South America has always been at the top of my ‘Bucket List’ to visit. It’s a part of the World where, except for Cancun in Mexico, I haven’t been or know that much about. For that reason, I didn’t have to think twice when I was offered an Educational to Brazil with LATIN ROUTES, a specialist tour operator for South America.
My journey started at Heathrow with a flight to Rio, via Lisbon, with TAP Portugal’s national airline. It is also possible to fly direct with British Airways to Rio, and other South American cities, so look into the price differential between airlines before you book. Rio de Janeiro, River of January in English, was the capital of Brazil until 1960. Even today most still think it is.
We were transferred from the airport to our Hotel, overlooking the famous Copacabana beach. That evening we were treated to Brazil’s famous ‘Churrasco dining’ which if you’re a meat lover is amazing. You are offered over 16 different cuts and types of meat. Each person gets a small round placard that you can flip to the green "Yes, please" side to let the servers know you'd like more BBQ. The servers come around periodically with giant skewers of BBQ and cut you a slice/piece when you request it. When you’re full you flip the card to red ‘No thank you’. It was fantastic.
The following morning, we were up early to experience, what I imagined before the tour, would be the highlight of my whole trip. One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the magnificent Christ the Redeemer, the iconic statue on top of Corcovado Hill is Rio’s most famous landmark. The Corcovado Hill is part of the Tijuca Forest, the largest urban forest in the world. On the way to its top is the Dona Marta Belvedere, from where it is possible to see the Maracanã Stadium, the famous Guanabara Bay and the beautiful Sugar Loaf Mountain.
We embarked on a comfortable train that ascended the mountain towards the statue of Christ the Redeemer, located 2,300 ft above sea level. To be up close to the statue was a surreal experience which I have always wanted to see with my own eyes. The views were spectacular and the statue itself did not disappoint. The only thing that spoilt it a little was that it was so busy at the summit you felt a bit rushed when you were up there. I would recommend you visit early in the morning, on a weekday, to avoid the crowds. Also, a clear weather day is essential.
After our visit, we were taken on a jeep tour of Rio taking us through the back streets and experiencing the real City. I have seen many television programmes showing how dangerous parts of Rio can be, but I felt perfectly safe walking around the streets behind the seafront.
The lively local bars and restaurants are a must to try, with one or two Caipirinhas, Brazil's national cocktail made with cachaça (sugarcane hard liquor) sugar and lime, inside me it was easy to get chatting with the locals and partake in the occasional dancing. For our evening meal, we tried another Brazilian style restaurant. Unlike the buffet restaurants in the U.K where you pay per head, here you paid by the weight of your plate full of food! A very interesting concept which I don’t think will take off here.
Our next tour was a trip to Sugar Loaf Mountain. It was given its name due to its resemblance to the traditional shape of a refined sugar loaf. The journey to the top is made in glass cable cars. The first cable car takes passengers to the top of Urca Hill, which rises 215 meters above sea level and offers spectacular views of the entire bay and its surrounding islands. At Urca Hill, passengers take the second cable car to the top of Sugar Loaf, which rises 395 meters above sea level and offers a 360-degree view of the entire city including Botafogo and Copacabana Beaches, Corcovado Hill and Rio’s downtown. This again is a must when visiting Rio. The views are spectacular and give you a totally different aspect of the city in comparison to Corcovado Hill.
After 2 days of touring we were off to Buzios , a Brazilian beach resort 3 hours’ drive from Rio. Here we could re-charge our batteries with over 200 beaches to choose from and a relaxed Caribbean atmosphere. When booking a trip to Brazil I would be tempted to end it with a stay at Buzios giving you the chance to reflect and relax after seeing this beautiful country.
It didn’t seem long before we were departing again. This time to Iguazu to see the magnificent Iguazu Falls. Iguazu Falls are known throughout the world as one of the most beautiful and majestic natural waterfalls man has ever seen. The falls divide the waterway into the Upper and Lower Iguazu River. The northern bank of the falls is in the Brazilian State of Parana while the southern bank sits in the Argentinean Province of Misiones. The falls themselves consist of over 270 separate falls that stretch for more than one and a half miles. Most of the individual waterfalls are about 200 feet in height. The most famous of them all is known as the Devil's Throat, which is a U-shaped waterfall that is almost 500 feet across and well over 2,000 feet in length. Staying for 2 nights in Puerto Iguazu, on the Argentinian side of the falls, we were able to experience 2 half day tours of the falls, experiencing both sides.
We started on the Argentinian side with a half a mile walk consisting of paths running along the basin of the Devil’s Gorge. The walkways are only a few metres from the edge of the main falls, where the noise and mist from the raging torrent was overpowering. We were then taken to the base of the falls for an unforgettable boat ride, which at one point take you right under the cascading water. I have in the past been on the ‘Maid of the mist’ in Niagara but this experience dwarfed it. Everyone on the boat get completely soaked but surprisingly it made the whole experience even more enjoyable and memorable. After drying off we were taken across the border into Brazil to experience the view of the other side of the falls. I was a bit sceptical at first thinking that I’d already experienced the best in the morning. How wrong I was, the Brazilian side of the Falls has a more panoramic view (compared with the close-up views you find on the Argentine side), with a walkway that descends past several overhangs and a catwalk looking over the falls this allows you to really get a sense of the power of the rushing water (prepare for a soaking if you choose to go all the way out). This view is totally overwhelming and I have to say it’s the most amazing sight I’ve ever seen. My whole view was taken up by cascading waterfalls, it was just unforgettable.
The final leg of my trip took us to the Amazon Rainforest, covering large areas of Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. The journey from Iguazu to the Amazon took us 13 hours in total, travelling on planes, buses and boats. When we arrived at our lodges on stilts you knew you had arrived in somewhere quite special. After dinner we embarked on an expedition to observe frogs, birds and most importantly the cayman . Our guide used his flashlight to help spot caymans. With his light, we saw the cayman’s eyes, which reflects a bright red dot, the light temporarily paralyzies them so he could pick it up and bring it onboard then returned to the river, unharmed. The following day we had a jungle hike. It was fascinating learning how the indigenous people survive on all the resources in the Amazon. A more amazing fact was that throughout the indigenous tribes in the Amazon cancer does not exist and, on average they live 25% longer than the average person in South America. On the hike, we came across a massive tarantula spider. I kept my distance! On our final recreation in the Amazon we went piranha fishing, which scared me a little as I did go swimming in the same areas only minute before. We did put them back but I certainly wouldn’t want a bite from one of them.
After a fantastic 10 days, it was time for our journey home with a brief stop in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. It was a pleasant enough city but with all that we had seen on our fantastic journey, this was a place I wouldn’t be rushing back to.
I had an amazing time in Brazil and would recommend anyone to go there. I would be tempted to add Bueno Aires, Argentina, as an extra city stop if you have time, this would make your trip even more special.
Errors and omissions excepted.
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