Rio de Janeiro's stunning beaches with their emerald ocean peaks, its vibrantly sensual, welcoming locals, and hypnotic samba rhythms are easier to relish, in some respects, in April and May. By then, the madding hordes and mayhem that threaten the city during carnaval, often with murderous consequences, have long since dissipated. And 90-degree summer days have given way to average daily temperatures in the high 70s. What's more, several shoulder season packages will get you there on the cheap -- with options for side trips to other singular Brazilian destinations, including UNESCO World Heritage sites such as Salvador da Bahia, Paraty, and Iguazú Falls.
The best deal is available for departures from Miami only: Cheap Tickets to Brazil's "Unbeatable Rio" special (tel. 888/527-2745; www.cheapticketstobrazil.com) offers airfare and five nights at the Copacabana Rio Hotel for $599. The four-star property, a block from Copacabana's white crescent sands, features daily buffet breakfast and a rooftop pool overlooking the Atlantic and Pao de Azúcar. The discount rate is good for Monday and Wednesday travel, from March 18 through May 30, and includes all hotel taxes. Additional air taxes and fees are a low $89 a person round-trip.
Go Today (tel. 800/227-3235; www.go-today.com) is running a similar deal for the same price with alternate departure cities. The lead hotel isn't as nice -- the Savoy Othon, a three-story high-rise in Copacabana without beach views. An upgrade to the Lancaster Othon Hotel Ocean Front Hotel, though, is only $70 more, and allows for departures from New York for an extra $50, and from DC and Boston for an additional $75. Rates are good for travel from March 1 to June 9, with a May 26 purchase deadline. All Go Today deals offer alternate departure cities for an extra fee, and do not include air taxes of up to $180 a person round-trip. See the Web site for details.
For a few hundred dollars more, Go Today throws in three days in Salvador da Bahia -- the original Portuguese capital, which is gaining a reputation for having the best collection of colonial architecture in the New World. Once faded, the city's historic Pelourinho district has slowly turned around since UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site in 1985. Though beautiful before, in its crumbling decadence, the neighborhood -- whose name means whipping post -- is finally receiving the care it deserves, as the regrettable site of the first slave market in the New World. With rich African traditions, which slaves practiced covertly for centuries -- with Yoruba orishas in the guise of Catholic saints, and martial arts disguised as the hypnotic dance known as capoeira -- Bahia is like no other place else in the world and a must-see for adventurous travelers. Through Go Today, three nights in Salvador and three in Rio, including all airfares, are $829 from Miami.
Go Today also pairs Rio with Iguazú or Paraty at $799 for six nights, including all airfare. Iguazú is one of Rio's most popular day trips, with its two-mile-wide semi-circle of 275 cataracts, taller than Niagara Falls, with a 237-foot drop. And Paraty is a tranquil coastal gem, with its 16th-century buildings, gorgeous beaches, artist residents, and saucy history as a former gold and slave-trading port, purportedly left off the map for centuries to elude pirate ships. See the Web site for further details on these packages.
If you can depart from Miami, Traveland's Brazil specials (tel. 800/321-6336; www.traveland.com) are slightly pricier but give you more days of travel -- which is well worth the extra price, as eight days in just one of these cities would hardly do it justice. Eight nights in Rio and Salvador da Bahia, from Miami, are $1,089, including four-star accommodations and all airfare. Flights depart from Miami on April 14, 21, 28; May 5, 12, 19, and 26; and June 2, 9, and 16. You can customize alternate departure cities, but the trip will cost 30 percent more. Air taxes of $180 are not included.
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