Brazil is a great place to visit all year round, but particularly so for some pre-Christmas sun when the popular destinations such as Thailand are in the rainy season. If you can be flexible with your dates you can pick up a relatively cheap and direct flight which takes around 9 hours (try Thomas Cook or TAM). Otherwise your best bet is probably TAP airlines vis Lisbon. Bahia is a very diverse region, home to huge national parks, great beaches, various religions, capoeira and despite Rio's massive annual event, is arguably the true home of the carnival. The area around Recife is getting pretty touristy with cheap beer, great beaches and superb weather year round. I went a little further south to Salvador and beyond.