For a city that boasts two designated tourist districts, selecting a hotel can be a little daunting. There are some brand names I recognized from previous South American travel - Melia, Golden Tulip - but as I said in my previous post, guidebooks and travel sites aren't helpful. Photographs tend to be the sort from Aussie tourists alarmed by the bug in their tub.
We ended up choosing the Brasilia Palace, which dates back to the city's founding and was designed by Oscar Niemeyer himself. When else would we have the opportunity to stay in a residential environment designed by a modern master? Plus, it was on the lake.
If we had to do it over again, I'd probably still choose to stay here. The hotel was restored after a fire in the 1970s, and like the city itself, it felt like a time capsule. Everything about it screamed midcentury modern, and they had even decorated public spaces with modernist furnishings. The rooms were small, spare, and efficient, with a balcony. There was a lovely pool area, and the breakfast - included - featured an array of fresh fruits and juices (Brazilians love their juices!), baked goods, cold cuts, hot foods, and the ubiquitous pao de queijo - little balls of cheese bread. (These, by the way, will grow on you and make you crave them.)
But the drawbacks were these: in the beak of the "bird" that is Brasilia, the hotel is far removed from everything except Palacio Alvarado, the Niemeyer-designed presidential palace, which is stunning but not open to the public. It is also offset from the main road, meaning that cabs need to be specially called to the hotel, which adds a surcharge to every fare. (The neighboring Golden Tulip Resort, facing the main street, seemed to have frequent cab traffic.) Only one staff member - the morning concierge - spoke English. And when we were there, the on-site restaurant was severely understaffed - only four waiters (and no front-of-house support whatsoever) for a full restaurant of over 100 diners. The food, however, was pretty good.
If you are not married to living in a Niemeyer for a few days, I would recommend one of the larger hotels located where the two spines of the city intersect. They might lack midmod authenticity, but they will at least be in (treacherous) walking distance of a few major sites and the cab rides will be shorter. The Melia seemed elegant and imposing, and The Carlton had a doorman and the coolest entryway in Brazil:
Random aside: Like the fellow chatting with the doorman, most everyone is dressed for government business in Brasilia. Every morning at breakfast, we were the only people in shorts and sandals despite the 85-degree heat. Women were dressed in smart, elegant workwear, and men wore suits and ties. In the city, jeans were worn mostly by younger people, and virtually no one else wore shorts. Add to that our English and our "gosh wow" attitude toward every single building, and we were pretty much pegged as Americans by everyone.
Whatever you select, choose a hotel that includes breakfast in the rate. This is a city without a Starbucks, and you will want a Brazilian coffee, a slab of papaya, and a pao de queijo to start your day of sightseeing.
COMING NEXT: What to see (and how to see it)