We were extremely fortunate and grateful to have Charlotte’s family out to pay us a visit over the festive period in Brazil. We spent two weeks starting in the former capital Rio de Janeiro, heading through Ilha Grande, Paraty, Iguazu Falls and finishing off the trip/starting off the New Year in Buzios. This post is a run-through of everything we got up to, however may not quite fit inside the traveller’s budget we’ve been blogging about until now!
Rio de Janeiro was probably one of our favourite places we’ve been to so far, it just has everything! As well as being a huge city, absolutely buzzing with character, it also has an expansive beach running around the city. We were also surprised as to how green it was, encircled by incredible green landscapes and mountains. We spent 3 nights here, and certainly managed to pack in a lot in this short time. Day one involved an early rise to catch Rio’s Wonder of the World, Christ The Redeemer, before the weather had a chance to cloud over. To get up, you catch a little open train most of the way before walking up to the small platform from which you can see it. We bustled through the crowds of tourists gazing in awe up at the 38m tall statue in front. It really is incredible, he is situated on the top of a hill and is lit up at night, so he appears almost to be looking over the city. We did have a giggle at the special mats tactically placed around the platform so that tourists can lay down and get the perfect photo angle looking up! You can also see incredible views of the city from up top, however sadly it was pretty cloudy when we were up there so we didn't get much of the view. As we descended in the tiny train, we saw floods of tourists queueing to go up… A word of advice, GO EARLY; it was crowded enough at the top even when we were there at 10am.
That day we also drove around and got the opportunity to see a lot of the city in one day. We drove through downtown Rio, which was for sure a highlight. All of the architecture comes from different periods and also is heavily influenced by other cultures, a lot of the apartment buildings and larger old houses look like they are straight out of central Paris. We also headed past the famous murals ‘Las Etnias’ which show 5 indigenous peoples faces, alongside the map of the continent from where they originate. The message conveyed by artist Eduardo Kobra is that we are all one and should not discriminate against those different from ourselves. The tour also took us through Leblon and Ipanema, both more upmarket neighbourhoods with beautiful, and clearly more expensive property. Our guide also told us that the beach in Ipanema was where all the young surfers hang out, especially around station number 9 (which we duly noted.) He also explained the revitalisation process of the city, and how previously there was a land bridge surrounding and pretty much isolating downtown. This process involved destroying the 40km of bridge and replacing it with a tunnel underground bypassing to downtown. In it’s place, they built the ‘Maua’ square which totally opened the area up and allowed for the construction of two new museums: The Museum of Tomorrow, a new interactive museum full of futuristic contemporary architecture, and the Museum of Art of Rio (MAR) which is shaped like a wave, because MAR translates as sea.
The second day we went up Pão de Açucar, otherwise known as Sugar Loaf Mountain. To get up you hop on the cable cars, which firstly take you to one platform where you get out and look around, and then take you up to the top. The views are in our opinion even more incredible than from the Christ statue! Firstly, there’s a lot more space and far less tourists, and secondly the 360 degree view is magical. There are little bars situated all over the mountain to sit and have a drink with the best backdrop possible… funnily enough the day we decided to visit there had been a private event held at one of the bars which hadn’t finished until 12pm that day, so much to our amusement we witnessed a slightly worse-for-wear looking crowd around our age stumble out just as we got up to the top! Sugar Loaf Mountain is 100% a must do viewpoint to see the whole city, we got down and were instantly claiming we had fallen in love with the city.
Next stop on our Brazil trip was Ilha Grande, an island about 4/5 hours total from Rio by car and boat. At first glance, the island reminded us of Capurganá, our first stop in Colombia. The island itself is massive, but there are actually only 4000 people who live in the town, and pretty much all of the island is covered by trees. The island has a super chill, laid back vibe, with beautiful beach restaurants spilling out onto the sand, and a very friendly, safe atmosphere. We spent two full days here, and on our first day hiked across from the main beach to Feticiera beach. The walk took in total about 2 hours, and was more challenging than we originally thought, so we would for sure recommend to wear trainers. En route you can also see some natural pools and a 20m waterfall cascading down below. The beach itself is really beautiful, like a small alcove hidden away, so we spent the day chilling out here before grabbing a water taxi back (we couldn’t face the hike both ways!) The evening meal was at Lua e Mar, a lovely beach restaurant serving some of the tastiest seafood risotto we’ve ever eaten. On day two we were lucky enough to do a boat ride the full way around the island, which was when we realised quite the scale of it! We hopped off at many different beaches along the way, amazed at each one being more tranquil and idyllic than the last. Our last meal was at Dom Mario, another great little find which had the most delicious ribeye steak and gorgonzola sauce… safe to say after indulging in this, we both passed out in bed shortly after, full tummies and massive grins.
The day we travelled to Paraty (where we would be spending Christmas), we couldn't quite believe that it was Christmas Eve. Considering our last few months, we couldn't feel less Christmassy! (Although we were totally ok with that… Paraty is hardly a shabby alternative). Our 3 days in Paraty involved lots of poolside chilling, tanning, mojitos, christmas songs, and of course a viewing of ‘The Holiday’, in attempt to get ourselves in the spirit. Although a very different to normal Christmas Day, we still exchanged presents and put on santa hats, and by the end of the day we decided that Christmas in the sunshine might have to be made a regular thing (once we’ve made our money!) On Boxing Day we strolled around the old historic town, which was so picturesque. The cobbled streets filled with boutique clothing stores, delicious restaurants, and more upmarket street sellers looked like something from the front of a postcard. That afternoon we wandered to the pier and haggled with the many boat drivers to take us across to a restaurant on Ilha Algodao called Restaurante do Hiltinho. The boat ride was great fun, and the restaurant even better, a proper hidden gem on an almost isolated island. That evening we indulged in what was probably the most delicious food we have eaten since we left the UK, at a restaurant called Banana Da Terra, before heading back to the hotel ready for our early morning wake up for the next leg of the adventure!
The Iguazu Falls were something we had both been most looking forward to before leaving the UK, and they certainly did not disappoint. Weather forecast and the whole previous week at the falls predicted a full day of rain, however on the morning of the 27th, we awoke to bright blue sky which made us even more excited for the day ahead. We had crossed the border onto the Argentinian side, something we would highlight to any other travellers that having seen both sides, the Argentinian side is more impressive as you can see a lot more. There are around 275 falls in total, and in the last 20 years it has become a lot more explored as a tourist attraction. In the late 90’s there were an estimated 300.000 visitors per year, however now there are over 1.5 million visitors due to tourism and the increasing popularity of ecological attractions. Even the Iguazu National Park is incredible in itself, it stretches 252.000 hectares, and is home to all sorts of mad wildlife such as jaguars, deer, pumas, capybaras, and apparently 900 varieties of insects. Christie fell victim to this as she bent down to take a photo of the coati’s (similar to racoon’s) and about 10 of them jumped onto her bag inside which were a lot of pain au chocolates nicked from the breakfast buffet! Walking towards the falls, you can hear them long before you can see them, and on approach you can even feel the spray hit you. From all of the Iguazu Falls, there are 1.5 million litres of water per second that hit the rocks below! It’s impossible to even comprehend or begin to explain how much water this is, but it’s even more incomprehensible that when there was a flood in 2014, this quantity was 47.5million litres. The height of the falls are normally around 82m and during this flood, the water was up to 50m and completely destroyed the bridge that tourists walk along every day to reach the viewpoints! We spent about 3 hours walking around the falls, gawping at the scale and beauty of them, watching the millions of litres cascade onto the rocks below every second. We were so lucky with the weather as the sunshine merged with the spray of the falls to create a rainbow literally across the ‘Devil’s Throat’ part of the falls into the water, it really was magical. The highlight of the day was taking a boat ride underneath the waterfalls, as we literally drove inside them we all squealed with excitement, the driver first of all teasing us before driving totally underneath one of them. We emerged fully soaked and beaming with amazement - we had just been inside one of the natural wonders of the world! What a day... And to finish it off we went to a mad little place called 'The Argentine Experience', where upon entering the restaurant we were told we must 'keep an open mind.' Unsure of what the evening had ahead of us, we did just that. A cocktail making class, some empañada shaping, a seriously tasty steak and unlimited Malbec throughout the evening made for one of the best nights yet. Any cooking fanatics who enjoy novel and fun experiences should for sure take a look into a night here! Our last day at Iguazu was spent making the most of the hotel (by this I mean we devoured the buffet multiple times and squeezed in as many tester moisturisers as we could fit, in preparation for going back at it ourselves!)
The last stop of our two weeks living the high life was in Buzios, which many people liken to Saint Tropez. Our 4 days in Buzios crossed over both New Years Eve and Charlotte’s Dad’s birthday, so it’s safe to say there was a lot of celebrating. Buzios the town is extremely beautiful, cobbled streets line way for lots of boutique shops, trendy restaurants and bars, and many Pousada (known to us as small boutique hotels.) New Years Eve in Brazil comes with its own traditions, many that are similar to ours… Firstly everyone dresses in white, so it creates a beautiful spectacle wandering the streets. After eating enough food to feed us for days we all came together to watch the fireworks set off at midnight. What was really special wasn’t actually the main display, but the view of the mainland we got as we saw hundreds of firework displays across the far horizon being set off in unison. After this we walked down to the sea to throw flowers into the sea, a tradition which stems from ‘Lemanja’ who is a popular goddess in Brazilian myth, who is believed to have control of the waters. As tradition goes, everyone is to appease her with gifts on New Years Eve, normally in form of flowers or lighting candles. NYE in Brazil was certainly a night to remember, and we both agree we dream of returning and spending it on the beach in Rio! After a hell of a lot more eating, drinking, and sunning ourselves, the day to say farewell came around far too quickly. We were for sure feeling like princesses after this two weeks, and nervous about the return back to hostel life… However with Florianópolis as the next stop, and a month in Argentina to look forward to, we left equally as excited as when we had arrived.