It’s been thirteen years since Jordan and I founded Knowmad Adventures. We’ve spent years in South America, built an office and a team in Minneapolis, had babies, moved to the ski town of Telluride, weathered a pandemic, and are, just finally, getting into a travel routine that not only melds with our work and kids’ schedules, but brings us to out-of-this-world destinations, creating lifelong family memories and phenomenal recon missions for Knowmad trip ideas. Discover how adventure travel company founders explore: this year, we travel to Brazil.
A Portuguese-speaking country with the fifth largest population in the world, Brazil’s land mass is giant and occupies over half of South America. It encompasses 60% of the Amazon Rainforest, is home to Iguazù Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and 14 cultural UNESCO World Heritage-designated sites. The biodiversity and wildlife, like jaguars in the Pantanal, are awe-inspiring. Plus, proudly, the men’s national soccer team has won a record five World Cup championships.
We haven’t even gotten to the food! Fresher than fresh, known for its seafood and churrascarias (which is a rough translation for barbecued meat restaurants), Brazil is also a top global producer of coffee. And the people! Smiling, warm, and generous; most Brazilians descended from three ethnic groups – Amerindians, Africans, and Europeans.
Of course, every country has some sort of sordid past and present. Brazil was the last country to abolish slavery in 1888. As famous as it is for its carnivals and colorful culture, Brazil’s large cities house the equally infamous favelas, and poverty and inequality are a part of its ever-changing fabric along with political corruption and serious environmental challenges.
What’s the best way to learn about the joys and the sorrows of this complex and magical land? Why, to go there of course. Knowmad Trip Specialists create custom, dynamic trips by collaborating with you on your travel pace, cultural or outdoor adventure interests, and more.
Itinerary: Knowmad Founders travel to Brazil
We focused our own itinerary mainly on the Green Coast or Atlantic Rainforest and Rio de Janeiro. With a two-week spring break window at the end of Brazil’s rainy season (at the beginning of April) plus our two children (five and nine years old) along for the trip, this was our ideal itinerary flow:
DAY 1 USA – São Paulo
Arrive to São Paulo after an overnight flight. Rest up and explore!
DAY 2 São Paulo – Paraty
After breakfast, meet your local, private guide. Embark on your scenic 4 ½ hour journey north towards Paraty. Enjoy lunch on your way and an evening at your leisure meandering the quaint cobblestone streets of Paraty.
Head out for a guided “insider’s look” experience of old town, seeing the city’s most important sites and learning about its rich and colorful history. Admire beautiful colonial architecture, discover why their street design was ahead of its time, and learn about the more mysterious and dark moments too, like exiled Portuguese royalty and the slave trade. In the afternoon, visit a distillery of Cachaça, a spirit made from fermented sugar cane and the number one ingredient in the delightful caipirinhas.
DAY 4 Paraty
Day at leisure to independently explore Paraty.
DAY 5 Paraty – Saco Do Mamanguá
After breakfast navigate by traditional boats through crystalline waters stopping at remote beaches and islands where you can snorkel, SUP, kayak and lounge. After enjoying this tropical paradise you arrive to remote Mamangua Bay where you can stay in simple but charming Refúgio Mamanguá, or for more luxury and privacy stay on a private island and villa.
- Refúgio Mamanguá or Private Villa
DAY 6 Saco Do Mamanguá
Canoe through mangroves, hike along the river to a natural pool and lunch at a local family’s home, where you learn about traditional wooden boat building techniques.
- Refúgio Mamanguá or Private Villa
DAY 7 Saco Do Mamanguá – Rio de Janiero
Return to a nearby pier by speedboat, transfer 4 hours to Rio de Janeiro.
DAY 8 Rio de Janeiro
Enjoy the day on Copacabana Beach and exploring this amazing and iconic city – late afternoon Carnival Experience.
DAY 9 Rio de Janeiro
Visit the most important symbol of Rio de Janeiro, Christ the Redeemer, located at Corcovado Mountain and take a guided exploration of Rio.
DAY 10 Rio de Janiero – Ibiti Project in Minas Gerais
About a 4 hour transfer from Rio de Janiero, the Ibiti project is located on a 7,500 acre private reserve in the rural state of Minas Gerais. Stay at either Fazendo do Engenho or Mogul Village or both amidst the Atlantic Rainforest highlands.
DAY 11Ibiti Project
Choice of excursions; hiking, biking, horseback riding or 4×4 to explore local waterfalls, large-scale art installations, woolly spider monkey or tapir conservation programs.
DAY 12 Ibiti Project
Choice of excursions.
DAY 13 Ibiti Project – Rio de Janiero or São Paulo
Transfer to local airport in Juiz do Flora for a regional flight connecting to your international departure from São Paulo or drive directly to Rio de Janiero to fly home from there.
- Overnight flight
DAY 14Arrive Home
Note: parts or all of this itinerary can easily be combined with time in Argentina. See Knowmad’s trip idea Argentina + Brazil: Buenos Aires, Iguazú, Paraty & Rio De Janeiro.
Knowmad Brazil Trip Highlights
TRAVEL to brazil: our HIGHLIGHTS FROM PARATY, BRAZIL
Paraty is a Portuguese colonial port town located about halfway between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro amidst the Atlantic Rainforest on the Atlantic. It was the destination I was most excited for on our trip and it didn’t disappoint; cobblestone streets to wander, a plethora of tasty restaurants to choose from with open air seating to take in the local culture, plus the ability to rent a boat and explore the seemingly endless array of nearby white sand beaches.
Beaches in Brazil are considered public land, so after cruising for a bit on the boat you can anchor up to one that may either be completely deserted or have a small fresh seafood restaurant on it or even may be the beach of a private home. Plenty of snorkeling, playing in the waves, and exploring to be had!
Our time in Paraty happened to be over Easter weekend. The processions were really beautiful to experience and there were Brazilian travelers mainly from Rio and São Paulo enjoying the holiday, along with artisans selling their wares and street performers from magicians to singers to clowns. The kids were thoroughly entertained.
Brazilians travel a lot throughout their own country, but international tourism isn’t as common as it is in other parts of South America and most people we met didn’t speak a second language. We speak Spanish fluently and expected it to translate over to Portuguese a lot more than it did. Some phrases could get us by in restaurant situations or shops, but overall we were having a hard time being understood and understanding. Picking up a few Portuguese phrases was key as well as having English speaking guides throughout our trip. And then there is always charades – if nothing else, good for a laugh!
Other things to do and see around Paraty: Visit a Cachaça distillery (the key ingredient in caipirinhas), slide down a natural waterslide at a local waterfall, day trip to remote Mamangua Bay.
travel to brazil: our HIGHLIGHTS FROM MAMANGUA BAY, BRAZIL
What could be just a 45 minute speedboat ride from Paraty, we took our time getting to Mamangua Bay and explored more beaches on the way, making a day of it. Home of traditional fishing communities, Mamangua feels remote and peaceful. The waters are calm here as its a large bay blocked from the main ocean by islands.
We stayed at Refúgio Mamanguá – basic and beautiful in its simplicity. Breakfast is buffet style with eggs or the traditional tapioca crepes made to order. Dinner is also provided and a set menu. Its served in the candlelit, open-air communal dining area overlooking the water. For lunch, either stop by a nearby fresh seafood restaurant or a picnic lunch will be included on your excursion.
The first full day we had there we purposely planned nothing and took the provided kayaks and stand up paddle boards out for a spin, again exploring more beaches (it never gets old!), searching for sand dollars and crabs. We swam and played cards and enjoyed a down day in our itinerary, which I find necessary when traveling with kids.
The next day we kayaked to the end of the bay to rivers that wind through the mangroves, where the saltwater meets the “sweet” water of the spring fed tributaries flowing from the surrounding mountains. We felt the temperature cool in the mangroves and observed the different flora, fauna and bugs…wear bug spray! From there, we walked along a short sandy path to a local fisherman and farming families restaurant where they described how they made the wooden boats still used today.
Hiking is also an option in Mamangua bay, with trails that lead you through the Atlantic Rainforest to panoramic vistas from mountain tops affectionately dubbed “mini Sugarloaf.”
travel to braziL: our HIGHLIGHTS FROM COPACABANA IN RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL
Next stop, Rio, and quite the contrast! The energy in this city is palpable. A hustle and cadence that makes you realize it’s a natural fit for the largest, most elaborate Carnival in the world. We stayed at the famous Copacabana Palace (you know, from the Barry Mantilow song) and that in itself was an experience. Belmond hotels truly put a touch on five star that translates to art. Our suite had a balcony overlooking the famous pool and ocean beyond. Everything is classy; the tile mosaics, the chandeliers, the mimosas included at breakfast. The kids had never experienced a turn down service and were awed. Free chocolates on our pillows before bed?!
We, again, focused a lot on food and beaches here. The waves were larger than usual with a strong undertow so we mainly played on the edge, alternating to the pool just across the street when we needed a break from the salt and sand. The beaches are public city beaches, so it’s inadvisable to wear flashy jewelry or carry anything more than the cash you’ll need, but aside from petty theft, they are safe and enjoyable. And they are an absolute feast for the senses! People from all walks of life – from the São Paulistas seeking the more relaxed atmosphere of the Rio beaches to inhabitants of favelados hawking their goods.
That evening we dined at a churrascaria just across the street from the hotel called Churrascaria Palace. It features meats of every type and cut grilled and brought around to your table on spits to choose from. A meat lovers paradise, with cheeses, salads, sides and sushi to choose from as well.
Other experiences to have in Rio de Janeiro:
- Christ the Redeemer statue (and views!) uptop Mount Corcovado, accessible by train.
- Gondola ride to Sugarloaf Mountain
- Backstage at Carnival; meet the dancers and see how the floats are made
- Botanical gardens and museums; beautiful and a moment of stillness. The science Museum of Tomorrow or Museo do Amanhã is an architectural feat.
- Markets and historical city tour. Tasting fruits you’ve never seen or heard of before is a delight for the taste buds.
travel to brazil: our HIGHLIGHTS FROM IBITI PROJECT IN MINAS GERAIS, BRAZIL
An incredible concept, the Ibiti Project is located in rural Minas Gerais (about a 4 hour drive from Rio or option to take a regional flight to Juiz de Fora and transfer in from there) on a 7,500 acre private reserve focused on reforestation and wildlife preservation. There are two options of places to stay; the Fazenda do Engenho or Mogul Village. We had a lovely time staying at both.
Fazendo do Engheno: Their is a private home to rent here or the Fazendo has eight rooms each with king beds (option to for two twins in some), a courtyard, sitting rooms, movie theater, and restaurant. Also on the property is a spa, sauna, yoga space. The original farmhouse was built in 1715 and everything since then has been designed in line with the old structures, but with modern conveniences like in-floor heating. The spaces are simply so well done; original and oozing with character, an absolute feast for the eyes.
The food is fantastic, with options to dine open-air just about anywhere on the property. Again, a breakfast buffet with eggs to order and a dinner menu with just a few, hard-to-choose-from options. Lunch is a la carte depending on your excursion choice of the day.
For excursions there are mountain biking, hiking or horseback riding, or 4×4 as modes to learn about the local flora and fauna and conservation project, taking you to local waterfalls, swimming holes or even a large-scale art exhibit. Excursions are private and start and duration times are flexible, which worked well for us traveling with kids. We had time to extend or stay at a spot to scramble on the jungle rocks if we so chose or vice versa, we could move on to the next thing if need be. Our favorite part of our stay here was probably just interacting with the guides and staff. Everyone was so open and warm, answering every question we had on subjects from caterpillars to Brazilian politics.
Mogul Village: Mogul Village is the second project after Fazendo do Engenho and it’s just opening up to international travelers. Quite honestly, it’s not a great fit for everyone. Those that it is a good fit for will find it phenomenal and like nowhere else they’ve ever experienced. It’s also kind of challenging to describe. When the project started here, Mogul Village was a dying rural town, like so many others around the world it saw its younger inhabitants leave for better jobs in cities as traditional ways of living or farming became unsustainable for earning a living. Mogul Village was no exception and with a population of only 12 older people, it welcomed a tourism project.
A handful of cottages were remodeled in a similar manner to Fazendo do Enghenho with modern tastes of heated floors, king size beds, mid-century modern furniture accents and so on but also keeping with the style of the original structures and sourcing wall paintings or pottery from locals in the area. Each is also equipped with a little kitchen and you have much the feeling that you’re living in the village, with the neighborhood dogs swinging over for a pet or locals waving a friendly hello as they pass by.
Also created is a coffee shop and lounge area where you plan your excursions or hang out to play a game of pool, take a turn at the piano. Games for kids are here as well and a little shop. And then up the hill a bit is the all-vegetarian restaurant Yuca of which your three meals are included. It’s quaint and delectable with an excellent and personable Argentina chef named Lucas running the show. Breakfast includes kombucha, a detox juice, pastry, and yogurt with fruit and granola, also options to order eggs. Lunch is a little simpler, but very similar to dinner with two or three smaller set courses and two or three options for a main. The ambience is wonderful, a deck overlooking a reforested valley with flowering trees and rivers meandering and the restaurant plot is complete with vegetable gardens, fruit trees, and vines growing on a pergola over the patio area.
Not being vegetarians ourselves, we were definitely impressed by how little we missed meat. The dining setup for our kids was a little more difficult however; Lucas happily catered to them with pizza and pasta and they loved trying all the different fruits, but we realized how we depend very much on chicken at the very least in foreign countries to keep them filled up and they were not going for the plant proteins like kale and mushrooms. Plus, it was a lot of table time – I’ve played enough Uno and hangman to last me ten years! We definitely do not have the easiest of eaters however, food seems to always be a challenge for us when we’re traveling, other than that Mogul Village is a dream for family travel.
We felt 100% safe letting our kids explore on their own, which was a full activity in itself: there is a tapir reserve, a school with a playground, the church, and down the hill a sandy river beach. Excursions are similar to Fazendo do Engenho; hiking, biking (also have e-bikes here), or horseback riding as modes of exploring with waterfalls and natural swimming pools oftentimes the destination. Yoga is available each morning and the school is open to visitors in the afternoons, with the option for kids to take part in the lesson. There is also a conservation project for the woolly spider monkey, the largest primate in the Americas and dangerously close to extinction. Seeing and learning about these monkeys, along with the horseback riding were the highlights for our five and nine year old. Personally, the dining experience with some dinners featuring a pianist and accordion player was mine.
My recap of what Mogul Village is? Unique. Magical. A wellness-retreat meets private home accommodations in a traditional village setting meets inclusive adventure lodge, with meals and excursions on property. Perhaps a pioneer in a new kind of sustainable tourism empowering local culture and conservation efforts.
RECAP OF KNOWMAD FOUNDERS FAMILY TRAVEL TO brazil
In summary, our time spent in Brazil was a sensory feast, exotic, and fun. We created some really special memories as a family and are still laughing over how our son’s croc got sucked off in the river at Mogul Village or how our 5 year old daughter thought the hotel safe at Copacabana was a microwave.
Brazil is an expansive country with lots of experiences to be had. Our advice for a two week Brazil trip would be to choose one or two regions to focus on, spending two or three nights (or even four, depending on your pacing preferences) in each location. Our itinerary focused on the Green Coast and Rio de Janeiro.
Visit our Brazil section for more information on weather and when to go, Brazil’s different regions plus itinerary ideas, and our custom trip planning process at Knowmad Adventures. To get started planning your adventure today to Brazil or anywhere in South America or Antarctica, reach out to our expert Trip Specialists at [email protected] or call 612-315-2894.
Un Beso, Tara
Tara is the Co-Founder, Marketing and Operations Manager at Knowmad Adventures, a company dedicated to creating unique, private and custom trips in South America. She first traveled to South America in college and is endlessly inspired by the cultures, food, colors and idiosyncrasies she discovers there. Read Tara’s biography and more about the Knowmad team.