Private Journeys

Self-drive Southern Brazil and Buenos Aires

16 days from £3,100pp

Brazil / Argentina

Itinerary

map marker Map

Day 1

Transfer to your hotel, 2 nights.

Arrive in Rio de Janeiro, the most romantic, intriguing and beautiful city on the continent. However, as you’ll see on the drive into town it’s not uniformly beguiling: if slowing a little now, Brazil’s economic indicators have shown massive growth in recent years but the gulf between the rich and the poor is the greatest of all Latin American countries. Sumptuous apartments overlook the sparkling bays against the backdrop of half-built slum dwellings, favelas, which cling precariously to the hillsides.

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Day 2

At leisure in Rio de Janeiro

At leisure in Rio de Janeiro. You’d be surprised how much you can get done in one day: try an early morning trip on the cable car up Sugar Loaf mountain for views over the city and Guanabara Bay, or, if it is clear, to the Christ statue on Corcovado, passing through groves of tropical fruit on the cog railway.

There’s a lovely Botanical Garden, a peaceful lagoon to cycle around behind famous Ipanema beach, an attractive colonial core and maybe a spell at sunset on the sands of Copacabana beach itself. In the evening you might choose to eat at one of the seaside promenade restaurants or attend a samba show. All this can be easily arranged locally.

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Day 3

Fly to Florianopolis, collect hire car, drive to hotel. 2 nights.

Fly south to Florianopolis in Santa Catarina state. Most visited for its glorious string of pearl-white beaches, Santa Catarina and its eponymous island is pitted with towns and villages with a strong European heritage: Azorean fishermen and wine-producing Germans and Italians flocked here where fertile soil is perfect for vines. Beyond the rocky bays of the coast and the cultural attractions, just inland, rising up from the coastal plain, you'll find chains of ruggedly verdant mountains, canyons and table-top massifs carved through by rivers and waterfalls.

Our local representative will be at the airport to assist you with collecting your car from the designated hire car company before you set off for the hotel. (You can hire a GPS if you wish). It's a 30 minute easy well-signed drive from the airport to Lagoa de Conceição, a pleasant and lively lakeside resort in the south east of the island. Your hotel is just off the main road close to the lake shore in the centre of the little town, which has a good clutch of shops and restaurants (don’t miss the Brazilian-British-owned Black Swan pub, a very popular sports- bar-cum-traditional pub).

You might spend the rest of the day getting acquainted with your car exploring the north of the island where there are some pleasant low-key beach resorts such as the Praia dos Ingleses

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Day 4

Guided walk to Naufragados beach; oyster tasting

Santa Catarina Island is the most important centre of oyster production in Brazil and savouring the exquisite oysters can be a gastronomic highlight of any visit. Our guide will meet you at your hotel and accompany you in the car on today's excursion which combines the oyster experience at the island's remote southernmost tip with a mostly gentle, scenic hike through robust Atlantic rainforest to a beautiful, deserted, pearl-white beach

The shaded path opens out on to a wide strip of velvety sand pitted with smooth grey rocks, the odd upturned boat and just one rustic bar. From the rocky promontory at the end of the beach there are great views across the bay to Florianopolis, the lighthouse and one of the many forts built in the 18th century to protect Florianopolis from invaders, all with a backdrop of the craggy Serra do Tabuleiro mountains. Return by boat to visit the oyster farm.

Naufragados beach

Day 5

Drive to Serra Geral and your countryside eco-lodge.

Today you set off on your self-drive adventure. There isn't too much driving per day - a few hours at most, conditions on the whole are safe, traffic outside rush hours near large towns is light and roads are in good condition. There are plenty of petrol stations and while signage is not perfect and maps are rudimentary, it is unlikely you will get lost.

You are aiming for the Seral Geral mountains which rise dramatically from a wide coastal plain. Serra Geral comprises a region of ranges of emerald green to purple craggy peaks and canyons. Flat plateaux sit alongside conical hills, rock spires as sharp as cathedral steeples punctuate the skyline and arches of carved rock populate crumbling cliff faces. Flowery meadows, sunless pine forests and gnarled vegetation cling to the slopes and plains. It's a landscape of extraordinary natural beauty, where roads and paths offer up horizon-busting views.

Follow the road up through green hills dotted with cattle farms and small villages to Urubici, a modern resort and farming town in Alpine scenery speckled with monkey puzzle trees. Many little pousadas (guesthouses) line the roads: the town is popular among families in summer for its cool climate and in winter when it snows - a novelty for most Brazilians. Not much English is spoken here so we've arranged for a local guide to meet you when you arrive in town to discuss your options for exploring over the next couple of days.

Your accommodation is in pretty farmland out of town, down a dirt road (we will give you more information on how to get there before you leave for Brazil). The whole journey takes just 3 hrs not including stops or diversions.

Serra Geral

Day 6-7

At leisure to explore on foot or in your car.

You can stay at the lodge and just relax, driving round to viewpoints to see the landscape highlights such as Pedra Furada.

Local operators also offer 4WD excursions but you really get the most out of the scenery by walking. There are a number of routes which have been designed by local tour operators where you can follow trails with English-speaking guides: book them locally in Urubici where there are a couple of companies offering activities and adventure tours; the staff at the lodge will be able to advise.
There are trails to suit all tastes and abilities, lasting from 2 hours to a full day. All offer fantastic views and the promise of exclusivity: it’s unlikely you’ll meet any other walkers along the way.

Pedra Furada

Day 8

Drive to Aparados da Serra and your eco-lodge.

South of Urubici and closer to the coast the mountains become even wilder and the landscapes even more dramatic. The Aparados da Serra National Park protects the exquisite Itaimbezinho canyon, a vast, flat-topped narrow ravine of white-walled rock washed over by a series of waterfalls feeding a boulder-strewn river at the bottom. Your hotel is situated at the entrance to the canyon, dwarfed by the relentless walls of rock framing it.

To reach your accommodation, drive back from the Rio Canoas lodge through Urubici and continue through Alpine-like, hilly cattle country and wine producing towns. The highlight of this drive is the amazing switchback road from Bom Jardim da Serra (1,460m) down to Lauro Muller on the coastal plain, with 15km of hairpin bends. Back on the flat, drive to Praia Grande, a sleepy rural town and take the unmade road (decent condition) to your ecolodge.

Day 9

At leisure at the lodge. Hikes, ziplines, biking and horse-riding available.

Itaimbezinho Canyon is 8km long and a death-defying 720m deep. Sub-tropical foliage frames its rim and peeps out from cracks in the precipitous white rock walls. The excitable river Rio do Boi careers along the valley floor, tumbling over boulders and fed by several waterfalls cascading over the canyon's edge from the plateau. There are several easily accessible vantage points from which you can appreciate the canyon on foot or by car, and maybe spot some of the birds and animals which thrive there, such as the red-breasted toucan, green parrots and howler monkeys.
The ecolodge offers a number of optional adventure activities and hikes.

Itaimbezinho Canyon

Day 10

Drive to Praia do Rosa beach.

Drive back to the coast and head back up north to Praia do Rosa, an agreeable little resort jammed with pousadas guest houses, bars, good places to eat and boutiques, many with a surfing theme. There is a delightful French restaurant, Bistro Pedra da Vigia, and on the award winning, broad sandy beach are some super cool surf-style beach bar restaurants such as Coral.
Praia do Rosa is only really busy in the high season, which is from Christmas to Carnival which usually falls in February. Outside this period it is quiet.

The main attraction here of course is the beach: the blissful ivory sands are backed by dunes trapping a palm-fringed lagoon. This is stretch of coast, with its nine gorgeous and undeveloped beaches, attracts bathers, surfers and walkers. You can sight southern right whales only from July to November. There are two signed coastal cliff walks with magnificent views east and west to the adjacent beaches: Praia Vermelha (red beach) is especially wild.

Praia do Rosa

Day 11-12

At leisure to explore the bays and the beaches of the rugged coastline.

Before heading off to explore in your car you should visit the pleasant modern town closest to Praia do Rosa, Garopaba, a former fishing village colonised by people from the Azores. A colonial core remains with a prominent church. It has a lot of high-end boutiques reflecting the prosperity of the majority of visitors, a pretty promenade with a couple of excellent restaurants spilling over on to a pretty promenade lined with luxurious summer homes. The tourist office here is helpful and has lots of maps and brochures.

With your hire car you are in an ideal position to explore the area around Praia do Rosa. The nine beaches, each with its own individual character, are all accessible by road, albeit a gravel or dirt one. These little-used roads are wide and easily negotiable unless it has been raining a lot in which case they will be muddy. Upon arrival at each or any of them you can walk along the beach or sunbathe (sea currents are strong, although some of the beaches have a lifeguard in high season and the majority of bays are backed by calm lagoons which are perfect for bathing.) You may well be the only visitors to one or two of the beaches, others are popular with surfers and have beach bars, one or two offer sand-boarding, a few host luxury summer homes. The fun is exploring: you never know what is around the next corner. But it is all generally safe and relaxed.

Day 13

Hand back your hire car, fly to Buenos Aires, transfer to hotel.

Drive to Florianopolis airport, drop off your car and fly to Buenos Aires. You’ll be met and transferred to your hotel in the Argentinian capital.

Buenos Aires is probably the most cosmopolitan metropolis in South America. Certainly it looks more European than any other in the Americas: wide boulevards, monumental architecture, art deco cafeterias and designer label shops. This seductive city oozes old world atmosphere and nostalgia, with its colonial buildings, antique markets, shady squares and tango halls. That's not to say Buenos Aires is just stuck in its past - it's equally vital and contemporary with a vibrant arts scene, top drawer restaurants, ultra-chic boutique hotels and a pulsating nightlife. The city's passion for football reaches a crescendo during the local derby between Argentina's two biggest football clubs, Boca Juniors and River Plate.

Buenos Aires

Day 14

Guided walking tour in Argentina's capital.

Although the modern Buenos Aires skyline is dominated by its mass of high-rise towers, typical of any rapidly expanding 21st century metropolis, at street level it reveals architectural gems and peeling relics which tell a story best appreciated on foot. The historic neighbourhoods of Montserrat and San Telmo are the focus of your guided walking tour today.

Your explorations include the Plaza de Mayo with its pink-hued Casa Rosada (Presidential Palace) and the Metropolitan Cathedral. Your tour ends in San Telmo, with its many antique and bric-a-brac shops. You are free to explore independently before making your own way back to your hotel.

Buenos Aires

Day 15

At leisure in Buenos Aires.

At leisure in Buenos Aires. Stroll round Puerto Madero, the refurbished port district where former dock installations and features have been preserved alongside a string of excellent restaurants and loft conversions. Beyond the city limits, consider a trip across the River Plate to Colonia in Uruguay. Travel along a forest-fringed estuary, dotted with upmarket residences, to this peaceful little port, where you can wander among cobbled streets lined by colonial houses, or have a meal or drink in the yacht club.

Alternatively, venture into the watery delta to the small town of Tigre, set on the banks of the Luján River. Have lunch at one of the restaurants on the shores of the Río Paraná, while watching fisherman at work and river-craft gliding by.

A third choice would be a trip out to one of Argentina’s famous estancias (ranches) on the grassy plains of the pampas.

Puerto Madero

Day 16

Transfer to airport for your international flight home.

Transfer to airport for your international flight home.

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