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Where to Travel in 2016: A Month-by-Month List

Most of us at Moon have an ever-growing list of places we want to visit, a common side effect of working on a book–or even just seeing the cover options. The following list reflects a few of the destinations that inspired our wanderlust in the last year. There are trip-of-a-lifetime-type destinations and there are smaller destinations, but all of them triggered that classic reverie, imagining what it would be like to be there, and the pull of awaiting adventure.

Where to Travel in 2016 Moon Travel Guides


January

Aruba

Kick off 2016 like a Beach Boys song. Find your own travel inspiration in Aruba’s best beaches and our best of Aruba in one week travel itinerary.

Eagle Beach and Manchebo Beach…offer a tranquil, secluded getaway…. There are many spots where a visitor can settle down, look around, and not see a soul.”
–From Moon Aruba by Rosalie Klein

Soft waves lapping onto a wide white sand beach with swimmers in the water near a beachfront resort in the distance.
Aruba’s beaches are never too hot for a barefoot stroll even at noon. Photo © Iuliia Nufrychenkova/123rf.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Start the new year with a run up the Rocky Steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. And don’t stop there–Philly is museum-rich. Check out the museums in Old City Philadelphia and the Museum District. Once you’ve had your fill of history and art, take in the rest of the best of Philadelphia in three days.

And if you don’t mind bundling up, winter offers the lowest hotel rates, fewest crowds, and, if you’re lucky, perhaps a beautiful snowfall.”
–From Moon Philadelphia by Karrie Gavin

Rocky Steps, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo 123rf.
Rocky Steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo © Natalia Bratslavsky/123rf.

February

Sanibel Island, Florida

Join the snowbirds and escape winter at this low-key beach destination. Wildlife lovers will have fun birdwatching on Sanibel Island and the South Gulf Coast is perfect for a road trip.

The quiet, secluded island feels like a beach town that has only hesitantly embraced its identity as a beach town…. Twenty-five miles of wide, multi-use trails run parallel to the main roads, and the flat terrain is optimal for biking.”
–From Moon Sarasota & Naples by Jason Ferguson

Sanibel Island, Florida 123rf
Lighthouse Point on Sanibel Island, Florida. Photo © Daniel Korzeniewski/123rf.

Granada, Nicaragua

Come for the international poetry festival, then set out for some of Nicaragua’s natural wonders. Start with experiencing the city’s colonial charm, and don’t forget to sample some of the best boating, swimming, and cycling in the country. If you can, take in the best of Nicaragua in two weeks–or pick and choose from our itinerary to craft your perfect trip.

A lot of the city’s charm lies in the interesting excursions…. Choose a day trip to Volcán Masaya, Mombacho, or the Laguna de Apoyo…. The annual Poetry Festival (February 14-20, 2016) is a knockout.”
–From Moon Nicaragua by Elizabeth Perkins

Granada, Nicaragua. Photo © Rafal Cichawa/123rf.
Granada, Nicaragua. Photo © Rafal Cichawa/123rf.

March

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Enjoy the great outdoors and get some alone time in this vast, isolated park in the Chisos Mountains.

It’s a true getaway to a relatively untouched land…. The solitude and seclusion amid a gorgeous backdrop of rugged beauty are ultimately soul cleansing.
–From Moon Texas by Andy Rhodes

Big Bend, Texas. Photo 123rf.
Chisos Mountains from Sotol Vista Overlook on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive at sunrise, Big Bend National Park, Texas. Photo © Steve Lagreca/123rf.

St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Experience diverse and authentic island culture against a backdrop of Danish colonial architecture. Whet your travel appetite with our expert author’s introduction to St. Croix, then start your planning with our seven-day travel itinerary.

The largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands is the richest in history, culture, and landscapes…. Nowhere is St. Croix’s diversity more evident than in its music, food, and arts.”
–From Moon U.S. & British Virgin Islands by Susanna Henighan Potter

Salt River Bay, St. Croix, Virgin Islands. Photo © Susanna Henighan Potter.
Salt River Bay, St. Croix, Virgin Islands. Photo © Susanna Henighan Potter.

April

Cuba

Soak in the infectious energy of this enigmatic island—and perhaps even get there on a direct flight from the U.S. Here’s why you should travel to Cuba and just as importantly, five ways to immerse yourself in the experience.

Cuba is a mother lode for anyone who loves classic American autos, fine cigars, quality rums, and Las Vegas-style cabaret revues…. The tail fins of ’57 Eldorados still glint beneath the floodlit mango trees of nightclubs.”
–From Moon Cuba by Christopher P. Baker

View over the Parque Céspedes in Santiago de Cuba.
Parque Céspedes in Santiago de Cuba. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Bourbon Trail, Kentucky

Sample small towns and small sips of Kentucky’s spirit along this idyllic route. To make the most of your meandering along the trail, check out our five day itinerary.

Travel along the famed Bourbon Trail and you’ll get to taste more than the nation’s only native liquor…. This is small-town America, …where neighbors are never strangers and where the best cooking is home cooking.”
–From Moon Kentucky by Theresa Dowell Blackinton

Oak barrels used for aging whiskey along the Bourbon Trail, Kentucky. Photo 123rf.
Oak barrels used for aging whiskey along the Bourbon Trail, Kentucky. Photo © dcslim/123rf.

May

Hudson River Valley, New York

Catch a northbound train from New York’s Grand Central Station for a weekend of antiques and historic estates. There are plenty of day trips to the Valley for those short on time but big on travel.

A handful of majestic estates line the Hudson River…. Kykuit, the sprawling hilltop estate of the Rockefeller family, is a must-see…. If you want to browse antiques shops, …stay on the train until it arrives at Cold Spring Station.
–From Moon Hudson Valley & the Catskills by Nikki Goth Itoi

There are tremendous views to be found in the Catskills, like this scenic look at North-South Lake.
There are tremendous views to be found in the Catskills, like this scenic look at North-South Lake. Photo © Colin Young/123rf.

Cobá, Mexico

Climb the Maya pyramid Nohuch Mul at the Cobá Archaeological Zone—an increasingly rare experience.

Just an hour from Tulum are the terrific jungle-cloaked ruins of Cobá…. The view from the top is impressive—a flat green forest spreading almost uninterrupted in every direction.”
–From Moon Cancún & Cozumel by Gary Chandler & Liza Prado

Coba, Mexico, 123rf
Mayan Nohoch Mul pyramid in Coba, Mexico. Photo © Nataliya Hora/123rf.

Quito, Ecuador

Wander through Quito and enjoy the sights of cobbled, hilly Old Town in the (nearly) year-round springtime air.

Steep, narrow streets characterize [Quito’s centro historico], and cars barely fit in lanes designed for horse and foot traffic.”
–From Moon Ecuador &the Galápagos Islands by Ben Westwood

Aerial view of the city of Quito, Ecuador. Photo © Nicolas De Corte/123rf.
Aerial view of the city of Quito, Ecuador. Photo © Nicolas De Corte/123rf.

June

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Stare out at the garden of sandstone spires and see first-hand what a hoodoo is. Take three days to experience best of Zion and Bryce, or craft your own weekend escape.

Bryce Canyon isn’t a canyon at all, but rather the largest of a series of massive amphitheaters cut into the Pink Cliffs…. A short walk down either the Queen’s Garden Trail or the Navajo Loop Trail from Sunset Point will bring you close to Bryce’s hoodoos.”
–From Moon Zion & Bryce by W. C. McRae & Judy Jewell

Thor's Hammer, a large hoodoo, bathed in early morning light.
Thor’s Hammer at sunrise in Bryce Canyon National Park. Photo © Pierre Leclerc/123rf.

Prince Edward Island, Canada

Tour the quaint Charlottetown on the island inspired the bucolic setting of Anne of Green Gables and get back to nature in Prince Edward Island National Park.

L. M. Montgomery portrayed rural Cavendish as an idyllic ‘neverland’ called Avonlea, imbued with innocence and harmony. The most pastoral and historic places are preserved as part of Prince Edward Island National Park.”
–From Moon Atlantic Canada by Andrew Hempstead

Prince Edward Island, Canada, 123rf
Prince Edward Island harbor. Photo © Darryl Brooks/123rf.

July

Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies

Take an epic drive from one of Canada’s most dynamic cities to the glaciers and ice fields of Banff and Jasper National Parks. Roadtrip to Vancouver and make sure the car’s packed for camping in Banff. If you’d like to take in more of the city or Vancouver Island, here’s when and where to go.

With the purple of dusk coloring the sky, Vancouver's city lights reflect in the water.
Vancouver’s city skyline. Photo © Lijuan Guo/123rf.

Vancouver [is] a splendid conglomeration of old and new architectural marvels, parks and gardens, and sheltered beaches.”
–From Moon British Columbia by Andrew Hempstead

The 230-kilometer (143-mile) Icefields Parkway, between Lake Louise and Jasper, is one of the most scenic, exciting, and inspiring mountain roads ever built.”
–From Moon Canadian Rockies by Andrew Hempstead

Icefields Parkway and Cirrus Mountain in the Canadian Rockies. Photo © Feng Yu/123rf.
Icefields Parkway and Cirrus Mountain in the Canadian Rockies. Photo © Feng Yu/123rf.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Step up your Spanish game with a short-term course at a language school in this charming town. Use these tips on learning and speaking Spanish in Mexico and bolster your studies by taking in the best of San Miguel and more with our expert author.

As evening falls, …amber streetlights illuminate the sandstone domes of 18th-century churches, while clanging iron bells herald the end of another day…. Mariachis tune their instruments and sidewalks hum with diners, gallery-goers, and revelers. This is Mexico mágico, the mythic place of corridos (ballads) alive and thriving on the high plains.”
–From Moon San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato and the Bajío by Julie Doherty Meade

San Miguel de Allende. Photo 123rf.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, overlooking Parroquia Archangel Church. Photo © William Perry/123rf.

August

Boise, Idaho

Savor authentic Basque cuisine in this up-and-coming capital city, which also hosts a summer Shakespeare festival in a riverside amphitheater. Before you travel, discover all Idaho has to offer.

Once you arrive in Boise, take in a summer play under the stars at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival after touring the Basque Block… a thriving ethnic enclave with restaurants, bars, and a museum.
–From Moon Idaho by James P. Kelly

The foothills of Boise, Idaho. Photo © rck953/123rf.
The foothills of Boise, Idaho. Photo © rck953/123rf.

Charlevoix, Québec

Follow the St. Lawrence River north out of Québec City for relaxingly beautiful scenery, quaint towns, and perhaps a beluga whale sighting. Once winter hits, skiing Le Massif de Charlevoix is an incredible experience–despite modernization, the mountain maintains its unique, untouched beauty.

Charlevoix’s landscape is distinct in its variety. At times pastoral and hilly, the region’s high cliffs and breathtaking fjords are adorned with tundra, while nearby, steep sand dunes rise unexpectedly along the coastline.”
–From Moon Montréal & Québec City by Sacha Jackson

Landscape of Port-au-Persil in Charlevoix, Quebec, Canada. Photo © Denis Roger/123rf.
Landscape of Port-au-Persil in Charlevoix, Québec, Canada. Photo © Denis Roger/123rf.

September

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Kayak around Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to view these colorful cliffs at your own pace. Start planning your visit early to make the most of the experience.

The remarkable colors, cliffs, and rock formations of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore stretch out like an artistic masterpiece being unveiled.”
–From Moon Michigan’s Upper Peninsula by Paul Vachon

Miner's Castle in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan. Photo © ehrlif/123rf.
Miner’s Castle in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan. Photo © ehrlif/123rf.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Hike through the Andes–for two hours or upward of four days–to add to the unforgettable reward of seeing Machu Picchu. Make this trip-of-a-lifetime the full experience by taking on the trek to Machu Picchu, and explore the best of Machu Picchu in eight days.

The mist lifted to reveal the spellbinding sight of perfect stonework backed by the towering mountain of Huayna Picchu…. Machu Picchu is the culmination of a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage.”
–From Moon Machu Picchu by Ben Westwood

Machu Picchu, Peru. Photo 123rf.
Machu Picchu, Peru. Photo © a41cats/123rf.

October

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina to Virginia

Road trip along “America’s Favorite Drive” surrounded by the warm hues of fall foliage. Take a full two weeks for the experience, and make sure you brush up on these driving tips for the Blue Ridge Parkway.

North Carolina’s High Country is no joke. The mountains are steep, and the road grows aggressively curvy, making for unworldly views as you round corners with nothing but space and the Blue Ridge Mountains in front of you.”
–From Moon Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip by Jason Frye

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina. Photo 123rf.
Linn Cove Viaduct, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina. Photo © Mark VanDyke/123rf.

Oaxaca, Mexico

Celebrate Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and the week leading up to it in Oaxaca City and surrounding towns, the best place in Mexico to experience this fiesta.

You can spend your entire week admiring altars and tapestries, and enjoying the party in Oaxaca City. Or you can head out into the valleys and hills, and celebrate…in a dozen different towns and villages. Every single one will have its own way of honoring their dead.”
–From Moon Oaxaca by Justin Henderson

La Catrina costume, Dia De Los Muertos. Photo © Alejandro Duran/123rf.
La Catrina costume, Dia De Los Muertos. Photo © Alejandro Duran/123rf.

November

Northern Sonoma, California

Visit this quintessential California wine country region on a weekday during this most popular season to beat the crowds. Between tastings, there’s always plenty of hiking, boating, and biking.

The cool, lush Russian River Valley has forests, rivers, small farms, and some of the best pinot noir and chardonnay in California…. The warmer Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley are home to big red wines from small family-owned wineries.”
–From Moon Napa & Sonoma by Elizabeth Linhart Veneman

Napa Valley, California. Photo 123rf.
Napa Valley, California. Photo © Andrew Zarivny/123rf.

São Paolo and Iguaçu Falls, Brazil

Head to Brazil’s economic and cultural center for urban sophistication then combine it with a side trip to Iguaçu Falls to stare into the Devil’s Throat. A stroll to take in the sights along São Paulo’s Avenida Paulista is an excellent daytime activity, as is shopping for the latest Brazil fashions between browsing antique galleries.

“Teeming with noise, activity, and a certain degree of urban chaos, …São Paolo offers a wealth of artistic, gastronomic, nightlife, and shopping options.”

“Iguaçu is not just one big cascade but a series of 275 falls that rush over a 3-kilometer-wide (2-mi) precipice. The sound is deafening, and the sight absolutely unforgettable.”
–From Moon Brazil by Michael Sommers

Iguacu Falls, Brazil, 123rf
Iguaçu Falls, Brazil. Photo © leksele/123rf.

December

Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, Colombia

Watch the sunrise from one of the beaches in Colombia’s famously beautiful national park. Plan your visit for early December to avoid the winter holiday rush, and make certain you pack the essentials for Colombia travel.

The frequently tempestuous waters of the PNN Tayrona provide dramatic scenery, with palms growing atop massive island boulders, waves crashing up against them.”
–From Moon Colombia by Andrew Dier

Tayrona NP Colombia
Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, Colombia. Photo © Andrew Dier.

Nashville, Tennessee

End the year to the beat–and inspiration–of Music City. Seek out live music venues as you take in the the best of Nashville in the fall and winter.

People come here to make their dreams come true…. You don’t have to be here more than a day or two to encounter truly talented musicians singing on the curb on Broadway.”
–From Moon Nashville by Margaret Littman

Nashville, Tennessee. Photo 123rf.
Downtown Nashville skyline, Tennessee. Photo © Sean Pavone/123rf.

Volunteer with Two Brothers Foundation in Rio de Janeiro

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Based in the favela of Rocinha, the mission of Two Brothers Foundation (TBF) is to “promote education, community service and international exchange in low-income neighborhoods in Brazil.” To achieve this, they seek to create educational communities, bring together people from diverse walks of life, and empower people to have a positive impact on the world around them, both locally and globally. Their educational communities focus on learning in languages, arts, and science.

Based in the favela of Rocinha, the mission of is to “promote education, community service and international exchange in low-income neighborhoods in Brazil.”
Based in the favela of Rocinha, the mission of is to “promote education, community service and international exchange in low-income neighborhoods in Brazil.” Photo © Daytours4u, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

[pullquote align=right]Voluntourists are welcome to propose programs and workshops they would like to initiate and can be responsible for.[/pullquote]TBF is a small-scale NGO with a bare-bones structure, so the most successful volunteers here will be those with initiative and strong self-management skills. Short-term volunteers (“voluntourists”) support ongoing classes and activities by acting as assistants to full-time volunteers who are “resident” (staying for three or more months), and voluntourists can only be accepted if there are residents on-site to work with them. Voluntourists are welcome to propose programs and workshops they would like to initiate and can be responsible for. It is important that voluntourists realize they will not just be teachers at this organic school, but also learners. There are always English classes at the educational center, and “open classes” have included subjects such as personal financial management, health, physical fitness, martial arts, dance, visual arts, computer literacy, film studies, photography, and video production. Tutoring in reading, writing, math, and science is also provided.

TBF also accepts groups; in the past, they have helped out with English classes, assisted in refurbishing TBF’s old building, and have offered consultation in business administration or other areas of expertise.

When volunteers are not working, they have plenty of ways to keep themselves busy: hiring a local tutor to improve their Portuguese, surfing, learning capoeira or jiujitzu, working on photography and film projects, conducting research, or exploring Rio. Some have volunteered for other organizations in Rocinha as well.

As a marginalized neighborhood, Rocinha can be dangerous. According to TBF’s Volunteer Manual, “Police and members of Rocinha’s drug gangs are extremely dangerous, and while it is wise to be friendly when spoken to, it is important to avoid getting involved with either.” TBF will provide volunteers with guidance about staying safe.

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Two Brothers Foundation

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
info@2bros.org
http://www.2bros.org

Application Process: Volunteers should send an email and arrange for a meeting upon arrival to Brazil. Individual volunteers must be 18 or older; those younger than 18 will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Families are welcome.

Cost: None. Volunteers are responsible for their own expenses.

Placement Length: Minimum three visits for short-term volunteers.

Language Requirements: None, although if the volunteer does not have Portuguese skills, TBF asks him or her to be actively studying before and during volunteering. Local tutors can be hired by the volunteer upon arrival in Rocinha.

Housing: Volunteers must make their own arrangements, although TBF can provide a list of conveniently-located hostels (US$17-26 per night). They also work with a guesthouse that is in a local home (US$120-144 per month; shorter stays are possible, but preference is given to resident volunteers). All volunteers are responsible for their own meals.

Operating Since: 1998

Number of Volunteers: about 50 “voluntourists” and another 7 resident (long-term) volunteers in 2012.

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Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Volunteer Vacations in Latin America.

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Volunteer with Iracambi in Minas Gerais, Brazil

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Iracambi works to protect the Atlantic Forest through “a program of research, education and hands-on practical actions.” They are based in Minas Gerais, the second-most populous and fourth-largest state in Brazil, just inland from the Atlantic coast. Their office is in the town of Rosário da Limeira, and their research center is 12 kilometers/7 miles (30 minutes) away. It is very close to Serra do Brigadeiro State Park, part of a UN Biosphere Reserve.

[pullquote align=right]The Atlantic Forest is different than its more famous sibling, the Amazon.[/pullquote]Volunteers typically join ongoing projects, and responsibilities may include monitoring forest cover and growth, water, fauna, and weather; caring for the forest nursery and planting trees; constructing new facilities for community-based tourism; helping with social media, IT, or graphics; fundraising and marketing; or creating photography and videos. If volunteers have special expertise and ideas for other ways to help, Iracambi would like to hear about that as well. Volunteers should be self-motivated and be able to work independently. The workday is 8am-5pm, with a break for lunch.

A dirt road cuts through lush, rolling green hills in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil.
The beautiful green hills of Minas Gerais. Photo © mar2rocha/123rf.

The research center is located on a working farm, with “rivers to swim in, mountains to climb, forest trails to hike, fruits to pick, and a welcoming local community to explore.” Weekends offer a chance to visit nearby colonial towns.

The Atlantic Forest is different than its more famous sibling, the Amazon. It is humid, but cooler, with an average temperature range of 14-21°C (57-70°F). Winter (Apr.-Oct.) is typically dry and can get downright cold at night, while summer (November-March) is hot and wet. Iracambi is located in a drier part of the forest, which is not technically considered rainforest.

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Iracambi

Minas Gerais, Brazil
tel. 55/32-3723-1297
http://en.iracambi.com

Application Process: Set up a Skype call to discuss. Volunteers must be age 18 or older.

Cost: US$625 for the first month, including accommodations in the guesthouse and meals. Staying in a semiprivate cabin is an additional US$100. There is a slight discount for subsequent months.

Placement Length: Minimum one month recommended, but exceptions may be made.

Language Requirements: None, but basic Portuguese is highly recommended. Portuguese is required for those wishing to volunteer in the community-based research work.

Housing: Volunteers stay in one of the center’s six houses, in rooms shared with members of the same sex. There is 24-hour electricity, wireless Internet, and hot water. Fresh, organic meals are provided (vegetarians always have an option), and volunteers must buy their own beverages. Volunteers can also ask to move into a homestay after an initial stay at the center.

Operating Since: 1999

Number of Volunteers: 32 in 2012

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Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Volunteer Vacations in Latin America.

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Tropical Tree Climbing: A Sustainable Alternative for Eco-Tourism in the Amazon

In the Amazon, two people hang in a hammock-like nest suspended in the trees.
Explore the canopy or sleep in the trees with Tropical Tree Climbing. Photo © Leonide Principe.

When planning a great Amazonian eco-adventure, foreign travelers inevitably conjure up images of gliding down one of the region’s thousands of river tributaries by boat, or thwacking through the dense tangled jungle on foot. Few are aware that there exists an equally adventurous way to discover the world’s largest and most famous rainforest: climbing to the very top of it.

[pullquote align=”right”]Although still somewhat of a niche activity, tree climbing is emerging as one of the most novel and eco-friendly ways to explore and immerse oneself in the Amazon rainforest.[/pullquote]Although still somewhat of a niche activity, tree climbing is emerging as one of the most novel and eco-friendly ways to explore and immerse oneself in the Amazon rainforest. Once outfitted with ropes, a harness, and other climbing gear, you can spend a couple of hours ascending gigantic trees, taking breaks to contemplate and photograph nature, and dangle in a deliciously suspended state 200 feet above the forest floor. When suddenly – and spectacularly – you emerge into the canopy and gaze out upon a vast ocean of lush foliage, your first reaction will be awe. Your second reaction will be an emphatic refusal to climb back down to earth.

Tropical Tree Climbing, an eco-operator based in the rainforests surrounding Presidente Figueiredo, a town 120km from the Amazonian capital of Manaus, offers multi-day excursions in addition to the standard 8-hour climb. The most fantasy-satiating options involve “canopy camping” – i.e. spending the night in the treetops, where you’ll be lulled to sleep by the dream-inducing vision of a star-flooded firmament and then awakened by a raucous symphony of tropical birds heralding the sunrise.

“For many people, climbing a tree already conjures up happy memories of childhood,” says co-founder of Tropical Tree Climbing, Vanessa Mariño. “However, no matter what your age, spending the night in the treetops of the rainforest is truly an unforgettable experience that will stay embedded in your memory for the rest of your life.” A Venezuelan artist and environmentalist, Mariño owns and runs the small sustainable outfit with Leonide Principe, a Franco-Italian photographer who specializes in documenting Amazonian nature – particularly from the privileged perch of the jungle canopy.

Sunlight hits the treetops of the Amazon in Brazil.
Photo © Leonide Principe.

Apart from gaudily feathered birds (toucans, parrots, and woodpeckers), and plushly furred monkeys (howlers, red-faced spider monkeys, and robust capuchin monkeys), the treetops are home to “Amazon air plants.” One of the most unusual of these is the Acacallis cyanea, a rare and surreally blue-hued orchid whose name alludes to the beautiful Greek nymph who seduced Apollo, as the flower has done to countless European 19th- and 20th-century botanists.

[pullquote align=”right”]Once the climb is over, ropes and other equipment are taken down, returning the tree to its original state.[/pullquote]“We’ve actually created an entire map of available trees [for climbing] – all of them native species such as samauma and angelim,” says Mariño. “Before choosing a tree, we examine the configuration of branches and inspect the soil around the tree as well as the trunk, leaves, fungi. We make sure there are no nests of insects such as spiders and wasps. After a tree has been inspected and approved, we carry out trial climbs and then install the ropes, so that everything is ready for climbers. Of course, a decisive element in selecting a tree is the splendor of the view gleaned from above.”

Once the climb is over, ropes and other equipment are taken down, returning the tree to its original state. Indeed, tree climbing is one of the lowest-impact recreational activities in which an Amazonian adventurer can indulge, not to mention one of the most highly sustainable, as the activity generates jobs and income for locals while promoting the conservation of the Amazon rainforest.

As Mariño points out, “Climbing an Amazonian tree offers a unique opportunity to reconnect and integrate with nature from the point-of-view of birds, monkeys, and so many other species that live at the forest’s summits.” From the jungle’s lofty emerald heights, one is able to experience the ultimate treedom.

Learn more at the Tropical Tree Climbing website.

An Introduction to Brazil for Volunteers

The reasons to visit Brazil are as endless as its beaches. Brazil is South America’s largest country, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and sharing its remaining borders with Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. Brazil’s lush Amazon jungle and Atlantic Forest teem with wildlife, while its cities pulse with Afro-Brazilian beats, samba music, and Carnival. Colorful fishing villages and cosmopolitan cities line 7,491 kilometers (4,657 mi) of sandy beaches.

[pullquote align=right]Due to bureaucratic restrictions, Brazil has fewer local organizations catering to international volunteers than many of its neighbors.[/pullquote]With 197 million residents, Brazil is the region’s most populous country. More than 20 million people live either in the political capital of Rio de Janeiro or in the business capital of São Paulo. Thanks to a flourishing economy, Brazil is a relatively wealthy country, with a gross national income of US$10,790 per capita (2011 World Bank figures).

The sun sets on a Rio beach with small two-person boats floating int he calm water.
Beach view in Rio de Janeiro. Photo © Gilberto Santa Rosa, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

As in much of Latin America, however, there is a significant disparity in the distribution of wealth. In Brazil, one in every five person lives in poverty. Nearly 10 percent of the population is illiterate, while one in five are functionally illiterate (reading and writing skills are insufficient to manage beyond the most basic daily living and employment tasks).

Due to bureaucratic restrictions, Brazil has fewer local organizations catering to international volunteers than many of its neighbors. However, independent opportunities can still be found. Volunteers can work with disadvantaged youth in favelas (urban slums), plant trees in the Atlantic Forest, teach English in a tourist beach town, or even brainstorm new ideas in jewelry and fashion design at a small business association in a community center.

Brazil is Latin America’s only Portuguese-speaking country. It was a Portuguese colony from 1500 until 1822, and the language remains as its legacy.


Check out this video on community gardening in Rio de Janeiro from Iko Poran, an organization that places volunteers in a variety of programs around the city:


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Volunteer Vacations in Latin America.

Watching the World Cup with the Brazilians

In this mural, Brazilian star Neymar stands victorious, while Argentina’s leading light, Lionel Messi, cries into his shirt on the left.
In this mural, Brazilian star Neymar stands victorious, while Argentina’s leading light, Lionel Messi, cries into his shirt on the left. Photo © Tom Le Mesurier.

Several years ago, a new phrase became part of standard Brazilian vocabulary: Imagina na Copa. The phrase roughly translates to “Imagine during the World Cup,” and it became the standard exclamation when there was a problem. It might be a bad traffic jam, localized flooding, or a transport strike—in each case, people would use this phrase to say “If you think it’s bad now, imagine how much worse it will be when we are hosting hundreds of thousands of World Cup fans.”

Then in June 2013, a series of protests over public spending erupted in cities across Brazil. These protests made global headlines and further increased Brazilians’ own fears of potential disasters during the first of Brazil’s two “mega-events.” (Rio will also be hosting the Olympics in 2016.)

As we approach the latter stages of the tournament, have the fears been realized? Have infrastructure limitations spoiled the party? How have all these World Cup visitors been treated—and are the football-mad Brazilians themselves enjoying this festival of soccer?

Two weeks before the start of the tournament, the first signs started to appear.

The World Cup effect: dull, grey steps are given a patriotic lick of paint. Flags and streamers are hung across streets, and murals are painted on any available surface.
The World Cup effect: dull, grey steps are given a patriotic lick of paint. Flags and streamers are hung across streets, and murals are painted on any available surface. Photo © Tom Le Mesurier.

And so, with the streets suitably decorated, the first day of the tournament arrived. From the Amazon in the north to the golden beaches of the south, this nation of 200 million became a sea of green and yellow. Brazilians and tourists alike huddled in front of television sets in bars and restaurants while a lucky few packed into the Itaquerão stadium in São Paulo.

As Brazil finished their opening game with a victory, the nation breathed a sigh of relief, and it was generally agreed that the tournament had started smoothly.

In the periods between matches, legions of visiting fans enjoyed the best of Brazil, climbing mountains, lounging on beaches, and seeing the sights. On match days, opposing fans enjoyed a good-natured rivalry; jeers were always accompanied by friendly grins.

Ipanema Beach, normally a hive of activity, was eerily empty as kick-off approached.
Ipanema Beach, normally a hive of activity, was eerily empty as kick-off approached. Photo © Tom Le Mesurier.

With so many visiting tourists in the country, enterprising Brazilians were quick to spot business opportunities. Patriotic pedicures became the new craze, while vendors sold flags, shirts, and novelty hats on beaches and street corners.

In the tourist hub of Rio, the main match-day parties centered on several huge screens on Copacabana Beach.

Wherever large groups of football fans congregate, a small army of vendors follows to provide everything the fans could desire, from snacks and soft drinks to Brazil’s national cocktail, the caipirinha.

At the time of writing, tournament organizers and football fans are riding high on a wave of happiness and contentment. The fears of Imagina na Copa have melted away as this World Cup has provided all the thrills, controversial moments, tense matches, and great goals that anyone could have hoped for.

Any lingering doubts about a lack of World Cup enthusiasm among the majority of Brazilians were quickly dispelled.
Any lingering doubts about a lack of World Cup enthusiasm among the majority of Brazilians were quickly dispelled. Photo © Tom Le Mesurier.

Gay Sampa: Sáo Paulo for LGBT Travelers

The Parada de Orgulho GLBT in Sáo Paulo.
The Parada de Orgulho GLBT in Sáo Paulo. Photo © Ministério da Cultura, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Although Rio’s more exhibitionistic and hedonistic gay scene is more legendary, Sampa’s gay offerings are more numerous and much more eclectic. In Centro, the area between Praça da República and Largo do Arouche shows few signs of gayness during the day, aside from a smattering of funky clothing boutiques. After dark, however, the area attracts a fantastically mixed (but definitely not fashionable nor yuppie) gay crowd of all ages as well as trans women and hookers. Most bars are on the once-elegant Avenida Vieira de Carvalho. The scene is kind of seedy but very vibrant.

[pullquote align=”right”]One of the biggest and trendiest clubs (gay or otherwise) in town is The Week…homegrown and international DJs spin electronic and techno tunes with such verve that dancers end up quite literally baring their chests.[/pullquote]A classic club with an after-hours vibe, Cantho (Largo do Arouche 32, Centro, tel. 11/3723-6624, 11 p.m.–5 a.m. Wed. and Fri.–Sat., 9 p.m.–3 a.m. Sun., R$15–20) reels in a 35-and-over bear-ish clientele with ’70s and ’80s tunes, glittery globes, and lots of Cher and Madonna videos as well as strategically placed sofas in dark corners.

Just off Avenida Paulista — in the Consolação district — the bars and clubs on Rua Augusta and Rua Frei Caneca (nicknamed Rua Gay Caneca) attract a younger, more alternative GLS (gay, lesbica, e simpatisante; i.e., gay-friendly) public. Although very eclectic, A Lôca attracts a big GLS crowd, especially on Sunday. Recently opened and extremely fashionable Club Yacht (Rua 13 de Maio 703, Bela Vista, tel. 11/3104-7157, midnight–7 a.m. Wed., Fri.–Sat. cover R$30–50) is nautically glam with an aquarium and La Querelle sailors/waiters. Its festas run the musical gamut from ‘80s (Wed.) and indie rock (Fri.) to techno (Sat.).

Jardins is the playground of upwardly mobile, fashionable crew gays, who frequent sophisticated cafés, bistros, and bars such as the Ritz and Director’s Gourmet (Alameda Franca 1552, Cerqueira César, tel. 11/3064-7958, 10 p.m.–3 a.m. Tues.–Sat.), a small, friendly bar that pays homage to the seventh art with a director’s chair suspended from the ceiling, classic movie posters plastering the walls, and a menu of gourmet sandwiches named after famous directors.

One of Sampa’s rare lesbian clubs, The L Club (Rua Luiz Marat 370, tel. 11/2604-3394, Vila Madalena, 11 p.m.–close Fril, cover R$20–40) is a buzzing spot where girls warm up lounge-side while listening to live MPB before rocking out to techno spun by resident lady DJs.

One of the biggest and trendiest clubs (gay or otherwise) in town is The Week (Rua Guaicurus 324, Lapa, tel. 11/3868-9844, midnight–close Sat., R$45–65). Aside from the two dance floors, three lounges, and six bars, a lot of splashy fun goes on in the swimming pool. Homegrown and international DJs spin electronic and techno tunes with such verve that dancers end up quite literally baring their chests.

LGBT happenings have become major city events. In November, short and long features from all over the world dealing with themes of sexual diversity invade cinemas and cultural centers during the Mix Brasil Festival. And in early May, São Paulo hosts one of the planet’s biggest and most festive gay pride parades. The Parada de Orgulho GLBT offers millions of people an excuse to take to Avenida Paulista, which is flooded with trios elétricos blasting party music. For an in-depth guide to gay Sampa (in Portuguese), check out Guia Gay São Paulo or the LGBT Guide on the São Paulo city website.


Excerpted from the upcoming Fourth Edition of Moon Brazil.

Expats Abroad: From Beach Bums to Bankers

The entrance of São Vicente bay in Brazil
Brazil is home to a diverse community of foreign residents. Photo © Daniel Guimarães, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

On the other side of the globe, Brazil has also seen a significant diversification of its expatriate community. Michael Sommers, a freelance writer and author of Moon Living Abroad in Brazil, as well as the travel guidebooks Moon Brazil and Moon Rio de Janeiro, has been living in Brazil for the past 15 years. Sommers says that the foreign community in Brazil has grown considerably, particularly after the economic downturn in the United States and Europe.

[pullquote align=”right”]Ten years ago Brazil attracted only a small number of foreign residents. Back then, most expatriates were “adventurous types” who “fell in love with Brazil” and wanted to live an alternative lifestyle…[/pullquote]Ten years ago Brazil attracted only a small number of foreign residents. Back then, most expatriates were “adventurous types” who “fell in love with Brazil” and wanted to live an alternative lifestyle, setting up in rustic beach towns; others came to the country because they married a Brazilian or took jobs at a nonprofit. That changed in the past five years.

“Brazil came out of the big recession really well,” Sommers explains, “with many multinational companies setting up Latin American headquarters in Brazil.” The biggest economy in Latin America and home to 200 million people, Brazil’s strong financial sector, massive IT demands, and rapidly growing oil industry attracted Spanish, Portuguese, and American expatriates who “couldn’t get jobs in the States or in Europe.” These professionals, often young and recently out of college, saw working in Brazil as a stepping stone along their career path, with corporations offering skilled foreigners the opportunity to gain valuable experience while also being paid a good salary with ample benefits—which can even extend to drivers and living budgets.

“Even though the economy has slowed down, certain sectors of the economy are booming,” says Sommers. He notes that Brazil is now home to a diverse community of foreign residents, ranging from tech entrepreneurs and finance executives to university students and academics doing culture-related work. He also notes the rise of foreign entrepreneurs; with the country’s growing middle class, there is an exploding IT sector. As a result, he says, “There are a lot of startups, and American entrepreneurs are at the forefront of that.”

Shannon Aitken notices the same entrepreneurial energy in China, where many foreigners come to build businesses that cater to the country’s burgeoning consumer class. “There’s a real, palpable atmosphere of entrepreneurship,” Aitken says. “Everyone else is doing something—maybe opening a cafe, or starting a trading business, or launching some kind of tech company—so you get caught up in this feeling.”

Read Part Two or Continue to Part Three

Réveillon in Imbassaí

Year's End on the beautiful beaches of Imbassaí. Photo © Michael Sommers.
Year’s End on the beautiful beaches of Imbassaí. Photo © Michael Sommers.

A few years ago, close friends in my adopted hometown of Salvador, Bahia, rented a house for the summer in Imbassaí, a former fishing village located on the coconut palm-fringed northern coast of Bahia. Summer in Brazil spans the months of December, January, and February, so it was a no-brainer that my friends (and I, and a dozen other pals and hangers-on) would spend the year-end holidays in the house. Actually, not so much in the house itself, but on the hammock-strung verandas, in the yard shaded by twisting mangaba trees (the juice of their milk-oozing fruit numbing our lips), and along the gleaming sand beaches that stretched for miles in either direction.

[pullquote align=”right”]Beginning on December 29th, people started descending upon Imbassaí en masse, creating sudden traffic jams on the village’s sandy streets and erecting improvised tent and hammock squats in gardens and on porches.[/pullquote]Christmas was a deliciously low-key affair, in which four of us promptly forgot about the Yuletide’s very existence by barbecuing scarlet-scaled vermelho fish and abacaxi (firm, white, local pineapple) and floating lazily in the warm, Coca-Cola-colored waters of the Rio Imbassaí.

New Year’s Eve—or Réveillon—was a completely different story.

Beginning on December 29th, people started descending upon Imbassaí en masse, creating sudden traffic jams on the village’s sandy streets and erecting improvised tent and hammock squats in gardens and on porches. Our humble two-bedroom casa was no exception to the rule. By December 31st, we were around 20 strong: me, my friend Edi, and 18 women.

As the day trickled by, more “guests” continued to arrive. Some came bearing food, others Chandon (Brazil’s aspirational version of French Moet & Chandon champagne), others six-packs of beer. On site, everybody pitched in—sweeping every last grain of sand from the house; fetching ice and candles; and cooking up small storms for a planned, yet improvised, feast later that night. (Brazilians are practiced at the seemingly antithetical arts of organization and winging it.) Vats of caiprininhas and a carefully curated soundtrack playing on someone’s car’s speakers ensured that all “laborers” had optimal working conditions.

At 4pm, with everything prepped (and everyone buzzed), our bikinied and sunga-ed tribe wound its way down to the beach for a final communal dip of the year before heading back to the house to assemble the feast—and ourselves. In Brazil, it’s customary on New Year’s to get decked out in immaculate white (or gleaming silver for the more flamboyant); it’s a symbol of peace and purity, of fresh slates and new beginnings, not to mention a new year. When, at 10pm, we finally sat (or, rather, sprawled—in hammocks, on the front steps, on the grass) down to our New Year’s feast, we resembled a flock of elegant storks.

I was having a great last day of the year until around 9pm when two (more) female friends arrived from Salvador bearing lentils (an edible symbol of good luck in the new year) and a Third Man. Apart from being fairly handsome, this male interloper was a Croatian doctoral student who had been doing research for a few months in the Bahian Interior. As a stranger—and a foreign, male one to boot—he quickly made an impression. But what really amazed us all was his flawless, fluid, accent-less Portuguese. People couldn’t get over the fact that, after only a few months in Brazil, this guy was talking like a potential candidate for the Brazilian Academy of Letters. Meanwhile, I, who had lived in Bahia for a full decade, still mixed up my genders, had a shaky grasp of the subjunctive, and wrapped my phrases in a heavy North American accent that shrieked “Just Got Off the Plane.”

“Listen to how amazing his Portuguese is compared to yours!”

“You could probably lose that accent if you really wanted to. You just don’t want to.”

“Maybe you need to see a speech therapist in the New Year.”

Although such comments came from a radical fringe minority (the more tolerant majority, while acknowledging my linguistic frailties, defended my accent as “charming”), I had to admit that the Croat was raining on my parade.

Speaking of parades, at 11:30pm the members of our white-clad tribe grabbed chilled bottles of Chandon and plastic cups, plucked white roses from the pile that someone had fortuitously supplied, and, once again, headed down to the sea. We were joined by throngs and throngs of other white-clad, champagne-and-flower-brandishing revelers, all of whom assembled on dunes to await the burst of fireworks and popping of champagne corks announcing midnight.

The white flowers (and some of the champagne) were meant as offerings to Iemanjá, Queen of the Seas, and one of the most important and beloved orixás belonging to the pantheon of Afro-Brazilian Candomblé divinities. Since Iemanjá loves beautiful things, it’s common on New Year’s Eve to wade into the ocean and toss perfume, jewels, and flowers into the sea when the clock strikes 12.

Before wading all the way into the sea, it’s also customary to jump over seven waves… yet another ritual intended to bring good luck in the New Year.

The results of my own wave-jumping kicked in almost immediately. At 1am, the Croatian announced that he and his Perfect Portuguese had to catch an early morning flight to São Paulo. He bid us a flawless farewell and an expertly articulated Feliz Ano Novo.

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Cruise the Amazon on a Riverboat Trip

Single, double, and triple-decked riverboats wait at port while the soft peach of sunrise glistens on the water.
Travel like the locals via riverboat like these lined up early morning at the Port of Manaus. Photo © Wagner Fontoura, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

An alternative to staying put in a jungle lodge is to choose a riverboat as your headquarters, which will allow you to cover far more territory. Many ecotourist agencies operate or can book you onto a riverboat that will cruise up and down the Rio Solimões and/or Rio Negro. Accommodations range from basic cabins with wooden bunks to cruise-worthy luxury with fine dining. To venture into the forest itself you’ll be transferred to smaller vessels that will allow you to penetrate more secluded and wildlife-rich igapós and igarapés.

Viverde (Rua das Guariúbas 47, Parque Acariquara, tel. 92/3248-9988) can reserve trips on riverboats and charter boats for private groups. You can also directly contract Amazon Clipper Cruises, based at the Hotel Tropical in Ponta Negra (tel. 92/3656-1246), which runs 3–4-day excursions (R$900–1,200) along both the Rio Negro and Rio Solimões. The Iberostar Grand Amazon (tel. 92/2126-9900) runs similar tours, with the added bonus of accommodations on a luxury cruise ship with smashing cabins featuring king beds, plasma TVs, and private verandas as well as multiple pools, restaurants, and bars. However, amid all the champagne and pampering, the Iberostar’s crew takes its eco-activities seriously. Aside from offering excellent guided tours in small launches and nightly wildlife lectures, the library is stuffed with books about every aspect of the Amazon’s climate, culture, history, flora, and fauna. Daily rates hover around R$700. While the price is steep, it includes absolutely everything (including the champagne).

If you really want to rough it and have a much more authentic (not to mention way cheaper) adventure, you can always hop aboard one of the local wooden passenger boats that ferry people and cargo throughout the Amazon. For major routes—along the Amazon to Santarém and Belém, along the Rio Solimões to Tefé, up the Rio Negro to Novo Airão—there is more or less regular service (be aware that schedules change) from Manaus. Since these boats are for transport and not for tourism, don’t expect to see much, if any, wildlife, since the boats generally stick to the middle of the main rivers, far from either shore. Also don’t expect a lot of comfort.

If you opt for one of the few private but cramped, stuffy, and basic camarotes (cabins with bunks that sleep 2–4 people), you’ll have privacy, security, and your own bathroom (a big luxury), and that’s about it. More expensive but still tiny suites have bona fide beds and air-conditioning instead of a fan.

If you’re on a serious budget and want to hang with the locals, you can buy a hammock and string it up on deck. Opt for the middle deck with exposure to more breezes (and farther away from the noisy engine, which is on the lower deck). The experience is often sardine-like, not to mention noisy, with music playing, babies crying, and all-night gossip sessions, especially on the upper deck, where meals are served and passengers tend to linger.

All meals—lots of edible but very basic rice, beans, and fish as well as filtered water—are included, although you should bring some mineral water and snacks such as bananas or energy bars as a reserve. To be extra safe, order à la carte items. Bring a roll of toilet paper as well; the term “shared bathrooms” is somewhat of an understatement. Although safety isn’t usually a big issue, you’ll want to keep a constant eye on your belongings. Keep in mind that delays are frequent and that traveling downriver is always quicker than upriver. It’s best to purchase tickets at least a day or two in advance and to stake out hammock space at least a few hours before the boat leaves (ask the porter for advice). Some boats have a hammock space reserved for women only.

The quintessential boat trip is the four-day journey down to the mouth of the Amazon in Belém. Different companies operate boats that travel downstream on different days of the week, but not everyday, and schedules change frequently. In early 2011, prices hovered around R$250 for hammock space, R$660 for a cabin for two people, and R$700 for a suite for two. Most boats to Belém also stop off at Parintins, Santarém, and Monte Alegre. The 36-hour journey to Santarém costs roughly R$150 for hammock space, R$480 for a cabin for two, and R$550 for a suite for two. Slow boats depart from the Estação Hidroviária, where you can get schedules for all boats and buy tickets. Ticket booths are open 6 a.m.–6 p.m. daily for long-distance river boats. Plan on buying tickets 1–2 days in advance. Purchase tickets from the kiosks and not from the vendors on the street.


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Brazil.

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