Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!
Join us to experience the best of Brazil on this adventure in South America’s largest country, an emerging superpower whose history and natural diversity are equally remarkable. You’ll encounter a unique blend of Portuguese, African, and indigenous cultures from the beaches of Rio ... to the Pelourinho neighborhood in Salvador da Bahia .. the Amazon River capital of Manaus ... and beyond. Explore the tropical rain forests of the Amazon River watershed during a river cruise, then discover the wildlife-rich Pantanal region, the world’s largest wetland. And what you’re likely to remember most are the Brazilians you’ll meet who eagerly share their country’s spirit with you, from the family who welcomes you for a Home-Hosted meal in Salvador to the village fishermen of the Pantanal. Join us in Brazil to experience a country where the food, drink, dancing, and music feel as exuberantly alive as the lushness of the tropical rain forest!
You depart from the U.S. on an overnight flight to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Arrive this morning in Rio. As the home of the bossa nova, world-famous beaches, and a renowned annual carnival, Rio is a city known for its exuberant zest for life. With lush mountain peaks jutting upward dramatically from a sand-wrapped coastline, it’s a city blessed as much with natural beauty as with cosmopolitan delights. In recent years, Rio has also ascended to the world stage as a major cultural capital.
When you arrive, an OAT representative meets you at the airport and arranges for your transfer to your hotel. After lunch on your own, join your Trip Leader and fellow travelers, including those joining us from the Santiago & Chile's Atacama Desert pre-trip extension, for an orientation walk. This walk will acquaint you with the neighborhood near your hotel and give you a first look at the city.
Afterwards, we meet with our Trip Leader and fellow travelers for a briefing on our upcoming trip. Later, on our way to dinner, we'll drive along the shoreline for a look at the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Then we'll enjoy a Welcome Dinner at a churrascaria, a traditional Brazilian restaurant where meat reigns supreme. Churrasco is the Portuguese word for barbecue and it applies to all kinds of grilled meat, from beef to pork to duck and sausage. The most common preparation is beef top sirloin, known as picanha. At a churrascaria, the grilled meats are brought to your table on long metal skewers by passadores (waiters) who carve it for you. The passodores will keep returning as long as you want—the choice is in your hands.
This morning, we’ll visit Corcovado, the site of the Christ the Redeemer statue. Completed in 1931, the 625-ton statue rises 124 feet on its pedestal atop 2,300-foot-high Corcovado Mountain, with its outstretched arms spanning 92 feet. After decades of exposure to the elements and erosion of the soapstone exterior—plus being struck by lightning and marred by graffiti from an itinerant house painter— the statue was restored to its full luster in 2010. Then we'll walk through Santa Teresa, a Rio neighborhood with a bohemian atmosphere, and see the Selarón Stairs, an outdoor staircase of 250 colorfully decorated steps created by artist Jorge Selarón.
Next we'll savor an included lunch featuring Brazil’s national dish, feijoada. To prepare it, smoked meat is simmered for hours in black beans, before the meat and beans are served separately, accompanied by collard greens, farofa (toasted manioc) and hot sauce. Originally a slave dish, the end of slavery saw feijoada become more widely known, and soon it was being served in the best
restaurants of Brazil. By the 20th century, it had become a comfort food and staple.
The afternoon is free for you to explore on your own. Or, you may join our optional Life in Rio's Favelas tour for a better understanding of Rio de Janeiro. Rio is a city of contrasts, and there are upper-class areas, such as Ipanema and Copacabana, right next to poor neighborhoods known as favelas. On this optional tour, you will go to Vila Canoas and Rocinha, the largest favelas in Brazil, where you'll visit a school and other parts of the community. It’s an experience that will deepen your understanding of the complexity of Brazilian society. This evening, enjoy dinner on your own.
After breakfast this morning, we transfer to the airport for our flight to Salvador, in the Brazilian state of Bahia. This is northern Brazil’s largest city, and a center of Afro-Brazilian culture: more than 80% of the population consists of descendants of Africans who were brought to Brazil during the slave era. We transfer to our hotel early this afternoon, then enjoy an orientation walk to get acquainted with our surroundings.
Later this afternoon, we enjoy a panoramic driving tour that brings us to the coastline and past the Barra Lighthouse. As we travel through the city, we'll see how African influences and Portuguese colonial touches entwine in a setting where the sweeping Atlantic Ocean meets glittering Todos dos Santos Bay. This evening, the warmth for which Salvador is known will be on full display as we share a Home-Hosted Dinner with a local family.
Today, we enjoy a full morning walking tour of the Pelourinho, the historic neighborhood the locals call the Pelo. The heart of the Portuguese colony of the 16th-19th centuries, it is a district of great beauty and some tragic legacies. The pastel facades of the centuries-old buildings surrounding the cobbled triangular plaza speak to the elegance of the colonial era, but the very name—which means pillory, or whipping post—speaks to the brutality of the slave trade that occurred on these same streets. Our walking tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site will bring us to the San Francisco Church and Convent, built over the course of a hundred years in the 17th and 18th centuries. Though its twin spires and classic façade are attractive, it’s the interior of San Francisco that dazzles: the ceiling is crisscrossed with paintings outlined in interlocking geometric patterns of wooden framing, and Lisbon tiles outline the lower walls with scenes from the life of St. Francis of Assisi.
After we enjoy lunch at a nearby restaurant, we’ll explore Salvador’s seaside Lower City, including the 18th-century Church of Senhor do Bomfin (The Lord of the Good End). Built in the 18th century to house a statue of Christ carried to this spot all the way from Lisbon by a sea captain, the church is the most prominent house of worship in Bahia, and the site of an annual festival in which Bahia women in traditional attire sweep the steps, douse the church in holy water, and sing songs of praise.
Dinner is on your own this evening.
We’ll explore more of Salvador today, starting with a visit at the colorful São Joaquim Market, where local people buy everything from fruits and vegetables to manioc flour and candles. We’ll then visit a temple devoted to Candomble, an African religion that has survived for centuries. Our visit offers a fascinating glimpse into this culture within a culture.
Then we’ll get to learn more about the Afro-Brazilian community in a visit to Arte Consciente, a community service center founded by a circus trainer, boxer, percussionist, and graffiti artist who saw the children of their neighborhood lacked positive outlets. Many children now take workshops and participate in community events at this site that has inspired the entire neighborhood.
Afterward, we’ll enjoy lunch at a nearby restaurant, and the balance of the day is at leisure. If you want to explore on your own, you can head for one of Salvador's beaches (which altogether span 50 miles), or stroll the sprawling Mercado Modelo, the largest handcrafts bazaar in South America.
This evening, we enjoy dinner in a local restaurant before a performance of Bahia Folklore, including capoeira. Like an intersection between dance and martial arts, capoeira mixes stylized fight moves with gymnastics and graceful steps. Because of its African roots, it was banned in public for generations, until the 20th century finally saw not only the easing of the ban but the embrace of capoeira as a national art form.
This morning, we transfer to the airport and fly to Manaus via Brasilia. Arriving in Manaus this afternoon, we transfer to our hotel and settle in before a briefing about what to expect on our upcoming Amazon cruise. “Manaus” means “Mother of the Gods” in the local indigenous dialect, but as the biggest city in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, it is better known as “The Heart of the Amazon.” Manaus is located where the upper Amazon River and its biggest tributary in Brazil, the Rio Negro, meet.
We'll enjoy dinner at the hotel this evening.
This morning, we take in the history and culture of Manaus, beginning at the Art Noveau-style Mercado Municipal. In this marketplace, patterned after Les Halles in Paris, vendors offer produce, spices, fresh fish, and handcrafts. We'll also see the Opera House, dating from 1881, which was was designed to be “the jewel of the Amazon." With Renaissance flourishes, a pink and white facade, and a multi-hued dome composed of 36,000 colored tiles, this fine example of Belle Epoque architecture still makes a dramatic impression. After we enjoy a lunch of fresh local fish in a Manaus restaurant , we embark the Premium II for our Amazon River Cruise. Once aboard our 16-passenger ship, which is privately chartered by OAT exclusively for our group, we gather for a briefing from the ship's naturalist. We'll learn about the activities for our next three days on the river. Note that this is an expedition cruise, and the order of activities may vary due to weather, water levels, currents, and the season. Afterwards, we'll enjoy a happy hour featuring caipirinhas (the lime and sugar cane liquor cocktails synonymous with Brazil) and dinner. Later, we'll board canoes for a night tour of the river. As we glide along, we’ll listen to the sounds of birds and frogs, keeping our eyes and ears open for signs of nocturnal animal activity on shore and in the water.
Early this morning, we begin exploring our rain forest surroundings to see nature’s early risers, like parrots and toucans, and to learn about the diverse flora along the riverbanks. After breakfast on board ship, we continue observing the tropical flora and fauna during an interpretive walk in the forest. After we enjoy lunch back aboard our vessel, we ply the waters of Anavilhanas National Park by canoe. One of the largest fresh water archipelagos on earth, Anavilhanas is composed of a labyrinth of waterways that are home to endangered species including the harpy eagle, the jaguar, and the spider monkey. These 400 islands are also the only place where it is possible to see every single Amazon alligator species. We return to our ship for dinner this evening.
We'll have another early morning rain forest tour today, then return to the ship for a full breakfast. Afterwards, we’ll visit a riverside village where we’ll meet local people and learn about their way of life. After lunch aboard our vessel, we’ll take advantage of the white sand beaches along the river in this area for a relaxing swim in the warm waters. Then we board canoes to look for caiman, river dolphins, or the myriad species of birds in the rain forest. We return to our vessel in time for dinner onboard.
Our last Amazon excursion will be the Lago January Ecological Park. Here, we may see the giant Victoria Regia water lilies, whose wheel-sized flowers—white when they bloom and then pink—sit atop 6-foot leaves that lie flat on the water. They’re a memorable sight to round out our Amazon discoveries. We return to Manaus and disembark late this morning, then transfer to the airport. We fly to Cuiaba, a city at the edge of the Patanal, the largest wetland area on Earth, spanning 77,000 square miles. We make a three-hour overland transfer to the lodge where we'll stay for the next three nights. The lodge is in the heart of this hotbed of biodiversity and natural splendor and is ideally situated to take advantage of the many outdoor activities that draw ecotourists to this lush region. We enjoy dinner at our lodge tonight.
The Pantanal is home to more than 80 mammalian species, 50 reptilian species, 260 species of fish, and nearly 2,700 species of plants. Its wildlife includes alligators, capybaras, monkeys, macaws, herons, and more, and we’ll keep our eyes open for all of them as we explore today using three different modes of transportation. We begin on horseback, exploring wetland trails. After an included lunch at our lodge, we board excursion boats to explore the Mutum River, where we may see alligators, iguanas, Brazilian otters, and more.
Our final excursion takes place after dinner. We ride in Jeeps (or boats, at high-water times when roads are flooded) on a night safari, listening for nocturnal animals as they awaken for the night’s activity.
We rise before dawn today so that we may enjoy the beauty of the sunrise from our canoes, reveling in the quiet of the day’s beginnings. Then, we take to the woods for a walk among the largest variety of flora in the Americas. On our canoe ride and trek alike, you may also see some of the 650 species of birds found here, including the Jabiru stork, macaws in many colors, hummingbirds, and the horned screamer.
After an early lunch at our lodge, we get to know the local people, known as pantaneiros, in a visit to a fishing village situated on the banks of the Cuiaba River. Here, we talk to the fishermen, and try our hands at fishing for piranha. With dozens of razor-like teeth and a tendency to hunt for prey in packs, piranhas have a reputation for ferocity that is not entirely undeserved. Though they can be vigorous predators, they are also part of the local economy, providing food to those who live along the river. We'll linger with our new friends until sunset, learning about how they coexist with the wildlife and make their living from this habitat. This evening, we return to our lodge for dinner.
After breakfast, we may take a final trek through the surrounding forest to discover more of the mammal and bird species, or have a relaxing morning. We enjoy a boxed lunch before we make a transfer of about three hours to the Cuiaba airport for our flight to Rio, where we arrive late this evening. Please note: Most flights to Rio from Cuiaba travel via Sao Paolo, with a connecting flight to Rio. Dinner is on your own.
This morning, we’ll explore some more of Rio, and then sit down with our fellow travelers for a Farewell Lunch to celebrate our Brazilian discoveries.
Afterward, we'll head to one of Rio’s iconic landmarks: the Sugar Loaf, a mountain rising abruptly 1,299 feet from the water’s edge. A cable car transports visitors to the top from the nearby peak of Morro de Urca. The steep granite faces of the Sugar Loaf are popular with rock climbers, and there is a panoramic view from the summit.
Later in the afternoon or evening, transfer to the airport to board your overnight return flight to the U.S. If you are continuing on our optional post-trip extension to Iguassu Falls, you’ll remain at the same hotel in Rio tonight.