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Itinerary
Day 1 Arrive Rio

On arrival in Rio pickup from the airport and transfer to your hotel.

"God made the world in six days, the seventh he devoted to Rio," so say the Cariocas, residents of this beautiful city. This is a densely packed metropolis of over 9 million inhabitants, whose economic foundations lie in the cultivation of sugar cane and gold mining. Referred to as the "cidade maravilhosa" (Marvellous City), few cities enjoy such a dramatic setting as Rio. Brilliant, white beaches at Copacabana and Ipanema, the deep blue waters of the Atlantic, the luminescent green of Guanabara Bay, and the bare blue slopes of the Sugar Loaf combine to make Rio unique. Standing over it all, atop Corcovado (Hunchback), is the huge statue of Christ the Redeemer, the best place from which to appreciate the city. Superb panoramic views of the city and area can also be found from the top of the Pao do Açucar (Sugar Loaf), reached by cable car. Head to some of the famous beaches, and prepare yourself for an experience unlike anything else on Earth.

Although the Portuguese first sailed and entered the bay, it was the French who first established a settlement in the area, logging Brazilian wood along the coast. Their first permanent settlement lasted a brief five years, when they were attacked and driven from the area by the encroaching Portuguese. A series of skirmishes ensued, with the Tomaio people allied with the French against the Portuguese.

In 1567 the Portuguese began construction of a fortified town to repel invaders, naming it Sao Sebastiao do Rio de Janeiro. Amassing wealth with the gold rush of Minas Gerais, in the early 18th century Rio became Brazil's most important city and a great temptation to the French who, in 1710, waged war against the Portuguese, at one point holding the city for a sizeable ransom in gold. Again in the 19th century, under threat of Napoleon's invasion, what remained of the Portuguese monarchy fled to Brazil where they set up court in grand style; many of today's older structures date from this period.

The gold rush was followed by a coffee boom in the mid-1800s and the wealth generated led to the city's initial modernization. Replacing Salvador de Bahía as the colonial capital in 1763, the city remained the capital until 1960, when it was replaced by Brasilia. Today, the city is a magnet for tourists who come to walk the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, and generally partake in the Carioca zest for life. Many ascend the Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao do Açucar), whose image is nearly synonymous with Rio and Carnival. Modern Rio is perhaps best known for the contrasting images offered by the favelhas (also spelled favelas; shanty towns), and the glitz and glamour preferred by the Samba schools and their Carnival celebrations.

Rio is definitely a tale of two cities: the city is divided into a Zona Norte (North Zone) and a Zona Sul (South Zone) by the Serra da Carioca, steep mountains that are part of the Parque Nacional da Tijuca. These mountains descend to the edge of the city centre, where the two zones meet. The upper and middle classes reside in the Zona Sul, the lower class in the Zona Norte. Favelas cover steep hillsides on both sides of town - Rocinha, Brazil's largest favela, is in Gávea, one of Rio's richest neighbourhoods. Most industry is in the Zona Norte, as is most of the pollution. The ocean and beaches are in the Zona Sul.

Day 2, 3 Paraty

Travel a short distance down the Atlantic coast to the gorgeous coastal town of Paraty. Wander the cobblestone streets, take a boat trip to the nearby islands in the bay, or visit one of the many white sand beaches that make Brazil famous.

125 miles from Rio de Janeiro, on the edge of picturesque Ilha Grande Bay, Paraty is a lovely colonial town. Sitting on Brazil's southeastern coast, Paraty lies on the border between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo states, and is a favourite with those looking to 'get away from it all'—Brazilians and visitors alike. Considered one of the world's most important examples of Portuguese colonial architecture by UNESCO, the historic centre is a well-preserved national historic monument, and today has been closed to vehicles to preserve its laid-back colonial ambience. During high tide the Portuguese cobblestone streets are partly flooded by seawater, adding to the fairy tale atmosphere.

Founded in 1531, the original settlement was on the opposite side of the river, where a church was erected to their patron "St. Roque." Around 1640 the Indians who used to live here were driven away and the town moved to where it stands now. The founders named it Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, with Our Lady of the Medicines as the patron saint, and they built the main church in her honour. Enlarged and remodelled over the years, the church is now the focal point of the annual Festa de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios on September 8. The festival has been celebrated for over 300 years since a wealthy and reverent benefactor, Maria Jácome de Mello, donated the land to the town for the church, requesting only an annual mass in return. The mass has grown into a procession of the wooden effigy of the Virgen though the town, adorned with gold and silver jewellery.

In the 1700's when the mines of Minas Gerais were pouring out gold, the perfect bay of Paraty was a busy port, the second most important in Brazil during the 'Golden Century.' The best pinga or cachaça (sugar cane liquor) of Brazil was produced here and the name Paraty became synonymous with the liquor. Later, coffee was brought from the valley of Paraiba to be shipped to Portugal, sparking another economic boom. In 1888 with the abolition of the slavery, Paraty became almost forgotten in time, and a large exodus left only a population of around 600, a considerable difference from the 16000 when the town was in its prime. In 1954 a road was opened linking the town to the inland through the valley of Paraiba, but it was not until 1973-75 with the opening of the highway BR-101 that Paraty's rebirth as a tourist town began. Paraty was declared a national monument in 1966.

Paraty's bay is filled with over 65 tropical islands and dozens of beaches, each offering something different, and all covered with vegetation that remains lush and colourful year-round. The water of the bay is always the right temperature for swimming, diving and snorkelling. The national parks that encircle the town are filled with trails, wildlife and waterfalls. Hiking or horseback riding, for the sports minded, or a jeep or van tour are both excellent ways to appreciate this natural wilderness.

The local fauna and flora in Ilha Grande, a Nacional Patrimony protected area, are extremely diverse. The state park was created in 1971 and encompasses 4.500 hectares of wilderness. Mountain range, coastal, mangrove and prairie vegetation are all found here, along with an astonishing collection of bird life, including parrots, woodpeckers, Brazilian thrushes and saracuras. There are also different kinds of monkeys, squirrels, armadillos, pacas, hedgehogs and snakes, as well as endangered species such as the Alouatta Fusca, generally known as Bugio monkey.

Day 4, 5 Iguassu Falls

Spend two days exploring the tri-border region where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay meet at the junction of the Paraná and Iguazú rivers, with the focus on magnificent Foz do Iguaçu, or Iguassu falls.

The torrential Iguassu River crosses the State of Paraná in Southern Brazil from East to West. A few kilometres before its junction with the Paraná River it forms one of the most splendorous natural beauties of the world: Iguassu Falls. Over 2.7 kilometres long and an average flow of 1.750 m3/s, this wonder is located in a very special place. The contrast between the green of the vegetation and the dark colour of the basalt rocks with whirring waters plunging from a 72-meter high cliff is magical. At Iguassu there are 275 falls in all, spread over a 3-km area, some over 80m (262.4 ft) in height, making these cataracts wider than Victoria Falls and higher than Niagara! It should come as no surprise that UNESCO declared the region a World Heritage Site in 1986.

Originally "discovered" in 1541 by the Spaniard Juan Alvar Nuñez, he named the falls Saltos de Santa María. The name we use today means "great waters" in the Tupi-Guarani tongue. The falls are protected by two National Parks—one in Brazil and another in Argentina. Tours utilise trails and catwalks adapted to the landscape of the area, and walking is easy for all ages; guided tours of the complex are available several times a day. In order to see the falls properly you need to view them from both the Brazilian and the Argentine side: the Brazilian side offers the grand overview, and the Argentine side a closer look. The best time of the year to visit is from August to November, as during rainy season from May to July, flooding will likely prevent closer viewing from the catwalks.

Film buffs will remember that Iguassu was the site of several scenes from the film "The Mission." Not far from the falls, the ruins of the Jesuit missions of the era can still be visited on a day trip. Also of interest in the area is Itaipú, the largest hydroelectric complex in the world. Experience an exhilarating optional boat tour or helicopter trip for a bird's eye view, or simply marvel at nature's breadth and the roar of the falls.

Day 6, 7 Buenos Aires

Catch a flight to the "Paris of the Americas" and enjoy a city tour during your stay. The capital city of Argentina, Buenos Aires is the ultimate cosmopolitan city. Travellers find that it has more in common with the cities of Europe than the rest of South America. Nearly 40 per cent of Argentina's 33 million citizens live in Greater Buenos Aires, and the Porteños are justifiably proud of their home. The city is comprised of a number of distinct neighbourhoods, some of which have become top tourist draws. For many, the highlight of their time in the capital is a visit to San Telmo for the weekend antiques market and street artistís displays.

La Boca was originally settled by the successive waves of immigrants that contribute to the capital's unique character. Its brightly coloured walls and buildings draw Porteños and tourists alike, and it is here that the world-class football team, Boca Juniors, plies its trade. A Sunday afternoon match at the fabled Bombonera is not to be missed. Posh Recoleta, with its cafes, museums and cemetery, is a pleasant place to spend an afternoon.

During colonial days Buenos Aires was the seat of the Viceroy of La Plata. Almost completely rebuilt since the turn of the century, the heart of the city is the Plaza de Mayo, with the historic Cabildo (Town Hall), where the Independence movement was first planned, the Casa Rosada (Government Palace) and the Cathedral where San Martín, the father of Argentine independence, is buried.

When you are done exploring, settle your weary feet and enjoy a drink in one of the many sidewalk cafes and restaurants and you will begin to understand the contemplative Argentine way of life.

Day 8 Depart Buenos Aires
Jan 12, 2008 - Escorted tour of Rio and Samba show in evening
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