Forget about becoming the Girl from Ipanema. I don't want to dispel an international myth, but the best beaches in Brazil are not in Rio de Janeiro. Sure Rio is gorgeous, the beaches are wide, expansive miles of white sand stretching along the length of the city. Unfortunately, Copacabana and Ipanema are not the mystical romantic beaches portrayed in the 1960s song. They are sensational for people watching and ogling of tanned bodies in skimpy bathing suits. For city beaches they are pretty high standard with beach volleyball, strong surf and promenades, but they also serve as hangout spots for gangs of petty thieves who tend to target tourists. High-rise hotels line the strip and much of the quintessential Brazilian beach feel is lost.
Certainly visit these beaches, put on your tiniest bikini (or the briefest swim shorts) and experience the mayhem, but when you are ready for true beach paradise, travel north, and you will experience the sheer majesty and romance of some of the most spectacular beaches in the world.
If you want to see where the locals go, try Buzios, a pretty beach resort about two hours drive (100 miles) from Rio and a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Buses run regularly between Buzios, Rio and Sao Paulo. Here Cariocas (natives of Rio) enjoy the splendors of an intimate town but with gourmet restaurants and nightlife to rival the city. Wealth abounds and private villas and boutique hotels attest to the resort's appeal for the upper classes. The peninsula spreads for five miles and Buzios Online (www.buziosonline.com.br/indexe.htm) is an English language website that provides visitors with useful tourism information about beaches (there are 20 in the Buzios area), accommodation, shopping and nightlife (ladies, I recommend shopping in Buzios for the best selection of Brazilian bikinis). Current accommodation "hot deals" include a seven-night accommodation package at Pousada Porto das Velas, located mere yards from Rasa beach. During the low season from April 1 to December 10, 2005 the price is $240 per room for two people for an entire week and in peak season, from December 11, 2005 to March 31, 2006, the price goes up to $380. These rates include full Brazilian buffet breakfast and all taxes. There are a dozen more budget pousadas and guest houses listed on the website (alongside more luxurious boutique hotels) with prices starting at around $30 per room per night in low season.
Further north, the state of Bahia promises more secluded beaches and eco-tourism resorts. Beaches are generally lined with bungalows and shacks that serve as restaurants, bars and nightclubs -- no high-rises or concrete here. Life is more laid-back, hammocks sway in the breeze and music abounds while locals practice Capoeira (Brazilian martial arts) at sunset. The coast of Bahia is so long and varied that it has been divided into five regions -- the cocoa coast, coconut palm coast, oil palm coast, discovery coast and whale coast.
The area of Praia do Forte, 50 miles north of the historic city of Salvador, is almost eight-miles long and consists of squeaky clean white sand along the coast lined with the coconut trees. Natural rock pools formed by reefs appear at low tide and as the natural habitat of rare sea turtles; most of the beach area is protected with development kept to a bare minimum. A medieval-style castle and the Tamar Project, an international turtle conservation program, which runs a small interactive museum/visitor center, dominate a small fishing village. During breeding season, the beaches attract thousands of sea turtles as they come in to nest and lay their eggs. The Praia do Forte Eco Resort (www.ecoresort.com) is a world-class resort with world-class high prices, starting at approximately $115 per night for a double room in low season. More budget-friendly accommodation is available in town at a variety of small pousadas. Brazil Incentives Travel (www.bitourism.com) features a selection of accommodation options in Praia do Forte starting at $26 per room per night plus taxes.
To truly experience beach nirvana, no trip to Brazil would be complete without a visit to Jericoacoara. Don't let the name or the fact that you may not be able to pronounce it stop you. Don't be put off by its remoteness or the difficulty involved in getting there (you have to travel over sand dunes with no roads to get there over the last twenty or so miles).
Located in the northern state of CearÂ¿, north of the city of Fortaleza, Jericoacoara only recently got hooked up to electricity (when I was there in 2001, my hotel ran on a generator that only operated for a few hours in the morning and again in the evening). It's difficult to describe Jeri (as it is affectionately called by locals) except to say that it is like being on another planet at times. Besides the stunning ocean beach, there are several fresh water lagoons located inland among the miles of sand dunes. Most areas are only accessible by dune buggy which you can rent or get taxi rides in. It is also a windsurfing mecca. Accommodation is limited as it is an environmentally protected area so hotel construction has been restricted since 1992. They may have just got electricity, but they also have a website -- www.jericoacoara.com which lists limited accommodation options and activities. While most pousadas are pretty basic, the most up-market hotel is the Mosquito Blue (www.mosquitoblue.com.br/eng/index.htm), a super sexy boutique hotel with rates starting as low as $42 per room per night in low season. They don't list their rates on the site but you can book through Brazil Incentives Travel (see above).
Brasil Travel (www.travel-southamerica.com/International/Tours/jericoacoara.htm) takes the hard work out of getting there with its Jericoacoara packages. Their Jericoacoara three-day trip is priced at $450 per person and includes travel by private vehicle fromFortaleza to Jeri and return, two nights' accommodation in a pousada with daily breakfast and an English speaking guide. They also offer an economic Jericoacoara adventure for only $131 per person traveling in air-conditioned regular buses and then transferring to four-wheel drive trucks for the final portion of the journey to Jeri. Included are still two-nights' accommodation and breakfast daily so this is a pretty good deal all round if you can spare the extra time as a bus trip would take longer (probably three to four hours by bus and 45 minutes by truck). Once you get to Jeri, Brasil Travel also features a number of tours in four-wheel drive and all-terrain vehicles to dozens of spectacular beaches, dunes, lagoons and fishing villages, on the off-beaten tracks of CearÂ¿ as well as additional Jericoacoara tours with add on destinations like Sao Luis and the Parnaiba Delta.
SouthAmerica.travel (tel. 800/747-4540; http://www.SouthAmerica.travel) is a locally based travel company that offers a best of Brazil beaches package. The "Coast of the Conquerors-Salvador, Maceiu, Recife and Olinda" deal is usually priced at $895 per person but their Internet only special gives you a 20% discount. It includes seven-nights' accommodation, three Brazilian dinners, breakfast daily, all transfers and a bilingual tour director. Airfare to Salvador, the starting point of the tour, is additional.
Airfares to Brazil are still quite reasonable as it is considered the low or shoulder season until mid December. Try regional specialists like Brazilian Wave Tours (tel. 800/682-3315; www.brazilianwavetours.com), Air Projects Travel (tel. 888/298-6203; www.airprojects.com/flightsSearch.cfm) or Latin Discounters (tel. 877/426 8676; www.latindiscounters.com). Round-trip flights from Miami start at around $450 plus taxes or around $650 from New York. In some instances, it may even be cheaper to purchase an airfare and accommodation package to Rio from a supplier like Gate One Travel (tel. 800/682-3333; www.gate1travel.com) or Go-Today (tel. 800/227-3235; www.go-today.com) and forfeit your accommodation rather than buying airfare alone. For example Gate One has a six-night Rio and Buzios package (four-nights in Rio and two in Buzios with breakfasts plus transfers) valid for travel from now until December 9, 2005 starting from $799 plus taxes per person based on dual occupancy from New York.
If you plan to travel around a bit within Brazil, remember the distances are huge so consider buying an Air Pass like the TAM Brazil Air Pass (tel. 888/235-9826; www.tamairlines.com/airpass.cfm), which allows you to fly to four cities throughout Brazil for only $399. Most Brazil specialists sell these passes or you can buy them directly from the Airline. Please note that US citizens require a Brazilian visa to enter the country and the processing fee is $100. Contact your nearest Brazilian Consulate for details or visit www.brasilemb.org/consulado/consular_visa_tourism.shtml.