Iguaçu Falls

Iguaçu Falls is a magnificent wonder of nature's beauty and power.  It's gorgeous, and humbling.  

It is also huge.  In particular, it is wide.  The falls are divided into many different waterfalls and cataracts that make it a delight to explore.  Both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides are very well done and both respective parks have walkways and hikes to explore the falls.  The Brazil side has breathtaking vistas that capture the vastness of the falls while Argentina’s side allows an up-close look from all angles (as well as some activities!).  Since both sides are amazing, we decided to do both!

On the Brazilian side, we stayed at the oasis Hostel Natura, which is outside of town on gorgeous grounds.  Lean into the hippy vibes, and enjoy.

The Iguaçu National Park on the Brazil side of the falls offers tons of hikes and activities, but the main event is a hike that follows the length of the falls.  View after view after view of the massive falls with a finale consisting of a walk along the base to feel the water’s powerful spray.  Also not bad is the top-notch lunch buffet restaurant that sits on top of the falls!

Iguaçu Falls, Iguazu Falls, Brazil

Next we headed to Argentina.  We bought a two-day pass so we could explore the expansive National Park to our hearts content.  There are several worthwhile walking loops and they are all differently spectacular.  Our favorite was probably above the falls, where you can watch the water roll over the edge into a terrifying abyss.  Take the last train (yes, there’s a train) at 4:00 PM to avoid the crowds.

On Day Two, we explored before opting for a little boat ride…into the falls.  This joy ride takes you all along the base of the falls and then guns it into the falls so you can really feel the water’s power.  It was hilarious.  See for yourself…

I can't believe we did that, but I'd definitely do it again!  Would you?

Isla Grande, Paraty, and Sao Paulo

Isla Grande is a small island off the coast of Brazil with gorgeous beaches, tons of hikes, and no cars allowed.  Sign us up!

The island is undeveloped because it has historically been home to some undesirable inhabitants.  It was once home to a leper colony and then later the site of a top security prison.  The prison, which housed the most dangerous criminals, was closed in 1994.  Once rid of these less than ideal citizens, the island’s pristine beauty, unspoiled nature, and convenient yet isolated location made it a perfect tourist destination.

We stayed at Tropical Mountain House, which was a 20-minute jungle hike from the port.  It’s a charming place with private suites, a hammock-filled porch with ocean view, and a well-stocked kitchen.  Perfect for us!  We hiked to amazing beaches, yoga’d, caught up on writing, and Ryan reread Treasure Island in one sitting.  A perfect vacation to energize us for the next portion of our trip.

After Isla Grande we took a ferry to delightful Paraty—a UNESCO World Heritage Site and picturesque colonial town.  The grid layout of cobble-stoned streets shows whitewash buildings with colorful trimmings that contrast beautifully with the dark wood.  

We stayed in the family run ­­­Hotel Solar dos Gerânios, a restored mansion from the early 1900s.  It had a lobby we want to mimic in our library one day and rooms overlooking the town square.  We loved it so much we extended our stay a night, and then another night!  We toured the town, ate in the delicious restaurants, and went on an island hopping tour to the neighboring beaches.

But we had to move on eventually and make our way to Sao Paulo.  We had low expectations for this city—it’s the business hub of Brazil with a lackluster reputation.  Maybe it was our low hopes, but we were pleasantly surprised by Sao Paulo!  We stayed at Sampa Hostel, which has simple clean rooms and really cool art around it.  Plus, the neighborhood Vila Madalena can’t be beat for restaurants and nightlife.

The fabulous artwork at Sampa!

Sao Paulo has a surprisingly clean and doable subway system that we used to its full advantage.  We first went to the Museum of Immigration, which not only highlights Sao Paulo’s role in immigration for South America, but also gives a fascinating perspective on pioneers and immigrants throughout history.  The museum put us in the shoes of immigrants and, as we constantly move from one place to the next, we could identify with the need and fear of discovering a new home (of course recognizing our trip is much less stressful!).

We continued on our self-guided walking tour to the spectacular Theatro Municipal.  Considered Sao Paulo’s most splendid construction, the theater was built in the early 1900s and is still used today.

We next walked to the Mercado Municipal, a covered market with any local food you could wish for.  The market was designed as an old train station, which has a gorgeous setup that also happened to be a delicious spot for lunch!

Our time in Sao Paulo was very brief, but we had places to get to!  In particular, magnificent Iguaçu Falls!  

Rio de Janeiro

We arrived in Rio straight from the Middle East, and as these are very different cultures, we were ready for a bit of a shock.  Nothing could have prepared us!  Flesh, everywhere!

Rio has an energy and passion for life that is infectious.  Couples kiss on the street, there is constant loud chatting and laughter, and women and men wear the scantiest of clothing no matter what their mass.  It is fabulous.

We stayed in the top apartment room at Casada Harmonia, which was an excellent choice.  The hosts were a blast as well as a wealth of information.  Once we got settled, it was time to hit the town!  If you know us, you won’t be surprised we chose bikes!  Rio has over three hundred kilometers of bike paths, which make bikes an amazing option for exploring.  

Next up was obvious: Christo.  Not so obvious was our choice to hike to the top!  After the 45-minute hike with steep incline, we felt like we earned the magnificent sight of Christo.  I’m not sure what we expected, but he is colossal!  Another surprise was the surrounding view—Rio’s geography is full of islets and the vista is breathtaking. 

Also, at the base of the trail is a gorgeous old mansion and its expansive garden grounds.  The walk around is beautiful and peaceful—definitely worth a look.

Christo is WAAAYYYY up there!

Almost there!

Next we went to another main attraction in Brazil: a football match!  This being our first game, we were a bit wary.  The reputation of Brazilian football can be intense, sometimes dangerously so.  We shouldn’t have worried.  We made friends with a local in the ticket line and he gave us an inside look (including the team’s fight songs and gossip!).  As you can see, we got into it quickly.

The following day we visited one of the coolest churches we’ve ever seen (and yes, we're saying this after going to Israel):  The Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro.  The outside looks uber sketchy, but once you walk inside, your eyes will travel up and your jaw will drop.  Massive stain glass windows that measure 210 feet high and an alter piece that hangs from the 246 foot ceiling make this a wonder to behold.  Absolutely worth a visit.

Next were the Escadaria Selaron, or the “Selaron Steps.”  The bright tiles project the colors of the Brazilian flag, and the steps were artist Jorge Selaron’s “tribute to the Brazilian people.”  The eclectic mix of decorated tiles has something for everyone—even a girl from Augusta, Georgia!

Any golf fans recognize him???

But honestly, you don’t travel to Rio to view sights the whole time.  Arguably the main attraction is the culture, people, and nightlife!  In honor of that, we hit the town to see if we still had it in us (after Africa and the Middle East, we were a bit out of practice!).

First up:  A Brazilian BBQ.  Ryan's past corporate life (and inner fat kid) gave him some experience in this, and strategy is key.  First, as delectable as the salad bar looks, don’t fall for it.  You don’t want to fill up on the parmesan wheel.  Second, the servers walk around with every type of meat.  Be selective.  Know what the best cuts are, and become best friends with that server!

After this, we fought the food coma to hit up one of the coolest neighborhoods for nightlife: Lapa.  The streets of ­­­­Lapa are full of people, and the bars were full of music!  It’s the Brazilian version of the New Orleans French Quarter.  We went to Rio Scenarium which is fantastically decorated and has tons of different nooks for different scenes and music.  We hit up the samba floor (though our samba looked suspiciously like swing dancing) and had a blast doing it!

It’s worth discussing Rio’s reputation as a fairly dangerous city.  Like most big cities, a certain level of danger exists that is easily taken care of through street smarts.  Unfortunately for Rio, this danger is a bit escalated because the slums of the city aren’t isolated to certain areas, but located throughout the city.  These flavelas are fenced off (which speaks to a worse time when people were locked inside for certain hours) and the children from these areas will coordinate to raid the beaches.  Rio has been battling the issue for decades and is slowly making progress.  As long as you take precautions (don’t flash your camera, iphone, and jewelry around!) you’ll avoid being a target.

We had a fabulous time in Rio, but the rest of Southern Brazil was calling.  Specifically: a teensy island called Isla Grande.