We recently caught up with Brazil's top guide and Exsus favourite Fabio Sombra. He's the guy who will show you the in's and out's and will help you experience this facinating country to the fullest.
How long have you been a guide?
I started to work as a guide in 1995 and until 2001 I was doing exactly the opposite of what I do now: I was leading tours with Brazilian clients all over the world. I travelled a lot through South America and Africa, and after working in many countries I became a specialist in Central and Eastern Europe. I used to travel almost every month to cities such as Moscow, Prague and Budapest.
After 2001 I returned to Brazil, where I resumed my career in arts and started to teach tour guide courses. Still today, a large number of tour guides working in Rio are my ex-students.
In 2002 I got a very important recommendation in Condé Nast Traveller magazine (UK edition, March): I was the only Brazilian guide mentioned in a list of “50 Travel Specialists every traveller should know”.
What are the highlights of your job?
Tourism is an activity that allows me to meet and interact with people. Plus, I am a huge enthusiast of Rio de Janeiro. I was born and raised here and, although I have travelled a lot in my life, coming back to this city is really the best part of every trip I make.
Which is your favourite hotel / restaurant / site / district in Rio?
Hotels: Copacabana Palace / Fasano
Restaurants: Academia da Cachaça (Leblon) / Mariu´s Steak House / Carlota / Satyricon / Aprazível (Santa Teresa)
Don´t miss: Sunset at the Sugar Loaf, happy hour at Bar Urca, a walk in Rio´s Botanical Garden and exploring the Santa Teresa neighbourhood by foot.
How do you sum up the vibe of the city?
For me, what I really like about Rio is its informality. We enjoy life in a very relaxing and casual way. People go to restaurants in t-shirts and shorts and you can find fantastic food and music in very simple places. Besides, the beaches play a very important role in our social life – as they say in São Paulo: a typical Carioca is a person who goes every day to the beach, before, after or instead of work…
What are your top tips for a first-time visitor to Brazil?
Be curious: the local dishes and cocktails can be really surprising. Try a feijoada (black beans stew cooked with several meats) or a Caiprinha de Maracujá (passion fruit cocktail, very refreshing).
Be casual: Rio is a city that doesn´t sit well with tuxedos and fancy dresses. Be comfortable by wearing jeans, shorts, t-shirts and, of course, your Havaianas flip-flops are welcome almost everywhere.
Join the music: In a typical Brazilian samba club, no one will pay attention if visitors don’t know exactly how to dance to our rhythms. Join the crowds and I can assure you there will be lots of locals just smiling and willing to teach you how to do it.
The NE Coast of Brazil is seeing a lot of development at the moment – what are your tips for 2011?
Well, the “classics” are still proving their charm: Salvador is a must, Fortaleza with Jericoacoara beach is not to be missed and the Island of Fernando de Noronha will surprise even the most exigent traveller.
For relaxing, southern Bahia (Trancoso, Itacaré) would be my top hints.
What has been your best holiday / travel experience?
In Brazil, years come and go but my fascination for the charming city of Paraty is still untouched. A perfect combination of Brazilian colonial architecture, an emerald-green bay and a well preserved environment of rain forests and waterfalls. What else could we put together to have a perfect tropical holiday? Currently I am working on a series of paintings about Paraty landscapes. So, guess where will I be next January…
Where in Latin America would you still like to visit?
I definitely want to know Patagonia in Argentina. I’ve got plans to go there in 2011. And I’d like to return to Peru, a country in which I have travelled extensively but still want to explore more.