Brazil is the land of sandy beaches, festive spirits, and lonely nights whose soundtracks always include the nation's greatest cultural export of the last fifty years: bossa nova. Sure, Barry Manilow cheesily sang about the Copacabana, but we can forget about that. Right now, it's winter in Brazil, so the prices are advantageous; it really pays to take advantage of specials because airfare itself would rival the costs of these packages. Competition is fierce, as many tour providers are running air-inclusive specials close in price for the nearly the same length of time, but each one has actually put together something a little -- or a lot -- different.
Go Today is running the simply-titled "Rio de Janeiro Special" (tel. 800/227-3235; www.go-today.com) for five nights starting from $799 per person for double occupancy from New York-JFK, all-inclusive, for departures between now and August 21, for the most inexpensive accommodations at the Savoy Othon Hotel, a block from Copacabana Beach. But really, why spend any significant amount of time in the hotel in Rio, with the beautiful beaches and mountains that surround you? At a cost, upgrades to more choice accommodations are a possibility. No matter what hotel is offered, the rate includes include buffet breakfast and most modern conveniences. Other cities are possible for extra fee: Boston ($25), Atlanta and Chicago ($50), Los Angeles ($100) and, oddly, Miami ($300), for example. True to the company's philosophy, the purchase deadline literally goes up to the last minute: August 11.
General Tours (tel. 800/221-2216; www.generaltours.com), a company that operates adventure, independent and escorted travel around the world, is offering "It's Time to Go! Rio" from $879 per person plus taxes, from New York-JFK, for travel until the end of December. (Other cities are available upon inquiry.) Be aware though: they advertise this trip from $799, but that's for a travel period that ended in March. The rates are based on double occupancy at tourist class hotel Copacabana Rio, and it's advertised as seven days, but that includes flight time. For those who want a hosted tour and some hand-holding, this is a good way to go: you'll receive personalized transfers, a cable car ride to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio (populated with lots of monkeys), and access to the company's 24-hour, emergency toll-free number. Additionally, their on-the-scene tour hosts are available to assist in making arrangements for whatever you want to do -- it's like having your own personal concierge. A daily Brazilian buffet breakfast -- typically some combination of fruit, bread, cake, ham, and fresh juice -- is included. Additionally, the company makes add-ons available for two-night stays in other spots, such as Iguassu Falls, Sao Paulo, and Buzios, for a nominal cost of around couple hundred dollars.
An equally festive and cosmopolitan Brazilian destination is promoted by Fly South Vacations (tel. 800/234-5245; www.flysouthvacations.com): Sao Paulo, South America's biggest city, from $749 per person from New York-La Guardia and Newark, with other departures available. The hotel Excelsior Ipiranga, an Art Deco-styled building, is among the five hotels from which to choose; the most expensive package, for Blue Tree Paulista, a superior-class hotel, is $799, based on double occupancy. Sao Paulo, settled by Portuguese Jesuits, is a diverse city with nearly 1000 restaurants and centuries-old buildings. These rate are available from now until August 21, with a purchase deadline of August 11, and drop down to a mere $599 for travel between August 22-December 9, with a purchase deadline of December 1. Full payment is due within one day of booking.
For a relaxing resort-based trip to Brazil, Traveland (tel. 800/321-6336; www.traveland.com) has a great deal. "Brazil's Sunny Delight" departs from Miami and costs $799 for seven nights at the newer resort area, Costa do Sauipe, in northern Brazil. This beachfront destination puts you in a luxury hotel, Renaissance Costa do Sauipe Resort. The rate is good for departures on Sundays in August (14, 21, 28) and September (4, 18) through October and November. Daily breakfast, a round of golf, horseback riding through sand dunes, and a tour to Praia do Forte are also included. Other cities are available: Orlando ($899), New York and Newark ($999) and a smattering of smaller cities from $1,199.
For a completely guided tour, complete with air-conditioned vehicles and English-speaking guides, Free Gate Tours (tel. 888/373-3428; www.freegatetours.com) has a package from $829 for double occupancy at Savoy Othon, based on round-trip airfare from Miami. There are options to upgrade accommodations, and travel from New York ($899) or Los Angeles ($949). This "Fabulous Rio de Janeiro" package is a five-night, seven-day trip that includes daily breakfast, a half-day tour of Sugar Loaf Mountain, (which rises out of Guanabara Bay and provides panoramic views), all transfers, and a Carnival performance at a Samba Show house. The prices are based on weekday departures, are good through December 25, 2005, and don't include taxes. Be aware, though, that Free Gate will charge an extra $130 for departures between June 18-August 15, but the total for seven days still says safely under $1,000.