A Brazil Family Vacation For First Time Visitors - My Family Travels

Our vacation planning ideas for that first family trip to Brazil provide a 10-day tour of this huge, fascinating country and leave plenty more to do on your second trip.

Those who follow international business know that the so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) have been among the world’s fastest growing economies, with the resources, infrastructure and skilled workers needed to weather economic crises. For the past 10 years, analysts in the travel industry have predicted that the newly prosperous citizens of these populous countries would become the world’s largest consumers of travel, changing where and how the world takes vacations. And as the Chinese proved in early 2013 when they became the tourism industry's largest spenders, they have.

Recent events are helping Brazil blossom as the next big tourist destination. It is the world’s fifth largest country and covers more than 43% of the South American landmass. With the FIFA World Cup coming to Brazil in 2014, and the Rio de Janeiro Olympics following in 2016, this hospitable, energetic and welcoming country is poised to become the hottest tourist destination in the Americas.

Preparing for the FIFA 2014 World Cup Brazil

With this in mind, we spoke to Miguel Jeronimo, Director for East Coast USA of EMBRATUR, the Brazilian Tourist Board. He explained that Brazil’s focus on major sporting events was a natural result of the successful Pan-American Games held in the country in 2007. At that time, the country invested in improvements to its infrastructure, including the building of stadiums and other sports facilities. The government, now led by the charismatic President Dilma Vana Rousseff, estimates that more than 70% of the facilities needed to host the 2016 Olympics already exist. Mr. Jeronimo added that due to the anticipated impact of the cruise industry, improvements were scheduled in the major ports at Sao Paulo, Rio, and Salvador in Bahia, which serve ships plying the Atlantic between Brazil and neighboring Argentina.

The FIFA World Cup is soccer’s biggest match in what’s arguably soccer’s biggest country. The playoffs and final matches will be held over several weeks in a dozen major cities. Projects underway include many “green” initiatives intended to preserve Brazil’s uniquely bio-diverse environment. Millions of trees are being planted; a railroad is being built between Sao Paulo and Rio; the international airport at Rio de Janeiro is being expanded to accommodate new planes and more passengers. While the economy was growing throughout 2012, government expenditures were condoned, but millions protested during the summer of 2013 that the continual investment should go to improving the daily lives of the people. Today, projects are on track but concerns linger about Brazil's financial stability.

No one doubts its potential as a tourism powerhouse.

Rio & The Amazon Top a 10-Day Itinerary

Given a 10 to 12-day trip for a family with two kids ages 12 to 18, Mr. Jeronimo suggests a mix of destinations, selected according to a family’s interests. He admits that most families will only get to two or three destinations because there is so much to see at each. Review his list of top picks and decide what your family can accomplish in 10 days, allowing plenty of rest for young children.

Rio de Janeiro: Culture & Beach

His first must-see is the city of Rio de Janeiro, where families can enjoy both culture and the beach. In Rio, highlights for families include Corcovado, the hilltop crowned by a 98-foot-tall blazing white statue of Christ the Redeemer that has been chosen as one of new Seven Wonders of the World. The steep railway that takes visitors up to the summit is one thrill; the view of the skyline and coast from the summit of Corcovado is the other attraction. Pao de Acucar or Sugarloaf is another hilltop marvel, whether your family scales it by foot or by cablecar, a two-stage process that affords wonderful views. From the peak, you can see Corcovado, the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema and the whole city panorama. Families will want to see some of the city’s historic forts, the favelas or slums (the film “City of God” made these so famous that there are organized tours to see the city’s poorest neighborhoods), the Museum of Modern Art MAM, samba clubs where kids can try to pick up some steps of their own and many other sights.

Amazon Rain Forest: Eco-Adventures

The Amazon Rain forest is a personal favorite, and Mr. Jeronimo says families should start their visit in Manaus, in the northern state of Amazonas, which has the facilities to support many kinds of adventures. One of the unique places to stay is the Ariau Amazon Towers (888/GO-ARIAU), located about two hours by boat from Manaus on the Rio Negro. This hotel has luxury rooms built within cylindrical towers on stilts connected by three miles of catwalks strung between treetops. In addition to guided rain forest tours with resident naturalists, restaurants, two swimming pools, a theater for folkloric dancing, and the on-site monkeys and other indigenous creatures who like to watch the guests, Mr. Jeronimo notes that this hotel has a nursery where your youngest children can play under supervision, if parents and older siblings want to join a more adventurous expedition to the surrounding rivers or villages.

Minas Gerais & the Royal Route: History

One of the favorite destinations for families is Minas Gerais, in the southeast state that includes Rio, Espirito Santo and São Paulo. The capital of this former gold mining region is Belo Horizonte, yet Ouro Preto, with its old churches, is one of the prettiest villages. This historic town is along the so-called Royal Route or Estrada Real, a self-guided tour of the region that enables families to stay in old posadas, or country inns, that have been renovated. In addition to touring the many traditional buildings, many of which have been repurposed as trendy cafes and boutiques, kids can don the costumes of yesteryear, when Ouro Preto was a colonial capital, and let professional photographers capture this step back in time on film. This region is also known for its excellent Portuguese-inspired cuisine.

Santa Caterina & Florianopolis: Style & Surfing

Santa Caterina is in the very southern part of the country, along with the states of Paraná and Rio Grande do Sul. The region has absorbed the influence of many European cultures, and is a favorite for Brazilian families because of that. Florianopolis, the picturesque capital, is on an island in the Atlantic and is popular with tourists for its great beaches and chic, laid back lifestyle. There are other wonderful beaches and many places to learn how to surf, as well as opportunities for outdoors adventure and recreation. Here, Italian and Portuguese explorers set the tone for the local cuisine, again making it very popular with visitors and locals alike.

Bahia & Salvador: Ethnic Heritage

In contrast, the coastal province of Bahia has a more exotic tradition based on the former slave trade and the African Santerria religion. The capital of Salvador on Bahia de Todos Santos is a popular cruise port for day-trippers who enjoy the bustling marketplace, displays of superbly crafted regional ceramics, dolls and folk arts, and famous drumming. Salvador’s 18th century neighborhood of Pelourinho is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Bahia Tourism will provide more information for families who can stay a few days and tour the old town, dine in one of the excellent restaurants, learn about the port’s place in the slave trade, and appreciate the African music at the root of the “Brazilian sound.” These rhythms have been popularized by Paul Simon, the Talking Heads and many other North American bands; kids are sure to recognize and enjoy the beat.

Welcoming Families & Newcomers to Brazil

In discussing tourism, Mr. Jeronimo proudly talked about his country’s natural assets, not the least of which is a 4,000-mile-long coastline with 2, 045 identified beaches. Most North American families will be traveling to Brazil to experience its culture, history, environment and unique sights such as the Amazon rain forest, rather than beaches that can be found much closer to home.

That’s why, in addition to sports tourism, the Brazilian Tourist Board sells Brazil’s culture: its remarkably diverse ethnic groups, music, performing arts, galleries and museums, and the regional cuisines – the African spices used in Bahia, fresh seafood of the south, grilled meats served at churascarias, and Portuguese flavors that infuse many dishes – that have found followers around the world.

Trip Planning Resources

In addition to browsing the internet for more information about Mr. Jeronimo’s suggested stops, kids can go the Brazil Consulate website and download two brochures intended for them: “Brazil for Kids” and “Brazil Map,” so they can keep parents on course in the family trip-planning.

Although many families will be limited by school holidays in planning their Brazil vacation, in fact this vast country with its many different geographical areas and altitudes has a wide variety of climates. According to the Brazilian Tourist Board, most of Brazil lies in the inter-tropical zone between the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn, and wet climates predominate. The average temperature for the country as a whole is 20º C (68º F), with little variation in any one region on any given day. Brazil’s main climates are the Equatorial (in the Amazon Region), with all-year rain, high average temperatures between 77º and 80.6º F; and the Tropical (Central Brazil and part of the Northeastern Region), with high average temperatures between 64.4º and 82.4º F and well-defined dry (mid-year) and wet (early in the year) seasons. The south is colder than the rest of Brazil (average temperature of 64.4º F; during winter temperature may fall below freezing point).

Of course, seasons in the southern hemisphere are the opposite of those in the northern hemisphere, so that the Christmas/New Year’s break falls in the January to March summer; April through June is fall; July to September is winter and October to December is spring.

Getting to Brazil & Getting Around

TAM is the international airline that connects Brazil with major cities around the world. In order to enter Brazilian territory, all foreign nationals must carry a passport valid for a minimum of six months from the date of intended arrival in Brazil (except Argentinean, Chilean, Uruguayan and Paraguayan citizens entering Brazil by land, who need only a photo ID). Additionally, a tourist visa is required for U.S. passport holders to enter Brazil; business travelers must meet other requirements. The website of the Brazilian Consulate in New York (917-777-7777) has a list of resources for families who need to arrange for tourist or business visas. By the way, nationals of most Western European and South American countries are not required to get a Brazilian visa to enter Brazil for the purpose of tourism.

Brazil is closer to North America than many families might think. For example, TAM flies daily from Miami to Manaus, the main city in the Amazon, in just four hours and serves 40 destinations in the country from 25 US cities. Delta is another carrier that serves this route, although less frequently.

For getting around, the Brazilian Tourist Board suggests that families use a mix of taxis and a car/driver recommended by their hotel to tour cities and surrounding attractions. The most economical and time-efficient way to move between destinations is to purchase a TAM Airpass that permits four stops within Brazil, including port of arrival and departure.

Families who prefer a fully escorted tour may check out the Brazilian Incoming Travel Organization or BITO website, which lists all of the tour operators who have met the government’s licensing requirements. Each of the BITO member websites highlights that company’s specialties.

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