Traveling to Peru On Your Next Vacation? Meet Its Amazing World Heritage Sites.

 

vacation packages to PeruAs summer is about to wrap, many of us are yearning for a vacation extension filled with adventure, relaxation and sunshine.

For those who cannot sit tight until 2015, consider chasing summer by heading south to South America!

One South American country is certain to satisfy your taste buds, pleasant-weather needs and cultural cravings: Peru.

Trip Advisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards for 2014 recently announced the 25 Top Destinations in South America, and five fantastic Peruvian cities made the list.

Two Peruvian cities even managed to capture second and fifth place: Cusco and Lima.  The other winners from Peru were Arequipa (15th), Urubamba (16th) and Mancora (24th).

vacation packages to PeruVacation packages to Peruvacation travel to Peru

Graced with snowcapped mountains, serene lakes, volcanos, skyscraping waterfalls, 1500 miles of Pacific coastline, dramatic canyons, exceptionally-scenic river valleys and rainforests, Peru’s tourism scene is so hot – it’s about to catch fire!  Peru has something for everyone: adventurers, outdoor sports fans, art aficionados, foodies and beach bums.  For history fans, Peru is nothing short of heart-stopping.  Did you know that Peru was home to South American’s most ancient civilizations?  It’s true!  For travelers wanting to connect with their inner Indiana Jones, Peru contains some of the very best ruins in all of South America!

When we think of ancient, flourishing cultures like those of Greece, Egypt and Mesopotamia, we cannot discount the ancient civilizations of Peru.  For example, the ruins of the Sacred City of Caral-Supe, the oldest city in the Americas, are a mind-blowing 5000-years-old!  The Moche culture flourished for over six centuries along the coast of Northern Peru; their incredible huacas or pyramids still stand and can be visited in the Moche Valley near the city of Trujillo.  The Chavín culture also added to the rich fabric of ancient Peru, and many visitors today travel to the highlands to see the 3000-year-old ruins of its former capital, Chavín de Huántar, which is one of Peru’s World Heritage Sites.  Another is the fascinating archeological site of Chan Chan, the capital of the ancient Chimú Kingdom, whose empire was eventually defeated by the Incas.  The giant, mysterious Nazca lines – yet another World Heritage Site – were created by ancient cultures in Peru between 1500 and 2500 years ago!

vacation packages to Perusightseeing in Perusightseeing in the Sacred Valley

Get the gist?  Peru’s ancient history goes so deep that we can’t possibly cover it properly here.  It’s also worth mentioning that because of transportation, some of Peru’s best ruins are easier to visit than others (unless you intend to go trekking through the jungle).  For this reason, right now we’re going to narrow in on Three of the Best World Heritage Sites in Peru – all of which are exciting, affordable and easy to visit.

 

Historic Centre of Lima

vacation packages to Peru

Lima's Plaza de Armas square

When the notorious Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizarro, defeated the mighty Incas in their capital city of Cuzco in the first half of the 16th century, he decided to create a new, grand capital for the Spanish Crown in a river valley nestled between the Pacific Coast and the foothills of the Andes Mountains: Lima.

Known as the “City of Kings,” Lima prospered and became the official capital of Spain’s Viceroyalty of Peru, a territory that for roughly a century included most of South America.

Lima’s colonial architecture is legendary, and its historic center – a World Heritage Site – is brimming with fascinating monuments from Peru’s colonial past, which shed light on how Lima was selected as the fifth best city to visit in all of South America by TripAdvisor.  Particularly worth-while sightseeing attractions to check out include the Plaza Mayor square, the Archbishop’s Palace, the Convent of Santo Domingo, the gorgeous Convent of San Francisco and its impressive catacombs, and Lima’s 16th-century Cathedral, where Pizarro himself was laid to rest (after being assassinated).

vacation packages to Peru

The Monastery of Santo Domingo, Lima

Visitors traveling to Lima have a wealth of entertainment venues, boutiques, musical performances, lively markets, galleries and gourmet restaurants to enjoy.

Lima is also home to Peru’s best museums.  If you only have time for three, make them the Museo de la Nación, the Museo Larco and the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History.

All three beautifully illuminate Peru’s ancient past with extraordinary artifacts from pre-Colombian civilizations like the sophisticated Moche civilization, who dominated the coast of Northern Peru from the 2nd century AD until about 1200 years ago, and the ancient Chavín civilization, which originated in Peru’s highlands 3000 years ago.

While the city of Lima was founded by the Spanish (and most folks come for the ambience, food scene and colonial history) don’t gloss over the fact that many ancient, indigenous groups lived in the area before those conquering Spaniards showed up.

Vacation packages to Peru

The archeological site of Pachacamac

The outskirts of Lima do hold some interest for ancient history fans.  Probably the most interesting (and convenient) to visit is the archeological site of Pachacámac, whose pyramids and temples pre-date the rise of the Incas.  The ancient city served as a sacred, pilgrimage site for roughly a millennium.  When the Incas took over, they were so impressed that instead of destroying the sacred structures, they added to them.  The ancient complex is currently under consideration to become a new World Heritage Site.

After all that sightseeing in colonial Lima and its ancient surroundings, spend some time in the modern, seaside borough of Miraflores, which is home to great restaurants, pubs, hotels and casinos.  Lima is also reputed to have the best gastronomy in the country.

For great seafood dishes, head to one of the restaurants along the Costa Verde (Lima’s seaside), and visitors in need of relaxation during the summer months (December to April in Peru) can hit the fabulous beaches located to the south of Lima!

 

 

 

City of Cuzco (also written as “Cusco” and “Qosqo”)

vacation packages to Peru

Cusco, the former capital of the Incan Empire

An absolute cultural gem, Cusco is best known for having been the capital of the far-reaching Incan Empire.

Because of its wealth of archeological and cultural attractions, it is often called the historical capital of Peru.

This beautiful city, which was carefully laid-out by the Incas in a fertile river valley near the foothills of the Andes Mountains, is an extraordinary natural marvel.  It is also a portal into the lost world of the Incas.

This is no small honor, for the Incan Empire (13th to 16th centuries) was the largest and most powerful empire in all of South American before European conquerors arrived.

Its vast territory included lands that today form part of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, and Argentina, and it is rumored that when Pizarro and Co. arrived to the Incan capital, they were blown away with what they saw!

vacation packages to Peru

Traditional Andean weaving

The runner-up for the Best Destination in South America by TripAdvisor, present-day Cusco reflects a true blend of its past: both indigenous and Spanish.  You’ll enter a colonial, baroque church – and hear mass said in the Quechua language.  You’ll see remarkable Incan monuments, walls and temples as well as Spanish churches, palaces, convents, academic centers and mansions.  While its cultural heritage is unbeatable, visiting Cusco is not like walking around inside a distant history lesson.  This city has a great, infectious spirit!

Indigenous Peruvian culture is alive and well in Cusco, as evidenced by the traditional hand-woven crafts, dance and music you’ll find throughout the city.  A dining experience in Cuzco is frequently paired with traditional music and dance, so consider checking out one of Cusco’s peñas (local tourist restaurants).  The Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo also regularly offers music and dance programs with performers donning traditional, colorful costumes.

Before beginning your sightseeing of Cusco, consider drinking the popular local infusion mate de coca, which is recommended by locals to get used to the altitude of the city.  Historical attractions in Cusco’s historic core, a World Heritage Site, include the magnificent Plaza de Armas square, the Cathedral, the neighborhood “Barrio de San Blas”, the Convent and Museum of Santa Catalina, and the remarkable Incan Temple of the Sun (Qoricancha), which the Spanish conquistadores pillaged and converted into the Convent of Santo Domingo.  On the outskirts overlooking Cusco – and within walking distance if you’re up for it – lie the ruins of Sacsayhuamán.  Without a doubt it is one of the best Incan sites to visit in Cusco.  Today the otherworldly ruins provide the setting for a reenactment of the Incan winter solstice “Inti Raymi” festival in late June.  Other popular ruins in or very nearby Cusco include Kenko, Puca Pucara and Tambomachay.

Incan sightseeing in Peru

Ollantaytambo Fortress, the Sacred Valley

In addition to visiting archeological and cultural sites, many adventurers travel to Cusco to hike, mountain bike or raft.  Many tourists also choose to visit the nearby Urubamba Valley, a superbly scenic area known to the Incas as “The Sacred Valley.”

This popular day tour generally features the market town of Písac – home to excellent Incan ruins – as well as the superb ruins of the fortress of Ollantaytambo.

Despite Cusco being conquered by Pizarro and Co., many of the city’s surrounding highlands were never even seen by the Spanish and were therefore preserved.

The renowned World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu is one such place.  Visiting it is an unforgettable experience, and Cusco is the logical starting point.

 

 Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu

vacation packages to Peru

Peru's legendary ruins of Machu Picchu

Of Peru’s 12 World Heritage Sites, this ancient and downright remarkable place is one of only two to be classified as both a natural and cultural site (along with the Río Abiseo National Park).

It was also a winner in the New Seven Wonders of the World contest in 2007.

Characterized by tropical mountains adorned with seemingly-magical mists and scenic, terraced farms almost 8000 feet above sea level, it’s easy to imagine how the great Incan rulers believed the spectacular spot – where the Andes Mountains meet the Amazon basin – was sacred.

It was built by the powerful Incans in the 15th century most likely as a royal estate.  It’s hard to believe, but after constructing the architectural and agricultural masterpiece, it was only used for roughly 100 years.  When the Spanish conquistadores arrived and sacked Cusco in 1533, the Incas abandoned Machu Picchu, and in true Sleeping Beauty style, it remained hidden to archeologists until 1911.  For this reason, Machu Picchu is understandably in much better condition that the religious Incan sites discovered by the evangelizing Spaniards.

Much mystery still surrounds the Incan site of Machu Picchu.  Despite unsolved questions, it remains a superstar of Ancient Peru’s fascinating legacy.  While many adventurous souls hike to Machu Picchu from Cusco along the Inca Trail, a challenging journey that takes four days, many tourists prefer to either base themselves in Cusco and visit Machu Picchu by train on a guided day tour or to overnight in the town nearest Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes, which also hosts a great outdoor market with traditional handicrafts.

If you’ve already visited the World Heritage Sites of Machu Picchu, Cusco and Lima, other South American winners in the 2014 TripAdvisor Awards were Buenos Aires, Argentina (#1); Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (#4); Santiago, Chile (#6); and Salvador Brazil (#11).

For all our affordable, exciting packages to South and Central America – including Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Costa Rica - please click the respective links.  We’ve also got excellent sightseeing tours in Peru available for you here

Safe Travels!

 

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The 10 Best Cities to Visit along the Tour de France Route

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One of Europe’s greatest sporting traditions is racing towards the finish line.  As fans watch 22 teams cycle over 2000 miles in 23 days, it’s fair to ask: What would summer in Europe be like without the Tour de France?

The world’s most prestigious bicycle race has been going strong for 111 years.  Since 1903 it has been held every July – with the exceptions being World Wars I and II.  The aim?  Back in 1903 it was to sell newspapers.

Today male riders from all over the world travel to France to undertake the grueling 21 stages held in France’s most beautiful (and challenging!) scenery.  The USA has three teams participating in this year’s Tour de France.  They, along with the remaining 19 teams, are shown every day for three weeks on almost 200 television channels to an estimated 3.5 billion people!  The Tour de France is the most popular, annual sporting event on the planet.  While millions are glued to their TV screens to watch the final hour of the daily stages, millions also line the route in France – often camping out for days at a time just to get a good spot.

While the route varies every year, it always features the (extremely difficult) Alps and the Pyrenees mountains, and despite being the Tour de France, the route can also take riders into neighboring countries; this year England and Belgium were included.  (The tour actually kicked off in Yorkshire.  It then continued into Southern England, with riders traveling from Cambridge down to London.)  Each day the rider with the best overall time dons the yellow jersey, which can change many times during the competition, and Paris always hosts the show-stopping finish on the Champs-Élysées.  The riders are currently heading for the Pla d’Adet mountain resort near Saint-Lary-Soulan, which brings us to the question: Why do so many people across the world love this French bicycle race?!

wine vacation in France

This year riders will cycle past Bergerac's vineyards.

Besides witnessing some of the world’s finest athletes push themselves to their absolute limits, the main attraction is obvious: France.

Watching the race gives one an outstanding view of France’s picturesque countryside.  As the peloton cycles past vineyards, fields of lavender, medieval hill towns, castles and soaring mountains, at times we feel that we too are there. 

And if you’ve always dreamt of visiting France on vacation, the Tour de France can serve as a handy roadmap of beautiful spots.   

Where does this year’s route take the cyclists over the 3-week race?  Excluding Paris and the featured English and Belgian cities, below is a list of Our 10 Favorite Cities to Visit Along The 2014 Tour de France Route!

 

 

#1 Reims: (also spelled “Rheims”)

Champagne-Ardenne Region

Stage 6

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Notre-Dame de Reims Cathedral

Known as the Champagne capital of France, the ancient city of Reims is over 2000 years old.  Despite the fact that Reims was heavily bombed during World War I, the city still houses very interesting ancient Gallo-Roman monuments and medieval architecture.  Reims’ history is crucially linked with the history of the French monarchy, as 29 kings of France were crowned inside its Gothic crown jewel: Notre-Dame de Reims Cathedral.

Before their coronations, the kings traditionally crashed in the archbishop’s beautiful Palace of Tau.  The cathedral, palace and the former Abbey of Saint-Rémi (which is located next to the 11th-century Basilica of Saint Rémi) form a joint World Heritage Site.  

Located just 90 miles northeast of Paris, Reims is a popular day trip from Paris, particularly for those in search of Champagne tastings.  The best Champagne houses in France have cellars in Reims.  Most offer tours and tastings.  Particularly popular are Moet & Chandon, Pommery, Mumms and Taittinger.  On Stage 7 riders traveled a half-hour south of Reims to the very pretty town of Epernay, another Champagne mecca included on this year’s Tour de France route.

 

 

#2 and #3: Nîmes and Carcassonne

Languedoc-Roussillon Region

Stages 15 and 16

Historical sightseeing in France France

The Roman Arena of Nîmes

This region of France is all too frequently overlooked by those traveling to France on vacation.  For those who do come, Nîmes and Carcassonne are two of the region’s biggest draws. 

The South of France is home to some of the world’s most important Roman architecture.  (It’s often in better condition than what you’ll find in Italy.)  Nîmes is one such case.  During the Roman era, this was a happening place!  It was prosperous and very populated. 

Though it began as a mere colony, Nîmes became an important city in Rome’s province of Gallia Narbonensis.  Today visitors travel to Nîmes to see the city’s outstanding historical monuments including the Maison Carrée; at over 2000-years-old, it is one of the best-preserved Roman Temples in the world.  The city’s Roman arena is generally considered the best-preserved Roman amphitheater in all of France.  It is still used today for bullfights.  And a short drive northeast from Nîmes will take you to one of the most famous Roman aqueducts in the world: the magnificent Pont du Gard, a World Heritage Site.

 

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La Porte d'Aude, Cité de Carcassonne

Languedoc-Roussillon is home to two other important World Heritage Sites: the Canal du Midi and the historic fortified city of Carcassonne. 

Carcassonne is one of France’s most storybook towns.  When exploring this beautiful, tower-adorned, walled town – you’re likely to ask yourself, “Where are all the damsels, knights, peasants and court jesters hiding?” 

It’s touristy – for good reason!  Carcassonne’s thick walls have seen a lot of action: Romans, Visigoths, Franks (Charlemagne), Saracens, Crusaders.  If you want to base yourself in one city and visit Nîmes and Carcassonne on day trips, try Montpellier!  Also located in between Nîmes and Carcassonne, the pretty port town of Sète merits a day trip.

 

 

#4: Lourdes

Midi-Pyrénées Region

Stage 18

Religious pilgrimage to France

The market town of Lourdes

Before the final stage of the Tour de France – which will finish on Sunday in Paris – riders will spend this last week tackling southwestern France. 

Several of the most challenging stages will take place there in the Pyrenees, a mountain chain that largely follows the border between France and Spain. 

The mountainous scenery is spectacular – national treasures for Spain, France and the tiny nation of Andorra. 

 

While the Pyrenees span several French regions, we’re focusing on the Midi-Pyrénées region at the moment.  In addition to hiking, mountain climbing and skiing, the area is also home to some important cultural attractions.  The most famous is the world-renown pilgrimage site of Lourdeswhich is located in the foothills of the Pyrenees.  As a result of Marian apparitions that occurred in Lourdes in the 19th century, a sanctuary to Our Lady of Lourdes was constructed.  It remains one of the most popular Catholic pilgrimages sites in the world.  While Stage 18 won’t take riders through Lourdes itself, they will literally go right around it as they leave Pau and approach the heights of the Pyrenees.  

 

 

#5, #6 and #7: Pau, Bergerac and Périgueux

Aquitaine Region

Stages 18, 19 and 20

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Pau Castle

As we just mentioned above, stage 18 will begin tomorrow in Pau – a very pretty city located 25 miles northwest of Lourdes.  Pau is located in France’s region of Aquitaine.  It has been included on the Tour de France a whopping 65 times! 

Pau’s prize cultural monument is its magnificent medieval castle, which is sometimes called the Henry IV Castle. Today the Château de Pau houses an interesting museum. 

The capital of Aquitaine is Bordeaux, and as the race this year doesn’t go there, we’re going to tell you all about its little wine cousin located just to its east: Bergerac (yes, like “Cyrano”). 

 

vacation packages to France

Medieval Périgueux

Not that the Tour de France riders will likely have any, but Bergerac produces some truly excellent wines!  Bergerac is the final city on stage 19 and the first city on stage 20.  Although located within the region of Aquitaine, it forms part of the department of Dordogne, an area that is home to some of France’s most important prehistoric sites like cave paints found in the Vézère Valley.  Of all the inclusions of this World Heritage Site, the Lascaux caves are the most famous.  

En route from Bergerac to the Lascaux Caves (which cannot be visited but visitors can see an exact replica), you will pass through another great spot on this year’s Tour de France: the market town of Périgueux.  Small it may be, but Périgueux is home to some fantastic medieval architecture and interesting ancient attractions like the Gallo Roman Vesunna Museum, which was built amid the ruins of the Roman villa. 

The town’s cathedral is also a World Heritage Site, having been on the part of the route of Santiago de Compostela in France.  Périgueux is also known throughout France for its food products – particularly truffles and fois gras. 

 

 

#8: Lyon

Rhone-Alpes Region

Stage 12

culinary vacations to France

Lyon and the Saône River

On the twelfth stage riders cycled just west of another World Heritage Site in France: the Historic Site of Lyon.  

Lyon was an incredibly important city to the Romans.  They founded it roughly 2100 years ago as the capital of the Three Gauls.  Lyon’s history is absolutely dazzling.  Today the city’s different districts tell its fascinating history in storybook fashion, along two scenic rivers. 

In the original Roman part of the city, visitors can still see excavations of Roman monuments including a 2000-year-old theatre that could accommodate an audience of 10,000 people!

It’s not just Lyon’s ancient history that is interesting.  It was also an important city in the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance.  It absolutely thrived in silk production, spice trading, printing, publishing and banking.  And Lyon’s prosperity continues, a fact made evident by its beautiful architecture and town planning.  The city is famed for its annual Festival of Lights (Fête des Lumières), which is held every December.  Having produced many of the country’s top chefs like Paul Bocuse, Lyon is often called the food capital of France because of its rich culinary traditions.

 

#9: Besançon

Franche-Comté Region

Stage 11

Vacation packages to France

Besançon's Citadel, a World Heritage Site

During the race riders have also traveled over to the eastern fringes of France and cycled south along the country’s border with Switzerland. 

Stage 11 began in Besançon,a beautiful riverside city encircled with thick forests in the foothills of the Jura Mountains.  The city is known for its impressive, iconic citadel, which is a World Heritage Site. 

It was designed by French military engineer extraordinaire to King Louis XIV: Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban.  

 

 

vacation package to France

Quai Vauban, Besançon

Besançon’s historic center is absolutely one of the loveliest in all of France with its beautiful blend of Roman, medieval and Renaissance structures.  

The city it also home to one of France’s oldest public museums: the Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology.  Dating back to the late 1600s, its collection arguably contains some of the finest artwork you can see in France outside of Paris. 

Several centuries ago, Besançon was also known both as a spa resort town (because of an abundance of nearby salt deposits) and as the watchmaking capital of France.  

Besançon is easily visited on a day trip from the Burgundy wine region.  Beaune and Dijon (yep, like the mustard) are both roughly an hour away by car.

 

#10: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Region

Stage 15

Vacation packages to Provence

The ruins of Glanum are located just south of Saint-Rémy.

Our last recommendation from this year’s Tour de France route is one of sunny Provence’s shining stars: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

The town, which is located a short distance south of Avignon, has been inspiring folks since antiquity. 

It is one of the oldest towns in France, having been founded by Celtic tribes before the Greeks and Romans arrived.  Visitors traveling to Saint-Rémy who are interested in the town’s ancient history can check out the fantastic Roman archaeological site of Glanum. 

 

sightseeing in Provence

Van Gogh spent a year in the Saint-Paul Asylum in Saint-Rémy.

Saint-Rémy has played host to some interesting historical characters.  It was the birthplace of Nostradamus.  The Provençal town is also often associated with Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh, who spent one year in an asylum in Saint-Remy.  Many of his most-famous paintings, including The Starry Night, were painted in Saint-Rémy.   

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our favorite spots along the 2014 Tour de France route!  For official information about the Tour de France, please click hereFor information on all our vacation packages to France, including Fly and Drive options, Paris and Bordeaux packages, Paris and Burgundy packages  and escorted tours, please click hereAlso consider checking out our great sightseeing tours in France.  Lastly, if you have a group of friends or family members interested in traveling to France, our Groups Department would be happy to customize an itinerary – just for your group.

 

Safe travels!

 

 

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Traveling to Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro and Salvador de Bahia: Amazing Music, Colonial Architecture and Mind-Blowing Scenery

vacation package to BrazilTwo weeks into FIFA’s 2014 World Cup and Team USA has made it through to the next round.  It’s been a surprising start in Brazil.

The defending champion, Spain, has already been knocked out, as have England and Italy – both of whom are generally football powerhouses.  France is doing well – as are the Netherlands, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay, Argentina, Switzerland and Costa Rica.

However, it’s the home team, Brazil, who is gearing up for another win, having already won the World Cup more times than any other country.  We’re now however going to temporarily leave the field to take a brief look behind the matches to examine two of the most interesting host cities of the World Cup: Salvador de Bahia and Rio de Janeiro.

 

Salvador

vacation package to Brazil

Carnival street parties, coconut-flavored seafood dishes, colonial treasures, capoeira on the streets, caipirinhas on the beach and the Afro-Brazilian rituals of Candomblé – Salvador de Bahia has a satisfying, exotic blend of European, African and Native American cultures, which appear in the city’s fantastic music, cuisine and architecture.

Why is that?  Located in the northeastern state of Bahia on the spectacularly scenic All Saints Bay, there is much to appreciate and soak up in Brazil’s third-largest city.  Salvador is one of the oldest cities in all of South America, having been founded by the Portuguese in 1549 as the political and religious capital of the Portuguese Crown’s colonial possessions in the Americas.  As a result, much of Brazil’s wonderful patrimony resides in its former capital city.  Salvador is awash with colorful, gorgeous architecture and historic monuments – so much so that its entire historic center, which contains the city’s famed Pelourinho quarter, is an official UNESCO World Heritage Site that houses the city’s Cathedral, historic convents, colonial mansions, lovely squares and Baroque palaces.

Key to fully appreciating Salvador while on vacation is understanding its past.  The success of Portugal’s vast sugar plantations in Brazil yielded over 300 years of slavery.  Millions of West Africans were forced to Brazil as slaves, and many of them arrived in the port of Salvador.  (It should also be noted that many indigenous people were also enslaved by the European colonists in Brazil.)  Bahia’s African heritage is evident across the state.  You can see Afro-Brazilian influences in the many tasty dishes served throughout Salvador’s abundance of great restaurants, cafes and street stalls.  You can see it in the folk art and traditional dances like capoeira.  You can hear it in the marvelous musical rhythms heard in Salvador’s cafes and bars and on its street corners.  You can witness it in religious ceremonies as many locals still practice Brazilian varieties of West African religions like Candomblé.

vacation package to BrazilSalvador’s warm and exhilarating ambience is infectious.  Its unstuffy, neighborhood bars and cafes are welcoming.  Its live music is amazing – and you’ll hear drumbeats and Afro-Caribbean axé rhythms simply by walking down the street.  It should come as no surprise that some of Brazil’s most iconic musicians like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso hail from Salvador.

The city’s fantastic music and great energy make it somehow feel alive.   And we’ve all seen images on TV of Brazil’s colorful, vivacious carnival celebrations.  While many cities found along the country’s dazzling coastline enjoy non-stop, carnaval revelry in the days preceding Lent, the different styles of music and dance can vary from city to city.  Salvador’s celebrations, which are so vast they require planning throughout the year, entice visitors to its pretty squares and streets from all over the world.

vacation package to BrazilSo you may be asking, what exactly is there to visit in Salvador de Bahia?  The city has a cornucopia of fantastic cultural attractions.  Out of the many historic buildings and squares (that date on average from the 1500s to the 1700s), consider checking out the Cathedral Basilica of Salvador, the Palácio Rio Branco, the Praça Municipal square, the Rococo Church of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim (arguably the most important church to Salvador’s locals), and the St. Francis Church and Convent (Igreja e Convento São Francisco).  The outstanding Museu de Arte Sacra is also worthy of a visit.  In the Lower Town (Cidade Baixa), we recommend visiting the Mercado Modelo, Salvador’s former Customs House and “storage” area for slaves not yet auctioned off.  Today is it a great place to buy souvenirs and local handicrafts.  The easiest way to reach the Lower Tower from the Upper Town is to take the Lacerda Elevator, whose Art Deco style has made the ride an attraction in and of itself in Salvador.

And for nature fans?  After your sightseeing in Salvador you’ll be happy to know there is plenty of relaxing, sunshiny downtime to be had in and around Salvador.  Its beautiful bay is home to some of the best beaches in Brazil including the famed Porto da Barra Beach and Flamengo Beach.

vacation packages to BrazilVisitors can select beaches whose waters are calm (for children), while surfers often head to beaches teeming with great waves.  South of the city and accessible by catamaran, the beach in the village of Morro de São Paulo (located on Tinharé Island) as well as the beaches on the remote island of Boipeba offer visitors a taste of paradise in South America.  Hikers too won’t be disappointed with Salvador’s natural offerings; Chapada Diamantina National Park, located west of Salvador, is a popular destination in Bahia for hikers in search of remarkable Brazilian scenery.

 

 

Rio de Janeiro

vacation package to BrazilRio is likely a great deal more recognizable to international tourists than Salvador.  Photos of its rare cityscape, dreamy beaches and eye-catching bay are so iconic, for many they’re almost synonymous with “Brazil.”

Rio is a city that has dramatically been shaped by its nature.  Possessing so many memorable natural wonders, Rio’s population gradually filed in and settled among the spectacular backdrop, nestled between mountains and sea – along its shores and on its hillsides.  For its geography alone, Rio is a must.  Add to that a laidback attitude, a great culinary scene, friendly locals – and an unbelievable presence of spirited celebrations, music and nightlife.

What’s the story?  While not the capital of Brazil, Brazil’s second largest city sure has had a heck of a lot of experience as a capital city.  Long before the Portuguese appeared in Brazil, battled with the French for control of the area, and founded Rio in the 16th century, various indigenous tribes were already living in the paradisal lands around Guanabara Bay.  (Those that did not die from disease were then killed off, enslaved or forced to assimilate.)  As the city grew, so did its port, and by the mid-18th century Portugal’s monarchs decided to move their colonial capital in Brazil from Salvador to Rio de Janeiro.

Not long afterwards (in a highly unusual colonial twist!), when Napoleon’s invading troops made for Portugal, its monarchs made their escape to their wealthiest colony: Brazil.  The capital of their Kingdom of Portugal was moved from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, and many of Lisbon’s noble families followed.  Not long after, Brazil gained independence in 1825, and Rio became the capital of the short-lived Empire of Brazil and then of the First Brazilian Republic.  It remained the capital of Brazil until 1960, and even today it is still the capital of the State of Rio de Janeiro.  During its history, thousands of slaves from Africa also ended up in Rio de Janeiro, as did European colonists – and later European immigrants.  Therefore, the city’s colorful cultural make-up is a blend of European, African and Native American cultures.  For example, the origin of carnival is European and Catholic, but Brazil’s tradition of celebrating carnival turned into something unique because of the characteristic, African rhythms and dances that make the country’s carnaval so very Brazilian.

vacation package to BrazilWhat is there to see and do in Rio?  Rio is one of those cities where one never runs out of things to do.  During the day – if you’re not sightseeing, you’re lounging on one of its famous beaches, hanging out in one of its pretty parks, shopping in one of its many boutiques or unwinding in one of its cafes.  In the evening, Rio eagerly bursts into party mode.

Tourists flock (and rightly so) to visit Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar), which marks the city’s dramatic entrance into Guanabara Bay.  The backdrop of the mountain rising out of the bay and framed by beaches is an image of Rio known round the world.  Another is of the statue of Christ the Redeemer, whose soaring height offers visitors a breathtaking panorama of Rio from atop the forested, “hunchbacked” Corcovado Mountain in Tijuca National Park.

Rio is a paradise for sports fans wanting to fill their vacations with swimming, climbing, hiking, surfing, rappelling, sea kayaking, hang gliding, golfing, biking and scuba diving.  And one cannot separate Rio from its amazing beaches.  The most popular ones include Copacabana, Ipanema and Arpoador.  If you have the time and want something more remote, head to the picture-perfect Lopes Mendes beach on the nearby Ilha Grande (Big Island).

vacation package to BrazilHow about Rio’s cultural activities?  Don’t make the mistake of writing off Rio as just a beach party town.  It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage City with great architecture, interesting museums and a thriving music scene.  Most of Rio’s historic architecture lies in its walkable Downtown “Centro” area.  It is there that you will find many of Rio’s best museums, historic churches and monuments, pedestrian avenues and colonial buildings.

Worthy museums to consider visiting in the downtown area include the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes (Fine Arts Museum), the Museu Histórico Nacional, and the Museu de Arte do Rio (MAR).  Important historical, architectural sights to check out in Rio’s Centro neighborhood include the Candelária Church (Nossa Senhora de Candelária); the 275-year-old Paço Imperial (Imperial Palace), located in Praça XV square; the magnificent São Francisco da Penitencia Church; and the beautiful Teatro Municipal, which lies on the edge of Cinelândia Square.

The city’s South Zone is home to its most iconic neighborhoods and beaches like Ipanema, Leblon and Copacabana.  Cultural attractions of interest there include the Museu da República, the Historical Museum of the Army and Copacabana Fort, and the outstanding Jardim Botânico (Botanical Garden).

One of Rio’s cultural giants is its music.  It has developed from the city’s multicultural background, and it’s a key component in the city’s fabled nightlife.  While on vacation in Rio, you’ll hear all kinds: choro, capoeira rhythms, pop rock, bossa nova, funk Carioca and of course – samba!  Rio’s samba schools are legendary, and they rule the city’s carnival celebrations.  Most of Rio’s famed samba schools are located in its North Zone, as are most of its hillside favelas.  Rio’s Sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí is the parade setting where the city’s many neighborhood samba schools perform during carnival, decked out in colorful, elaborate costumes.

vacation package to BrazilRio’s carnival is often dubbed the biggest party in the world, and we’re inclined to agree.  However, a close runner-up would have to be Rio’s famous New Year’s Eve celebration: réveillon.

Every December 31, millions of spectators donning white clothes head to Copacabana Beach for one of the world’s best fireworks shows.  A city at ease with crowds and content with celebrations, Rio is a pro at hosting events.

In addition to this year’s World Cup, Rio has been selected to host the 2016 Olympic Games – the first South American city to ever host the games.  On Sunday, July 13 it will host the final match of the 2014 World Cup.  We can’t tell you who will win, but we can tell you it will be played in Rio’s epic Maracanã Stadium.

We hoped you’ve enjoyed reading about Salvador de Bahia and Rio de Janeiro.  For information on our vacation packages to Brazil, please kindly click here.

Safe travels – and go Team USA!

 

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