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March 8, 2004 -- It's heading into autumn in Brazil and time to think of somewhat cooler pleasures now that their summer is waning and the madness of Carnival has faded into memory. Consider these Latin-flavored getaways as a healthy -- and budget-conscious -- alternative to currently pricier European destinations.

Among the least expensive is a Gate 1 package to Rio starting at $569 one of the company's South American vacation prices that "for the most part will remain the same or less than in 2003." (The firm's quoted vice president pointed out a different Rio package going for $689, down from $759 in 2003, and a Peru tour, once $1,489 but now priced at $1,299 for 2004.)

On this Rio package, which includes airfare from Miami, you get a seven-day Spring Break deal from $569 for March 18 departures; depart April 1 or 15 and pay just $30 more. The package includes the hotel, daily breakfast, and arrival transfer. There's also an eight-day Rio and Salvador da Bahia combo priced from $839 to $1,229, including airfare. Low-cost add-on airfares are available from most US cities. Contact them at www.gate1travel.com or at 800/682-3333.

Prices begin at just $589 per person from either New York or Miami on a five-night package in Rio by OffPeakTraveler.com. They say their hotel is first-class and has private bath or shower, and that the deal includes continental or buffet breakfast daily, depending on which hotel you choose. The $569 is based on two passengers sharing a room at the Savoy Othon Hotel with Tuesday through Thursday departures. Hotel taxes and service charges, plus airport fees, are extra. This deal is good only through March 31, 2004. Contact the Internet-only firm at www.offpeaktraveler.com.

Another of our favorites, Go-Today.com, has a deadline of March 23, 2004 for purchasing a Rio de Janeiro special starting at $629. And it requires a 14-day advance purchase, so the real deadline is March 9, tomorrow. The package includes roundtrip airfare from New York (JFK or LaGuardia), Newark or Miami, five nights' lodging in the Savoy Othon Hotel, daily breakfast, hotel taxes and service charges, and roundtrip transfers airport/hotel. Add-on airfares from other US gateways range from $50 for Boston and Washington, D.C. (Dulles) to $250 from Boise, Portland OR or Seattle. Contact Go-Today at www.gotoday.com or by phoning (for an extra $20 charge) 425/487-9632.

Marnella Tours, which has specialized in South American travel for 23 years, has a six-day "Affordable Brazil Package" with departures running May through July starting from as little as $679, including airfare from Miami. The package also includes roundtrip transfers airport/hotel, five nights at the California Othon, and three city tours (one each to Corcovado and the Beaches, to dinner, and to H. Stern's jewelry store). Typical package costs from other cities include $804 from Boston or Washington, D.C., $859 from Chicago, $819 from Los Angeles or $1009 from Seattle. Contact Marnella Tours at www.marnellatours.com or at 866/993-0033.

Friendly Planet Travel also has deals to South America, and says you can save up to $800 per couple on tours there if you reserve before June 15, 2004. One of their highlighted trips is the Buenos Aires & Rio de Janeiro express, giving you ten days (eight nights) from $899 for reservations made by that June 15 deadline. Included are your airplane tickets from Miami on Varig, first-class hotel accommodations (four nights in each city), "lavish"' daily buffet breakfasts, and airport/hotel transfers in both cities, as well as the services of a local, English-speaking host in each place. Add-on airfare from New York JFK is $75. Your hotels: in Buenos Aires, the De Las Americas; in Rio, the Luxor Regente. Contact them at www.friendlyplanet.com or at 800/555-5765.

NOTE: You need a valid passport and visa to enter Brazil, part of their partof their response to our stricter immigration laws in the US -- expect to pay an extra $100 per person. Furthermore, you will be photographed and fingerprinted on arrival there, since the USA is doing the same to Brazilians arriving here, another reprisal for our security rules (to which, however, citizens of 27 other foreign countries, mostly in Europe, are exempt). Brazilian authorities say you might be exempt if you are on a cruise ship calling at a Brazilian port, and they haven't had time to set up fingerprinting and photographing equipment yet. Click over to this thread on our Message Boards to read a mixed bag of recent visitors' experiences with these new, more stringent entry regulations.