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Self-drive Southern Brazil and Buenos Aires

16 days from £2,598pp

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Self-drive Southern Brazil and Buenos Aires:
Trip Dossier

Begin your Brazilian adventure in Rio de Janeiro, with a whistle-stop visit to the world’s most picturesque city (extend your stay if you wish) then fly south to Florianopolis.

Santa Catarina, in southern Brazil close to Argentina and Uruguay, is not as well known as other perhaps more exotic regions of tropical Brazil, but is no less attractive to visitors for that. It is a prosperous state settled by Europeans attracted to its fertile soils and mellow climate. The influence of Portugal, Italy and Germany can still be seen in the culture and architecture of the pleasant cities and peaceful towns studding the coast and hilly interior.

Vineyards and Alpine-style dairy farms thrive in the valleys between verdant, rugged, little-visited canyons and tableland plateaux. Why little-visited? Most Brazilian holiday-makers are not especially adventurous or energetic and there isn’t a network of walking trails. Public transport is meagre, but the roads are excellent, uncrowded and well-served with amenities, so it is ideal for independent exploration by self drive car hire.

Car hire gives you the freedom to explore at your own stopping to visit places which may interest you en route to your pre- booked accommodation. It’s also an economical way of travelling; fuel is relatively inexpensive. Driving in south Brazil can really be a delight - few people here speak a lot of English, but they are mostly friendly and helpful.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Transfer to your hotel, 2 nights.

Day 2

At leisure in Rio de Janeiro

Day 3

Fly to Florianopolis, collect hire car, drive to hotel. 2 nights.

Day 4

Guided walk to Naufragados beach; oyster tasting

Day 5

Drive to Serra Geral and your countryside eco-lodge.

Day 6-7

At leisure to explore on foot or in your car.

Day 8

Drive to Aparados da Serra and your eco-lodge.

Day 9

At leisure at the lodge. Hikes, ziplines, biking and horse-riding available.

Day 10

Drive to Praia do Rosa beach.

Day 11-12

At leisure to explore the bays and the beaches of the rugged coastline.

Day 13

Hand back your hire car, fly to Buenos Aires, transfer to hotel.

Day 14

Guided walking tour in Argentina's capital.

Day 15

At leisure in Buenos Aires.

Day 16

Transfer to airport for your international flight home.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Transfer to your hotel, 2 nights.
 

Arrive in Rio de Janeiro, the most romantic, intriguing and beautiful city on the continent. However, as you’ll see on the drive into town it’s not uniformly beguiling: if slowing a little now, Brazil’s economic indicators have shown massive growth in recent years but the gulf between the rich and the poor is the greatest of all Latin American countries. Sumptuous apartments overlook the sparkling bays against the backdrop of half-built slum dwellings, favelas, which cling precariously to the hillsides.

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Botafogo Bay

Day 2

At leisure in Rio de Janeiro
 
At leisure in Rio de Janeiro. You’d be surprised how much you can get done in one day: try an early morning trip on the cable car up Sugar Loaf mountain for views over the city and Guanabara Bay, or, if it is clear, to the Christ statue on Corcovado, passing through groves of tropical fruit on the cog railway.

There’s a lovely Botanical Garden, a peaceful lagoon to cycle around behind famous Ipanema beach, an attractive colonial core and maybe a spell at sunset on the sands of Copacabana beach itself. In the evening you might choose to eat at one of the seaside promenade restaurants or attend a samba show. All this can be easily arranged locally.
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Christ the Redeemer

Day 3

Fly to Florianopolis, collect hire car, drive to hotel. 2 nights.
 
Fly south to Florianopolis in Santa Catarina state. Most visited for its glorious string of pearl-white beaches, Santa Catarina and its eponymous island is pitted with towns and villages with a strong European heritage: Azorean fishermen and wine-producing Germans and Italians flocked here where fertile soil is perfect for vines. Beyond the rocky bays of the coast and the cultural attractions, just inland, rising up from the coastal plain, you'll find chains of ruggedly verdant mountains, canyons and table-top massifs carved through by rivers and waterfalls.

Our local representative will be at the airport to assist you with collecting your car from the designated hire car company before you set off for the hotel. (You can hire a GPS if you wish). It's a 30 minute easy well-signed drive from the airport to Lagoa de Conceição, a pleasant and lively lakeside resort in the south east of the island. Your hotel is just off the main road close to the lake shore in the centre of the little town, which has a good clutch of shops and restaurants (don’t miss the Brazilian-British-owned Black Swan pub, a very popular sports- bar-cum-traditional pub).

You might spend the rest of the day getting acquainted with your car exploring the north of the island where there are some pleasant low-key beach resorts such as the Praia dos Ingleses
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Florianopolis

Day 4

Guided walk to Naufragados beach; oyster tasting
 
Santa Catarina Island is the most important centre of oyster production in Brazil and savouring the exquisite oysters can be a gastronomic highlight of any visit. Our guide will meet you at your hotel and accompany you in the car on today's excursion which combines the oyster experience at the island's remote southernmost tip with a mostly gentle, scenic hike through robust Atlantic rainforest to a beautiful, deserted, pearl-white beach

The shaded path opens out on to a wide strip of velvety sand pitted with smooth grey rocks, the odd upturned boat and just one rustic bar. From the rocky promontory at the end of the beach there are great views across the bay to Florianopolis, the lighthouse and one of the many forts built in the 18th century to protect Florianopolis from invaders, all with a backdrop of the craggy Serra do Tabuleiro mountains. Return by boat to visit the oyster farm.
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Naufragados Trail

Day 5

Drive to Serra Geral and your countryside eco-lodge.
 
Today you set off on your self-drive adventure. There isn't too much driving per day - a few hours at most, conditions on the whole are safe, traffic outside rush hours near large towns is light and roads are in good condition. There are plenty of petrol stations and while signage is not perfect and maps are rudimentary, it is unlikely you will get lost.

You are aiming for the Seral Geral mountains which rise dramatically from a wide coastal plain. Serra Geral comprises a region of ranges of emerald green to purple craggy peaks and canyons. Flat plateaux sit alongside conical hills, rock spires as sharp as cathedral steeples punctuate the skyline and arches of carved rock populate crumbling cliff faces. Flowery meadows, sunless pine forests and gnarled vegetation cling to the slopes and plains. It's a landscape of extraordinary natural beauty, where roads and paths offer up horizon-busting views.

Follow the road up through green hills dotted with cattle farms and small villages to Urubici, a modern resort and farming town in Alpine scenery speckled with monkey puzzle trees. Many little pousadas (guesthouses) line the roads: the town is popular among families in summer for its cool climate and in winter when it snows - a novelty for most Brazilians. Not much English is spoken here so we've arranged for a local guide to meet you when you arrive in town to discuss your options for exploring over the next couple of days.

Your accommodation is in pretty farmland out of town, down a dirt road (we will give you more information on how to get there before you leave for Brazil). The whole journey takes just 3 hrs not including stops or diversions.
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Serra Geral

Day 6-7

At leisure to explore on foot or in your car.
 
You can stay at the lodge and just relax, driving round to viewpoints to see the landscape highlights such as Pedra Furada.

Local operators also offer 4WD excursions but you really get the most out of the scenery by walking. There are a number of routes which have been designed by local tour operators where you can follow trails with English-speaking guides: book them locally in Urubici where there are a couple of companies offering activities and adventure tours; the staff at the lodge will be able to advise.
There are trails to suit all tastes and abilities, lasting from 2 hours to a full day. All offer fantastic views and the promise of exclusivity: it’s unlikely you’ll meet any other walkers along the way.
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Serra Geral

Day 8

Drive to Aparados da Serra and your eco-lodge.
 
South of Urubici and closer to the coast the mountains become even wilder and the landscapes even more dramatic. The Aparados da Serra National Park protects the exquisite Itaimbezinho canyon, a vast, flat-topped narrow ravine of white-walled rock washed over by a series of waterfalls feeding a boulder-strewn river at the bottom. Your hotel is situated at the entrance to the canyon, dwarfed by the relentless walls of rock framing it.

To reach your accommodation, drive back from the Rio Canoas lodge through Urubici and continue through Alpine-like, hilly cattle country and wine producing towns. The highlight of this drive is the amazing switchback road from Bom Jardim da Serra (1,460m) down to Lauro Muller on the coastal plain, with 15km of hairpin bends. Back on the flat, drive to Praia Grande, a sleepy rural town and take the unmade road (decent condition) to your ecolodge.
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Aparados Da Serra

Day 9

At leisure at the lodge. Hikes, ziplines, biking and horse-riding available.
 
Itaimbezinho Canyon is 8km long and a death-defying 720m deep. Sub-tropical foliage frames its rim and peeps out from cracks in the precipitous white rock walls. The excitable river Rio do Boi careers along the valley floor, tumbling over boulders and fed by several waterfalls cascading over the canyon's edge from the plateau. There are several easily accessible vantage points from which you can appreciate the canyon on foot or by car, and maybe spot some of the birds and animals which thrive there, such as the red-breasted toucan, green parrots and howler monkeys.

The ecolodge offers a number of optional adventure activities and hikes.
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Serra Geral

Day 10

Drive to Praia do Rosa beach.
 
Drive back to the coast and head back up north to Praia do Rosa, an agreeable little resort jammed with pousadas guest houses, bars, good places to eat and boutiques, many with a surfing theme. There is a delightful French restaurant, Bistro Pedra da Vigia, and on the award winning, broad sandy beach are some super cool surf-style beach bar restaurants such as Coral.
Praia do Rosa is only really busy in the high season, which is from Christmas to Carnival which usually falls in February. Outside this period it is quiet.

The main attraction here of course is the beach: the blissful ivory sands are backed by dunes trapping a palm-fringed lagoon. This is stretch of coast, with its nine gorgeous and undeveloped beaches, attracts bathers, surfers and walkers. You can sight southern right whales only from July to November. There are two signed coastal cliff walks with magnificent views east and west to the adjacent beaches: Praia Vermelha (red beach) is especially wild.
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Praia do Rosa

Day 11-12

At leisure to explore the bays and the beaches of the rugged coastline.
 
Before heading off to explore in your car you should visit the pleasant modern town closest to Praia do Rosa, Garopaba, a former fishing village colonised by people from the Azores. A colonial core remains with a prominent church. It has a lot of high-end boutiques reflecting the prosperity of the majority of visitors, a pretty promenade with a couple of excellent restaurants spilling over on to a pretty promenade lined with luxurious summer homes. The tourist office here is helpful and has lots of maps and brochures.

With your hire car you are in an ideal position to explore the area around Praia do Rosa. The nine beaches, each with its own individual character, are all accessible by road, albeit a gravel or dirt one. These little-used roads are wide and easily negotiable unless it has been raining a lot in which case they will be muddy. Upon arrival at each or any of them you can walk along the beach or sunbathe (sea currents are strong, although some of the beaches have a lifeguard in high season and the majority of bays are backed by calm lagoons which are perfect for bathing.) You may well be the only visitors to one or two of the beaches, others are popular with surfers and have beach bars, one or two offer sand-boarding, a few host luxury summer homes. The fun is exploring: you never know what is around the next corner. But it is all generally safe and relaxed.
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praia do rosa

Day 13

Hand back your hire car, fly to Buenos Aires, transfer to hotel.
 
Drive to Florianopolis airport, drop off your car and fly to Buenos Aires. You’ll be met and transferred to your hotel in the Argentinian capital.

Buenos Aires is probably the most cosmopolitan metropolis in South America. Certainly it looks more European than any other in the Americas: wide boulevards, monumental architecture, art deco cafeterias and designer label shops. This seductive city oozes old world atmosphere and nostalgia, with its colonial buildings, antique markets, shady squares and tango halls. That's not to say Buenos Aires is just stuck in its past - it's equally vital and contemporary with a vibrant arts scene, top drawer restaurants, ultra-chic boutique hotels and a pulsating nightlife. The city's passion for football reaches a crescendo during the local derby between Argentina's two biggest football clubs, Boca Juniors and River Plate.
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Buenos Aires

Day 14

Guided walking tour in Argentina's capital.
 
Although the modern Buenos Aires skyline is dominated by its mass of high-rise towers, typical of any rapidly expanding 21st century metropolis, at street level it reveals architectural gems and peeling relics which tell a story best appreciated on foot. The historic neighbourhoods of Montserrat and San Telmo are the focus of your guided walking tour today.

Your explorations include the Plaza de Mayo with its pink-hued Casa Rosada (Presidential Palace) and the Metropolitan Cathedral. Your tour ends in San Telmo, with its many antique and bric-a-brac shops. You are free to explore independently before making your own way back to your hotel.
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Colourful houses in La Boca, Buenos Aires

Day 15

At leisure in Buenos Aires.
 
At leisure in Buenos Aires. Stroll round Puerto Madero, the refurbished port district where former dock installations and features have been preserved alongside a string of excellent restaurants and loft conversions. Beyond the city limits, consider a trip across the River Plate to Colonia in Uruguay. Travel along a forest-fringed estuary, dotted with upmarket residences, to this peaceful little port, where you can wander among cobbled streets lined by colonial houses, or have a meal or drink in the yacht club.

Alternatively, venture into the watery delta to the small town of Tigre, set on the banks of the Luján River. Have lunch at one of the restaurants on the shores of the Río Paraná, while watching fisherman at work and river-craft gliding by.

A third choice would be a trip out to one of Argentina’s famous estancias (ranches) on the grassy plains of the pampas.
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Day 16

Transfer to airport for your international flight home.
 

Transfer to airport for your international flight home.

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Essential information

Accomodation

In Rio you are staying at a modern, professionally-run medium-class hotel one block from the beach in Copacabana. Your hotel in Florianopolis has a boutique ambience and a notable Portuguese flavour, while the homely wooden ecolodges in the interior of Santa Catarina are constructed with sensitivity to the environment, while offering comfort and modern amenities. Your hotel on the beach at Praia do Rosa is our favourite in the village, a smart and very attractive pousada.

Transport

Two domestic flights; self-drive hire care - VW Fox or similar (compact, for up to 2 clients), Fiat Doblo or similar (3 clients or more) with air conditioning.

Meals

Breakfast daily.

Guides

We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by the latter on their return.

Included excursions

• Guided hike to Naufragados beach with oyster tasting.
• Walking tour of Monserrat and San Telmo in Buenos Aires.

Summary of nights

16 days, 15 nights: Rio de Janeiro 2; Florianopolis 2; Urubici 3; Aparados da Serra 2; Praia do Rosa 3; Buenos Aires 3.

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office.
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides, where stated.
• All air and land transfers.
• Car hire in Santa Catarina.
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees.

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and gratuities.
• Meals other than specified.
• Optional excursions.

Currency

The unit of currency in Brazil is the ‘real’ (plural reais).

Daily spend

A budget of around US$50-$80 per person per day should cover the cost of not-included meals, drinks, car fuel and local transport, tips and the odd souvenir. Prices of meals and drinks in standard restaurants are more or less the same as in Britain, perhaps a bit cheaper.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in Rio, Florianopolis and Garopaba (not in Praia do Rosa itself), and so taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in most shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. Banco do Brasil, HSBC and Bradesco take international cards.

However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds. We recommend that additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency. Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money. Casas de Cambio (exchange houses) proliferate in Rio, Florianopolis and there are a couple in Garopaba.

Tipping

Tips are welcomed and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. We recommend approximately $10 per person for a half day and $20 for a full day for guides and half that for drivers.

Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.

Insurance

Travel insurance is essential. 

Details of our recommended policy can be found on the Travel Insurance page.

Your vehicle hire includes only limited CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) insurance with an excess in the event of loss or damage. Please contact us for further details. Excesses are relatively high in Brazil. It is not possible to buy full Excess Waiver Insurance locally, so we strongly recommend you consider a Car Hire Excess Reimbursement Insurance policy. Although we do not sell these policies, they are widely available in Europe/North America. Check the level of cover carefully.

Airport taxes

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

There are no really long days of travel on this trip. You may not be driving more than 3-4 hours travelling between destinations, with plenty of opportunities for stops. With its flexibility and leisurely pace, it is suitable for couples and families alike.

In the mountains you can choose walks or hikes to suit your capability and interests and there are plenty of other activities suitable for people of most ages and abilities. There’s also plenty of time just to relax, if you wish.

Should you have a disability or require special assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Climate

In the southern summer temperatures can reach 35°C or higher on the southern coast - where heat is tempered by sea breezes and it is not too oppressive - and in Rio and Buenos Aires, where it can be particularly humid between December and March, with rain falling in heavy tropical showers. October-November and April-May are cooler, with some showers to be expected, but usually it is still warm enough to go to the beach and the temperatures are congenial for coastal walks.

The mountainous interior can also be hot in summer, with temperatures reaching 30°C and the sun can feel strong if you are walking. When it is cloudy or raining, temperatures are lower. (It is only ever cold (single figures centigrade) in the high winter months, when snow is a possibility and driving can be hazardous so we do not recommend car hire at this time).

Clothing and special equipment

For day-to-day wear on the coast you are advised to take loose-fitting, breathable clothes. Footwear should be comfortable and sandals are appropriate for the beach areas. A sun hat, sun block and sunglasses are advisable and you might take a light fleece or jacket for cool nights and either an umbrella or rainwear (both is better) swimwear, insect repellent and sun block.

In the mountains, if you are going to hike you will need good walking shoes or boots, walking trousers (you can wear shorts but the undergrowth can be prickly), hat, wicking T shirts, long sleeved shirt and rainproof jacket.

If you plan to go to good restaurants or out for evening entertainment, you might bring something a bit smarter as well (although more formal attire will not be expected anywhere other than at the very top restaurants).

Bring beachwear for the beach resort.

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following: typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements, including advice on yellow fever and malaria tablets (unlikely for this holiday). 

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website.

Visas

Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins. Clients with a different nationality should refer to our Briefing Dossier and check with the Mexican Consulate.

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