On New Year’s Eve, more than two million of Rio de Janeiro’s residents dress in pure white and flock to Copacabana Beach to pay homage to Yemanjá, the patron deity of fisherman and shipwreck survivors. The white clothing symbolizes a fresh start, so pack accordingly. Join the parade to the 2.5-mile-long beach to offer flowers and lit candles to the goddess. Welcome in 2012 with cachaça, rum made from fermented sugarcane, and watch fireworks explode as the beach swells. Want to make it a weeklong trip? At 3.2 million square miles, Brazil takes up about half of South America and literally has an iconic destination for every athlete: Head to Ponta Negra beach to hit the surf, the Amazon River to whitewater kayak, or Tres Picos to rock climb. And then there’s the music (samba), the food (fried bananas, chicken with okra), and the smorgasbord of natural wonders (the Pantanal floodplain). The luxury hotels that line Copacabana Beach may seem astronomical in price but they sit at the heart of Rio’s New Year’s celebrations and are worth the dip into savings. Budget strapped? Copa Sul Hotel is a little more than a mile away from the heart of the party. $135 per night.
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