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Trip report: Rio the Janeiro, Iguacu Falls, tropical islands and more amazing stuff
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Here below some of the most fascinating photos from Brazil. Together with the photogallery, you will find a funny and interesting trip report full of info and anecdotes describing the whole travel itinerary. If you haven't read them yet, check out all travel info and precise itinerary here:

Rio de Janeiro, Corcovado
Rio de Janeiro, Corcovado - View on the city from the Christ the Redeemer statue


South America had been a dream destination for us for a long time: we had often postponed the trip because of high costs or difficulties of organization. In the summer 2012, when two friends and I found a flight to Rio de Janeiro at a fairly inexpensive price, we had to book... destiny was calling us.
Air France proved to be a viable airline and on the 15th of August at dawn we landed on time in Rio. Immediately we took a cheap bus to the city center, which turned out to be quite chaotic in the suburbs. The intense traffic passed among ugly buildings, shacks and slums. The city center was just as busy, but in much better conditions. Between two close neighborhoods there could be the same difference as between New York and Timbuktu.
It was still early morning when we arrived at our hostel, the Ipanema Beach Hostel, which I recommend. Rio si huge, Ipanema was a nice neighborhood where to stay, well connected by public transports, safe enough and convenient to the beaches. The most important thing, however, was the spectacular nature of the place. It seemed to be in Brazil.
Rio Ipanema
Rio de Janeiro, Ipanema - A long, long beach. A rich quarter, but the favelas are very close.
Well, indeed we were in Brazil, and just what we dreamed of: the beautiful promenade with Brazilians engaged in all beach sports, the fascinating and peculiar green mountains known as "Pan" scattered around the city, the buildings and favelas that clambered over the hills. A typical itinerary in Rio includes a walk along the sea and from Ipanema we got up to Copacabana with its spectacular arch of beach almost 5 km long. The sea was not so inviting - it's still the ocean - and only surfers were in the water.
Rio Arpoador
Rio de Janeiro, Arpoador - A peninsula, and a beautiful viewpoint, between Copacabana and Ipanema. Surfing is one of the many sports that can be practised at these beaches.
The beach, however, was so lively that our various doubts about the dangers of Rio de Janeiro dispelled immediately. Yes, as we had read there could be the occasional mugging, who knows maybe even violent, but on those walks on the sea there were continuously thousands of people. Statistic was on our side.
On the beach we could see the palm trees, the street vendors, the bars, the sandcastles, the beach volleyball players of both sexes. There were 28 degrees - they really face a hard winter, in Rio - so we drank coconut water. It was horrible. Seriously.
Rio Copacabana
Rio de Janeiro, Copacabana - The lively Copacabana beach is full of bars, souvenir sellers and sand-sculpting artists.
It was almost lunchtime when we arrived at the end of Copacabana Beach. Here we stopped a taxi that took us to the Pao de Acucar (you can add the proper accents and cedillas if you want), the famous Sugar Loaf reachable by cable car (another must in any travel itinerary). Meanwhile, the sky clouded over and it rained a little bit. This maybe ruined in part the panorama. To us, it still looked spectacular. We laughed and joked with some girls who worked in the bar on the top of Pao de Acucar: Brazil was shiny and bright even when overcast.
Here I must dispel a myth about Brazilian women: there are beautiful and ugly ones, as everywhere. It's true, there are the buxom beauties, but many are simply overweight. Lots of women wear a retainer for the teeth: should we blame for that the increasing importance given to the apperance, or should we credit (or blame?) the new wealth that is spreading, with many inequalities, in Brazil?
Under the Sugar Loaf there is the beautiful Playa Vermelha, where we took some photos. From there we saw some mountaineers climb the Pao de Azucar: awesome! We returned to Ipanema. The hostel was nice, with the chance to meet people, ask questions and recommendations and organize trips. So we booked, for the next day, a minibus and boat to the tropical island of Ilha Grande.

For our first carioca evening we were invited for dinner at a Brazilian girl who was our acquaintance. So we learned several interesting facts about the life of Rio, from the crazy rental price of the her apartment (of 70 square meters), which was 1000 euros per month. For the well-off with a good working lifestyle, Rio is not 'so' different from Los Angeles or London: high salaries, long working hours and expensive luxuries that become almost needs (our friend could hardly live in a cheap favela). The said apartment was not far from Botafogo and we reached it by subway. We never felt threatened by crime. Tour guides often exaggerate: for example, by night, even if we were three bearded men, we didn't bring with us anything of value, following the advice of Lonely Planet, but on the buses we noticed sweet unaccompanied damsels playing with their iPhones. The next day the sun returned, and it didn't leave us until the end of the holiday (nights excluded, of course). In the morning we walked along the Lagoa (A lagoon behind Ipanema and Leblon). Even here - in a particularly rich area of the city - the Brazilians practiced every kind of sport. At 11 AM we left for Ilha Grande. After crossing the dirty concrete outskirts of Rio, we reached the Costa Verde along which runs the scenic road from Rio to San Paulo. We had lunch in a service area with a kilo buffet: there you could fill the plate of everything you wanted, and then you paid according to the weight of the content. 800 grams (I was hungry) of meats, salads, snacks and savory and mysterious pies costed 4 euros. I was very satisfied. I liked the farofa, although it was like eating sand. We arrived in Mangaritiba, a seaside village with a beautiful beach.
Costa Verde
Costa Verde - Along the road from Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paulo, there are some beautiful stretches of coast. This is Mangaritiba, where you can get a shaky boat to Ilha Grande.
At Mangaritiba we took a boat to Ilha Grande. It was a shaky ferry, but I'm not complaining because the boat did not sink and that in itself was a surprising result. We arrived on the island, in Vila Abrao, and we looked for accommodation. Maybe we should have booked in advance because many hostels were full, but still we found a quiet retirement on a beach at a good price. The nice thing was that Vila Abrao, the only small town of Ilha Grande, was devoid of cars: the promenade, where you could find most hotels and restaurants, was simply the beach. For long stretches there wasn't even the sidewalk: you left the hotel and you immediately put your feet on the sand. Also in the rest of the island there were paths, and not roads: you could terk around the island in a week.
Abraao, Ilha Grande
Abraao, Ilha Grande - A lush tropical island... and a small Paradise. Abraao is the largest village in the island. There are no motor-vehicles and the seaside promenade is actually a beach.
The small bars on the beach were so beautiful that you might desire to drink a caipirinha in each of them, with bad consequences for your health. The nightlife was quiet, more suitable to couples. We had dinner with fish, always with sand under our feet.
The next morning we took a speedboat trip that took us in different beaches of Ilha Grande. Being an almost uninhabited tropical island, with white sand, palm trees and mountains covered with rain forest, there is no need to write here that they were fabulous places... but I write it anyway. The photos, however, give a better idea than words. While snorkeling, we noticed a myriad of colorful fish, starfish and other wonders.
Ilha Grande
Ilha Grande
Fish Ilha Grande
Ilha Grande Fish - Few people, but lots of fish, inhabit Ilha Grande.
For lunch we stopped in a small village, where we, refusing the "touristy" restaurant, we wandered looking for another bar. We took the opportunity to explore the huts positioned between the sea and forest. At the end we could only buy some chips bought in a shack. In the evening, we attended a barbecue organized on the terrace overlooking the sea in a lively hostel.
On August the 18th we ventured to walk along the paths of Ilha Grande.
Ilha Grande
Ilha Grande
Among beautiful views and creeks, you could spend weeks wandering to the island. Along the trail we saw monkeys and a black and yellow snake. We weren't so happy of the latter meeting, and even the snake didn't seem enthusiastic. It stood there for a while, as he watched, then suddenly snapped in the forest with a disturbing rapidity.
Ilha Grande Monkey
Ilha Grande
Ilha Grande
After admiring several wonderful bays, we reached the beach of Lopes Mendes, which has the reputation of being one of the most beautiful in Brazil. Indeed, it's really spectacular. With us there was a Swedish girl, passionate about nature, who told us about trees, jaguars and other Brazilian flora and fauna. She was in her paradise, no doubt, but only a fool could dislike Ilha Grande. On the beach there were also three beautiful Argentine women who walked around naked, I don't know why, but they definitely had a good reason... which I don't care about, because sometimes you have to enjoy the natural wonders without getting lost in too many metaphysical questions.
Ilha Grande Beach
Ilha Grande Beach
Ilha Grande
Ilha Grande
Lopes Mendes
Lopes Mendes, Ilha Grande - This is well-known as one of the most beautiful beaches of the world.
Ilha Grande
Ilha Grande
Lopes Mendes
Lopes Mendes, Ilha Grande - This is a good spot for surfing.
We surfed a bit before returning by boat to Vila Abrao. After dinner with a kilo buffet (how I miss them), we went to sleep, very tired.
A crab on a beach of Ilha Grande
The next morning, quite soon, for a ridiculously low price we took the public boat to Angra Dos Reis, a city on the continent not far from Mangaritiba. From there, we mounted on a bus to Sao Paulo with the firm intention to get off at Paraty, the cultural destination of our travel itinerary.
The coastline between Rio and Sao Paulo deserves lots of breaks between the hundreds of bays, beaches and islands. The peculiarity of Paraty is that it's a colonial town with a beautiful old center made of stone streets and white houses with colored doors.
Paraty - An old colonial town on the sea, surrounded by green hills and cachaca (the caipirinha liquor) plantations.
At first, when we arrived at the small but busy bus station, we didn't notice the beauty of the place, but only a lively and fascinating squalor. After having left our luggage at Che Lagarto hostel (booked when we were in Ilha Grande) we finally discovered the attractive town, following the downtown streets up to the ocean, which, in Paraty, forms a lagoon, enclosed by some islands.
We had fish for dinner and we slept in the nice hostel. We shared the dormitory with two Englishmen who always put the fan to max speed. By raising a bedsheet we could sail in the room.
The day after we attended a guided tour by jeep, organized in the hostel, to visit the hinterland of Paraty, between crops, patches of jungle and waterfalls. Apart from the distillery of cachaca (the alcoholic used for caipirinha) and a good kilo lunch, the funniest part of the trip was to play in the waterfalls in the forest.
Paraty Jungle
Paraty Jungle
We dove, we swam, we glided down natural rock slides, we jumped into the streams using vines, Tarzan-style.
Paraty Slide
Paraty Slide - Many funny games can be played at Paraty waterfalls. This one doesn't hurt as much as it looks.
Paraty Jungle
Paraty Jungle
In the evening there Paraty was home to the Festival of cachaca (pronounced "cachassa"), with live music (actually, that band produced just some strong noise). Still, it was fun.
After a brief walk in Paraty, unfortunately we had to spent the entire following day to reach Sao Paulo and from there, by plane, Foz de Iguacu. In the morning, a guy who had to go to " Sao Paulo " to do some shopping offered us a lift. That long drive was interesting, including lunch in the most squalid bar of the holiday. Despite the outward appearance, the buffet was still pleasant (I can give you one main advice about Brazil, always enjoy your food, even if the appearance might be discouraging).
By night, we landed in Foz de Iguacu, where a van with a driver took us to our accomodation. This Rouver hotel was quite cheap and in a good location for transport and restaurants.
The day after we took the bus to get to Puerto Iguazu (in Argentina) and from here to the famous waterfalls.
Iguacu Falls
Iguacu Falls - Then you go to Iguacu Falls and any other waterfall loses a bit of its appeal.
The Argentine side of this natural wonder offers many paths to admire the river and the power of the water from different viewpoints. Among an incredible view and a spectacular lookout, we spent a wonderful day. Also the fauna in the park had its charm: we noticed turtles, catfish, coati, parrots and colorful butterflies. These fluttered in swarms along the path, and they were so many that by opening the mouth it was likely to eat some of them (but not enough to save money on the expensive sandwiches sold by the bars in the park).
Iguacu Falls
Iguacu Falls - Arguably the most beautiful waterfalls in the world, as seen from the Argentinian side, with lots of paths that lead to the viewpoints.
In the late afternoon we returned to the hotel by bus. We had dinner in a restaurant near the hotel with a churrasco. It supposedly was for three people, but actually it could feed twenty families and their pets. Everything was delicious, the meat, the sauces and the feijolada. We slept heavy.
When we woke up we put some effort into having a hearty breakfast and then we headed, by bus, to the Brazilian side of Iguaçu waterfalls. Here we left our luggage in some locked cabinets, so we were able to walk free in the park.
Iguacu Falls
Iguacu Falls - The view from the Brazilian side is really impressive. There are less trails, but the views are staggering.
The visit to the Brazilian side is much shorter since only one path covers the rim of the canyon where the waterfalls... fall. However, it should definitely be a part of a travel itinerary in Brazil and it is worth all the 20 euros of entrance, not only because the views are different than on the Argentine side, but mainly because the belvedere that concludes the path is something special. Surrounded by an incredible span of waterfalls that created fascinating rainbows, we were completely soaked by the spray. Crazy birds flew in the midst of that impressive body of water, while we took so many photographs that we could reconstruct the Iguazu in 3D once back in Italy.
Iguacu Falls
Iguacu Falls
Iguacu Falls
Iguacu Falls - From a butterfly point of view.
Our visit finished early, so we still had time to throw away money in some activity stupid. There was the boat trip to the feet of the waterfalls, but it didn't look so interesting, so in the end we opted to fly over the Iguacu by helicopter, for the ok price of 90 euros each. After half an hour of wait we took off. We admired the jungle and the bends of the Iguacu river, and we saw the most beautiful waterfalls in the world flowing into the horseshoe-shaped canyon. It was an experience worthy of a long list of enthusiastic adjectives, which I don't write because you would get bored. Even if that helicopter flight was awesome, I don't know if I would do it again: I have the feeling that the second time it would be much less impressive than the first... like it happens with Indian food and sex for money. (That was a stupid comment).
Iguacu Falls Helicopter
Iguacu Falls by Helicopter - A helicopter ride over the Iguacu Falls is a once in a lifetime experience.
After the helicopter flight we got the bus to the airport, which is very close to the Iguacu waterfalls. We landed at Rio de Janeiro at sunset. We were now experts of the city (well, at least so we felt) so we got a metered taxi, avoiding those who offered fixed (and inflated) prices, and we returned to the Ipanema Beach Hostel.
The day after we visited the Corcovado, the 710-meter high mountain in the middle of Rio de Janeiro on top of which stands the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer. The queue for the funicular that climbed Corcovado was rather long, but it was worth it because the view was awesome... a must-visit for any travel itinerary.
We came back and a taxi took us to the hotel. At the wheel there was the best driver of the world: while speeding in chaotic traffic he entertained us with some magic tricks. We were speachless, and happy and amazed especially when we arrived at the hostel sound and safe.
In the afternoon we wandered along Ipanema beach trying to make acquaintance with some Brazilians who could invite us to play beach volleyball or beach tennis (which is a sort of played on a beach volley court). After a timid approach two guys told us to talk to their teacher who, incredibly, was Italian. He told us that he came from Ravenna (where the beach tennis was invented) and that he had lived in Rio de Janeiro for almost 10 years. It was he who imported beach tennis in Brazil and beach-tennis coach was his job... the climate allowed to play all year long.
We played some games, both doubles and singles. We had great fun, there was also an old man shouting: & quot;canalha! Malandrinho!" when we scored a point. What a beautiful life... The beach tennis importer in Brazil sounded like a great job, much better than being an engineer, as I am: ten years ago or so, I did it all wrong!
In the evening, we took a bus towards the city center and, in particular, towards the neighborhood of Lapa, which is famous for its bars and schools of Samba. In the streets there were a lot of people, bars, live music, street artists. I remember a skinny old man who did some incredible numbers with a soccer ball. He was so small and wrinkled that looked close to sure death, but instead he was a real acrobat.
After drinks and dinner we went into a big nightclub, with commercial live music on one floor and samba on the other. It was a very beautiful place, rich with decorations and furniture and strange objects that seemed more suited to a castle than a fashionable "club". We returned at late night by bus. The next morning we had just enough time for one last walk in Ipanema and a photo of the fascinating Botafogo beach, before returning to the Airport (skirting the favelas on a battered van that picked us up along the street) and then in Italy.
So, our travel itinerary ended drinking white wine on an Air France flight. We were extremely pleased, excited by the places seen and the experiences lived. In hindsight, we shoudl have done just a couple of things differently: 1) we should have avoided spending a day to travel between Paraty and Sau Paulo; and 2) we should have stayed in Brazil another year or two.
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