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Best Brazil Guided Tours All Brazil Trips
Top Trip Memories
  • Visit the Corcovado Mountain to see the renowned statue of Jesus Christ in Rio de Janeiro, known as "Christ the Redeemer." From here you are also bound to see the panoramic view of the city below.
  • Gape at the enormous Iguacu Falls
  • Cruising the second longest river that cuts through thick Amazon rainforests, the Amazon River.
  • Witness the spectacular Rio Carnival.
  • Drop by Pantanal to see Jaguar and other wildlife.
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Tour Tips
  • It makes sense to take a tour or small-ship river cruise to Brazil. Distances are vast, natural areas like the Amazon and the Pantanal are remote, and the cities can be plagued with petty thefts – less likely to occur if you’re in a group.
  • If you plan to travel to Brazil for Carnaval or any special event, be sure to book your tour well in advance – a year or more, if possible.
  • If there’s no room at the inn for Rio’s Carnaval, consider a tour that includes attending the Carnaval in Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia along the Atlantic north of Rio.
  • Similarly, Copacabana may be more famous, but the beaches of Jericoacoara, a fishing village north of Rio, are beautiful, less crowded, and known as windsurfing meccas.
  • Remember that Brazilians speak Portuguese, not Spanish like most of the rest of South America.
  • Even if you’re a vegetarian, there’s no need to skip a meal at one of Brazil’s famous churrascarias, where multiple courses of meat are served – after ample salad and vegetable courses.
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Brazil Travel Reviews & Ratings
4.7 out of 5

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recommend

1,115 Reviews

Excellent 797 Great 313 Average 5 Disappointing 0 Terrible 0

Rating Details

Value
4.7 Guide
4.7 Activities
4.7 Lodging
4.7 Transportation
4.7 Meals
4.7
Tour Reviews

This is a combination review of SmarTours South American Odyssey 16 Day Escorted Tour and the South American destinations themselves

South American Odyssey

3.0 April 2017 SmarTours Recommend: No The actual tour was 14 days because of overnight flights. We visited Chile, Argentina and Brazil. We were a cohesive group of 17 travelers in our 50’s-70’s from Canada, U.S., Cayman Islands and Nicaragua. SmarTours uses above par hotels with breakfast included. All except one, the Mabu Beach Resort in Iguassu, were excellent. Mabu was just average. I like that SmarTours tells you exactly what is and is not included. There are never any surprises. I think they provide good value for the cost of the tour. We covered a lot of ground in three countries. Much time was spent getting to and from airports and in flying, but that’s expected when you are visiting so many sites within a two week period. I think SmarTours should market this as a slow paced group tour for less active adults. Some of the walking tours were at a crawl.

A few history basics of why I chose SmarTours: I traveled with SmarTours to China a couple of years ago. We had a fabulous tour director/guide, Harry, who was with us all the time. In some cities we had local step-on guides also. This was the first escorted tour I ever took. I am usually an independent traveler.

My second trip with SmarTours was to Cuba in June 2016. We had a tour director who spoke no Spanish and badgered the group about being on time and rationed the one water bottle each of us was allowed per day. Cuba tourism is tightly controlled for Americans. I assumed she was required to be with us even though her personality was unsuited to the profession. She should’ve been working in the back office rather than face to face with people. Thankfully we had a fantastic local Cuban guide also who assumed many responsibilities that weren’t hers because the SmarTours tour director was so negligent.

I figured I’d give SmarTours another chance and took them to South America. Again we had a tour director. I then discovered that SmarTours’ policy is to always have a tour director wherever you go. She was worthless. I will not name her. She spoke neither Spanish nor Portuguese and conveyed no knowledge of the countries we visited even though she had been to them 20 some odd times. Her only concern was to be on time and tell us where we could get the best chocolate. She made herself seem important by insisting we were incapable of getting our own boarding passes or following a local tour guide around on our own. I think most travelers are capable of checking into a hotel on their own and receiving their own room keys from the front desk. Since we always had local tour guides too, I’m sure they could’ve told us what time to meet for the tour. Our tour director knew most of the local guides from previous visits. Several of them were second rate and obviously were in their jobs too long and became stale, but more of that later because a couple of local tour guides were outstanding. I have refrained from naming the second rate local tours guides and only named the good ones. I have also refrained from naming the tour director.

On to the destinations:

1. Santiago: Hotel Atton Vitacura – fine, modern, on outskirts of city in an upscale business/office/residential district with several moderately priced to expensive restaurants nearby. Metro is a walkable mile away. We were in Santiago two days.

Day 1 was a combo bus/walking tour for a couple of hours in A.M. upon arrival from our overnight flight from New York City or other Canadian/U.S. airports. Most of us were pretty exhausted but a city tour upon arrival was in the itinerary. Our local guide was OK, neither great nor awful but unmemorable with no time for questions. Remainder of day free and we slept until included dinner in hotel.

Day 2 was a free day. Everyone in the group except me took the optional tour to Valparaiso, Vina de Mar and a winery ($85). Instead I took the Metro (felt totally safe and was easy to navigate) to downtown Santiago and took a free walking tour with Franco on Wednesday, April 5, at 10 A.M. “Free Walking Tour of Santiago.” From the previous day’s tour I felt I lacked a sense of the city and really hadn’t spent any time there. Franco was professional, knowledgeable with perfectly clear English and the model of what a tour guide should be unlike the local tour guide provided by SmarTours the previous day. Franco was interesting, funny and attuned to the group of about 20 of us. When I left him after 4 ½ hours I felt I had a good understanding of Chilean people, Santiago and Chile and the history of the country in general.

2. Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas, Chile: Day 3. We flew from Santiago to Puerto Montt early in the day. SmarTours local guide, Christian Ruz, met us at the airport. He was one of the best guides we had with a wealth of knowledge and readily answered all of our questions. Puerto Montt is an industrial seaport based on the fishing industry and is the entry point in Patagonia for southern Chile and the Lake District. It was settled by German immigrants in the mid-1800’s and there is still a strong German influence. I enjoyed the short stop in town to listen to a girls’ school’s marching band performance. Lots of stray dogs who bark/sing along with the music. We were rushed onto the bus without having any time to walk around the town after the band’s performance. We then drove to the neighboring town of Puerto Varas, totally tourist driven with an upscale resort feel to it. Our hotel, the Radisson, all wood and stone and beautiful in an understated way, was right in town, opposite lake, but it was rainy, cold and cloudy so we couldn’t take advantage of the views of volcanic Mt. Osorno. A few of us walked in the town but it seemed to only have shopping and the supermarkets were the highlight. Dinner at the hotel was included. Presentation pretty. Food just so so.

3. Crossing the Andes to Angostura and Bariloche, Argentina: Day 4. We crossed the Andes by bus via the Lake District from Chile to Argentina. Long ride. Lots of checkpoints (immigration and customs) along with way. The most exciting part was getting stuck in a freak early April snowstorm when approaching the top of the Andes. Our two drivers and tour guide Christian saved us by jacking up the rear of the bus and putting chains on the tires and we eventually got out of the snow drifts. These poor guys were wearing light jackets and didn’t even have gloves. It doesn’t normally snow here until later in June. Our first stop in Argentina was in Angostura, where we walked on a boardwalk through the Arrayanes Forest filled with myrtle trees famed for their cinnamon colored hollow trunks. We also took a boat ride on the lake. Pretty. Later on we arrived in Bariloche for two nights at the Edelweiss Hotel – good in town location with plenty of restaurants to walk to. Unfortunately we chose Girula Pizza & Pasta that we were recommended to. Awful. Tasteless food, terrible and slow service that got the orders wrong, not worth the money. A real tourist trap. Bariloche is a summer lake and winter ski resort town with numerous lodging options. Hardly anyone outside the hotels speaks English.

4. Bariloche, Argentina. Day 5. After breakfast our local tour guide, Alexandra, provided a valuable talk with map references on the history of Argentina. She then led us on a very short walking tour of the town plaza. The rest of the day was free. SmarTours offered an optional excursion (The Small Circuit Tour $79) but my companion and I decided to do much of what was offered on our own instead. Any time we could escape the slow pace of the tour group we did. Getting the sube (bus pass) for local Bariloche buses was an ordeal of visiting at least eight sites that supposedly sold it but didn’t until we found one that did. My companion spoke Spanish and had she not we would’ve had a hard time communicating. We took city bus #20 to Cerro Campanario and mistakenly got off a few stops too early and wound up at the chair lift site so we didn’t get to hike up the mountain as planned. There is no trail at the chair lift site – just a steep cutaway up the mountain -- so make sure you get off at the later stop if you want to hike up the mountain. Nevertheless the round trip chair lift was a great ride and views from the top of the mountain were gorgeous. Nice little café too. We began walking back to Bariloche (18 km.) intending to catch the #20 bus on its return but a lovely young couple we met at the top of the mountain saw us walking on the country road and gave us a lift back to Bariloche. A great experience of meeting local people. We went to dinner at a small restaurant around the corner from the hotel. Huacho – good food, price, service. Try the provolenta.

5. Buenos Aires, Argentina. Day 6. After breakfast we flew to Buenos Aires where we met our local tour guide, Natalia, who provided clear and concise commentary on our way to the MGallery Brick Hotel in the Recoleta section of the city, the best hotel we stayed in on our South American Odyssey. We spent four wonderful nights there. The hotel was across from an American style mall (Bulridge) with numerous food options from McDonald’s to Argentinean gourmet food and wine bars.

Day 7 began with terrific breakfast and service at the hotel followed by a combo bus/walking tour by Natalia that included the Metropolitan Cathedral, Plaza de Mayo, Casa Rosado, Recoleta Cemetery, Calle Florida. It was too much on the bus off the bus and we probably could’ve easily walked to many of the sites, especially considering the horrendous traffic. She took us to La Boca also and we definitely needed the bus to get there. The afternoon was free and a few of us continued walking in the Microcentro on our own in the rain ending up taking an informative tour of the opera house, Teatro Colon. Dinner with tango show was included by SmarTours. Very enjoyable.

Day 8 we traveled outside the city to the Santa Susana Ranch, an estancia on the Pampas, and visited the on-site house museum, rode horses and were entertained by a gauchos riding and a folklore show. Lunch was tasteless barbecue, a disappointment to all.

Day 9 was free. We did not take the optional Tigre Delta tour offered by SmarTours ($79). Instead my companion and I spent 3 ½ hours with a Buenos Aires Greeter (Cicerones), Paola, who is part of the Global Greeter Network. She was knowledgeable and easy to talk to. We walked from our hotel along Avenue del Libertador through Recoleta and Palermo. Greeters are not tour guides. They show you a neighborhood like a person who lives there. We spontaneously participated in a healthy exercise dance group in the park and had lunch in a local café and got a feel for what it is like to live in Buenos Aires. She left us at the Museo Evita, a worthwhile place to visit. Then we took a local bus to Puerto Madero where we got lost in a mass of traffic and construction so never got to see that area but it was fun exploring where we wandered. Buenos Aires is a cosmopolitan, sophisticated, spacious, European feeling city. I wish we had more time there.

6. Iguassu Falls, Argentina. Day 10. We took an early morning flight to Iguassu Falls and our fabulous local guide, Nuxa, met us at the airport. This gal is a pro and emits an immediate love of what she does. Her intelligence and knowledge and clarity of description and “got it all togetherness” was evident immediately. She knew the ins and outs of getting us into the national park quickly especially since the place was crowded with Easter holiday family vacationers. The falls – ah, breathtaking! This was a highlight of our trip. Don’t believe what anyone says in superlatives. They are only touching the surface of the spectacularness. We were fortunate to have perfect weather. Later in the day we crossed the border to Brazil and arrived at our hotel, the Mabu Resort. Mabu is a large mass market family resort and after having been at the MGallery Brick Hotel in Buenos Aires it was a disappointment. If you don’t partake of the pool and water sports there is little else to do. You can walk in the resort grounds or cross the road (be patient as there are no traffic lights and cars speed by continuously) and visit the mall with standard mall stores and a large food court. Dinner was included at Mabu and you got the feel the resort skimped on everything they could and just wanted to fill you up without providing quality food.

7. Iguassu Falls, Brazil. Day 11. Nuxa led us on an early morning entry to the park again using her expertise to negotiate around the crowds. The Brazilian side is more impressive. Each time we rounded a corner the view was more spectacular than the previous one. Both Argentinean and Brazilian sides of the falls are in national parks and what’s nice is the naturalness of forest surrounding you with only a trail or boardwalk interrupting nature, none of the commercialism of Niagara Falls. The afternoon was free and three of us decided to stay in the park and do the Macuco Safari, a jeep ride into the forest which leaves you at the funicular down to the Iguassu River where you board a high speed zodiac and take a thrilling ride into the Three Musketeers Falls. Three times -- or was it four -- our driver sped us under. We got drenched, laughing the whole way, and it was great. If you plan to do something else afterwards, take a change of clothes. Lockers are provided. We took a taxi back to the hotel. Came to about $5USD each. In the evening several of us attended the Rafain Folklore Song and Dance Dinner Theatre highlighting the culture of numerous South American countries. We expected it to be hokey but instead the buffet dinner and show was top notch. They even transport you to and from your hotel as part of the deal. Very worthwhile to do.

8. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Day 12. Morning flight to Rio and our local guide, met us at the airport. We drove straight to Sugar Loaf Mountain and waited with the hordes of visitors to ascend the double mountain cable cars to the top. By the time we got to the top it was dark. Amazing views. Our hotel, Hilton Windsor Atlantico, a top hotel, fronted Copacabana Beach. We had great views from our high floor room. We wanted to get a light dinner in the neighborhood but the immediate area of the hotel is seedy, dirty, rundown, and the smell of garbage on the street waiting to be picked up was overpowering. All very unappealing so we returned to the hotel.

Day 13 I took an optional SmarTours tour by our local guide to the restored dock area and part of downtown. I am quoting verbatim from SmarTours description, “Rio Historical & Olympic Tour plus Hippie Fair ($76 per person) Historical tour of downtown Rio, including a visit of N. S. de Montserrat Abbey (St. Benedict Monastery). A panoramic tour explaining the main and historical buildings, and a walking tour of the renovated waterfront área of Praça Maua (square), called “Orla Conde” , with new museums, famous “Cobra graphite”, and Olympic fire . After the tour, back to south zone of Rio to visit the Hippie Fair (One of the largest fairs of handicrafts, paintings and varieties of Rio de Janeiro).”This was the only optional tour I chose to partake of because I was so psyched from all I was told of the danger of being in Rio alone without being part of a tour group. There was no Olympic Tour, nor new museums, not Cobra graphite or Olympic Fire.” In fact, the tour we took hardly fit the description of what we saw. SmarTours offered this ridiculously expensive rip off bus/walking tour, totally disjointed, with lots of details but the big picture was missing. The local tour guide was doing a job that he obviously was bored with. He didn’t even have communication skills; e.g., started talking before all of us caught up with him, frequently didn’t face the group as he spoke, and spoke too low to be heard. It seemed a lot was made of a big nothing and a waste of time. Because this was Easter Sunday of Easter week everything was shuddered as we drove through downtown and not a soul was walking there. Reminded me of the movie, “On the Beach” from the 1960’s. Very eerie. We visited the two churches, one of which was the new cathedral. He rushed us there. We couldn’t figure out what the point was of taking us into a bank building without explaining why any of the exhibits were there (the phone booths, the VW van.) The tour was supposed to be from 8 A.M. to 2 P.M. but it ended at 11:45 A.M. at the Hippie Market in Ipanema. We had an hour for the market and that was plenty of time and then took the bus back to our hotel.

A group of us went up to the rooftop café for lunch. Very nice. Views. Weather. All fine. After lunch three of us walked the length of Copacabana Beach. Saw futvolleyball, soccer in a volleyball court, and other activities. Got a bit of the local flavor. Very enjoyable. Felt completely safe during the day but we were told it is not safe at night or very early morning. Excellent dinner at the hotel was included tonight. Would’ve been nice had our tour director summed up and spoke about the trip or made some toasts since this was our last full day but she did nothing.

Day 14 was a morning trip to Corcovado, 20 minutes in the train up the hill to Christ the Redeemer statue. We had about half an hour there and when one of the tour members asked why such little time our tour director said something like there’s nothing to see but the statue. There are maps and reading material up there plus you need time just to study the statue. Very impressive especially the lady sitting outside the chapel who lent visitors rosaries if they wanted to pray. Rare to see something like that. No monetary motive. From Corcovado we were dropped either at our hotel or in Ipanema in the downtown shopping district. We chose Ipanema. Several of us went to the H. Stern Jewelry Factory and took the tour of jewelry making. Interesting. No high pressure sales at the end as there is at some other factory tours. Then a bunch of us went to the Girl From Ipanema Café for lunch. Fun especially since our tour guide told us a bit about her and how the song got written. And lastly walked on Ipanema Beach before taking the H. Stern free shuttle back to our hotel. Ipanema is more upscale than Copacabana. I had just enough time to pack before we headed to the airport for our flight home.

BOTTOM LINE: I am not cut out for escorted tours and being treated like I am in kindergarten. I enjoyed being in South America. Visiting three different countries gave me an understanding of how different they are. The tour could’ve been outstanding if we had excellent guides throughout but we did not. We had local guides everywhere, even taking us to the airport and checking us in. In my opinion, the tour director was useless.
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Brazil Trips & Tour Advice

Brazil, by far more the largest country in South America, encompasses one of the widest gulfs between raw nature and urbanity anywhere in the world. It's home to both bustling cosmopolitan cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo along the Atlantic coast and to indigenous tribal villages virtually untouched by outsiders in the Amazon rain forest, with the frontier city of Manaus along the Amazon and the heavily Afro-Brazilian culture of Bahia along the Atlantic adding further diversity. But even more than its places, Brazil is known for its fun-loving people, exemplified by the spirit of their annual Carnaval celebrations, marked by samba dancing, skimpy costumes and all-night revelries. Stride can help you plan which Brazil -- or all of it -- is right for you. 

The Sights of Rio

Most travelers to Brazil start (or eventually make their way to) Rio de Janeiro, known for its iconic landmarks, gorgeous beaches, boisterous Carnaval celebrations, and as the host city of the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. While in Rio, which fronts the Atlantic Ocean, it’s almost mandatory to spend some time on Copacabana or Ipanema beach and visit the statue of Christ the Redeemer, which occupies the highest point of the city and offers spectacular views of Sugarloaf Mountain and one of the world’s most beautiful harbors. Rio’s nightlife is, shall we say, active.

Natural Wonders

The Amazon region, the largest tropical rainforest on earth, is centered in Brazil. Manaus, the capital of Amazonia, is the starting point for many of the small-ship cruises on the Amazon River and its tributaries such as the Rio Negro, which flows into the Amazon just outside the city. Manaus is also known for its opulent 19th-century opera house, financed by the wealth of rubber barons and considered the finest outside Europe in its day. Small-ship cruises usually make multiple stops per day for rainforest hikes, visits to remote villages, and dugout canoe rides through jungle creeks. Listen for howler monkeys in the trees and watch for pink dolphins in the rivers. You might also spot sloths and alligators.

The Pantanal is an often overlooked but fascinating natural region. Lying south of the Amazon, it’s the world’s largest wetlands area and is a prime spot, many say the best in the Americas, for spotting wildlife such as jaguars, tropical birds, and giant otters. (The Pantanal lacks the thick foliage that often obscures Amazon wildlife viewing). And in the far southeastern part of the country, on the border with Argentina, stands enormous Iguazu Falls, one of the most powerful cascades on earth. A mile and a half wide, it consists of 275 separate falls, producing often thunderous noises and towering mists.



Related Guides

Continent:             

South America

Local Attraction:  

Pantanal, Christ the Redeemer, Iguazu Falls, Amazon River, Rio Carnival, Jericoacoara and Many More

Top Activities:      

Exploring CultureNature Sightseeing & Attending Carnival

Similar Destinations:                    

ChilePeru, Argentina 

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   Visa Needed?  Link 
US Y  Visas to Brazil for United States Citizens
UK  N (< 90 days)  Visas to Brazil for United Kingdom Citizens
CA  Y  Visas to Brazil for Canadian Citizens
AU  Y  Visas to Brazil for Australian Citizens
NZ  N (< 90 days)   Visas to Brazil for New Zealand Citizens
IN   Visas to Brazil for Indian Citizens


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