Rio de Janeiro

Rose’s mum’s cousin Vik has lived in Rio de Janeiro since the 70s. She rents a couple of rooms through Airbnb so we decided to rent one of her rooms and catch up with her!

Rio from start to end was stunning: the city is incredible, the mountains, the sea and the many vistas made every venture out of the house beautiful. The weather was lovely on our first day so we decided to head up to see Christ the Redeemer, having spotted him numerous times from afar looking over the city.

We got the tram up to the top of Corcovado mountain. As we approached the summit we excitedly looked up to get a glimpse of the iconic statue up close; however, all we saw were clouds! We later found out that this is a regular occurrence at the peak of the mountain, so we waited it out in the hope the cloud would move on. Luckily it did and the cloud actually broke through Christ the Redeemer, therefore creating a cross-like cloud formation as a backdrop. We also visited Sugarloaf mountain, named due to its resemblance to the cones of sugar the country used to produce.

We were then struck by some of the worst weather we have had while travelling, raining for around 48 hours non stop with a heavy, rainforest-type rain. Luckily Vik organised a lovely Sunday lunch with her family and us.

We thought we had to check out Copacabana, due to it being so well known and its reference in numerous songs and films, despite the insistence from many people it was not worth visiting. Arriving on the long stretch of beach you can probably imagine what it was like: absolutely teaming with people and a current so strong you cannot even swim. Not to mention the fact that the water is supposed to be so polluted that swimming isn’t advised.

We absolutely loved our time in Rio, it’s an infectious city and probably out favourite so far. The best thing we probably did was visit Santa Marta Favela. We went on a tour run by Vik’s friend, Thiago, an ex-dancer who lives there. It was such an insightful experience, everyone we met inside the favela was friendly and welcoming, we were even invited for coffee in someone’s house. Santa Marta is a pacified favela, which means the police have reclaimed it from drug dealers and are stationed inside in an attempt to reduce crime. Theoretically there are no drug dealers living there anymore. This does not mean, however, that the people who live there like the police, and it can be hostile between the people and the police. The people are pretty open about preferring living in favelas run by drug dealers than the police as they feel safer. The new issues between the people living in the favelas and the government is that they pay taxes, the same amount that people in proper houses pay. This is contentious, they regularly get power cuts and they have dirty sewage water running through the favela uncovered. It’s sad that the stigma attached to the favelas are so negative, we had a wonderful time there and found the experience enlightening.

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Ilha Grande

Ilha grande is a small island with no motorised vehicles just off mainland Brazil. We stayed for 5 days. Arriving in another tropical storm, luckily nothing in our bags got wet. We stayed at a gorgeous little guest house just outside the town and managed to enjoy the rain from our veranda lying in a hammock.

With the weather forecast saying it was due to rain every day we were there, we woke feeling apprehensive about what we would do—luckily it looked like the weather had broken. We decided to hike to an old and now disused prison on the island. We walked along the same route the prisoners would have taken after arriving at the island’s main port. It was a 17 km round trip of mountainous jungle, but we had a great time, even though we were soaking with sweat for most of it.

Ilha grande is particularly famous for one of its beaches called Lopez Mendez, which was once voted in Vogue’s “top 10 beaches in the world”. The only way to get there is another long walk or a boat trip followed by a shorter walk. We opted for the lazy option and took the boat there. Needless to say it was beautiful. No sun loungers or bars in sight, just white sand and crystal clear blue water. We called this day our honeymoon day: spending the day reading, swimming, body boarding and sadly burning in the very intense sun!

We also took the opportunity to do some snorkelling. Attempting to avoid the crowds, we opted instead to try a spot away from the well known places. This proved much better and we spotted a number of different types of fish, including a stingray.

We adapted quickly to the easy island life, and before we knew it our time in this paradise was up and we were heading to Rio. Our next and final stop in Brazil.

Paraty

Paraty is a small, old colonial town on the coast between São Paulo and Rio, considered to be one of the world’s most important examples of Portuguese colonial architecture. Interestingly, the cobbled streets are designed so that when there is a high tide the sea water cleans the streets—which you can see in one of the photos!

Paraty was very wet when we were there. However, on the one dry morning we had, we took a local bus to the town of Trindade, next to the best beaches in the area. After enjoying a couple hours of sunshine, the heavens opened and a tropical storm ensued! Despite the rain we didn’t let it dampen our spirits. We still had fun and even managed some swimming in a natural pool.

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.

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.