Just back from… Brazil With Paul Winrow-Giffen
After 5 years, Bespoke Tour Leader Paul returns to Brazil for an incredible trip to some of the country's highlights.
Which country did you visit?
How did you get there?
I flew with British Airways on the non-stop direct flight from London Heathrow to São Paulo. While it is a long light, the fact you don’t need to worry about connecting flights means it’s a very efficient overnight journey.
Where did you go?
I covered a number of different, reasonably remote corners of the country to begin with including the Pantanal wetlands, the southern Amazon rainforest and the Brazilian Cerrado/ Savannah. Towards the end of the trip I also managed to include a few classic favourites in Paraty and Rio de Janeiro. This was a brilliant combination incorporating remote lodges, abundant wildlife, amazing forests, challenging hikes, colonial towns and the one and only icon of Brazil – Rio!
Have you been before?
I have visited Brazil on one other occasion around 5 years ago; however the itinerary was completely different and almost all of the areas featured on this trip were new experiences to me.
If so… any notable differences?
The only place I was re-visiting was Rio de Janeiro. It was truly amazing to be back and I was sad not to have longer in this vibrant city. The buzzing atmosphere as well as the stunning location of Rio make you feel a world away from the UK.
Last time I visited, the city was gearing up for hosting both the Olympics and World Cup. While these momentous events have now come and gone, the capital still feels rejuvenated from these experiences.
I found that contrary to the negative perceptions offered by the media, there is a good sense of safety in the neighbourhoods that attract the most tourism.
Which was your favourite…
Place: Ibitipoca Reserve. Located in the southern part of Minas Gerais state, it’s just a 4-5 hour drive from Rio (very close by Brazilian standards!) This part of the country receives very few international tourists and has a very ‘authentic Brazilian’ vibe. It really feels you’re getting more off the beaten track, especially when arriving from the big city. Here you can find a whole spectrum of environments; cloud forests thick with bromeliads, desert plateaus scattered with cacti and steep hills boasting impressive views of cascading waterfalls. You can even swim in the rock pools which form below. This rural and relatively undeveloped corner of the country is definitely somewhere I’ll be recommending in future.
Hotel: Cristalino Lodge. This is a wonderfully remote rainforest lodge perfectly situated on the banks of the Rio Cristalino, a black water river in the southern Amazon region. Far removed from the big city of Manaus, you really do feel immersed in a special part of the Amazon rainforest. All around the lodge you can spot incredible mammals, reptiles and especially birdlife, brightly visible among the trees. Despite the wild surroundings, the rooms here are remarkably comfortable. The lodge also maintains impressive Eco credentials, which is so important considering the threat of logging and clearance in this part of Brazil.
Excursions: Oncafari Jaguar Experience (at Caiman Lodge). This part of the Pantanal is famous for its abundant wildlife, which can be spotted with relative ease on the enormous private reserve owned by Caiman Lodge. Seeing a jaguar has been the cherry on the cake for many guests here, with excellent chances since their conservation programme began. Whizzing around the wetlands in an open top 4X4 provides a unique off-road experience (unlike National and Safari Parks where you follow a rigid route). Accompanying you is an expert driver and a wildlife guide, who holds tracking equipment in the air as you search for a signal. Crunching through thick brush and finally catching sight of a jaguar is simply magical.
What was your most memorable moment?
As I mentioned above, it’s got to be sighting a relaxed jaguar after our exhilarating drive across the Pantanal wetlands.
What tips do you have for travelers wanting to visit the same destinations?
I went during the month of May, which in hindsight was a great time to visit for all of the areas featured on this trip. This is the start of the dry season in Pantanal/ the Amazon, but still benefits from good water levels and warm days around Ibitipoca, Paraty and Rio.
Is there anything indispensable to pack or prepare for?
I think if you’ve got some good camera gear, or you’re looking for an excuse to purchase a zoom lens, this is certainly the trip to do so. You’ll certainly make the most of the wildlife in both the rainforest and Pantanal.
Sum up your trip in a sentence?
A brilliant off-the-beaten-track tour to some truly dramatic corners of Brazil, offering spectacular wildlife and scenery.
Provide an expert comment:
Brazil is an immense country and it’s easy to try and pack in too much. Keep the long journeys and multiple flights in mind and remember that sometimes less really is more.