Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard the Great Brazil Express, the first luxury train in the land of supermodels, rain forests, and aggressive waxes.
For one week, you’ll explore southeastern Brazil, from jumping Rio de Janeiro (more on that next week) to holy-shit-nature-is-unbelievable Iguaçu Falls. Like a cruise (minus the mall vibe and the masses), everything is included (except the souvenir tanga bikini). GBE books great restos and hotels, but you can go off plan and pick your spots — and add days to the beginning or the end. Which makes the train an awesome lazy/active getaway for you and travel buddies. (In other words, don’t go solo: You’ll want to share the gorgeousness.) Sit back, relax, and crank the Caetano Veloso.
First Stop: Paradise
Life in Rio is muito legal. You’ll be greeted at the airport and delivered to Pestana, a none-too-shabby high-rise with huge rooms and a rooftop pool overlooking Copacabana beach. You have only a day, so they pack it in: a huge, meaty lunch at rodizio Porcão (the papayas will ruin U.S. fruit forever) and must-sees Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado and Sugar Loaf Mountain by cable car. Or skip the tourism and hit the beach. Talk about banana hammocks.
The next day, you’ll fly to Curitiba in Paraná, where you’ll crash at another Pestana before boarding the train. The sleek, one-car, 44-passenger locomotive has plush velvet couches, wood paneling, and all the mango mimosas you can drink. People (and monkeys!) step out of their homes to wave as you pass, and your memory card will fill with images of wild hydrangeas, mountains that go on forever, and pristine waterfalls as the Atlantic Forest rolls by. Lunch is in Morretes, an old Portuguese village where an elderly Dutch woman dishes unbelievable barreado (slow-roased beef) in her nameless resto.
One with Nature
Your cell phone has zero bars, no one speaks English, and you couldn’t care less. After a short visit to Vila Velha, a remote national park with giant, bizarre rock formations, you’ll go to Fazenda Itáytyba, a chalet-style hotel next to massive Guartelá Canyon. Hit the hammocks; ride horses; or, better yet, hike to the perfect-for-swimming waterfall on the property.
The middle towns will be a blur of more impossible beautifulness, meat feasts and caipirinha IVs, live tableside bossa nova, alligators and capivaras (the world’s largest rodents), and charming cobblestone villages. Chugga chugga chugga.
Last stop: Iguaçu Falls for two days of hella waterfalls on the border with Argentina and Paraguay. (Of geeky note, the city’s hydroelectric power station, one of the world’s largest, supplies 25 percent of Brazil’s energy and 78 percent of Paraguay’s. And it’s really cool!) You’ll stay at five-star Bourbon Cataratas (don’t miss the pool, not that you could) and have a banquet dinner at a dance performance. Watch out: If the capoeira guys invite you on stage, it will get sexual (oi! Brazil!). As for the falls, they’re unreal (Niagara, who?). For the best vantage point, walk out on the bridge for 360-degree views or take a raft to see them from below (and get very soaked).
It’s time to fly home, but you won’t want to leave. Can you handle it?
We think you can. We think you can.
For more information, go to greatbrazilexpress.com.
Who you gonna bring? Send this e-mail to the pals you’re taking to Brazil.