São Paulo

We arrived into São Paulo after taking a long overnight bus from Foz do Iguaçu. It took about 17 hours but luckily was pretty cosy and we managed to sleep quite a bit.

São Paulo is huge—the population of the city is 12 million and including the suburbs it is 22 million. Taking a trip to the top floor of the Martinelli building—São Paulo’s first skyscraper—this number seemed unsurprising, as towering blocks of flats could be seen in every direction up to the horizon. What is notable is the speed at which the city’s population has increased. In 1900, the population was 240,000, but by 1950, the population had reached 2 million. The following 60 years saw an additional rise of 20 million.

We were staying in the arty part of São Paulo called Vila Madalena. Our first proper city since leaving Paraguay, we were instantly surprised by Brasil. São Paulo is much more advanced and modern than other parts of South America we have been. One of the benefits of this was a very smart tube system, which luckily we got the hang of pretty quickly.

The hostel receptionist recommended that we visit the financial part of the city on Sunday as the main road is closed and people walk, cycle and roller blade down it. There are also lots of street sellers and performers—it was lovely and had a really good atmosphere.

One of the interesting things about the city is that it is home to largest Japanese population outside of Japan. Very excited at the possibility of some Asian food, it didn’t take us long to find a ramen restaurant near our hostel!

We also visited the main park in the city where the Afro-Brasil museum is located. The museum was interesting and had lots of art to explain historical events, but sadly without anything written in English we didn’t stay too long.

As São Paulo lacks many obvious sights to visit, we decided to go on a free walking tour. Points of interest included São Paulo cathedral, the monastery of São Bento, the stock exchange, the town hall and Pátio do Colégio—the site where the city was founded in 1554. We also learned that many of the city’s traffic lights feature silhouettes of nearby landmarks rather than the usual green or red man.

Having had our fill of a big city, we were looking forward to visiting Brasil’s coastline.

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Iguazu falls

The Iguazu falls are the largest system of waterfalls in the world. Situated on the Iguazu River on the border of the Argentine province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Paraná, they separate the river into the upper and lower Iguazu.

We were staying in the city of Foz do Iguaçu in Brasil, having crossed the border from Paraguay in the morning. Foz do Iguaçu is the Brasilian gateway to the falls and so easily accessible by public transport. Stepping off the bus we were blown away at the vista in front of us, a panoramic view of waterfalls spanning from left to right as far as the eye could see. It’s not surprising that it was recently voted one of the new seven wonders of nature.

Throughout the trip we have heard differing views on whether it is better to visit the falls from the Brasilian or Argentinian side. Having enjoyed visiting them in Brasil so much we decided to see them from Argentina the following day. While Argentina lacked the panoramic view of the Brasilian side, it allowed you to get much closer to the action, with walkways of different heights right up to, and in some cases on top of, the falls. A particular highlight was being perched above the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s throat), the largest of the falls at 82 x 150 x 700 metres, which funnels around half of the river’s flow. With around 1,500 cubic metres of water flowing over the falls every second, the seemingly endless stream of water creates a momentous roaring and permanent mist that looms over the abyss, broken only by the occasional darting of some rather daring swallows.

From Foz do Iguaçu we also visited Parque das Aves, the largest bird park in Latin America, with more than 1,320 birds from about 143 different species. Housed in 16.5 hectares of rainforest next to the falls, the birds are predominantly rescued and rehabilitated before being released back into the wild. One of our favourite things about the park was the number of walk-in cages, where you could see many of the birds up close, including a huge cage housing around 30 varieties of parrot and parquet . The sea of colour flying over your head was incredible.

Ciudad del Este

Ciudad del Este—literally translating as the city of the east—sits on the triple border with Brasil and Argentina. It is a peculiar place, with a strange border that you can cross without having to go through immigration. As a result, it is well known as a gateway for all sorts of contraband. We had heard that it was a hectic, dirty and altogether horrid place to be. Never-the-less, we had to go there in order to cross into Brasil and so tried to make the most of it. As we had time to spare, we visited the biggest tourist attraction possibly in Paraguay: the Itaipu hydroelectric dam, situated on the river that divides Brasil and Paraguay. The second largest dam in the world—having been overtaken by the Three Gorges dam in China in 2012—it generates enough power for 75% of Paraguay and 15% of Brasil. It is over 7 km wide and almost 200 m tall. A remarkable feat of human engineering, it offered an interesting contrast to our next stop—Iguazu falls.