Weekend Escapes from Rio de Janeiro & Sao Paulo
For people who are visiting Brazil and likely to be spending more time in Rio or Sao Paulo, there are plenty of places that can be used as a weekend escape from a metropolis or two. Most of them are within a few hours' drive, and have a climate and ambience that make a relaxing change from the hectic lifestyle of Brazil's two largest cities. The obvious coastal choices are Buzios, and the Costa Verde around Paraty and Ilha Grande, all easily accessible by regular shuttle minibus, which also helps to make life easier and to keep costs down. For those prepared to drive themselves with a little local knowledge, then there are many more that can be considered.
Perhaps the closest are the Serra dos Orgaos National Park areas in the mountains that can be seen behind Rio. The two park headquarters are based in the mountain towns of Petropolis and Teresopolis, around 90mins drive and with spectacular views back to the city. The most recognisable peak is the Dedo de Deus ('Finger of God'), which points at the sky and can be easily seen from Rio on a clear day. The park is a haven of Atlantic Rainforest, wildlife and birds, and the cool mountain air that attracted the imperial family of newly independent Brazil to spend the hot summers in Petropolis. The town still has the Imperial Museum with artefacts from the era. There is also plenty of horse-riding, golf, and some excellent day and multi-day hiking across the mountain peaks, and white-water rafting down the rivers.
Visconde de Maua and the Itatiaia National Park lie just off the main highway between the two cities, another temperate area with small villages nestling between some of the largest mountains in Brazil. The Serra da Mantiqueira includes the borders between the states of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais, with a European feel to the villages, and a definite Brazilian 'serra' feel to the lifestyle of the region, with horse and mule trains still crossing the trails between valleys. Another ecotourism and activity paradise, Maua has many rivers and waterfalls tumbling down from the mountains, with lush tropical rainforest covering the banks and the hillsides, home to monkeys, sloths and many birds. On the higher levels, the climate is mountainous, with horse-riding, hiking and climbing popular, especially to the peak of Agulhas Negras, at 2,787m the sixth highest mountain in Brazil. Fondue and wine make excellent evening companions in the area.
The Serra do Mar lies on the other side of the main highway, before the drop to the Costa Verde. The Serra da Bocaina National Park has excellent multi-day hiking including a part of the Old Gold Trail which used to connect Paraty with the Gold-Rush towns of Minas Gerais. Trails here will be wonderfully quiet most of the time too. White-water rafting takes you down the rivers from the serra towards the coast.
Campos do Jordao also lies in Paraiba Valley of the Serra da Mantiqueira, closer to Sao Paulo. It does get busy on weekends, but you can escape the main crowds by striking out on the trails into the mountains.
Brotas is a little ecotourism and adventure activity paradise some 3hrs north-west of Sao Paulo. White-water rafting, canyoning, hiking, horse-riding, quad-bikes and much more can be found around the hills, rivers and falls of this relatively undiscovered area.
Iporanga lies south-west of Sao Paulo, another quiet area of caves, gentle rivers and pleasant valleys close to the border with Parana State. One of the largest remaining tracts of Atlantic Rainforest is home to wonderful biodiversity, and more gold-rush history. A little more remote is the Cananeia coastline, with possibilities for long-distance kayaking trips through the mangroves to the Superagui National Park in Parana, still one of the most remote areas of southern Brazil.
The Sao Paulo coastline heading north also contains part of the Costa Verde, with Maresias and Juquehy being excellent surf beaches on the way to Sao Sebastiao. Across the strait from the historic little port is Ilhabela, perhaps the most salubrious weekend escape in the whole state of Sao Paulo. Ubatuba is one of the most renowned surf towns in Brazil, while Picinguaba close to Paraty is a quite Costa Verde paradise.
If you do have a weekend or a few days to spare, then any and all of these places will be a welcome break. We can help organise transport, accommodation and tours, and to give you an idea of which place might work best for you. Family trips are especially welcome, and everyone feels the benefit of a few days away from the cities in incredibly relaxed towns that can be reached within just a few hours.