A Travellerspoint blog

December 2012

Brazil - Foz do Iguaçu

34 °C

After a long overnght bus from Sao Paulo, we arrived in Foz do Iguaçu in readiness for one of South America´s big attractions...Iguazu Falls. Every traveller that we had passed recommend we saw the falls from both the Brazillian and Argentinian sides, very good advice. Our plan was to go to the Brazillian side on the morning of our arrival and then cross the border to stay in the Argentinian side that evening. Turns out, due to the lack of buses and time, we stayed in a very basic posada by the bus station. There are plenty and all run by old men! We also returned to Foz do Iguaçu a couple of days later en route to Paraguay.

Despite the hype, the falls were more impressive than what we could imagine...275 waterfalls that stretch for 2.7km, over 80m high on 2 levels. They vary from small streams to monumental amounts of gushing water at the ´Devils Throat.´The Brazillian side gives you a perspective of the entire set of falls from afar as well as some close up paths that wind over the water. The only downside - millions of tourists who all want a photo!


The town itself had grown from nearly nothing to over 300,000 people since the 70`s due to the increase in tourism as well as the world's largest hydroelectric power generator, the Itaipu dam. Soon to be superseaded by China´s three gorges dam in terms of size, this place is massive! So big that it supplies 95% of Paraguay`s electicity needs and 25% of Brazils. It was the biggest construction of the twentieth century and is now considered one of the 7 wonders of the modern world.


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Brazil - São Paulo

31 °C

It was time to escape the burning heat in Paraty and we caught a bus to São Pulo, Brazil's largest city, with a population of over 19.5 million! It is big!

There is no stand out attraction in São Paulo, but we enjoyed walking through the giant centre, full of weaving markets, highways and plazas. The large Municipal Market was fantastic, a traditional gourmet market, full of deli stores and eateries. We went up to the very top of the Italia building for a view over the megalopolis (go between 3-4pm and it's free) where we could see buildings and skyscrapers sprawling in every direction. Avenida Paulista is the commercial centre, and is a wide street lined with skyscrapers, a sight you don't often come across, in South America anyway. The Museum of Football was also worth checking out, based in the central stadium, it gives you a glimpse into just how obsessed Brazillians are with soccer!

We enjoyed our time in Sao Paulo, thanks to some great food and hospitality. The pizza in São Paulo is world class thanks to many Italian immigrants (much better than anywhere else on the continent). We stayed at the lovely Green Grass hostel, opened by a 24 year old São Paulo couple. The hostel sits around the corner from the metro station which linked us to anywhere we neeed to get to in the city centre and bus terminal, which is also attached to a metro station. The metro was so efficient, that travel was much quicker than we've experienced, even compared to other smaller cities.

On our last day we managed to avoid some of the torrential rain and keep dry to catch our night bus to Iguazu Falls.


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Brazil - Paraty

39 °C

Christmas was looming, so we booked ourselves into a big hostel in Paraty, to meet some people and have some fun.

Paraty itself is a small town on the coast of Brazil, only a few hours from Ilha Grande, full of colonial streets and buildings. We literally had to watch every step we took to avoid slipping over on the giant cobblestoned streets, at least they're original! The town is divided by a river, and lined by a couple of small beaches, however compared to the gorgeous beaches we`d just left behind on Ilha Grande, they weren`t great.

The weather was so hot during the day, but the town had a great buzz to it when everyone came out at night. Many Brazilians come here on holiday and the main plaza was lined full of people and restaurants' tables and chairs late into the evenings.

Christmas eve is a big night of celebraton in South America, so we took our hostel up on the offer of a big Christmas dinner it was cooking, along with other travellers in the hostel, and toasted Christmas day in with some caipriñas (Brazilian cacktails)! Christmas day itself was so hot, that after opening our stockings (in hiking socks - yes Father Christmas found us even in Brazil) we spent most of it at the beach where the only breeze could be found. And then in the evening my superhero Paul cooked an amazing roast in our tiny hostel kitchen, when the temperature outside had come down to around 35degrees! Needless to say this was my highlight of the day...yum!


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Brazil - Ilha Grande

36 °C

We enjoyed a little holiday from our travels in Ilha Grande, with pristine beaches, many walks in green lush rainforest and a relaxed atmosphere we soaked it all up. Finding ourselves a lovely little posada (guesthouse) called Velho Guerreico, with a killer buffet breakfast, we relaxed, we love the feeling of leaving a big bustling city behind and getting out into nature.


Paul went off on big day treks in the hot and sticky weather during the day, making it so some more secluded beaches over on the other side of the island. Lopez Mendes and Dois Rios were both stunning. I lazed on the beaches and explored the smaller bays near the small village of Abãao.

In the evenings there were a lot of bars and restaurants open with live music and a stage set up. We enjoyed getting some food and beer (yes you can drink alcohol out in public here) and taking it down to the pier, watching the lights of the town over the water and listening to the music.

We manage to pass our time very easily in Ilha Grande, and all too soon it was time to move on.


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Brazil - Rio de Janeiro

35 °C

Wow what a city, Rio de Janeiro tops our list of big South American cities, by a long way! Beautiful beaches, mountains, rainforest, friendly people and a great vibe. We met up with some friends here who lined us up with some accommodation in a shared house with them (thanks to airbnb.com). Much more reasonable rates for a private room compared to hostel rates, which are starting to get a little crazy now before they peak for Christmas, NYE and Carnival. It was great to catch up with James and Fleur who we met in Bolivia about 6 months ago.

We had a week in Rio, and filled in our time very easily. We headed up to Christ the Redeemer for a spectacular view across the city. Also spent afternoons on Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, with a freshly made Caipirinha cocktail in hand of course. Friday night in Lapa was a fantastic atmosphere, people milling throughout the streets, music coming from some talented live street bands, and many little street vendors selling varieties of the famous caiprina drink. We met up with some of our French housemates and our night disappeared into the crowd of Rio's young hipsters, old men serenading on guitars and bars lining the streets.

The city centre reminded us of a mix between Buenos Aires' large looming buildings, and Melbourne’s small laneways filled with tables and chairs. Quite a contrast to the coastal suburbs of the city. The Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil was holding a French impressionists exhibition we spend an afternoon visiting. Lucy of course found an excuse to purchase a pair of Brazilian made Havaiana sandals in one of the shops dedicated to the endless varieties of patterns and colours!

On Sunday night we headed to the Sambodromo, where the main Carnivale parade is held in February. Here there were schools practicing their parades and generally having a fiesta. It was great to see, and gave us an idea of what it would be like during Carnival.


A favela tour showed us a contrasting poorer side to the city. We wound our way through make-shift houses, laneways, staircases, open sewers and local people who seem to be able to navigate the favela maze, which an outsider would quickly become lost in. Rocinha, Rio's largest favela is home to 100,000 people and this is only one of 700 others in the city.

Finally we made it up to Sugarloaf on our last night, as the weather improved and the clouds parted. We walked up to the first cable car station, which was a great walk through lush rainforest like scenery, with little monkeys running through the trees above our heads. We then caught the cable car up to Sugarloaf ($26 Reals instead of R$53) and then stayed up there to watch sunset, and then the city light up in the dark, a beautiful sight. Then the cable car was free all the way back down after 7pm. We tore ourselves away from the astonishing view and caught the last cable car down at 9pm.


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Brazil - Manaus

34 °C

We disembarked our river boat, our home for the last four days, and with all our belongings accounted for walked into Manaus. We arrived at our accommodation with our faces matching the colour of tomatoes. It was hot, especially trekking across a concrete jungle in the heat of the day!! We cooled off and went for a wander in the more pleasant temperature of the evening. Manuas is a big city, home 1.6 million people. Pretty incredible, considering the entire city has been erected in the middle of the jungle. Ford even produces cars there!

Most areas felt fairly sketchy, however the central square of Praça São Sebastião was a nice area to visit after the sun was down. We also enjoyed a trip to the Municipal Park of Mindú, a little wildlife/nature park in the city, with lots of leafy trees to cool off under!

As Brazil is so big and our time is running low, we opted to take a flight from Manaus to Rio de Janeiro, 4 hours of flying, cutting out several days on buses.


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The Mighty Amazon River, Leticia to Manaus

33 °C

Neighbouring Leticia is the town of Tabatinga in Brazil where all river boats leave from. After jumping on board to buy our tickets, it was nice to see that the boat was new and slightly more impressive than we had expected! After purchasing our hammocks, ropes, containers for meal times, drinking water and sacks for our belongings, we were ready for the 4 day 3 night ride down the mighty Amazon river to Manaus.

On the morning of the boat ride we piled all our things into a tiny tuktuk and visited immigration in Brazil and got stamped in. After a thorough search of all our bags and a pat down we were free to board, and managed to score a nice spot (not too close to the toilets!) with a group of other travellers on the second level, avoiding the engine noise of the bottom level and the scorching heat of the top level!

We quickly strung up our hammocks to avoid losing our spot to one of the other 400 hammock bearing people on board. Over the next 4 days we had plenty of time to relax, read, play cards enjoy the red sunsets and rest up in our comfy hammocks. Mealtime involved heading into the cafeteria to load up on rice, noodles and meat, and as we had containers it was easy to take our meals out onto the deck and eat in the breeze. The showers, toilets and sinks run off riverwater, which got somewhat muddier when the boat was running in shallow water! The breeze made it easy to sleep, and the hammocks were surprisingly comfortable, a lot better than some of the hostel beds we’ve been faced with over the last few months. We even managed to spot some of the pink Amazon dolphins.


We were both amazed by the vastness of the river which encompasses 20% of the Earth's fresh water, we knew it was big, but it was just so wide and continued at this width for the entire 4 days. We only travelled down 1,100km of it´s massive 6,400km length and in the wet season, it can reach widths of 48km!

As there were local Brazilians bunked in around us, we managed to practice some Portuguese, which is similar to Spanish, but with completely different pronunciation. There were people constantly getting on and off the boat at the stops along the way, and we kept a close eye on our luggage as it's well known for things to go missing on these boats. We even had to stop people from stringing their hammocks up above our heads on one stop in the middle of the night!

On day 4 we were itching to get back on land and finally saw the city of Manaus looming on the banks of the river. To reach Manaus we crossed `Meeting of Waters` where the Rio Negro, a river with dark (almost black coloured) water, and the sandy-coloured Amazon River meet and run side by side without mixing for 6 km!

Tips for fellow river boaters: We recommend doing the ride down stream, from Leticia/Tabatinga (Colombia/Brazil border) to Manaus (Brazil) as it only takes 4 days on the boat as opposed to around 6 days up stream in the other direction. Boat schedules can vary, for the latest info contact a hostel in the town you’re planning on leaving from. Go for hammocks as opposed to private cabins, apart from being a lot cheaper the breeze was cool at night, and the cabins can get hot as they don’t always have working air con/ventilation, and it`s a lot easier to meet people. Our boat company Oliveira was great, our boat was new and kept clean throughout the trip. Take some of your own food and snacks on board, especially fruit and veg. And as we mentioned, it's handy to have a container for your food, so you can eat outside but not essential. When you buy your tickets you should get a chance to check out the boat and ask any questions you have.

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Colombia - Leticia

35 °C

Flying down to Leticia in the south east corner of Colombia, a town deep in the Amazon jungle, inaccessible by road, we were hit like a wall by the heat and humidity (and some tropical storms!). It´s a small town that borders the less pleasant Brazilian town of Tabatinga with loads of motor bikes and friendly people.

We only had a couple of days, so Paul made the most of it by doing a trip with Juan, a local guy who lives in an off tributary of the actual Amazon....in a small hut on the water with his family. They live without electricity and are fully self sufficient, eating jungle plants (jungle potato, pineapple, tomatoes), and fish they catch. The trip involved exploring the area in a small wooden and leaky boat, with a number of landings to see massive trees with branches that re-reed themselves into the ground and grow new trunks, strangling any other trees in its path! Tree iguanas, monkey´s, all sorts of birds were abundant and a highlight was the `Casa de Anaconda` an area where Anacondas live. This time of year only the small ones are there (4 metres long), even so we have to be quick as it was dangerous in the small boat we were in. Juan claims to have seen an Anaconda over 10 metres long with a head as wide as he is demonstrating below! Scary stuff.


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Colombia - Medellin

29 °C

Known as South America's most up and coming city, including an overhead metro system, Medellin is pretty impressive, with perfect 'springtime' weather year round to top it off. However, as in many big cities, Medellin comes with more than it's fair share of homelesness and violence, and we paid a visit to Pablo Escobar's house. A famous Colombian drug lord who was shot in his hideout in 1993 during the time when Medellin was one of the most dangerous cities in the world!

The Wandering Paisa was a great hostel. We visited the Zona Rosa where most of the other hostels are locted, in a nice district full of bamboo, boutique shops and restaurants. A night out to remember not too far from there was at Dulce Jesus Mio (My Sweet Jesus), a theatrical, bizarre, neon light discotheque. All the staff were dressed up in different outfits, with live music, dancing and sparkelers when midnights strikes (after a countdown of course) with all the locals getting right into it, jumping up on stage. We also had endless supplies of popcorn and other nibbles on our table and soup appeared at one stage of the night...and if you do make it to Dulce Jesus Mio, a visit to the bathroom is a must - to check out the crazy sculptured sinks and toilets, we'll leave it at that!


The city centre has a few nice plazas, such as Plaza Berrio and the nearby plaza full of entertaining sculptures by the famous Colombian artist Fernando Botero. Plaza Cisneros (Plaza of Lights) is another that is full of three hundred giant poles that light up during the night. There were also other festive and impressive Christmas lights dotted throughout the city.

The metro made it super easy to travel, and included in the price of one ticket is a ride on a cable car halfway up the valleyside, travelling over some of the poorer neighbourhoods and slum areas, (who the cable car has been supplied for to make transport easier) with a view down over Medellin up the top. We've never visited a city before which uses cable cars on their public transport route, and on the weekend it was nice to see lots of local families and children enjoying the ride.


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