cup and the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympic Games.  For football fans that this is an iconic place: the magic footwork of Pele still resonates round the pitch. You’ll have a guided tour of the stadium, while your guide narrates its history and you can ask him or her all about famous games and players who have performed here.

In the afternoon you ascend to the statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado Mountain. Rio’s unmissable highlight, there is probably no better place to appreciate Rio’s magnificent cityscape than from atop the 710m high jungle clad Corcovado mountain. Much higher than the Sugar Loaf, it offers more comprehensive views. The ascent is in itself exciting, an electric-powered cog-wheel train climbs steeply through the lush Tijuca rainforest, with its abundant flowers and fruit trees, to the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer. 30m high the statue was erected in the early 1930s and has since become part of Brazil’s cultural identity. It has also been declared one of the new Wonders of the World.


Day 4

Fly south to Iguazú Falls.

From Rio’s airport it’s a two hour jet flight to Iguazú Falls, unquestionably one of the most extraordinary natural phenomena in the world. A total of 275 falls thunder over a 60m high, rust-coloured cliff surrounded by dense tropical forest. The U-shaped Devil’s Throat is the most dramatic sight, here the frothing water of the Iguazú river crashes over a 1.5km-wide precipice and columns of vapour are thrown skyward. Elsewhere the river flows decorously through the rainforest, breaking up into dozens of smaller cascades. You can usually spot toucans and many other exotic birds perched in the foliage above the tumultuous waters.

Later you’ll have a private guided visit to the quirky bird park nearby, it’s British-founded and gives you the chance of seeing up close exotic birds which are normally shy in the wild. Some of the birds, such as the toucan, seem particularly to enjoy contact with people. There are about 900 individual birds here, thriving in large aviaries planted with native sub-tropical foliage. At the entrance, you are welcomed by macaws and parrots, as well as other birds such as the king vulture. To view the birds, reptile area and butterfly zoo, you’ll walk along a 1,400m paved trail to enter the aviaries themselves.

iStock ©

Day 5

Tour of the Brazilian side of the Falls, with Macuco safari.

On the Brazilian side you have a guided tour for a broad panoramic view of these colossal falls, and there are some excellent opportunities to photograph the full sweep of the water. Later, there’s an exhilarating adventure in the national park – the Macuco boat safari. Join an open safari truck for a ride through lush sub-tropical forest full of orchids, tropical birds and lizards.  Next is a guided walk down into the Iguazú Canyon, formed over millions of years through erosion by the receding waterfalls. Upon reaching the banks of the river, the real fun begins: a ride in open boats up the canyon towards the base of the falls. Ahead and above is the main cataract of the Devil’s Throat, and the dozens of smaller falls as they cascade over the precipice. It can be a thrilling ride along the rapids and up-close to some of the more benign waterfalls: prepare to get very wet indeed!


Day 6

Full day guided exploration of the Argentine side of Iguazú Falls.

Cross Fraternity Bridge, which links Brazil with Argentina and pop in to the National Park Visitor Centre, from which a little natural gas-powered train transfers you to Cataratas Station, where the sequence of causeways and passarelles begins. It links dozens of tiny basalt islands at the top of the sheer rock face, and the walkways cross the myriad of streams as they cascade over the lip of the precipice. The train then continues to Devil’s Throat Station and from here a kilometre-long walkway leads across the river to the thunderous Garganta del Diablo, The Devil’s Throat. From this spectacular vantage point you can feel the incredible power of the water as it plummets into the vortex below.

If you enjoyed the Macuco boat safari, there is also an optional boat trip out to the base of the Argentine falls; it’s an exhilarating ride that takes you within touching distance of these thunderous cascades and your clothes and hair are soaked with the spray; it is a truly invigorating experience.


Day 7

Fly to Salvador de Bahia in the northeast.

The state of Bahía has a distinct African culture – the population is largely descended from plantation slaves and it’s like a country within a country, with its own tradition of music and dance. Here you’ll discover not only one of Brazil’s most intriguing cities, but also some of the most beautiful wilderness scenery in the interior.

In a country already renowned for its exotic character and landscapes, Salvador de Bahía is probably the most alluring.  A place rich in the sights and smells of its turbulent history, there is something there for everyone to enjoy. It’s an outdoor city, the spicy aromas of Afro-Bahian cooking waft on the balmy air, offered up for sale by smiling ladies in snazzy tropical dress. Away in the shadows are the mysterious Candomblé ceremonies where present day Salvadorians connect with their African spiritual past. The oldest part of the city sits on a bluff, an art deco funicular elevator takes you down to sea level and 19th century Republican buildings including the Mercado Modelo, a restored Custom’s House, with live music and capoeira  demonstrations.

ShutterStock ©

Day 8

Guided tour of Salvador.

The vestiges of Portuguese colonial architecture and culture blends well with African traditions in the centre of the city, where the compact historic core has recently been renovated. It’s crammed full of colourful colonial mansions, churches and museums, all clustered around a large open space known as the pelourinho, which is the heart of the city.

You’ll have a private guided walking tour of this neighbourhood, best discovered on foot. The area is enlivened with bars, shops and restaurants, and you can expect spontaneous eruptions of music at every turn. The local cuisine is very much a product of the region and its cultural mélange: you can try out any number of dishes at the many eateries in town.

Tom Parrott ©

Day 9

By road to Lençois in The Chapada Diamantina.

It’s a road journey of around 6 hours to Lençois in the Chapada Diamantina. The pretty, colonial town is a well-watered land of densely vegetated beauty set close to the dusty Sertão desert. The national park’s most distinctive features are its table-like mountains. Lençois was the centre of a diamond rush in the 19th century but since the 1980s the accent has been on ecotourism. Your hotel is convenient for visits to the many gift shops, family-style restaurants and bars in this friendly low-key little town, until recently the preserve of hippies and New Age aficionados.

The region has a hot climate all year around, which makes visiting its natural pools, rivers and delightful waterfalls an even more welcoming attraction. In the afternoon you’ll be escorted to Rio Serranos’ natural pools, where, if you dare, you can glide down the natural rock slides of multi-coloured rock to the cool cobalt waters of a pool below.


Day 10

Full day trip to the highlights of Chapada.

After breakfast there’s a full day guided adventure into the Chapada Diamantina. Drive from Lençois to the Mucugezinho river, and trek to the black lake of Poço do Diabo. From here there’s a chance to visit Lapa Doce cave, which involves about an hour’s exciting walking underground. You’ll also visit Pratinha Cave, a beautiful subterranean river and lake in which you can cool off with a dip if you feel so inclined. Later, drive to Pai Inacio plateau and walk the last 300m for today’s grand finale: perhaps the most amazing, far-reaching view in Bahia.


Day 11

Full day exploration to Fumaça Falls in the Capao Valley.

Start today’s adventure with a 2 hour drive from Lençois to the remote community of Capão which sits within the heart of the stunning tablelands of the Chapada Diamantina. From here, there’s a 12 km walk to the top of the steaming Cachoeira da Fumaça (waterfall of smoke). At 340m this is the second highest waterfall in Brazil and the only way it can be viewed in its entirety is to lie horizontal and peer down into the canyon! A picnic lunch is included at the top of the waterfall, before the hike down – which offers more magnificent views over the Capão valley. Return to Capão for a visit to the village and, on the drive back to Lençois, maybe stop at Riachinho for a swim. 

David Nichols ©

Day 12

By road to Praia do Forte on the Atlantic coast.

Bahia’s coconut coast is lined with golden beaches backed by lofty palms. Just an hour north of Salvador is Praia do Forte, a low-key and low-rise resort which is also a protected haven for sea turtles. Beyond its car-free main strip, lined with small bars, shops and restaurants, are miles of beaches and natural pools which offer a warm bath at low tide. You have two full days of leisure here: swing in a hammock, fruity cocktail in hand, or dip your toes in the ocean.

praia do forte

Day 13

At leisure in Praia do Forte.

From July to September, humpback whales can be spotted off the coast. This is one of the most endangered species on the planet; the one-time population of 150,000 has reduced to an estimated 35,000. Your optional tour starts with a visit to the Humpback Whale Institute for a brief lecture about the preservation of the species, after which there’s a short walk to the beach where you board a boat heading to the whales’ habitual location. There’s a 90% chance of spotting one of these magnificent creatures.

Pousada Porto da Lua

Day 14

At leisure on the beach.

Praia do Forte embraces some the most beautiful beaches in Brazil. The sands are soft and golden and coconut palms sway in a gentle breeze. The area has been well protected with a view to conservation, and there is a turtle preservation project close by. The village itself, which once earned its living through fishing, has adapted tastefully to welcome visitors in a friendly, low key way. You can wander the sandy streets, browsing craft shops and stopping off for a cool drink at pavement cafés. Further afield you might visit the small wetland which is replete with birdlife, reptiles and crocodiles. Biking and walking are possible in the nearby Sapiranga forest reserve, where there is also a zip-line.  


Day 15

Transfer from the hotel to the airport for the first stage of your flight home.

Inspired by this trip

Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.


Your edit for Latin American inspiration

Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.

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Real Latin America Experts

  • Carrie Gallagher
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    A former JLA tour leader, Carrie brings a wealth of on-the-ground experience to our London-based Tailor-made and Group Tours department.

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    It's hard to believe that Evie has had time to cram so much in to her life so far. Having lived as a child in the Americas and Europe she found herself immediately attracted to Latin America.

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    Kathryn backpacked across Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru before joining us. She has a degree in Philosophy and French and is a keen netball player.

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    Hannah had an early introduction to Latin America when her family moved to Ecuador and she returned to study in Buenos Aires for a year before backpacking across the continent.

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    Lina's passion for the continent where she was born really took off when she moved to Córdoba (Argentina) to study, spending the holidays travelling between Argentina and her native Colombia.

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    Ben fell in love with Latin America on a six month backpacking trip from Colombia to Mexico in 1995. Since then he has explored most of South America, including living in Peru for a year. He is now Head of Sales.

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