By Eleanor Berman
A cruise beginning in Buenos Aires and ending in Rio sounded like a sure winner, and Samba Rhythms, aboard the Regent Seven Seas Mariner, lived up to its promise The itinerary managed to pack a sampling of some of the best of South America into 12 days: two great cities, an introduction to Uruguay, and some of the most popular beach resorts on the continent. It was a great warm weather getaway during the worst of winter at home.
A typical ship stay of one day can’t begin to do it justice to Buenos Aires, whose parks, broad boulevards and classic buildings remind of a fine European city (albeit one awhiz with traffic). But since Regent includes a free hotel stay the night before boarding and the Mariner remained overnight for an extra day, we had most of three days for exploring. That allowed time for strolling, sampling the stylish shops and having an Argentinean steak dinner on our own.
The ship’s tour took car of the main tourist sights—the stately Plaza de Mayo, the famous balcony where Eva Peron spoke to her people, Evita’s resting place among the canyons of tall tombs in Recoletta Cemetery, and the touristy but colorful old port area of La Boca. Best of all, there was a free night for a tango club, an essential clue to this city’s sultry spirit. Nowhere is the tango so daring or exciting as when danced by the Portelenos, the residents ofBuenos Aires
An overnight sail on the broad Rio de la Platabrought the Mariner to Montevideo, Uruguay and the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of one and a half million, Montevideo is a small capital, not exciting perhaps, but it has charm, many historic buildings and a magnificent beachfront neighborhood where the upper crust dwells. A surprise was finding South America’s only holocaust memorial on the beachfront, a moving walkway amid broken walls.
The next stop,Uruguay’s chic resort town of Punta del Este, offered a cache of upscale shops, bountiful beaches and a surprise art treasure, the Rail Museum of Contemporary Art, an outstanding collection of work by top Latin American artists in a lovely Spanish-style building. It was easy to see why this town is a favorite getaway for well-heeled Argentineans.
Ahead was the Atlantic coastline of Brazil, with several stops on the way toRio. No two were alike, though all offered ample sands for beach lovers. In Porto Belo, we took a cable car to a one-mile nature trail through tropical flora and the chance for countless snapshots of the photogenic coast below. In Santos, rather than joining passengers who chose an all-day bus tour of Sao Paulo, we opted to walk around this thriving smaller city with cosmopolitan shopping centers, an excellent aquarium and a stunning beach front lined with parks, stretching for miles right in the city center. Ilha Grande was a lush nature stop, with most of the island a state park, while Parati was a colonial town with picturesque buildings dating from the 1800s. Buzios, Brazil’s hottest beach resort, offered entertaining people-and bikini-watching on the beach and many blocks of sophisticated shopping.
Almost everyone rose early to watch the city of Rio come into view, an unforgettable montage of mountain, sea and skyscraper and the 125-foot Christ figure atop Corcovado with arms outstretched as though guarding it all. In town, a cable car takes you up the 2310-foot mountain for what is surely one of the most spectacular vistas anywhere.
I fell in love with Rio. Where else can you visit a great contemporary art museum, splash beneath a waterfall in the world’s largest urban forest, watch the sunset at the beach and take in a pulsing samba show at night, all in one day? Not to mention the shops and the classic beaux arts buildings and venerable chuches in the Centro district. No wonder they call this Cidade Marvilhosa—the marvelous city. An extra day inRio wasn’t nearly enough—I can’t wait to go back.
Regent has several similar future cruises. When they say all-inclusive, they mean it. Fares include air, hotel stay before sailing, all beverages on board, tips and a real bonus, all shore excursions. Even smallest cabins are 301-foot suites with balconies and walk-in closets. Ten days from Rio to Buenos Aires, sailing November 26, from $5,999; Buenos Aires to Rio, December 6, from $5,799. 12 days, Buenos Aires to Rio, February 14, 2013, from $9,549.
Eleanor Berman, a New York freelance writer and award-winning author of a dozen travel guides, has covered 82 countries and all 7 continents. She has written for many national publications, including Travel & Leisure, Ladies’ Home Journal, Diversion, Robb Report, Boston Globe, Atlanta Constitution, Denver Post, Miami Herald, and the New York Daily News. Among her guide book awards are a Lowell Thomas award for Traveling Solo, Thomas Cook Book of the Year for Eyewitness Guide to New York, and Independent Publishers IPPY award, best guide of the year, for New York Neighborhoods.