Each year, more and more gay men seeking a sexy, exciting location to spend New Years are trading in their “Cosmos” for “Caipirinhas,” and heading to Rio de Janeiro, leaving the usual winter get-aways like South Beach behind.
Rio today is what South Beach was like 10 years ago. The beaches are loaded with eye candy as far as the eye can see, and the night scene explodes with some of the best venues and music in the world.
The center of Rio’s gay scene is Ipanema, with its huge gay beach, trendy restaurants, and unique gay bars.
Everyone wants to stay in Ipanema. It’s unlike any place I’ve ever been, and you do things you probably would never do back home, like walk around town, go shopping, and go for lunch wearing nothing but a Speedo and flip-flops. But, everyone does it, and it’s totally normal (and sexy as well).
A typical day in Rio starts with a huge Brazilian breakfast buffet at your hotel with fresh exotic fruits and juices, freshly baked breads, and incredible meats and cheeses. After breakfast, I suggest you try your hand at tandem hang-gliding, which takes you over Rio’s beautiful beaches and tropical jungle (all of which Zoom Vacations can arrange for you).
Or, Zoom Vacations can take you on a professionally guided tour of one of the favelas, the small settlements of jerry-built shacks that cover the hills around Rio. Favelas form much of Rio’s culture and are credited with creating the Samba, and a visit will provide an unparalleled understanding of Rio’s culture.
On other days you may do a little morning shopping or perhaps take a trip to Corcovado, where the famous Christ Statue, Christo Redento stands watching over the city.
Whatever you decide, at some point everyone flocks to the beach to mingle, reconnect with people met at a club the night before, and drink caipirinhas (a Brazilian drink made from fresh lime juice, tons of sugar, and a strong liquor called cachaca, pronounced ka-shawsa).
After a few hours basking in the sun, it’s time for a late lunch at a Brazilian Bar B Q, called a churrascaria, or perhaps a visit to an outside café where you can enjoy a sandwich and a chopp (a draft beer). One thing for sure, you won’t leave Rio without taking in a lot of meat, pun intended.
Your Rio vacation reaches its climax on December 31st, where you will see everything you’ve been missing all these years spending New Years back in the States.
On New Years Eve in Rio, everyone from the tourists to cariocas (the name given to the locals of Rio de Janeiro) dress in white. At some point in the evening, they will walk into the water to cleanse their past year’s sins by giving a flower offering to the sea goddess, Yemanja. If you head to Rio’s beach for the countdown, you certainly won’t be alone. About three million people on average will flock to Copacabana Beach on New Years Eve to hear live music and watch the world-famous fireworks display.
It is truly a destination of beauty and contrast. Everyone is sun-kissed from a week of beach parties, hang-gliding, and touring this sensual city, and dressed all in white, the contrast makes even the once-pale tourists look beautifully exotic.
New Years in Rio is the one place and time where you will experience such vibrant sexuality in one moment, and such meaning and spirituality in another. This dichotomy of partying contrasted with the spiritual “cleansing” of New Years Eve could only happen in Rio.
After a week of partying and celebrating in Rio, most visitors feel the need to wind down a bit before returning home. Most Americans visiting Rio will go to the Coastal down of Buzios, about two and a half hours north of Rio. It was made famous by Bridget Bardot who spent much time there frolicking and sunning herself when she could pull herself away from St. Tropez.
While there are some beautiful places to stay, such as the Casas Brancas, the once charming town is becoming more and more Americanized, as made evident by the McDonalds restaurant that greets you upon arrival. It is also becoming more and more straight, and walking the streets you’ll feel as if buses full of sorority girls and fraternity boys just let out. Instead, for your cultural wind-down after Rio, Zoom Vacations recommends a few night stay in Paraty (para-chee) a small gay-friendly colonial town on Brazil’s west coast half way between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
With beautiful beaches and undisturbed nature it also boasts over 400 years of history. It was one of most important ports of Brazil and its name was synonymous with cachaça. Today, it is known as one of the most gay-friendly places in Brazil, largely because of its openly gay mayor!
While very gay-friendly, you will not see rainbows triangles all over the place. It remains uniquely charming, historically well-preserved, and humbly sophisticated.
Paraty was one of the most important towns in Brazil during the Gold Cycle. Today, with a population of about 30,000 Paraty is a small historic town with elegant stores and many quaint hotels and inns that receive visitors from all over the world.
This popular destination for European tourists is unknown by most Americans. The old colonial homes are white-washed, embellished with intricate colored moldings. The roads are paved with river stone and cars are not allowed on the streets in the historic center. In the evenings, jazz music spills out from yellow-lit doorways, and impeccable cuisine abounds in authentic restaurants.
It is known as the colonial gem of Rio, yet the biggest attribute of Paraty isn’t its charming river-stone paved streets or its pristine white stucco buildings. Rather, people come from all over the world to explore the Brazilian past time of island hopping. From Paraty, one can easily get to over 65 islands, many with private beaches, swimming coves, and charming, rustic restaurants.
One can hit several islands in one day, and doing so will only cost about $30 per person. Each morning captains dock their small boats on the Paraty pier and anxiously awaiting the visitors and locals who gather every morning to enjoy a day a sea, away from the work and worries of the mainland. Many islands you will visit are home to nothing more than a small restaurant, where you can get incredible island fare such as shrimp, seafood, and yucca fries. There’s nothing better than dining in your own private island.
After a few days in Paraty, you will be well-relaxed from your week of celebrating in Rio. You will come back to the States having kicked off your year with an amazing, memorable start!
However, you shouldn’t wait to book your flights, as prices will continue to go up every day as we get closer. And what about last-minute travel deals? Not to Rio, baby, not for New Years. You will be amazed at how fast flights sell out to this vacation hot spot. It may not be very “gay” to plan ahead and commit, but this is one time you’ll be glad you did.