Way back in June my husband surprised me with a gift of a flight to Rio for our 20thwedding anniversary; a generous, but slightly unusual present as it was a trip just for me. My oldest friend had moved to Brazil 3 years ago and I’d been itching to visit her, coupled with the fact that I desperately needed a break from work. Despite banging the drum to others on self-care, taking time out and not working too hard, I was guilty of not practicing what I preached. I was my own worst enemy; working late nights and weekends was the norm rather than the exception and I was feeling worn down. Brazil (as exciting as it sounded) could have been Brighton – as long as there was a bed and no work, I’d got to the point that I wasn’t too fussed.
Of course, well known for my love of a travel book, I bought the Lonely Planet guide to Brazil which sat by my bedside as I had no time to read it – plus I was lucky enough to have the best tour guide in the world at my disposal when I arrived, so I honestly hadn’t given much thought to what I was about to experience (was desperately trying to ignore those warning me of the current political situation and danger in the favelas too). I arrived in Rio late evening greeted by my friend, her husband, a garland and tropical plant pot with much excitement about my two weeks of downtime and was presented with a suggested itinerary I greedily lapped up.
Despite being on my knees with tiredness the adventure began on Day 1 – we had 72 hours in Rio before setting off for our first mini trip. I experienced beach life in the amazing Ipanema and Copocabana beaches, a trip to the jockey club and a flutter on the horses, authentic Brazilian food and shopping at the beautiful town of Santa Teresa, visiting local street markets, sizzling samba in bars and city squares with the locals, jazz in the favelas – not to mention the obligatory visit to one of the ‘Wonders of the World’ – Rio’s most iconic Christ the Redeemer; an early start gave us an advantage over the hordes of tourists flocking to see the Big Man – and views from the top were certainly worth the trek. A local told me that his arms are open wide ready to applaud the day when a Brazilian completes a full day of work (I can honestly say I get this now – with so much to do in this beautiful, diverse city I’m sure I’d feel the same if I lived here).
I seriously had a smile on my face for my first three days which didn’t disappear as we headed off to the airport to our next port of call, the incredible Foz do Iguacu. We were lucky enough to stay at a hotel based in the National Park itself which meant we had the added advantage of being able to explore the park and the falls without the crowds. I can honestly say I have never seen anything quite so spectacular – for those of you who haven’t been I’d certainly recommend trying to see the falls from both the Brazilian and the Argentinian sides – each offering its own unique panorama and feel. And whatever you do, always go for the ‘wet’ rather than ‘dry’ boat trip option you are offered – but do wear waterproofs – my plastic poncho was absolutely pathetic compared to the full-on wetsuit and galoshes our boat man was wearing. No surprise he was the only one not looking like a drowned rat when we emerged from the fall force of the falls. If Iguacu is not on your bucket list please don’t miss it.
After 3 full days of national parks in both Brazil and Argentina we headed back to Rio for a couple more days of galleries, beaches, sunsets, lunches and weather watching as storms were predicted and putting a question mark over our next adventure to the beautiful historic town on Paraty on the Costa Verde. Being a terrible traveller, my friend was anxious about taking me on the 5-hour coach journey and arriving to 3 days of torrential rains but I was keen to go. I wanted to see this place that she was raving about and knew it would be another diverse view of this country I was already beginning to get so fond of. So 8 days into my trip I took my anti travel sickness pills and off we set for the bus station with clothes packed for all eventualities of weather. I can’t even begin to share how glad I was we took the chance – for to have missed the wonders of Paraty would have been a terrible shame. The ‘sturgeon’ worked a treat – not only did I not feel sick, I was also able to enjoy the stunning views along the coast line and couldn’t have felt happier as the sun began to shine and thankfully stayed with us our whole 3 days in this beautiful little part of Brazil. Paraty was a little piece of heaven that will forever stay in my heart. From cobbled streets to beautiful coves, rain forests, yoga classes in Portuguese and samba bands on the beach and in the square, Paraty packed a punch. A special highlight was a private boat trip around the gorgeous islands where we visited deserted coves, hand-fed a rare species of monkey, swam amongst the turtles – and I even managed to conquer my fear of SUP boarding.
After sadly saying goodbye to a new favourite place in our world we headed back to Rio for my last few days in the city. Keen not to miss anything we managed to visit the Instituto Moreira Salles with its incredible architecture offering views of Christ the Redeemer and a current enviable collection of African and Italian photographic exhibitions, then stroll through the beautiful botanic gardens with the biggest collection of cacti I’ve ever seen and visit a few more of Rio’s residential districts to lunch with the locals. Of course I couldn’t come home without a visit to Sugarloaf Mountain – so on my penultimate day, with air temperatures on the street hitting 40 degrees we trekked up the mountain to pick up the cable car to get to the summit. It was certainly worth it for the breath-taking panoramic views it offered across the city – once again causing me to load the family WhatsApp with more enviable photos of my trip.
With one day left and a sense of not wanting to let my new found love leave me, my friend and I headed off to the Copacabana Palace Hotel where we had been invited for lunch by the Manager at our hotel in Iguacu National Park. Over a lazy lunch I reflected on all of my adventures with my dear friend and had one final caiprinha before heading back to the apartment to pack my last few things in my suitcase.
So now as I sit at the airport waiting for my flight back home I can honestly say I have truly had the most magical of holidays in this incredible country and come home with a renewed energy and spirit ready for work and a desperate need to see my family (and my dog). I have fallen in love with a country that wasn’t necessarily on my bucket list but now can’t wait to return to. In the words of my dear Mother – a change has certainly been as good as a rest.
I hope this little travelogue has whet your appetite for a visit to Brazil. To find out more go www.visitbrazil.com