The trip to Brazil started with a delay but this time we were lucky because we were informed the day before our departure therefore we simply spent a day more home. Brazil is a huge country and the organization of this trip was one of the hardest for me because I wanted to squeeze the more I could into these 3 weeks trip therefore I changed idea 1000 times. The reason was that I wanted to see the coast from Rio to Florianopolis adding Foz Do Iguazu, but I also really wanted to see the Pantanal and the Amazon. At the end I had to give up – and I had to add Brazil to the bucket list of the countries I will be visiting again. I remember that when I told people I was planning to go to Brazil everybody got scared because of what you read and hear about how dangerous this country is – well to be honest with you I never felt in any danger throughout my whole trip. Saying that I obviously did book tours in Rio city, Favelas and Sau Paulo and we never walked by our self in these big cities apart from walking on the beach but in the other places we went we did and without any issues. Every country has dangerous areas – the important thing is to take precautions and avoid some areas or simply visit them with a local guide.
The reason why I decided to go in February was because I really wanted to experience the famous Brazilian Carnival. Please be aware that being so big the best time to visit Brazil changes from the places you want to go/visit. Therefore, I would suggest you decide first where to go before choosing the time of the year.
To travel around and because we wanted to see the most in relatively short time we opted for a bus pass with preselected stops along the way. The difference between a tour and a bus pass is that the length of the stay in each place is up to you – there is a schedule of the departure of the busses which allows you to pre organize your trip really easily.
Brazil is the largest country in South America and the fifth largest nation in the world. Brazil is also South America’s most industrial nation, producing chemicals, steel, aircraft & cars. It has borders with every South American country except Chile and Ecuador. Even though the two most famous cities of Brazil are Rio and Sao Paulo the capital is the city of Brasilia.
Brazil has many different soils and climates, so it can produce a great variety of crops. Its agricultural exports include sugarcane, latex, coffee, cocoa beans, cotton, soybeans, rice, and tropical fruits.
Being such a big country means also that here you can find a vast range of landscapes such as dense forests, (f.e. the Amazon – the world’s largest jungle famous for piranha & the pink river dolphin), dry grasslands (called pampas), swampy area (called the Pantanal, famous for the giant anacondas, huge guinea pig relatives called capybaras & caimans), rugged hills, pine forests, sprawling wetlands, immense plateaus & a long coastal plain. This diversity of soils & climate makes Brazil a great producer of a variety of crops such as sugarcane, latex, coffee, cocoa beans, cotton, soybeans, rice & tropical fruits.
The variety of wildlife is also due to the size of Brazil – it is said to be home to 600 mammal species, 1,500 fish species, 1,600 bird species & around 100,000 different types of insects.
Brazil has also a huge diversity of cultures – most Brazilians are descended from Amerindians, European settlers (mainly from Portugal) & Africans. From the 19th century onwards waves of immigrants from the Middle East & Japan came.
It is said that people were living in Brazil at least 32,000 years ago but it was not until the late 15th century (the great European explorations) that Brazil was added to the map of the world. By that time the country was populated by about 30 Mio indigenous people – nowadays the numbers have drastically dropped to about 300.000 (living primarily in remotes places).
The first Portuguese colony was established in 1530 – they created sugarcane plantations along the coast and sent diamonds and gold back to Europe using West Africans as slaves. Soon, people from West Africa were brought to Brazil to work as slaves.
Brazilians started to try to win back their country in 1789 but without success till 1888 as Brazil became a federal republic. It has to be said that the country struggled with democracy till 1985.
Rio De Janeiro general info & History
Rio de Janeiro is the capital of the Brazilian State of Rio De Janeiro which is one of the 27 states of Brazil. The city is the third largest metropolis of the country (after Sao Paulo & Brasilia).
The name Rio De Janeiro was given because on the day the city was established by Portuguese (in the year 1565). The Portuguese confused the Guanabara Bay with a river & it happend to be January. This misunderstanding lead to Rio De Janeiro = “January River”. It is also called “Cidade Maravilhosa” (gorgeous city).
Until late 17th century, Rio was a tiny city where sugarcane was cultivated & one of the main ports to receive African slave ships. It was not until the end of 17th century with the discovery of gold in Minas Gerais (Rio’s neighbor state) that the things changed. In 1763 Rio became the capital (instead of Salvador) and it stayed until the 1960. One of the main reasons of this change was that Salvador was too far from the gold mines.
The economic boom didn´t last long and in the 19th century the competition of other South American countries for the sugar cane production and the dwindle of the gold & diamond was leading to an economic crisis. That´s the time when Rio started exporting coffee.
In 1808 the Portuguese Royal family moved to Rio making it the first European capital outside of Europe. The reason why this happened was the conflict between Napoleon & Britain. During that time Napoleon had been able to conquer many countries in Europe but not England. So he decided to forbid selling or buying anything to and from the UK. By that time the economy of Portugal laid basically completely on Britain, therefore they continued exporting until the day the Royal Family was threatened to death. With the help of England they escaped to Rio where the Royal Family was supposed to open Brazilian ports to the commerce to England as well. The Royal Family spent 13 years in Brazil during which there was an economic growth.
Brazil´s independence was declared on September the 7th 1822 but it only extended to Rio, Sao Paulo & the adjacent provinces – the rest of Brazil remained under the control of Portugal. It was thanks to the war of independence which lasted till 1824 that the complete country became 100% independent. The Treaty of Rio De Janeiro which was signed by the Kingdom of Portugal and the Empire of Brazil on August the 29th 1825 recognized Brazil as an independent nation.
Our late arrival in Rio made us have to change plan. We wanted to start with a tour of Rio but due to the lack of time we decided to spend the afternoon on the 4,5km long Copacabana beach (our accommodation was in the Bairro Copacabana just 1 block away from the beach) which with historic forts at both ends of the beach (Fort Copacabana, built in 1914 – at the south/Fort Duque de Caxias, built in 1779 -at the north end) is probably the most famous beach of Rio. Don´t worry I will be talking about Rio at the end of this article since the trip ended there.
Ilha Grande general info & sights
The day after we left for Ilha Grande which due to its desolation served for decades as leper´s colony and then as the Cândido Mendes high-security prison (it was closed in 1994). Nowadays it is famous for nature lovers and being so close to Rio (3hours by bus and 45min by boat) makes it a lovely Rio Escape. I have read that on July the 5th 2019 it became an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is said to be one of the richest ecosystems in the world – 87% of the island is protected. The island is unmotorized therefore you will be walking throughout your stay but do not worry about your luggage. As soon as you get to the jetty (Abraao) there will be porters asking you if you need any help with that.
Please be aware that there is no atm on the island therefore do not forget to bring cash with you (maybe bring a bit more – you do not really want to miss out on things, do you?) Obviously, many places do take Visa and Mastercard but not all of them (maybe things have changed in those years).
Lopez Mendes Beach
We spent the afternoon on Lopez Mendes Beach which with its long, white sandy beach, crystal clear shallow waters & tropical palm trees is really gorgeous. Please be aware that if you wish to walk instead of taking a boat there you can do it. I was told that it takes around 2hours to get there. We decided to take a small boat till Praia do Pouso – from there we took a trail called “Amigos das trilhas” which takes you through jungle and palm trees & in 20minutes you reach Lopes Mendes.
There is a lovely restaurant on Praia Do Pouso called Bar Flutuante Marola were we stopped by while we were waiting for the boat to come to pick us up to get back to Abraao.
The Aventureiro Beach
Another gorgeous & famous beach is The Aventureiro Beach famous for its L-shaped palm tree. There is a trail starting from there called “Aventureiro – Proveta” which is 3,7km long – I do recommend you walk up this trail at least for 5-10minutes because you will have amazing views of the beach & the surroundings. Please be aware that this area is part of The Aventureiro Marine State Park which was created on November the 27th 1990.
Other Ilha Grande Sights
We spent the other days visiting the gorgeous beaches Ilha Grande offers such as Praia Angra dos reis, Caxadaco beach which is a tiny lovely beach surrounded by rocks from which you have a nice view. (Gopr1310) . Lagoa Azul, Lagoa Verde & Ilhas Botinas gopro1282.
Ilha Grande offers more than what I have written above such as diving, the 2-3hour hike to the top Pico de Papagio, the Cachoeira de Feiticeira (waterfall) are a few of them.
Paraty general info & sights
Our next stop was charming Paraty which is at around 3hours drive from Ilha Grande (obviously you need to take a 45m boat ride to get back on the main island). At the end of the 17th century Paraty was used as a stopover to transport gold from the mining area Minas Gerais. After a quicker road was made, Paraty started to lose its importance till the 19th century when it revived with the coffee boom. Parity’s colonial center with well-preserved whitewashed houses with colorful doors and cobblestone streets made it become a historical gem. Since 1966 the Brazilian government recognized it as a National Historic Site and on July the 5th 2019 it became an UNESCO World Heritage Site
Paraty is also famous for having gorgeous beaches and islands close by – a boat trip is a must if you come into this area. Praia da Lula, Lagoa Azul, Praia Vermelha and Ilha Comprida are only some of the beautiful places of this area.
The area of the Serra da Bocaina National Park has a lot to offer as well such as waterfalls and cachaça distilleries. One of the most famous and fun waterfall I have ever been is only 20 minutes away and is called Cachoeira do Toboga. I am pretty sure that this waterfall is different from all the other waterfall you might have seen due to its slick rocks where you can slide down to the pool surrounded by jungle. The slide is safe and quite fun even though locals do surf it I did slide down on my butt and I do suggest doing the same.
There are jeep tours departing for this waterfall on which you do stop to see other waterfalls as well such as Pedra Branca which can be reached through a 10min trail in the middle of the Atlantic forest.
Alembic Pedra Branca was the place where we were told the method of the cachaça making which dates back at around the 16th century and where we tasted a few of them. It is a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane which is used for example for the famous caipirinha.
There are different versions: the unaged one which is usually bottled immediately after distillation and the aged cachaca which is aged for up to 12months in wooden barrels or even up to 15years. There is a shop where you can buy some if you want to.
Sao Paulo general Info & sights
Sao Paulo was our next stop – the bus ride from Paraty takes around 6 hours. No food is provided on board, but you will be stopping a few times in places where you will find facilities and food to purchase. To be honest with you I did not particularly like Sao Paulo which is said to be the third-largest metropolis on earth, the largest city of Latin America & Brazil’s financial hub. The only thing which really impressed me (definitely not in a positive way) was the traffic. Saying that there are a lot of things to see – we have a friend in Sao Paulo who organized for us a driver who drove us around for half a day. Below is what we visited. Please consider that the traffic makes it hard to move around fast therefore we did not have time to see a lot and that is also the reason why I do suggest taking part at a Free walking tour of the city. I have read that there are 3 different Free walking tours (they last about 3 to 3 and a half hours): of the Old Downtown, Paulista Avenue & Vila Madalena.
Mercado Municipal is a large market & fruit lover’s paradise. If you want to try exotic fruits that’s the place. Apart from tasty fruit you can also find vegetables, cereals, meats, spices and other food. If you want to try exotic fruits that’s your place.
Catedral da Sé
The original version of the Catedral da Sé dates back to the indigenous leader Tibiriçá in 1591. The construction of the current one began in 1913 even though the inauguration was made in 1954 (without its two main towers). There are guided tours of the church & its crypt below the altar where Tibiriçá is buried.
With its collection of about 8,000 pieces by famous artists The São Paulo Art Museum Assis Chateaubriand (MASP) is one of the most important museums of the Southern Hemisphere.
Teatro Municipal houses São Paulo Municipal Symphonic Orchestra, the Coral Lirico and the City Ballet of São Paulo. The construction lasted from 1903 till 1911 and was inaugurated on September the 12th 1911.
Edificio Italia was built from 1956 to 1965. This 165m tall skyscraper has a rooftop observation desk open to tourists. Located on the 41st floor you will find a restaurant with gorgeous views of the town – please be aware that the restaurant is said to be one of the best in town but be also aware that it is quite expensive.
The day after we decided to have a nice walk in the Ibirapuera Park (opening hours 5am till midnight) which was inaugurated on August the 21st 1954 (the 400th anniversary of the city). This huge park has a lot to offer such as a large areas for leisure, museums, a planetarium, a music hall & much more. If you are tired of walking there is also a bike rental in the park which could be a lovely option.
As said before there are other interesting sights such as the Memorial da America Latina (which aim is to strengthen Brazil’s political, economic, social and cultural relations with other Latin American countries), the Museu do Futebol (which traces the history of football, Brazilian football legends & the World Cup Games) & Vila Madalena famous for graffities & street arts.
Florianopolis general Info & the stay
The bus from Sao Paulo to Florianopolis had 7 hours delay. In my opinion the bus driver made a lot of non-official stops to get more people on the bus. All the people who got on the bus during the trip did never receive a number for their bags (which is the normal procedure).
Florianopolis is the capital of the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina. Half of the city is on the mainland of Brazil while the other half is on the Santa Catarina Island. We decided to visit the part on the Santa Catarina Island which is connected to the mainland by the Hercilio Luz bridge.
Once arrived in Florianopolis – Floripa for locals – we rented a car to enjoy the most of this beautiful place and area. After the chaotic Sao Paulo we simply wanted to relax – in fact we visited some gorgeous beaches (if you are a surf addicted Floripa offers a lot of perfect surf locations) and took part at the big street party in Lagoa de Conceicao (which is 15km long and well known for water sports) held on February the 27th. We booked a room close to Lagoa De Conceicao and from there we drove every day to different beaches such as Barra Da Lagoa, Prainha da Barra, Lagoinha Do Este & Praia Mole.
The Açai Bowl, general info & legend
Floripa is where we became Açai Bowl addicted. We tried this Brazilian so-called superfood from Pará and the Amazonas (it has been used for many generations by the natives of Brazil) once for dinner and we couldn´t stop eating it. We found a lovely café close to Lagoa De Conceicao where they served it topped with granola, bananas, strawberry and much more. My favorite one was the Açai Bowl with fresh banana and strawberries – a refreshing antioxidating dinner.
But what is Açaí, what does it look like and why is it so- called superfood? Açaí berries are small round dark purple berries (they do look a lot like grapes) – their seed takes up about 80% of the berry, but the flesh and skin pack plenty of vitamins and other nutrients. Açaí are packed with antioxidants, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids & calcium and have also very low calories.
The Legend tells the story of an Amazon Indian girl named Iaca, whose father was the tribal chief. Due to the fact that the number of his tribe had grown too much there was not enough food for everybody – therefore he decided that all newborn had to be killed. This happened also to Iaca´s baby. After days crying she thought she heard a baby crying so she adventured herself around but the only thing she could find was a palm tree covered in fruit – she decided to lay underneath and died.
The day after she was found by the tribe & the berries were tasted. They were found to be a very nourishing food & therefore the chief named them after his daughter (Acai is Iaca spelled backwards).
Foz Do Iguacu general information & sights
Foz Do Iguacu Brazilian Side and the Argentinian side are both in the UNESCO designated Iguazu National Park and it was our last stop before heading back to Rio.
I have read very interesting info regarding Foz Do Iguacu which I would like to share with you:
- more than 95% of the Iguazu River basin is on the Brazilian territory but almost 80% of the falls is on the Argentinian side.
- it is the largest waterfall system in the world and it consists of around 270 waterfalls, it has a wide of 2700m wide and a height between 60 -82 m
- coatis, which are typical diurnal mammals of this area can be seen. Be careful because they do have a long and sensitive nose and if you happen to have food with you they will come to try to get it – so do not take food with you into plastic bags and especially do not walk around carrying your plastic bag close to the ground. We happen to see a girl whose food got eaten in a couple of seconds by coatis. They smelled it, opened the plastic bag with their nails and started to eat it. They are used to people therefore they are not afraid of you. Please do not get me wrong – these animals are not dangerous at all but keep your food away from them (the best thing is to put it in your backpack).
Visa Applications Argentinian Side for Aussies, Americans & Canadians
Please be aware that both side of the Falls are worth a visit but please be also aware that Australians, Americans and Canadians now must pay an entrance fee for Argentina. I have read that you can apply for this visa in advance and pay online with a credit card – you will just have to show your receipt which you will need to print from the online registration process, along with your passport at immigration control to get the visa for entry. Below the website from where you can apply for the visa: https://dnm.provincianet.com.ar/#
The visit itself
Once inside there are busses who will get you closer to the Falls – there are other stops along the way such as the bird park. Unfortunately, our time was tight therefore we started with the Brazilian side where a 1200m trail called Trilha das Cataratas” brought us to the bottom of Garganta do Diablo via the shore of the Iguacu river.
After that we went to the Argentinian side where the 1km long Paseo Garganta del Diablo trail took us on top the Garganta do Diablo from where you can admire this huge and gorgeous waterfall.
No visit to the waterfall is completed without a boat trip under the falls – hope for a lovely sunny day because you will be getting very wet. At least you don´t have to worry about your stuff as you will get waterproof bags before boarding the boat. The boat trip was very fun.
As already said we were really running out of time therefore we organized a private transport from the hostel to the falls and then directly to the airport. If you do not have the same problems as we had, you can get to the waterfall in a definitely cheaper way. There are busses departing from the bus terminal Rodoviario Urbano (the first one should leave at 8am and should run every 20minutes – you should also be able to buy tickets directly on the bus – but things may have changed during the years so please check with your hostel to be sure).
Rio De Janeiro sights
Once back in Rio we did walk around the Copacabana area and did some tours such as the Favela Tour & the Rio city tour.
Copacabana beach to Ipanema Beach walk
The beach walk from Copacabana beach to Ipanema beach passing by Praia De Diabo, Praia Do Arpoador & Praia De Leblon is a lovely walk. I even went for a quick swim. Please be aware that the currents can get very strong – if you are not a good swimmer you should probably not give it a go. I had some issues in getting out of the water because the currents kept pushing me back.
Christ the Redeemer
Located at the peak of Corcovado mountain (700-metre h) the Christ the Redeemer is an art deco statue that was built between 1922 and 1931. With its 30m height and 28m width it is majestic & listed in the New Seven Wonders of the world. We were told that the first suggestion of placing a Christian monument there came in the mid-1850s but that this was only approved in the 1920 after the Catholic Circle of Rio gave it another go.
The Pão de Açúcar
The Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf Mountain – 396m high) is another famous sight of Rio – it became World Heritage Site in 2012. This monolithic granite and quartz mountain can be reached by the Sugar Loaf Cable car (the first one opened in 1912) which runs every 30minutes and will take you from Praia Vermelha to Morro De Urca first and then to the summit. Obviously, the view from the top is amazing.
The Metropolitan Cathedral
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro has a modern conical form with four rectilinear stained-glass windows that start from the floor and go up till the ceiling.
Jorge Selarón’s are 215 steps covered in more than 2000 pieces of colorful tiles, mirrors and ceramic. Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón started working on this project in 1990 – they told us that he kept on working on this project till his death in 2013. It is an iconic & colorful place in Rio (used in documentaries, music video & much more).
Rocinha – a walk in one of the biggest favelas of Rio
The Favela Tour took us to Rocinha which is one of the biggest Favelas of Rio. Rocinha developed from a shanty town (settlement of improvised buildings) into an urbanized slum which is a densely populated area of almost all concrete and brick houses.
Today, almost all houses have basic sanitation, plumbing and electricity. Compared to simple shanty towns or slums, Rocinha has a better developed infrastructure along with stores, bus routes and even cable tv.
I personally found this tour very interesting. Please be aware that there are some areas in which you will have to put your camera away (if you don´t, somebody might come to get your memory card). Please be also aware that you will find kids and young people walking around with guns and you will also see kids/young people “waiting” for you / controlling you. As I said before there are some areas in which no photos are allowed, and they are there to control that you do not take photos and simply behave like you are told (f.e. you do not have to stare at them) by the tour guide.
Now the question that will come up is: is it safe to take a tour in the Favela? Well to be honest with you during this tour I must admit that I happened to feel uncomfy – seeing kids or people carrying around guns, squeezing past you is something I am not used to. Please do not get me wrong I did not feel in any danger but uncomfy while walking in some areas of this Favela. Said that I think that it is interesting to see it with your own eyes.
Rocinha is said to be one of the safest Favelas of Rio and therefore it does probably not completely correspond to the “real” favela – I do anyway think that it is worth a visit.
Regarding the danger and to be completely honest with you I read that in October 2017 a tourist was killed in Rocinha by a police officer during a shooting.
We were told that police and drug traffickers co-exist in a very complicated way which involves corruption. Even though shootings between them can happen. Nowadays Rocinha is controlled by the ADA but shootings for the control of Rocinha between them and the other two main factions such as the CV (Comando Vermelho) and the TC (Terceiro Comando) can happen as well.
These groups are the once who provide everything that is needed such as medicine, money etc. and they control that street crimes such as rape etc. are not committed. Saying that they are involved in drug trafficking, arm smuggling & much more.
There are a few tour operators that do this tour – I am not sure if every tour company does the same things and if you check on the internet you will see that none of them will explain exactly what you are going to see.
The tour itself
The tour starts from the top of Rocinha – from here you will have a nice and smooth walk descending all the way down through small alleys full of street arts.
We did make some stops along the way such as on some rooftops which allow you to have a 360-degree view of Rocinha. We did also stop at a local bakery, an art gallery, at a daycare center & to hear some locals playing music with improvised instruments. Please be aware that you do not feel forced to buy anything if do not want to.
Rio Carnival Champions Parade
Last but not least we managed to take part at the Rio Carnival – we were not in Rio to see the nonstop street parties (that last till Ash Wednesday), but we managed to get tickets for the Champions parade of March the 4th 2017.
We read that you should buy tickets long before – we bought them the day before but I do still suggest buying them before. Tickets do cost less than the tickets for the previous Sunday and Monday Parades of the 12 best schools.
The show started at 9pm and lasted till 6:30am. We went on our own and we felt safe – people sitting around us were all locals and very friendly. Obviously, they knew what to expect and they had some food with them which they offered us. You could really tell how they enjoyed being there and how they love this part of their culture.
The Champions parade consists of the top six samba schools (according to the judges’ evaluation) returning to the Sambadrome and perform an 80 minutes (each) terrific show.
The origins of Samba can be traced back to African slaves living in Brazil. It then developed as urban music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the favelas. I also read that there is a chance to join a samba school marching with them in the parade. To do so you need to get in contact with your preferred samba school – they are the once to tell you when you need to be in Rio & the song to memorize, but please be aware that you will need to buy a costume which I was told will be not cheap at all.
I was told not to bring my camera with me and I didn´t but I reckon that there are no issues at all in bringing it with you. After the show, be ready to wait in queue to get a taxi back home. Probably there are other ways to get back home, but we were so tired that we took the easiest and quickest way.
I think that taking part to the Rio Carnival is something that everybody should do (at least once in a lifetime) – obviously you do not need to stay till the end (but try to) – saying that I don´t think I will participate a second time. Please do not get me wrong because I loved it but at some point, I must admit that I felt sleepy, but this is a strong part of Brazilian culture therefore a must to see.