With its long stretches of beaches and chic resorts, it's time to go nuts in Brazil.
It used to be said that the best thing about Niteroi, the old capital of Rio de Janeiro state, was the view back across Guanabara Bay. But today, Niteroi is again on the map, as the home of the new Museum of Contemporary Art designed by Brazil's signature architect, Oscar Niemeyer. Visit the Santa Cruz fort, which guards the entrance to the bay and sits opposite Sugar Loaf.
By car: follow the nine-mile long Rio-Niteroi bridge; journey time approx 30 mins. By boat: frequent ferry service from Praca 15 de Novembro; journey time approx 15 mins.
Head for the hills and follow in the footsteps of Dom Pedro II, who built his Imperial Palace in this mountain city in 1845, high above Rio. The mountain scenery en route is breathtaking, as are the sparkling Brazilian crown jewels in the Museu Imperial, which is so well preserved it is hard to imagine that the imperial family left back in 1889. Other top sights include the cathedral, which houses the tombs of the Imperial family and the Crystal Palace.
By car: take the Linha Vermelha and follow signs on the BR-040; journey time approx 1 hour plus. By bus: frequent service from Novo Rio bus terminal; journey time approx 1 hour plus.
Barra da Tijuca
Be like the Brazilians who favour the wonderful beaches of Barra, which leave Ipanema and Copacabana in the shade. This district is quickly becoming the city's hippest. Comparisons are often made to Miami because Barra is home to Latin America's largest shopping centres, Barra Shopping and Carrefour, as well as theme parks such as Wet 'n' Wild and Rio Water Planet.
By car: take the coast road south; journey time approx 40mins. By bus: take no 175 or 176 from the centre of Rio; journey time approx 50 mins.
Grumari and Prainha
Beyond the end of Barra, following the coast along past Recreio dos Bandeirantes, are unspoilt and deserted beaches. Prainha is a surfers' beach, so the main focus for visitors is the larger Grumari, which is empty except for a few restaurants. Look out for Roberto Burle-Marx's estate, considered to be one of the greatest influences on 20th-century landscape design.
By car: take the coast road south; journey time approx 50 mins.
Pedra de Guaratiba and the Green Coast
As major weekend escapes for Rio residents, the Green Coast and Pedra de Guaratiba are hard to beat. The Green Coast with its fabulous unspoilt beaches stretches some 175 miles. Closer to town is Pedra de Guaratiba, a small fishing village with outstanding seafood restaurants, most notably Bira's, Candido's and Quatro Sete Meia.
By car: take the BR-101 following then signs for Santa Cruz, then Pedra; journey time approx 1 hour plus.
Buzios is the cream of coastal Brazil. With some 23 beaches, gorgeous inns, scores of charming restaurants, shops and fabulous bars and nightclubs, you might never want to return to Rio. Brought to the world's attention in 1964 by Brigitte Bardot, who famously walked along the beach barefoot in front of the world's press, Buzios has long been a favourite of the international jet set.
By car: cross the Niteroi Bridge and follow the BR-101, then the RJ-106 and look for signs; journey time approx 1 hour plus.
South American Experience (020 7976 5511; www.south americanexperience.co.uk) offers seven nights at the three-star Rio Copa Hotel in Copacabana from £799 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights with Varig, transfers and four days' car hire.Reuse content