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As you’ll be able to appreciate when you cruise the Atlantic Ocean with MSC Cruises, in its position on the southern shore of the magnificent Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro has, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most stunning settings in the world.
Extending for 20km along an alluvial strip, between an azure sea and forest-clad mountains, the city’s streets and buildings have been moulded around the foothills of the mountain range that provides its backdrop, while out in the bay there are many rocky islands fringed with white sand.
The aerial views over Rio are breathtaking, and even the concrete skyscrapers that dominate the city’s skyline add to the attraction. As the former capital of Brazil and now its second-largest city, Rio has a remarkable architectural heritage, some of the country’s best museums and galleries, superb restaurants and a vibrant nightlife – in addition to its legendary beaches. A shore excursion on your MSC South America cruise can be the opportunity to visit the Pão de Açúcar.
The Sugar Loaf Mountain rises where Guanabara Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. Its name may simply reflect a resemblance to the moulded loaves in which sugar was once commonly sold. Alternatively, it may be a corruption of the indigenous Tamoya word Pau-nh-Açuquá, meaning “high, pointed or isolated hill”. On the top of Corcoavado Mountain instead the Art Deco statue of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), arms outstretched in welcome, stands 30m high and weighs over 1000 tonnes. It was supposed to be completed for Brazil’s centenary independence celebrations in 1922, but wasn’t actually finished until 1931.
In clear weather, fear no anticlimax: climbing to the statue is a stunning experience, with the whole of Rio and Guanabara Bay laid out before you.
On a peninsula north of Cabo Frio, Armação dos Búzios, or just Búzios, is an immensely scenic resort full of high-spending beautiful people, and a very popular port of call on holidays to Brazil with MSC Cruises.
Armação, the main settlement, is built in a vaguely colonial style, its streets lined with restaurants, bars and chic boutiques, and has been nicknamed “Brazil’s St Tropez”. It comes then as little surprise to find that it was “discovered” by none other than Brigitte Bardot, who stumbled upon it while touring the area in 1964.
Búzios consists of three main settlements, Manguinos, Armação and Ossos, each with its own distinct character. Manguinos, on the isthmus, is the main service centre, with a tourist office, a medical centre and banks. Midway along the peninsula, linked to Manguinos by a road lined with brash hotels, is Armação, an attractive village where cars are banned from some of the cobbled roads.
Most of Búzio’s best restaurants and boutiques are concentrated here, along with some of the resort’s nicest pousadas, or inns, and there’s also a helpful tourist office on the main square, Praça Santos Dumont. When you step ashore from your MSC cruise, a fifteen-minute walk along the Orla Bardot – which follows the coast from Armação, passing the lovely seventeenth-century Igreja de NossaSenhora de Sant’Ana on the way –, brings you to Ossos, the oldest settlement, comprising a pretty harbour, a quiet beach and a few bars, restaurants and pousadas.
Within walking distance of all Búzios’ settlements are beautiful white-sand beaches – 27 in total – cradled between rocky cliffs and promontories, and lapped by crystal-clear waters. The beaches are varied, with the north-facing ones having the calmest and warmest seas, while those facing the south and east have the most surf.
High above the enormous bay of Todos os Santos (All Saints), where your MSC cruise ship awaits your return, Salvador de Bahia has an electric feel from the moment you arrive.
This is the great cultural and historical centre of Brazil, where Afro-Brazilian heritage is strongest and where capoeira, candomblé and samba de roda were created.
MSC South America cruises offer excursions to the centro histórico of this magical place, a melange of narrow cobbled streets, peeling purple walls, grand Baroque churches, kids kicking footballs, rastas, locals sipping bottled beer on plastic chairs, the wafting aroma of herbs and the almost constant beating of drums, especially as the sun sets. Beyond the old town Salvador is a vast, sprawling city, with a vibrant beach life, modern skyscrapers and plenty of favelas.
The centro histórico is the traditional heart of Salvador; it’s built around the craggy, 70m-high bluff that dominates the eastern side of the bay, and is split into upper and lower sections. Cidade Alta (or simply “Centro”) is strung along its top, linked to the less interesting Cidade Baixa (the old commercial centre, aka “Comércio”) by precipitous streets and the towering Art Deco lift-shaft of the Elevador Lacerda. Cidade Alta is the cultural centre of the city, and the section known as the Pelourinho is the groovy old district with colourful and hilly winding streets, its most vibrant and beguiling neighbourhood.
The best spot to begin a walking tour of the city is at the Praça Municipal, the square dominated by the impressive Palácio do Rio Branco, the old governor’s palace which was in use until 1979. The fine interior is a blend of Rococo plasterwork, polished wooden floors and painted walls and ceilings.
On your South America cruise to Brazil, you’ll come across the big and burgeoning beach resort of Maceió, its striking beaches and clear, turquoise waters attracting cruisers from all over the world.
It’s also smack in the middle of a far longer strip of some of the best beaches in the country, all easily accessible on day trips. When you arrive with your MSC cruise in Maceió, you’ll start off in the affluent and lively resort area that starts at Pajuçara, a few kilometres to the east of downtown, built along a spectacular beach.
While the city centre itself, the commercial and administrative heart of the city just inland from a more polluted (and generally deserted) stretch of sand and the grubby port district, is somewhat down-at-heel it does have a smattering of belle époque buildings and enticing museums. However, what you’ll want to discover on your MSC South America cruise excursion is the amazing beaches.
Sixteen kilometres south of Maceió, the coast road loops around Praia do Francês, which even by Alagoan standards is something special. An enormous expanse of white sand, surf and thick palm forest, it even boasts several pousadas or inns, and a burgeoning restaurant scene.
Most folks end up at the northern end, a protected lagoon formed by a large reef offshore; surfers take in the pounding waves at the less busy and unsheltered end. Beach bars line the northern section, while Avenida Dos Corais and Rua da Algas run parallel to the sand and are lined with shops and restaurants. Given its proximity to Maceió, it’s no surprise Francês has effectively become a city beach – so expect a lively atmosphere.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife is the port capital of Tenerife, the largest of Spain’s seven Canary Islands. The city showcases incredible sights such as the Plaza de Espana, the church of St. Francis of Assisi, and the soaring white wave auditorium, the Auditorio de Tenerife. This quintessential Canary Island’s town is a colourful MSC Mediterranean Cruises destination where you can soak up the sun, dine in style, or take a dip in glittering waters.
As you arrive in Funchal on an MSC cruise, your ship will cast anchor in a bay protected by mountains rising straight up behind the port. The name, Funchal, derives from that of the fennel plant, the funcho still used today in the traditional sweets known as rebuçados de funcho, that one can find anywhere on the island of Madeira.
An excursion will take you around the town centre, to visit historic churches, from the A Sé Cathedral, with its inlaid ceiling, to the majestic Church of the Incarnation, to the church of Carmo without a vault.
Another MSC excursion will take you up to the village of Monte, from where one can admire a spectacular view of the Funchal bay. You can visit its 18th century church and the tomb of the last Austrian emperor, Charles I, and stroll around the magnificent botanic gardens. But if you like heights, there’s nothing more impressive than the Cabo Girão and its 589 metre tall cliffs, amongst the highest in the world, at the foot of which lie the cultivated lands known as Fajãs do Cabo Girão.
If you’re looking for an equipped beach during your MSC cruise, another excursion will take you to Machico. Founded in the 15th century, it hosts the oldest religious building on the island, the Capela dos Milagres, and the fortresses of São João Baptista and Nossa Senhora do Amparo built in the beginning of the 16th century.
The more lively tourist attraction is instead in Calheta, on the south-west coast. Splendid yachts cruising across the Atlantic are moored in the port and if you want to go for a swim there are two beautiful beaches of golden sand; in spite of the modern structures Calheta dates back to the mid-15th century. This is where they make the “Aguardente”, the best white rhum, and fundamental ingredient of Madeira’s typical drink, the “Poncha” .
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