First Timers to Brazil Head to Rio, then Iguassu, Amazon and Bahia

First Timers to Brazil Head to Rio, then Iguassu, Amazon and Bahia
Yet to many travelers, Brazil is unknown territory. It's a huge country – the fifth largest in the world – spanning some 3.2 million square miles and encompassing 26 states and the district capital of Brasilia. Its 4,655-mile coastline boasts thousands of secluded beaches and luxurious or laid-back resorts. How can American travelers figure out where to go?

The members of the Brazil Tour Operators Association (BTOA) can help. These 25 tour operators are all seasoned travel professionals – many accredited by IATA – and all are recognized experts about the country.

Calling Brazil, the "sleeping giant," Adam Carter, President of BTOA explains. "Because Brazil is such a vast country it's important that first-time visitors work with a professional travel counselor."

Almost every first-time visitor wants to see Rio de Janeiro. Next on the list: two of the world's most spectacular natural wonders: Iguassu Falls and the Amazon. Other itineraries might include Bahia, Brasilia or Sao Paulo.

Spectacularly-sited between towering mountains and lush natural parks and surrounded by turquoise water and miles of white sand beaches, Rio de Janeiro is a feast for the eyes and the senses. This sophisticated city is known for its sizzling nightlife, world-class dining and its infectious party atmosphere – and not just during Carnival. Other major draws: balmy breezes air all year round and some 55 miles of beautiful white sand beaches.

This Cidade Maravilhosa is especially dramatic when viewed from the 1,300-foot Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf Mountain) or the 2,330-foot Corcovado with its 98-foot statue of Christ.

"Rio is a must for any first time visitor," says BTOA's Vice President Jose Gherardi. "And I'm not just saying that because I am a Carioca myself. Of course, Americans visitors will feel right at home anywhere in Brazil. They will find a fascinating mix of cultures, centuries-old architecture, incredible natural beauty, fabulous beaches, great food and friendly people," Gherardi continues.

This winter BTOA members are offering some excellent and well-priced packages for first-time visitors that include Rio, Iguassu Falls and other not-to-miss spots. One of the world's most stunning natural wonders, the Cataratas do Iguaçu comprise 275 interlinking cataracts that extend for more than a mile and a half. The most impressive is the 490-foot-wide Devil's Throat that plunges 269 feet. Several packages include visits to the Amazon, the world's largest and most biodiverse tropical rainforest. Here, some 1.4 billion acres are home to the world's largest collection of plants and animals – some 15,000 animal species alone. Visitors can see monkeys, wild boar, sloth, dolphins, and caiman, but jaguars are very elusive. And the mighty Amazon River that runs through it has over one thousand tributaries – several larger than the Mississippi – with its catchment basin holding up to one-fifth of the world's fresh water. Manaus is the hub of the Amazon region. Brasilia, the country's modern capital, has stunning architecture by native son Oscar Niemeyer, while São Paulo draws visitors for its cultural events, excellent restaurants and non-stop nightlife. Bahia has some 560 miles of palm-fringed beaches and an incredibly vibrant culture thanks to its Afro-Brazilian heritage. Its capital, Salvador boasts the largest collection of colonial architecture in South America. With one of the country's richest cultural mixes, festivals abound and music and dance are everywhere.