Interview with Vilma Varga, CEO of the Brazilian Tourism Office

Interview with Vilma Varga, CEO of the Brazilian Tourism Office
What destinations would you recommend for the luxury traveler taking his/her first trip to your country?

For a first-time traveler who wants to see a wide range of the country, the Great Brazil Express is a great option, offering various luxury tours across the country in style. Four itineraries are available with trips from 7 to 10 days. Beginning in Curitiba, Rio or Iguaçu Falls, the train takes visitors along the coast and through beautiful countryside in southern Brazil.

Another option is Santa Catarina, one of the most diverse regions in Brazil. The area was not a part of Brazil during the country's first 200 years, making it home to those of German, Italian, Ukrainian and Norwegian descent. As a result, the area is rich in culture and history but also populated with exclusive resorts such as Costão do Santinho Resort and Spa and the Ponta Dos Ganchos Exclusive Resort.

What is the high season for travel to Brazil? What are the advantages and disadvantages of planning a trip during that period?

The high season for travel to Brazil is during the United States winter months – Brazil's summer. Getting away from the cold weather in the States and many annual festivals and summer celebrations in Brazil are just a few advantages for U.S. tourists. The hot sun and fresh fruit are added bonuses when traveling during this time as well. Crowds may be a bit more overwhelming at certain peak times during these months, especially during Carnival. Some travelers may enjoy traveling during the U.S. summer months, as the weather in most areas in Brazil is still beautiful (averaging 70 degrees and sunny) and there are deals to be had at some of the best resorts and spas during the low tourist season.

International flights from the U.S. usually arrive in either Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. Do you consider either one preferable as an initial stop for the first time visitor? If so, why?

Either is a great first stop, depending on what the traveler wants to get out of their vacation.

Often referred to as the "New York of Brazil," São Paulo is known for its nightlife, cuisine and high fashion. And although it doesn't have beach and coastline views like many of Brazil's more well-known cities, visitors come to São Paulo to shop, dine, see and be seen. (It is included in the list of "Top 10 Fashion Cities of the World)

If you'd rather start out on the beach, Rio de Janeiro is a great option, offering resorts on the coast, world-class seafood and world-famous sights such as Sugar Loaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Direct flights from the U.S. also now regularly arrive in Salvador, Fortaleza, Manaus, Belo Horizonte and Recife, departing from New York, Miami, Atlanta and Orlando.

What is the best way to travel from one destination to another inside Brazil? How can internal travel best be booked?

Working with a travel agent is the traveler's best bet when seeking to explore multiple destinations within the country. Options for internal travel include buses, van tours and domestic and private planes and travel agents can help determine the best option at your ideal price point.

Will either English or Spanish be useful for the non-Portuguese speaker?

In many major cities, you'll find hotel and restaurant employees that speak English due to the large amount of American and British tourists who come to these cities every year. Spanish is close to Portugese, so some words are similar but travelers should not rely solely on Spanish knowledge. It's always best to know key phrases in any country's native language while traveling and with that, English will be sufficient.

Are there high-end adventure opportunities not available elsewhere? Are any of those activities limited to certain seasons?

Amazon: From piranha fishing, caiman hunting and swimming with the pink dolphins, adventure travelers can find watersports, flora and fauna and wildlife galore as they trek through the Amazon.
Fernando de Noronha: Fernando de Noronha is a Brazilian island located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean where scuba divers from all points of the world meet. It offers not only great diving opportunities, but also a very impressive and exotic natural environment.
Florianópolis: There are a huge variety of extreme sports options in Florianopolis, from the intense surf sessions to windsurfing, ecological tours and sandboarding.
Foz do Iguaçu: rock climbing and rappelling in full view of the famous Iguassu Falls, white water rafting on the Iguassu River, and a tree-top obstacle course nearby.
Chapada Diamantina: offers a roster of outdoor thrills - trekking, abseiling, diving, potholing, and canoeing, to name a few. After the pure adrenaline rush, it is still possible to relax in the pristine waters of its rivers and waterfalls.

Is there a top beach destination that you would recommend?

Brazil is famous for its beautiful beaches and the country's coastline is stretches for over 4,655 miles. Rio's Copacabana and Ipanema beaches are world famous, with stretches of white sand and sunbathers as far as the eye can see. For a more solitary beach vacation, Santa Catarina is a good option, having just been named one of the "Top 15 Sexiest Beaches in the World" by Condé Nast Traveler.

Which locations offer the best nightlife?

Sao Paulo is widely known for having the best nightlife. Clubs such as Skye and Disco are well-known for having beautiful panoramic views of the city and hip patrons. Often referred to as the "New York of Brazil," São Paulo is known for its nightlife, cuisine and high fashion. Visitors come to São Paulo to shop, dine, see and be seen, and it was recently included in the list of "Top 10 Fashion Cities of the World."

Are any safety precautions necessary in the big cities? Is it safe for a woman to travel alone?

• It is safe for women to travel alone, using the same good judgment they would use in any major U.S. city.
• According to a study of international tourist demand in 2006, 76.8% of the foreign tourists who visited Brazil spoke positively in regards to the security.
• Brazilian authorities work to repress and prevent danger. Similar to cities around the world, Brazilian cities depend on the presence of police authority, especially in the regions of great tourist presence.
• Brazil remains distant from problems affecting worldwide tourism, such as natural catastrophes, social and religious conflicts and in recent years presents a strong growth in the tourist entrance.
• An important initiative of the Federal Government in the area of Public Security was launched in 2007. The initiative articulates politics of security with social actions and prioritizes the prevention with strategies of social order and qualified repression.
• The Federal Government also prioritizes social politics to combat hunger and poverty. In the last five years, 20 million Brazilians improved their quality of life moving from poverty to average levels.

Do you have any suggestions for the traveler who would like to experience Brazil's Carnival?

• Book your hotel early – hotels fill up months in advance of celebrations throughout the country.
• Carnival isn't just in Rio. Different areas of the country celebrate with various traditions, so do some research to determine where you'd like to celebrate Carnival.
• Buy tickets for any sightseeing or tours and make reservations at any restaurants in advance. The crowds who are eager to party at night are going to beaches and sights during the day.
• Stay hydrated – Carnival falls during the peak of Brazil's summer, so sunscreen and water are key to maintaining good health and hydration throughout the celebrations.
• Dress lightly for the weather.
• Prepare for huge crowds, colorful parades and festivities. The parties go late into the night, so sleep in and get your rest! And don't forget your camera – it's a once-in-a-lifetime party!