The south of Brazil, were it a country on its own, would probably be a popular destination for more travellers than the Brazilians and Argentinians who currently frequent its golden beaches, flowery forests, vineyards and mountain's, Unfairly eclipsed by Rio, Salvador and the Amazon further north, this relatively affluent region, originally colonised by Italians and Germans attracted by the agreeable climate and fertile soils, is a wonderful surprise for the visitor.
We start off in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s elegant and cosmopolitan capital, before crossing the River Plate to the historic, charming little port of Colonia in Uruguay. This small and friendly country is renowned for its beef cattle farming, and we’ll spend a few days on a working estancia in rolling countryside with plenty of activities from cookery classes to the milking of cows.
This journey then takes us to the astounding wilderness canyon country in the Aparados da Serra National Park. Here, tablelands are swathed in cloudforest levels and araucaria pines interspersed with prairies and run through with rivers, waterfalls and walking trails. Following this bit of outdoor adventure we’ll relax on the beach at Praia do Rosa, one of the most exquisite in Brazil. If it’s too cool to sunbathe you can take a bike tour, look for whales or try stand-up paddling.
We round off our journey with a ride on a spectacular railway which descends from the city of Curitiba over bridges and through tunnels to coastal rainforest.
Day 1 City tour of Buenos Aires.
Those of you arriving on an international flight will be met at the airport by the Journey Latin America tour leader or a local representative and escorted to the group hotel. Buenos Aires is an elegant and cosmopolitan city famed for the fascinating port district of La Boca with its cobbled streets and brightly painted houses. It was here that the tango was born; and the grandiose architecture reflects historic prosperity and diversity. The centre of town is home to the historic heartland, government buildings and churches as well as chic shopping districts, which have a nostalgic, Parisian feel. The bohemian district of San Telmo is full of quaint old houses interspersed with antiques shops, tango bars and expensive restaurants. Slightly further out of town is the Recoleta district, even more evocative of belle époque French and Italianate architecture. During the winter months, wealthy female residents parade the streets in their fur coats and improbable, towering hairstyles, and take afternoon tea in the city's ornate cafés.
We take you on a guided walking city tour to all the major sites of this fascinating city including a visit to the Plaza de Mayo, enclosed on 3 sides by the metropolitan cathedral, the town hall and the Casa Rosada (the presidential palace). The tour continues to bohemian, arty La Boca, which was settled and built by Italian immigrants and has streets lined with brightly painted corrugated iron-clad houses, before visiting the district of Recoleta, home to the famous cemetery where Eva Perón is buried.
Day 2 Day at leisure to explore the capital further.
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. 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.
Day 3 Cross the River Plate to Colonia, Uruguay.
Take a speedy motorised catamaran/hydrofoil across the River Plate to Colonia in Uruguay. Leave the shores of the forest-fringed estuary, dotted with upmarket residences, to arrive at the peaceful little port, founded by the Portuguese in 1680. There’ll be a guided tour and later you might wander among cobbled streets lined by colonial houses, or have a meal or drink in the yacht club.
Days 4-5 Travel inland for a 2 day estancia stay.
We travel inland by road to Finca Piedra (110km), a welcoming ranch set in picturesque, rolling landscapes populated by a cornucopia of birds. It’s in a lovely setting, with a one storey ranch house next to an open air pool. The simple but cosy guest rooms (there are 13), which all have private bathroom, are distributed in the main building, vineyard and stables. The restaurant has an excellent reputation, serving a mélange of traditional Uruguayan and French dishes using ingredients from the property, accompanied by the ranch’s own wines.
You have the opportunity to participate in any of the multitude of activities on offer at the finca, from tours of the vineyard, carriage rides, horse riding and mountain biking. You can even go fishing or play football! But if you just want to relax in the sun with a good book and enjoy a scrumptious afternoon tea, that’s fine too.
Day 6 Continue to the capital of Uruguay, Montevideo.
We get back on the road with a drive to the capital, Montevideo (125km). Born of the competing interests of colonial powers, Montevideo, in a fine natural harbour on the River Plate, grew to be a prosperous port devoted to overseas trade. It attracted immigrants from all of Europe, resulting in an eclectic cultural mix which survives to this day. The city cannot compete with Buenos Aires for colonial splendour of its architecture, nor for its edgy contemporary scene. However the city, with some monumental public buildings, historic core and lively port area, is an attractive place where we spend a couple of days. Its unpretentious citizens may not wear the latest fashions but they are friendly and well educated, many speak good English and have their feet on the ground.
Day 7 Guided tour of the city.
Our guided city tour takes us to Montevideo’s monuments, parks and gardens. The main places of interest are, the Old City, Constitution Square, Cathedral and Colonial Town Hall, Solis Theatre, Independence Square at the centre of which stands a monument dedicated to the national hero José Gervasio Artigas. Facing the square is the Government House (museum of the Presidents) and the main commercial street, 18 de Julio, lined with shops, cafés and office buildings.
There’s a stop for photos at the Congress Building, an immense edifice which is the pride of Uruguay. It was constructed in the early 20th century with local marble of 52 colours and 12 types of wood. From there, we drive past the Obelisk, La Carreta (Covered Wagon) monument and the Soccer Stadium; reaching residential area of Carrasco. The last will stop will be at Plaza Virgilio with an excellent view of the city.
Days 8-10 Fly to Brazil - 3 day stay in the Aparados da Serra National Park.
We transfer to Montevideo airport and fly to Porto Alegre, Brazil, immediately to head inland. The mountain ranges of the south are a sharply rucked carpet of bottle-green mountains, gorges, waterfalls and cloud forests fringed by huge ferns, vivid flowers and palms.
We’ll be met by our local guide and whisked off on the road to the Refugio Ecologico Pedra Afiada, our rustic accommodation for 3 nights situated in the Aparados da Serra National Park, notable for its dramatically varied relief. With towering vertical cliffs, shady ravines, plains and forests, it is incredibly biodiverse, populated with a large variety of birds, mammals and amphibians.
You’ll be able to appreciate the grandeur of the canyons from your room in one of the attractive wooden buildings. With vistas over the forest-choked wilderness tablelands, you’ll feel enveloped by nature, and may well be keen to set off with a guide on one of the trails in the vicinity, or go rock climbing, explore the surroundings by buggy or swim beneath a waterfall. At the end of the day you can return to the hotel where we can enjoy a glass of wine together, soak in the hot tub or steam away aching bones in the sauna.
Days 11-12 Head to the coast for relaxation in beautiful Praia do Rosa.
We depart by road (3hrs) for the coast and the Praia do Rosa, acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil. It’s a laid-back yet quite hip place, especially in summer when it is popular among a young set. Out of season, when we are visiting, it will be quiet: it may be warm enough to sunbathe but there are plenty of alternatives from walks along coastal paths to boat trips out into the bay in search of southern right whales (temporally suspended although the whales can be spotted from the cliffs as well).
Our accommodation is in a welcoming, family-run Pousada on a hill facing inland with stunning views over lakes and sand dunes. The beach is an easy stroll away, and we are also just minutes from bars, restaurants and boutique shops.
Days 13-14 Continue north to Florianópolis and Santa Catarina Island.
We leave Praia do Rosa behind and head further north up the coast to Florianópolis, capital of the state of Santa Catarina. A busy place with over a million inhabitants it includes the island of Santa Catarina and a part of the adjacent mainland. The city’s surroundings have a lot to offer, and you have a day to explore. There are colonial fishing villages to visit, beautiful beaches, and outdoor activities which you can book from the hotel, Pousada Natur Campeche, which was a pioneer in sustainable tourism. The friendly owner speaks English and has a profound knowledge of the island, and along with your tour leader will give you tips on what to do and how to get around. The pousada is set in a lovely tree-filled garden where you can relax, there is a pool, tub and sunny terrace.
Day 15 Drive to cultured Curitiba.
We’ll drive from Florianópolis to Curitiba. This important cultured city (one of the World Cup cities) is set on a plateau at 932m above sea level. You will spend the night at Hotel Deville in the centre of town, within walking distance of the historic core.
Day 16 Board the Serra Verde Express to Morretes.
Today’s the day for one of the world’s great train journeys. The Serra Verde Express cuts straight into the heart of the largest protected swathe of Atlantic rainforest, an emerald expanse strewn with the towering, boulder-like mountains of the Serra do Mar. The route is as impressive for the audaciousness of its engineering as it is for its magnificent scenery, and as we cross the many viaducts, bridges and tunnels and peer over vertical drops we’ll see why its construction in the late 19th century was regarded by many as doomed to failure. Confounding the naysayers, the line was completed in just five years and is still going strong today, connecting Curitiba with the attractive colonial town of Morretes, where we’ll enjoy a Brazilian lunch cooked with local ingredients and a tours of nearby Antonina before retiring to Morretes for the evening.
Day 17 Travel back by road to Curitiba and depart for your international flight or extension.