Writing this from a cosy hostel in wintertime Mendoza, Argentina, while we read about heatwaves over in the UK it’s hard to believe we’ve been on the road for 6 weeks now – it kind of feels like no time at all and ages at the same time if that makes any sense. Reassuring though that we’re this far in, have survived so far without any major incidents or arguments, and are still having an amazing time! So I wanted to take this opportunity to remember some sunnier days and write about our 8 days in Brazil, which was an incredible first step into South America.
This post is a little late in coming, I’m feeling pretty lazy this week and we’ve both been struck with mild colds, but I wanted to pull together a quick overview of our time in Brazil, stop number 1 in South America where we’re travelling for around 2.5 months in total. Our flight tickets had us landing in Rio while the Olympics were taking place so whilst our initial plans were to explore Rio de Janeiro for a few days before heading out of town and up to Iguassu Falls and across to Argentina, once we saw the prices of hostels during the games we decided to rejig our plans a bit. This meant taking some extra time to explore Brazil, including Ilha Grande, which turned out to be a great decision 🙂
8 days in Brazil still isn’t a huge amount of time considering we were exploring the biggest country in South America but we had a pretty good time trying – Brazil is actually the fifth largest country in the world, the largest producer of coffee for the last 150 years and one of just 17 global “megadiverse” countries, so it would probably take longer than our entire trip schedule to do it justice. Before I rattle on with this post, I’ll admit that unlike our earlier adventures chronicled on this blog you won’t be reading much from me about costs / budgets / details as to be completely honest, I’ve stopped counting (sorry Dad). Despite our best intentions to budget strictly and update spreadsheets I’m currently using a mental abacus system to approximate whether we’re on budget, over budget or about right, so we’ll see how that works out over the next few months, as we rapidly spend all our cash…
So, 8 days in Brazil, here’s what we got upto:
Stop 1 – Ilha Grande
A small island about 150 km from Rio, Ilha Grande is a tropical paradise that’s home to jungles, monkeys, beautiful beaches, amazing food and some pretty impressive tropical storms. We used Green Toad Bus for our transfers and found them pretty good – at about $75 each for the return journey you can find cheaper, but these guys did the job for us.
This one was a bit of a write off. We left Cancun at 4pm on Friday and arrived in Rio at 7am Sunday two plane journeys later, before a further tortuous expedition courtesy of several buses and a ferry boat left us on the island of Ilha Grande at about 4pm. Everyone lives for those 24 hour journeys while backpacking right…?
We reached our hostel (in a pouring rain storm) to discover that those long hot showers we’d been eagerly anticipating weren’t going to happen. Nope. Cold water only. Ahhh, how we laughed. Once we’d put our first world problems to one side, and mentally adjusted to the situation however, we decided to crack on and have a good time regardless and after a quick wander round Abraao we headed to the bar for our first of many rounds of Caipirinhas, the Brazil gold medal football game and a delish pay-per-kilo dinner.
In spite of the somewhat basic standards (remember we’re new to this!) – day one was a great start to our 8 days in Brazil.
We got up bright and early for breakfast and decided after our cold showers of yesterday that we’d wait until later after a good hike to see if hot water would be forthcoming. There’s tons of hiking options on Ilha Grande if that’s your thing, and we picked a easy to moderate route to a beach across the island via a waterfall – Cachoeira da Feiticeira – that’s around an 8km round trip. The hike was good fun, and the beach we ended up at was beaut. We also met an Olympics family which was pretty exciting! A lovely family from Sheffield with a son in the diving competition who we spent some time chatting with and also bumped into again a few days later who were taking the opportunity to explore Brazil together after seeing the games.
As we headed back to the village after our second of 8 days in Brazil, another storm seemed to be blowing in, with tree branches blowing all over the place and monkeys screaming blue murder in the trees to one another. When we arrived back to our hostel to find it illuminated with tea lights and lanterns we learnt that a falling tree somewhere in the jungle had taken out some wiring, leaving the island without power. Apparently this isn’t unusual in winter, and it can take a while before things get back up and running again. Best thing to do in our experience is settle in at a restaurant / bar with its own generator and enjoy pizza and wine til bedtime.
Thunderous rain overnight meant we woke up to the inevitable continuation of no power, and decided to get out hiking again regardless to make the most of our time on the island. Ilha Grande is home to a beach called Lopes Mendes – famous for being one of the top 10 beaches in the world according to Vogue – although I cannot find a source for this, and appearing regularly in many other ‘top beach’ lists. It’s about a 6k hike there from Abraão, the main hub of the island and the port town we were based in. If it hadn’t been so slippery due to the rain it would’ve been pretty easy but we found parts challenging and I stacked it going downhill a few times so be careful if you try it in bad weather!
Hiking through the jungle we were lucky enough to spot a family of tiny monkeys that we spent around half an hour watching, and reached the beach in just under 3 hours. We obviously didn’t witness it in the best weather but it was still pretty stunning, and definitely a trip I’d recommend if you make it to the island. Whilst you can hike back again using the same route, we took the easy way out and got a speedboat back from the beach you cross before getting to Lopes Mendes.
Our final night on Ilha Grande consisted of Caipirinhas on the beach and a quick siesta before we enjoyed some amazing traditional Brazilian fish stew at a small beach restaurant.
We woke later than usual to discover the storm had blown over, the sun was out and the power was back on! Sadly, we had to catch our ferry boat back to the mainland at 10.30am before heading to Rio… nevermind. That’s the problem with travelling on a tight timescale, you can’t always be as flexible as you’d like. Mind you, even though the last 3 days reads like a bit of a travel horror story we had an absolute blast on Ilha Grande – we’re so glad we went, and its such a beautiful, chilled out, tropical paradise island, we’d definitely go back again if we had the chance to.
Stop 2 – Rio de Janeiro
No introduction needed really – our second stop on our 8 days in Brazil itinerary was the famous Rio de Janeiro. We arrived a couple of days after the Olympics ended, and despite reading all the horror stories on the Daily Mail had a much better time than we expected, and even managed not to get robbed at knife point – bonus!
Day 4 Cont.
Not too much to report here – after a 6 hr journey we arrived at our hostel in Copacabana before having a mooch down to the beach and spending some time planning the next few days. If you do go to Rio and want budget accommodation, I’d recommend El Misti Rooms – we paid around £100 for 4 nights in a 4 bed dorm, and had a great time. All of the staff are really friendly and helpful, speak great English, and there’s loads of recommendations and options for tours and things to do – you can also have dinner at the hostel for a fiver each which we did a couple of nights to save money. We also enjoyed hot showers which was a real delight after Ilha Grande!
Our first full day in Rio, and already on day 5 of 8 days in Brazil, we started with a free walking tour where we met in Carioca Square to explore Lapa and Downtown. These areas have a reputation for being particularly dodgy, especially at night, so we figured one of these tours would be a good introduction. It’s the first walking tour I’ve done and it was pretty good, especially for getting an overview of the history and geography of a new city, leaving you more confident to explore alone afterwards.
Some highlights included seeing some nice RC churches as well as the National Theatre, Lapa Arches and famous Escadaria Selarón also known as the ‘Selaron Steps’. The steps are considered to be one of the most iconic sites in Rio and are definitely worth a visit – they’ve appeared in loads of TV commercials, as well as music videos featuring Snoop Dogg, Michael Jackson and U2. We also went to an amazing bakery – Brazilians love their cakes and this place was awesome – definitely check out Confeitaria Colombo if you get a chance.
After the tour we headed to the cable cars that take you up Sugarloaf Mountain, another iconic Rio location, and spent a sunny afternoon exploring. We also got to see a beautiful sunset from the mountain before enjoying more Caipirinhas and soaking up the views of the city.
Today was pretty lazy – we’d had way too many Caipirinhas at the bar and slept late. We decided to spend a day wandering round the Botanical Gardens and the beaches – spending time sunbathing on Ipanema and walking down Copacabana to see some of the remnants of the Olympics and a couple of famous statues that Rob wanted to check out.
Our last day in Rio was a bit more active as we made the great decision to save some money on buses and hike up to see Christ the Redeemer. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this. Whilst it’s definitely the top tourist spot in Rio and no visit is really complete without seeing the 30 metre high statue of the man himself up close, my personal recommendation would be to spend the money and take the buses / trains provided. The hike was pretty epic – whilst it only took 1.5 hours, it did include scaling some rock faces and some seriously steep and scrabbly sections. If you have 8 days in Brazil, seeing Christ the Redeemer is an absolute must!
What was really good is that despite hearing lots of reports of how rammed the area at the top was and how difficult it had been for many people to get a decent view and pictures, it was fairly quiet when we arrived mid afternoon, and we spent a good hour or so soaking up the views of the city and seeing the statue from different angles. It’s also another one of the New 7 World Wonders, which makes 2 we’ve seen so far on this trip!
Stop 3 – Foz do Iguaçu
More about this one right here – one of the 7 New Natural Wonders, it’s definitely worth a visit – another stunning natural location we’ve been lucky enough to see on our trip so far.
Our final day of our 8 days in Brazil was spent travelling up to Foz do Iguaçu – a 2 hr plane journey or 23 hr bus journey from Rio. We opted to fly – which cost around £75 each including baggage and felt a lot more reasonable than spending a whole day on the bus… plenty of time for that later in our trip.
Rob’s written about this in tons of detail, so I’ll just say if you have 8 days in Brazil do try and make it to Iguacu Falls – it’s definitely worth seeing and you only need a day to see all the highlights. It’s also a great place to cross the border into Argentina, and you can even take a trip into Paraguay if that takes your fancy!