Fodor’s Choice Brazil: Sights

0706_Ipanema_Tom_Holton.jpgPraia de Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro
Catch a good cross section of the city strutting its stuff here—one area is dominated by families, another is favored by the gay community. Throughout the day you’ll see groups playing beach volleyball and soccer, and there are kiosks all along the boardwalk where you can get anything from coconut water to fried shrimp and turnovers. (photo, right)

Sitio Roberto Burle Marx, Rio de Janeiro
Beyond Grumari, the road winds through mangrove swamps and tropical forest. It’s an apt setting for the plantation-turned-museum where Brazil’s famous landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx is memorialized. Marx, the mind behind Rio’s swirling mosaic beachfront walkways and the Aterro do Flamengo, was said to have “painted with plants.” More than 3,500 species flourish at this 100-acre estate. Marx grouped his plants not only according to their soil and light needs but also according to their shape. The results are whimsical and elegant.

0706_Corcovado2_Tom_HoltonF.jpgCorcovado, Rio de Janeiro
The sheer 300-meter granite face of Corcovado has always been a difficult undertaking for climbers. It wasn’t until 1921 that someone had the idea of placing a statue atop Corcovado. A team of French artisans headed by sculptor Paul Landowski was assigned the task of erecting a statue of Christ with his arms apart. It took 10 years, but on October 12, 1931, the Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) was unveiled. The sleek, modern figure rises more than 30 meters (100 feet) from a 6-meter (20-foot) pedestal and weighs 700 tons. In the evening a powerful lighting system transforms it into a dramatic icon. (photo, right)

Pálacio do Catete, Rio de Janeiro
Once the villa of a German baron, the 19th-century granite-and-marble palace became the presidential residence after the 1889 coup. Eighteen presidents lived here. Gaze at the gleaming parquet floors and intricate bas relief ceilings as you wander through its Museum of the Republic. The permanent exhibits include Presidential memorabilia, furniture, and paintings that date from the proclamation of the republic to the end of Brazil’s military regime in 1985.

Búzios, a little more than two hours from Rio, is a string of gorgeous beaches on an 8-km-long (5-mi-long) peninsula. Europeans and South Americans (especially Argentineans and Chileans) flock here year-round to do absolutely nothing. It was little more than a fishing village until the 1960s, when Brigitte Bardot escaped from the paparazzi here, but was eventually found, and fame for little Búzios followed. Despite the growth, Búzios retains the charm of a small fishing village, and the balance of the cosmopolitan and the primitive is seductive. 126 miles northeast of Rio. (photo, right)

This is the biggest sea island in the country, with 22 calm beaches along its western shore, which faces the mainland. The hotels are mostly at the north end, though the best sandy stretches are the 13 to the south, which face the open sea. There are two small towns on the island—one is where the locals live, the other is where most visitors stay because of its hotels, restaurants, and stores. Scuba divers love the shipwrecks off the coast.

Mercado Municipal, São Paulo
The city’s first grocery market, this huge, 1928 neobaroque-style building got a major renovation in 2004, and is now the quintessential hot spot for gourmets and food lovers. The building, nicknamed Mercadao (Big Market) by locals, houses 318 stands that sell just about everything edible, including meat, vegetables, cheese, spices, and fish from all over Brazil. It also has restaurants and traditional snack places—don’t miss the salt cod pastel at Hocca Bar.

0706_Copacabana_Tom_Holton.jpgPraia de Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro
Traffic, noise, packed apartment blocks, and a world-famous beach—this is Copacabana, or Manhattan with bikinis. Walk along the neighborhood’s classic crescent to dive headfirst into Rio’s beach culture, a cradle-to-grave lifestyle that begins with toddlers accompanying their parents to the water and ends with silver-haired seniors walking hand in hand along the sidewalk. (photo, right)

Museu de Arte de São Paulo
One of the city’s premier fine-arts collections, with more than 7,000 pieces, is in this striking low-rise structure. Highlights of the collection are works by Van Gogh, Renoir, Delacroix, Cézanne, Monet, Rembrandt, Picasso, and Degas. Baroque sculptor Aleijadinho, expressionist painter Lasar Segall, and expressionist/surrealist painter Candido Portinari are three of the many Brazilian artists represented. The huge open area beneath the museum is often used for cultural events and is the site of a charming Sunday antiques fair.

Photography: Tom Holton