South America is one of the fastest growing cruise destinations and – perhaps hardly surprisingly – Brazil is proving to be especially alluring.BY BRIDGET MCGROUTHER
Not only is there so much to see, from the Amazon jungle and UNESCO attractions to heady nightlife and golden beaches, but Rio de Janeiro is basking in the limelight, playing host to two of the world’s most prestigious sporting events in as many years.
Currently, the vibrant city is preparing to hold the 2016 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, hot on the heels of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. It is one of very few destinations ever to host both events, while this is the first time that an Olympic Games has been held on South American soil. It’s obvious from the colourful annual New Year celebrations and samba swinging Rio Carnival each February that the friendly Cariocas know how to party. Yet they’re getting ready for their biggest fiesta ever as all eyes will be on Rio during August and September.
Formerly the capital of Brazil before Brasilia took over in 1960, Rio de Janeiro once boasted the largest port in thewhole of the country until the 19th century. A new waterfront development named ‘Porto Maravilha’ (meaning marvellous) began in 2009 to bring the portside district back to its former glory in time for the Olympics.
Cruise ships can look forward to a futuristic new berth at Port Maua, with deserted warehouses turned into hotels, offices, apartments and leisure space.
The Rio Museum of Art is another impressive new venue – a modern marriage between the Dom Joao VI Royal Mansion and a former railway station, with a glass-enclosed walkway and wave-shaped ceiling over the roofs of the two separate buildings.
Although the downtown district can now be reached by walking or on cycle paths, taxis are available as well as regular buses , the metro and a new light rail transit (LRT), while high-speed trains run to other Brazilian cities such as Sao Paulo.
SHORE TO IMPRESS
Rio’s most iconic symbol – Christ the Redeemer – has outstretched arms atop Corcovado Mountain, welcoming all visitors to the city. There is a running joke that when the locals get up in the morning, they look towards the Christ statue. If His arms are open wide, it’s a beach day, and if they’re folded, it’s time to go to work…
A funicular climbs the steep slopes of Tijuca National Park to the world’s biggest Art Deco monument. Corcovado is always busy, so it may be best to pre-book online at peak times or on clear days. Be careful not to accidentally hit anyone if you stretch out your arms to pose for a photo!
Rio’s second landmark is Sugar Loaf Mountain and here a cable car soars to the summit in two stages. Visitors need sunny weather to make the most of the breathtaking panoramic vistas of Guanabara Bay with its beaches and yacht club below.
A helicopter tour is one of the most exciting ways for visitors to get their bearings. Book a flight from the harbour up over the beaches, Sugar Loaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer, favelas, Maracana football stadium and new Olympic venues.
Guests can’t go to Rio without visiting Copacabana Beach, especially as the Olympic Beach Volleyball competitions should be hotly contested. It’s a beautiful stretch of white sand with cafes, volleyball nets and goalposts for the sports-mad sun worshippers. The black and white promenade is the place to be seen, while Copacabana Palace Hotel has been attracting celebrities since the 1920s.
Neighbouring trendy Ipanema Beach should also not be missed with its boutiques and upmarket restaurants.
The Botanical Gardens created in 1908 are considered to be one of the most important in the world. Recognised as a live museum, they contain more than 8,000 plant species as well as wild monkeys and toucans in the trees.
WINING AND DINING IN RIO
Brazil’s national drink is the Caipirinha cocktail, made from cachaça rum, a squeeze of lime, sugar and ice. Guests should be warned, it packs quite a punch. They say one makes you happy; two makes you dance the Samba; three may even have you speaking Portuguese; but dare to have a fourth and you forget everything!
The churrascarias barbecue houses are in the best ‘gaucho’ tradition. At restaurants like Estrela do Sul, guests help themselves at the salad bar and then meat is hand-carved by waiters at the table. A green token indicates yes please to more helpings, while a red warns no more – I’m fit to burst!
HOT DATES IN RIO
Olympic Games: Aug 5-21, 2016
Paralympic Games: Sept 7-18, 2016
Rio Carnival: Feb 24 – March 4, 2017
WATCH OUT FOR…
Mosquitos. The fast-spreading Zika virus is especially risky to pregnant women or those wishing to conceive. Cruise passengers are less likely to be bitten as ships tend to be in port from early morning, departing before the mosquitos are at their worst at sunset and after dark. Insect repellent and covering up are the best deterrents.
Pickpockets. Despite the police presence in tourist areas, petty crime is a problem in Rio. Advise guests not to take valuables ashore and to carry just enough cash for a day’s visit. It’s safer to go on organised tours than venture off, particularly in favelas.
RIO CRUISE NEWS
The cruising season in the southern hemisphere is from November to April. The shortest cruises tend to be around 10 nights from Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires. There are cruises that cover the whole continent, go around Cape Horn, sail to Florida or even venture to Antarctica.
Norwegian Getaway will be berthed at Rio de Janeiro during the Olympic Games, but only to provide accommodation for some of the athletes. Other cruise lines that will call at Rio during the 2016/2017 season include Celebrity, Princess, Seabourn, Oceania, Crystal, Regent Seven Seas, Fred. Olsen, MSC, Cunard, NCL and Royal Caribbean.
Amazon River cruise specialists such as Rainforest Cruises are hoping for a flood of bookings following the launch of their programme of voyages to tie in with the Games. The Amazon River cruise capital Manaus is a four-hour flight from Rio but well worth visiting during a holiday to Brazil. Other add-on holidays include Iguassu Falls, a Rio Hotel, Macchu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands.
British Airways offers daily flights from London Heathrow to both Rio de Janiero and Buenos Aires.
KLM flies via Amsterdam from UK airports to both Rio and Buenos Aires, while TAM flies via Sao Paulo.
For information on how to buy tickets for the Olympics and Paralympics, visit rio2016.com