Brazil – An enchanting country which has welcomed visitors for hundreds of years. Whether you are into adventure or just want to relax on the beach. Brazil has got thousands of opportunities for everyone and therefore makes it a perfect holiday destination.
Our great Brazilian adventures started off with the Iguazu falls (one of the seven natural wonders of the World) in Foz do Iguazu. We both have seen quite a number of waterfalls in our lives but when we actually saw the falls honestly none of them came even close to the Iguazu Falls. Divided between Argentina and Brazil the falls are one of the most majestic natural wonders of the world. Featuring 275 individual drops of varying heights and widths and special walkways built to bring you straight into the heart of it all, you’re sure to be awed here.
The name Iguazu comes from the indigenous Guarani or Tupi language, meaning “big water.” Legend has it that a god planned to marry a beautiful woman named Naipí, who eventually fled with her mortal lover Tarobá in a canoe. In a rage, the god sliced the river, creating the waterfalls and condemning the lovers to an eternal fall. The Iguazu Falls stretch in width for 2.7 kilometres and the height varies between 60 metres and 82 metres. This makes the Iguazu Falls taller than Niagara Falls and twice as wide.
With access points from both the Argentinian side (Cataratas de Iguazu) and the Brazilian side (Foz do Iguaçu), it’s hard to know how best to share your time. It’s well worth spending a day on each side of the falls, especially if you plan to do any other activities. Since we only had a visa for Brazil therefor we were restricted only to the Brazilian side.
Though the walk along the Brazilian side is relatively shorter, but there are many activities that can be done on the Brazilian side. From virtually every angle, one can see the entire panorama of cascades. For an even better aerial view, you can also opt for a helicopter ride (only available on the Brazilian side). But the fact that the falls are farther away doesn’t mean you don’t get to feel the spray of water on your face. Special walkways that rise from the base give the sensation that you are walking on the edge of the waterfalls, staring down into the endless depths. At the end of the route, you’ll find yourself right in the heart of the Devil’s Throat (Garganta Del Diablo), with water spraying in all directions.
Two things I would definitely recommend on the Brazilian side is the Macuco Safari where you can take a speedboat into the falls or should I say right under the falls!!!! After getting totally soaked, the Brazilian side offer a more sedate but equally gratifying views. The other attraction is the Bird Pak (Parque das Aves) which is home to more than 200 species of birds native to Brazil, including the macaw, toucan, and jay. It is a ten-minute taxi ride away, but well worth the visit.
Top Tip – The Belmond Das Cataras hotel (where we stayed) is directly inside the national park so it is very useful to stay in this hotel, then you have access to the falls before the opening and after the closing times. You can really get some good photos in the morning and the evening.
VISTING THE CIDADE MARVILLHOSA
There are literally a million and one things to do in Rio de Janeiro and it’s no wonder why they call this place the “Marvellous City (Cidade Marvillhosa).” It is a city where everything blends into everything else, the old and the new, the fast and the slow, the rich and the poor.
On the first day we booked ourselves into a city tour which worked out cheaper than doing it ourselves. We got all the cultural stuff and it gave us plenty of time on the beach. We started with historic downtown which is blend of historic Portuguese colonial architecture, modern city life and that famous Brazilian atmosphere. Every colonial building we saw had its own story and was overlooked by a tall modern skyscraper. We stopped for a while at the Lapa Arches, Sambadrome (where the famous carnival takes place) and the made our way to the Escadaria Selaron (the famous Lapa Steps). They were created by Chilean Artist Jorge Selaron, who bought a house in the Lapa District of the city back in the 1980’s and began sticking broken tiles to the walls of the filthy, neglected stairs which ran past his home, linking the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighbourhoods. His work started to gain the attention of local passers-by, then travellers from around the world, many of whom donated tiles from around the world to the project, although he also painted some tiles himself. The place was quite phenomenal and the local Cariocas take much pride in it.
Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro which is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro
A fun fact we learned: hip-hop producers Snoop Dogg and Pharell filmed parts of their “Beautiful” music video on these steps.
After lunch we slowly made our way to Christ the Redeemer, everyone’s list of things to do in Rio de Janeiro. We slowly reached at the top of the Corcovado Mountain and had our first view of this 38 metre high state of Jesus Christ. It was like seeing a monument which you may have seen a thousand pictures but standing in front of it, at touching distance, the enormity of not just the structure, but also the reputation of what lies in front of you hits you. We spent about an hour here and then made our way to the last stop the Sugarloaf Mountain.
Sugar Loaf is a very popular view point and a quintessential landmark that signifies Rio. The name Sugar Loaf comes from its resemblance to the traditional shape of a concentrated refined loaf sugar. Second to Corcovado mountain, Sugar Loaf is the most visited mountain in Rio and rightfully so, as it gives a solid panoramic view of Rio. We spent the whole evening here capturing beautiful images of Rio’s coastlines in the evening.
One of the very fascinating things we found about Rio is the coexistence of so many beaches and the Tijuaca Forest, world’s largest urban tropical forest in the same city. So people are truly spoilt with a choice of either hiking up a hill in the forest or relaxing on a beach. Being ardent nature lovers we chose to do both and thus started off with our hike first. We chose to hike up the Pedra Bonita Mountain which was 2 km hike with an easy trail. We were joined by our friend and guide MaryRe Kalache (https://itsuptoyou2016.wordpress.com/ ) who gave many interesting stories and facts about the city. Once on the top we got magnificent views of the Tijuaca Forest, Sao Conrado beach and the Pedra da Gávea Mountain. While coming back we also stopped to watch some beautiful waterfalls and the hang gliders taking off from the top. Though it seemed like a fun activity to do but we could hear Copacabana beach calling our names 🙂 so we decided to go back to relax on the beach.
ILHA GRANDE – A LITTLE PIECE OF PARADISE
After spending a couple of days in Rio we decided to head out to Ilha Grande (one of the lesser known islands near Rio) for our next stop. After a 3 hour journey we finally made our way to the tropical island. The first thought when we reached the island was it was pure paradise – pristine, unspoiled and still inexpensive. Well, almost unspoiled. There were hordes of tourists but there were no cars on the island. White sand beaches, rustic Pirates-of-the-Caribbean ambience, people lazing away in hammocks, a harbor speckled with small weathered sailboats.
We slowly made our way to the Lopes Mendes beach (a regular candidate in the World’s best beaches). To reach the beach we needed to hike through a rain forest. As soon as we entered the forest we felt like we were walking in the Amazon. The earth was root-riven and orange. Bamboo as thick as thighs with deep green fans. There were little birds singing among the leaves. And there was humidity … a humidity which stifles breath and boosts perspiration that drenches whatever clothes you’re wearing.
After trekking for about an hour we got our first view of the stunning Lopes Mendes beach. Stretched beyond us was a 3 km expanse of the whitest and finest sand stretching out to the calm and crystal blue ocean. It was nothing like Copacabana or Ipanema with deckchairs and ice cream stalls. It was just a vast swathe of empty sand with the great static wave of greenery behind it. We quickly secured ourselves a spot and then ran out like kids onto the ocean. The rest of the day we spent snorkeling and swimming the crystal blue waters.
The last 2 days we again spent in Rio before flying back home. Finally to end our holiday, for a moment of calm we decided to head to the Botanical Gardens before boarding our flight. The Botanical garden was built by the Portuguese and has got around 6500 species of plants. It was a very relaxing afternoon followed by our final POR KILO meal :). Por Kilo – one of the most interesting meal concepts which I have seen. You go in a restaurant where you have full buffets with a choice of at least 50 dishes, you take how much ever and whichever dish you want, get it weighed and eat as much as you like. This gave us the freedom to try as many dishes as possible without restricting ourselves to only one or two.
And finally I will address the million dollar question which many people ask when you say you will be visiting Rio. Is Rio really unsafe? The answer is Yes and No. Parts of Rio especially the Favelas which have not been pacified are pretty dangerous and the Lapa at night is also not the safest place. If you walk around with a lot of gold on you, you will surely be mugged so the safest and the easiest way is to walk around jewellery free and also with only cash on yourselves. Now I found these precautions a little bit disconcerting because I couldn’t carry myself in the city the way I wanted to but hey “when in Rome be a Roman.” What I felt was if you are careful, stay aware of your surroundings and stay out of certain areas at certain times, it’s a normal city like any other in the World.
It’s a developing nation and there is a divide between rich and poor, there are different cultures which bring friction but it’s this diversity which brings colour to Rio. Add on to that the energy of Brazilians and magic of nature, where you can surf, trek and paraglide on the same day and have a great party at night. This is what makes Rio “a must visit” destination of the World.