Selling the Heart and Soul of Brazil
By Susan McKee
Mention Brazil to clients thinking of “somewhere different” to go on vacation, and watch what happens: “I don’t like crowds,” they say, thinking of the crush of tourists converging for Carnival. “I’m afraid of the crime,” they say, thinking about the oft-reported robberies of visitors to Rio de Janiero. “It’s too hot,” some say, thinking you intend to send them on a boat up the Amazon River at high noon in summer.
But there’s more to Brazil than those iconic images. Ask clients a few questions.
Did they like traveling in Italy or Germany? What about jeep trekking across rugged terrain with magnificent views? Is sampling different wines or tasting micro brewed beer something they like to do? Is going somewhere their friends have never been appealing?
Add to those lures the lack of jetlag (you’re flying within, not across, what are U.S. Time Zones), and Santa Catarina, about an hour’s flight south of São Paolo, may be just the ticket.
Never heard of it? It’s virtually undiscovered by American tourists. That means visitors will find fewer people who speak fluent English -- but the tourism infrastructure is in place because it’s a popular destination for Brazilians.
Take Florianópolis, Santa Catarina’s capital, for example. It’s situated on Santa Catarina Island, connected by a trio of bridges to the Brazilian mainland. Located just south of the Tropic of Capricorn, it has a subtropical climate like central Florida (which is just north of the Tropic of Cancer). The island has 42 named beaches, ranging from mere slivers of isolated sand to vast stretches where fishermen share the shore with sunbathers.
In town, don’t miss the mercado (filled with fish, meat and produce vendors) and stop by the city’s old town square, Praça XV de Novembro. Here, you’ll find the legendary 100-year-old fig tree. Circumnavigate it counterclockwise seven times, and your future good fortune in wealth and romance are assured!
The province of Santa Catarina was settled by Europeans – primarily Italians and Germans – and their influence remains strong. In Pomerode, for example, where almost all of the original settlers in the 19th Century came from Pomerania, 90% of the population still speaks German.
Beer in Brazil
In nearby Blumenau, one of the best-known industries is beer production using traditional German methods (you can tour the Eisenbahn Brewery as well as the city’s historic museum of beer-making). Each year, the residents don German costumes and celebrate Oktoberfest, even though the Brazilian celebration takes place in the spring instead of harvest time. www.eisenbahn.com.br/ingles/main/index.php
The factory in Blumenau producing hand-crafted glass is called Di Murano (after the famous Italian island outside Venice known for its glass). Its studio is open to visitors, who can watch glassmaking in action –and then buy something wonderful to take home.
One of the Italian-style winemakers in the region is Villa Francioni, where the attraction is not only the wine, but the winery itself. A collection of stained glass windows is incorporated into a six-story combination of production facility, restaurant and shop. No detail in design has been overlooked, from the fanciful wrought iron balconies overlooking the storage tanks to the mosaic tile floors under the aging barrels.
While there are European-style wine and beer, there also is a favorite indigenous libation – cachaça, a spirit distilled from sugar cane juice and aged in Ariba wood barrels.
According to a recent report in The New York Times, one of the best cachaças in Brazil is Armazem Vieira, distilled in Florianópolis. Visitors can sample (and purchase) cachaças aged from one to 50 years in the same trading post, or “armazem,” built in 1840 by Sergio Vieira – it’s just a couple of miles from the Florianópolis airport. While enjoyed straight up, most drink their cachaça in the trademark Brazilian cocktail, the Caipirinha, which adds unrefined brown sugar, fresh-squeezed lime juice and ice to the liquor.
North on the Atlantic coast from Florianópolis is Parque Unipraias Camboriú. A great place to spend the day, the park combines Estação Mata Atlântica (a nature preserve with walking trails and information placards on the flora and fauna) and a couple of cable car rides to whisk you to the top from either side of the park.
The descent from the summit into Balneário Camboriú takes you from lush Atlantic rainforest into a distinctly modern city. A shoreline drive separates apartment skyscrapers from a working waterfront. As I watched one evening, a crew of about 30 fishermen wrangled a huge net to shore, bringing fish and other sea creatures for their dinners.
Inland, the terrain of Santa Catarina changes. After crossing the coastal plain, one drives up a tortuous two-lane highway to the Planalto Serrano, a plateau almost 5,000 feet above sea level. Here, about 140 miles from Florianópolis, is a region with heavily forested canyons and limitless vistas.
The province has several resort hotels that are ready for American visitors. One is Rio do Rastro Eco Resort, on the Planalto Serrano. It combines on-site facilities (including an indoor pool) with outdoor exploration options via jeep, horseback or hiking. www.riodorastro.com.br/ing/index.htm
Vida Sole e Mar, on the Atlantic coast at Imbituba, has all the usual amenities, but the big draw is the whales. Just off shore, from about mid-June to mid-November, you can watch whale migration up close and almost personal.
Ponta dos Ganchos Exclusive Resort, a Relais & Chateaux property, has just 20 bungalows for those who need privacy. The cuisine, by chef Luis Salvajoli, blends traditional recipes and Brazilian ingredients for meals that meet international standards. Visit their website at: www.pontadosganchos.com.br/web/eng/home.php
On Santa Catarina Island, the sprawling Costão do Santinho Resort has a designated “international wing” where foreign visitors are likely to run across English-speaking staff. Costão was chosen as the best beach resort for the third consecutive year by readers of Viagem e Turismo magazine. www.costao.com.br/versoes/ingles/index.php
Additionally, Santa Catarina was awarded the Best Destination in Brazil prize in the same annual survey of the Viagem e Turismo magazine; readers crowned Santa Catarina as the best tourist destination in Brazil, surpassing Bahia, champion for the last five years and the city of Florianópolis took second place, after Rio de Janeiro.
For information, contact Santa Catarina Tourism, www.santacatarina.travel; or contact the Brazil Tourism Office, 800-727-2945; www.braziltourism.orgMarch 2008
Booking Bossa Nova Beaches
By Jonathan Siskin
As I peeked out the window of my suite at the Copacabana Palace a little after 8 a.m. on a hot and sultry Rio morning I noticed sunbathers already arriving and staking a claim to a precious patch of sand. By late morning the beach was already packed, the sea of bodies stretching as far as the eye could see.
Going to the beach is a top priority in Rio as the bathing suit is a vital part of every wardrobe. People shop in them, dine in them and hold business meetings in them. With more than 50 miles of beaches within city limits it’s no wonder that sun worshipping comes as natural to Cariocas as breathing. If they are not at the beach already, chances are they’re on their way and will soon arrive.
The Girl from Ipanema is Alive and Well
Copacabana and Ipanema, two beaches redolent of the Rio mystique, are within walking distance of each other. Copacabana is the most frenetic beach scene with a swarm of vendors hawking tons of merchandise. Among the most popular items are the distinctive bird kites that soar and dart above the crowds on the balmy ocean breezes.
Immortalized in the international hit about the gently swaying girl, Ipanema has the well-deserved reputation as Rio’s “beautiful people” beach. One of the city’s most fashionable neighborhoods, Ipanema’s status as the place to “see and be seen” remains intact.
It’s hard to believe that any business ever gets anything done in a city that exudes such a sensual, sybaritic appeal. However, the people do work and play hard as Rio ranks among South America’s leading centers of finance and commerce. The sooner you can finish the day’s business, the quicker you can throw off your business attire and join friends for a late afternoon swim.
Nowhere on earth are the senses as indulged as during the feverish ‘round the clock frolicking associated with the annual Carnival celebration. Although the red-hot pace of Carnival cannot be maintained year round, the basic bacchanalian spirit suffusing the city is never far from the surface. While the beach is the center of focus during the day, the night resounds with its own inimitable pleasure beat.
Evening’s arrival is enhanced by a cable car ride to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. From these heady heights you get a panoramic view of the miles of beaches framed by the swath of mountains that make the city an unrivalled natural beauty. Another superb aerial vantage point is from atop Corcovado, the humpbacked mountain crowned with the statue of Christ the Redeemer among Rio’s travel icons that distinguishes the skyline. You arrive at the summit after a 20-minute ride on a cog railway cut through solid rock up the side of the mountain passing through a section of tropical rain forest below.
From both Sugarloaf and Corcovado you can watch as the gathering twilight bathes the city in a rich amber glow. Soon thousands of pinpricks of light arrive like a swarm of fireflies igniting the darkness. Before long the night is alive as the city sparkles in its evening finery.
Nighttime in Rio moves to the distinctive Brazilian rhythms of the samba and bossa nova. It is here in Brazil’s music capital that many of the country’s greatest songwriters and performers have flowered. Like New York, Rio is a city that never (rarely?) sleeps as live music often gets underway very late at jazz clubs such as Vinicius’ Bar and Mistura Fina. Along with music, partaking of the pleasures of wining and dining is another favorite Rio pastime. An especially popular place that attracts both Cariocas and tourists is the churrascaria (barbecue house). Here eating is an event in itself as waiters skillfully maneuver around long tables carving a variety of savory meats directly onto your plate. There is no limit as to how much filet mignon, brisket of beef, pork ribs and chicken you can eat as it is deftly delivered hot off the skewers onto your plate.
At many Rio restaurants you can enjoy a hearty Sunday brunch known as feijoada, the national dish that seems tailored for carnivorous appetites. Among the ingredients are an eclectic mix of meats including beef, pork, sausage, ribs, tongue and black beans (to name a few). And you wash everything down with a caipirinha, the most popular and potent Brazilian libation made from chachaca, a fiery sugar cane spirit, sugar and freshly squeezed limes.
Flying to and Staying in Rio
I flew on the Brazilian carrier Tam Airlines (www.tam.com.br), which operates daily departures out of JFK’s terminal 4 to Rio and Sao Paolo; Delta and United also fly to Rio from JFK. While in Rio I stayed at the deluxe CopaCabana Palace, the only hotel in Brazil that is a member of Orient Express Hotels. Since opening in the 1920s it has been the preferred place to stay for Hollywood stars and big name entertainers from Cary Grant to Grace Kelly to Mick Jagger. (www.capacabanpalace.com.br)
For information contact the Rio Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.rioconventionbureau.com.br; for information on Brazil, call 800-727-2945; E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; www.braziliantourism.orgMay 2007 Feature
Brazil Ready to Bargain with Agents
At the recent New York Times Travel Show, Miguel Jerónimo, CEO, North America for Embratur, Brazil’s Ministry of Tourism, was about to announce a brand-new Travel Agent Training program. Already in place in Europe, it was targeted at Spanish and Portuguese markets, while this phase was being introduced to the U.K. and U.S. at the same time. It will shortly be offered in Asia, too.
The program, which goes into effect this month, calls for 300 agents who can apply for their certification after completing the five-week, nine-hour program. “We would like to have 150 specialist agents on the east and west coasts whose online work will be shadowed by a tutor,” said Jerónimo. Agents interested should visit wwww.fgv.br/fgvonline/embratur
Brazil, and its city of Rio de Janeiro, are best known for their spectacular four-day Brazilian Carnival celebrated annually during the month of February. Travelers can samba their way into the crowd amidst the pageantry, music, costumes, parades and parties decked out in costumes they can rent for the occasion. Some tour operators’ packages include this amenity.
Rio de Janeiro’s amazing tropical beaches, the most famous of which are Copacabana and Ipanema, and major nearby attractions such as the Statue of Christ the Redeemer (Corcovado Mountain), Sugar Loaf Mountain are all part of a first-time travelers’ visit.
According to Embratur, traffic from the U.S. in 2006 was up by 12 percent compared to 2005, adding up to $4.3 billion in revenue. This January, traffic had already increased by almost 21 percent over the same period in 2005 for revenues of $440 million compared to $402 million a year earlier, Jerónimo reported.
“Americans come during the winter, which is logical, and they come for Carnival,” he said, “but with additional air service within the country, it will be easier than ever for people to travel to other places such as Recife and of course, Sao Paolo.” He mentioned a rise in business travel and incentives. “We have a department devoted to special events, which has noted an increased demand and an extended stay market that is relatively new for us.” Among other special interest markets that are appearing more and more are family, ecotours, spa and healing vacations.
Additionally, the country has welcomed a number of new properties recently such as a Hilton in the Northeast and several properties are under renovation in Sao Paolo, Rio and Salvador Bahia.
The TAM Group (TAM), perhaps best known for its airline, TAM Brazilian Airlines, has unveiled TAM Vacations, a full-service travel company with more than 250 travel products covering Brazil and South America. TAM is not new to the business. Back in 1988 the company created its first tour company serving the Brazilian market under the name TAM Viagens (Portuguese for vacations). Due to the increasing business from the U.S. to Brazil and South America, as well as other destinations served by TAM Brazilian Airlines, TAM decided to bring TAM Viagens to the U.S., under the name of TAM Vacations.
TAM Vacations focuses on special interest travel with packages that feature golf, fishing, diving, wine tours, surfing, bird watching, whale watching and many other custom programs to fit any travelers’ request.
Through their network, including 49 representatives in Brazilian cities as well as their US-based office in Miami, TAM Vacations has a wide range of professionals who can answer all questions about organizing meetings or incentive trips as well as special events throughout Brazil.
When looking for a pre-arranged tour package, agents can call TAM Vacations’ specialists or go on-line to TAM Vacations’ website and visit the “Classico Packages” section. When catering to groups with specific needs, agents can also fill out an on-line form and request a proposal. Additionally, the company sells a travel insurance program through its partner, Travel Insured International, a feature offered with purchases on TAM Vacations.
For additional information on TAM Vacations, call 866-627-2945; E-mail email@example.com; or visit www.tamvacations.com
Brazil is about 10 hours from the U.S. and night flights tend to be the most comfortable when trying to save time and avoid jetlag. Varig, once the premiere carrier to Brazil lost marketshare with the arrival of low-cost carriers, but has been rescued by low-cost carrier Gol. Now, Gol plans to double the size of Varig's fleet to 34 aircraft, consisting of 20 737s and 14 767s to better serve Miami and New York in the U.S. One of the most successful strategies Gol put into place was to give travelers the ability to book tickets as early as 36 months in advance. www.voegol.com.br
Additionally, TAM provides scheduled air transportation in both the domestic market and the international market through its operating subsidiaries TAM Linhas Areas and TAM Mercosur. TAM serves 10 international destinations and provides connections to other destinations through agreements with American Airlines, Air France and other airlines.
From the U.S., several carriers operate service to Brazil American Airlines, 800-433-7300, www.aa.com; United Airlines, 800-538-2929; www.united.com; Delta, 800-221-1212; www.delta.com; and TAM, 888-235-9826, www.tam.com
For more information on Brazil, call Embratur 800-727-2945; www.braziliantourism.org