One of the things that made Rio so great, I thought, was that it both had great selection of beaches (Copacabana, Ipanema and Lebron) and lots of hikes and sights close to the city. There was no need to make compromises as we could spend several days relaxing at the beach and then have most of the sights done with a single day tour that we had booked in advance as everything was within such a close distance. In our packed day trip we first set off to see a waterfall, that I must say did not impress a single bit as we had just seen Iguassu Falls and were soon heading back to Norway where big waterfalls are sights as common as the many eucalyptus fields we had spotted while driving here in Brazil.
Next stop was the Corcovado mountain, where shuttlebuses and an elevator took us up to the summit where statue of “Christ the Redeemer”, one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, was awaiting us. The platform where the statue was standing had great panoramic views over the city from all angles, but was just increadibly small for the amount of tourists that were there. There was no way of getting a picture with more than your head together with the statue without getting at least ten more people in your picture. The place was quite claustrophobic and we were happy to say “been there, seen that” and leave after just ten- fifteen minutes there.
From there we drove with a beautiful view through our windows, through the hilly neighbourhood of Santa Therese, where all the rich people fled to escape the tubercolosis that was raging downtown in the sixteenth century. After that we stopped sor lunch and a walk through the Selarón Stairway in Lapa, made of random tiles from all over the World. It was quite interesting to see how there were three tiles from Norway, including one saying “God Jul”/ “Merry Christmas”, while there were over ten from Khazakstan, including one tile for every letter in the countrys long name.
When the tour was finished we had the option of getting dropped off at our hostel or at the bottom of the Sugarloaf Mountain, which is the symbol of Rio and a place that really has to be visited for a sunset view. We had heard that walking a path halfway up (took us 30mins) was gonna get us half price on the tickets, but we soon found out that those rhumors were false and that there is no way of escaping the 30 usd that the cable car costs other than bringing your student id which gives you half price on the ride.
After having seen the upper class houses in Sao Paulo just a few days earlier, it was also quite interesting to do a guided trip to Rochina (means little farm) which is the biggest Favela (Brazilian shantytown) in Rio de Janeiro. Here it is said that over 1% of the population do drug dealing, and our friends who had done the same tour a week before got their tour cut short because there was a murder occuring in the favela at the time they were there. When taking pictures in all directions, we caught some people shying away from the cameras and hiding their faces. “Thats just because they are drug dealers”, said the guide, but even though the favela was full of crime, really poor, dirty and noisy, a lot of the people we met were smiling friendly at us and kids were happy to pop up in front of our cameras for pictures.
Now I feel absolutely no need to go to Rio for the Carnival or when the World Cup kick off, as the city is definately both expensive and lively enough already, and I would have guessed double prices and owercrowding could not make a stay here better. Go see some samba in the clubs, hike the summits, visit the stadiums for a football game or just relax on one of the many beaches and I am sure you will also love Rio as much as we did.
Just some travel tips you should consider when traveling to Rio:
Brazil is pretty expensive, and Rio even more so! Expect to pay around 30 dollars for a dorm bed if you want to stay near the beach (eg. the one we stayed at).
If you are on a budget, you should consider eating at the many “por kilo” houses where you weigh the food you choose from a buffet and order drinks from the waitors. The tap water in Rio is also the best I have tasted in South America and drinking that instead of bottled water can save you some money.
The Hippie Market in Ipanema is huge, runs every Sunday and should be visited if you can. Because we were tired from turning our clocks around we did not go, but we got to visit the night markets that open at 6pm on weekdays which we found great for shopping, and we were told that the Hippie Market was even better!
If you decide to visit the favela you should really go with a guide in order not to get lost and go to the wrong places, but the rest of Rio (and Sao Paulo) felt really safe and clean and prepared for the World Cup starting here in two weeks.
Paraty is a small town on the coast of Brazil, between Sao Paulo (six hours) and Rio de Janeiro (four hours). Beautiful, old and calm are the words best describing the city and when going here it is worth staying for a few nights. We had four, which was great for just relaxing and laying on the beach.
The roads in the old center are paved with rocks, but not like the ones you find in old European cities. The city center roads are made up with huge rocks, and although it is beautiful and really old it is a pain to walk and drive on.
During the time we were there, there was a jazz festival called the Bourbon Festival, a free annual even that lasts for three days. All hostels and hotels were full and the city center was packed with mainly Brazilian tourists that had come for the concerts. On our last day on the monday everyone had escaped the city and there were just us and a handful of other tourists to see in the streets, which was great as we were exhausted from the night before and just wanted to relax. Our hostel was located right on Jabaquara beach, which was just a ten minute walk from the city center and a really quiet place to do so. The prices here in Paraty are also a bit more expensive than the other places we have been in Brazil so far, which probably has to with it being really small, but still a very popular destination for tourists. Boat rides over to Ihla Grande are also expensive (85usd) but take just one and a half hour with speed boat. Booze cruises with sail boats are also a popular activity with a much better value for the money (40usd) and everyone in our group did so but us. It is drawing towards the end ouf our trip and our travel budget so the last day here in Paraty we will just use to charge up for our last stop on our journey which is Rio de Janeiro.
|Kids getting the city ready for the 2014 World Cup starting in two weeks|
Initially we were supposed to stay two nights in Brotas, a small city four hours outside of Sao Paulo known for its outdoor activities such as rafting, canyoing and mountain biking, but instead we after just a night we decided to jump off our organised tour and travel to Sao Paulo by ourself instead.
Mauricio, a Brazilian guy from Sao Paulo that I studied with in the US met us when we arrived and drove us around to show us his city. And in a place with 22 million inhabitants there were one city center for each of the many districs so a car was more or less neccessary to get a good overview of the massive city. On our bus ride on the way into the city we had seen huge areas with settlements of shabby huts known as favelas. It was a bit sad to see that the majority of people in the suburbs were living under poor conditions while the nicer areas in the city housed people with several cars in their garages. Mauricio and his friends were of the latter and for us that had gotten used to roughing it with our overland truck and tents it was great to relax in a nice house with good food and a soft bed.
In the evening we went to a couple of parties of his college friends. Friends who belonged to the few percent of Sao Paulo who are super rich. As a contrast to the upcoming Favela tour in Rio it was a true experience to see their multi floored houses that had swimming pools, tennis and basketball courts, gyms and plenty of other rooms, all protected by tall walls with electric fences on top and security guards. They also drove bullet proof cars and had drivers, maids and gardeners to help them in their daily life.
At both house parties that we visited we felt very welcome and people were very interested in hearing about our home country and our journey so far. Everyone also told us that the North of Brazil was the place to go, and since we will fly home in just a week and will not have time to do so, we will definately have to come back some day. And then we we will also make sure to spend some more time with our new gotten friends in Sao Paulo, the biggest city in South America.
|One of the houses we visited in Sao Paulo
The huge areas where the poorer people live, this one taken from Rio
Should you still be wondering what the Pantanal really is, it is he Worlds Biggest Wetlands in the center of South America stretched between Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. It has more than hundred species of mammals, hundreds of species of birds and thousands of species of plants. To get there you probably would have to book a tour from a travel agency in advance, that would typically include a stay at one of the farms with all food and safaris included. When people look for wildlife experiences in Brazil it is usually the Amazon that gets all the attention, but since the Pantanal probably probably will surprise you with animals that you have not heard of before, and sine these are so easy to spot in the open landscape, you should really consider going to the Pantanal instead.
Even though we did not see much animals other than hawks and caymans on the river it was still a great paddling trip. The water was as quiet as it could be, and reflected the sun and blue sky that was over us. Halfways we also stopped to try some traditional Brazilian mate tea, which was served ice cold to us while we were listening at stories about the flora and fauna. It was not before noon that we got back, which was perfect as the food had just gotten ready when we arrived at the lodge.
95 percent of Pantanal territory belongs to private owners, and the farm we stayed at, Fazenda San Fransisco was over 15 000 hectares big. For the afternoon we went horseback riding, which like the canoing earlier was within the boundaries of the farm. Just a few minutes riding away from our lodge we saw an armadillo, an ant eater and lots of falcons and other birds. We rode for a couple of hours through fields with cows, wet mud and high grass in the heat and finished with a little cooler sunset.
In the evening we had a lecture about the story, geography and biodiversity of the Pantanal which was really interesting before having a late night barbeque at one of the nearby mountains.
After dinner it had become dark and at 6.30 we set off to go on a night safari, to try to spot some of the nocturnal animals that wander around in the wetlands at night, which there were many of. We managed to see some tapirs (the biggest mammal in South America), ocelots (which look like small jaguars), copybaras (worlds biggest rodent), ant eaters (which were much bigger and hairier than I had imagined!) and lots of ouls. Pantanal is filled with all kinds of exciting animals, many which I did not even know existed, and I almost cannot wait until we will get to see it all in daylight on safari drives the next couple of days.