Insider’s Guide to Traveling Brazil: Rio to Iguazu

 

Back in October of 2007 I spent 3 weeks traveling around Brazil, and I would have stayed a lot longer if my visa would have allowed it. During that time I somehow managed to keep a pretty detailed journal in between the steady flow of Caipirinha’s and when it was all said and done I sent it back to Buenos Aires for inclusion into the travel guidebooks for South American Explorers. This is a straight up how to article but you might find a few things here that you won’t find in the guidebooks. With all the hype surrounding the World Cup and the Olympics I decided to dust this off and share it with the world. Hopefully you will come across some useful info.

Visa

Visas are required for American Citizens who wish to enter Brazil. Obtaining a Brazilian Visa can be a bit of a process so here are a few tips to help you along the way: The difficulty of the process varies depending upon where you are trying to obtain your visa. I can only speak to my experience and I entered through Buenos Aires. If you are doing the same you can apply for your visa at the Brazilian consulate. The process takes a bit of planning and at least 3 to 4 business days. If you plan to visit Iguazu Falls during your trip to Brazil, I would recommend obtaining your visa there in Puerto Iguazu. The process is much less invasive, only taking 30 minutes to complete. Another advantage of applying for a visa in Puerto Iguazu is that you are issued a 30 day visa as opposed to the 21 day visa that is issued by the Brazilian Consulate in Buenos Aires. There is a good info sheet on obtaining your Visa on the South American Explorers website under Argentina info sheets that gives the address to the Brazilian Consulate in BsAs. If you need help Obtaining your Visa at Iguazu stop into Hostel-Inn Iguazu and they have a travel desk that can assist you in doing so. The consulate in Buenos Aires also requires proof of a round trip ticket so if you are like me and only want a one way ticket or to enter Brazil by bus then I would suggest going to an STA Travel agency and asking for a print out of an itinerary. You do not need to commit to the purchase. A print out of my itinerary passed without question.

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Pre-Departure Brazil

Visa requirements:

  • $100 – $120 USD (depending on where you apply)
  • Passport (you must leave your passport with the consulate in BsAs)
  • 3 months bank statements
  • Official passport photos (Not to worry, 1 block away from consulate there is a place on the corner that does photos)
  • Copy of credit card
  • Application (short and downloadable online; there is a link on the SAE website under Argentina info sheets)
  • Proof of round trip ticket

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Flight Info

GOL Airlines has relatively inexpensive flights into Rio. It is possible to make reservations online; however their website is somewhat incompatible with the term user friendly as it applies to paying with a credit card. GOL allows you to make reservations over the phone and pay in cash or credit at the airport upon arrival which is the option I chose. It worked out perfectly. I chose to buy a 1 way ticket into Rio de Janeiro and from Rio travel southward back to Buenos Aires by bus. However by the time I got to Iguazu 3 weeks later the thought of a 20 hour bus ride wasn’t sounding too appealing and I booked a stand by flight the day of. My flight into Rio on GOL was $150 USD from Buenos Aires International (EZE). Be prepared, the flight connects in Sao Paulo where you must exit the plane, clear customs, pick up your luggage and recheck it at the domestic terminal. It was a bit of a strange process I thought but at least you will know ahead of time.

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How to Pack for Brazil

I only include this section because I went in October which is a transitional season and I wasn’t sure what to expect. From my experience, I can say that it wouldn’t hurt to bring a light jacket in case of the inevitable rain storm or chilly bus ride. But on the whole you will only need your summer attire, sandals, sunglasses, walking shoes and plenty of sun screen. Depending on your style, you can bring a tent along as Brazil has a lot of cool places to sleep under the stars. My rule of thumb… pack what you think you will need, and then take out half and leave it at home. When you are on the road with a 15 kilo backpack you always ask yourself “why did I bring this again?”

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Arriving in Rio

Rio is a cool place that much like Buenos Aires, requires a decent amount of time to explore and grow to appreciate. I would say that Rio requires at least 3 to 4 days to hit the main attractions and relax a bit on the beach. Obviously the more time you have the more you will be able to explore.

When people go to visit Rio, they usually stay in one of two locations: Copacabana or Impanema. Your guide book can fill you in on each, but from a common perspective Impanema is the newer trendier section which does tend to be a bit pricier. They are literally a stones throw apart so go and feel each out for yourself, then decide which is for you.

From the airport these two locations will be around $70 Reales. Don’t forget that Brazil is all about negotiation. There are an abundance of taxi drivers at the airport and you can easily settle a deal for $55 or $60 Reales. As of October 2007, the exchange rate from Real to USD was about 2:1. Brazil does add up.

A tip: At the airport we made friends with another couple from Austria and shared the cost of a cab into Copacabana. There is also safety in numbers when carrying a back pack after a delayed flight which put us in Rio 10 hours late at the ungodly hour of 3:00 a.m. We were also able to negotiate a better rate at the hotel having four people. It turned out that the Austrians were super cool and we became good friends traveling with them for a week longer.

Where to stay in Rio

Depends on your budget and your style. Here are a couple recommendations for each.

If you are the classic backpacker on a white bread and beer budget then I would recommend:

  • Girl from Inpanema Guest House. It is a bright and lively hostel with incredibly nice owners and a very well organized system of information. They are priced right in the middle of what is the going rate for any hostel you will find in Rio, about $100 Reales a night for a double room or $35 Reales a night for a spot in the dorm. It has an upbeat and fun social atmosphere with a pool table, free internet, free breakfast, located only 4 blocks from the beach.

www.hostelgirlfromipanema.com address, Barao da Torre 175 Red Doors House 3. tel (0055) 21-35072165 contact@hostelgirlfromipanema.com

  • Crab Hostel. Same prices and neighborhood as listed previously. 1 block to the beach. This hostel is much quieter for those that prefer solitude. Not incredibly helpful nor were the services great but did give a quiets night sleep. Hammock, small pool, free breakfast.

www.crabhostel.com.br Ipanema@crabhostel.com.br Rua Prudente de Moraes, 903 Ipanema. Tel (0055-21)2227-6130

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If your tastes are a bit more sophisticated and geared towards luxury then I would recommend:

  • The Atlantis Copacabana. It is a hotel located directly on the border of Copacabana and Impanema with a 3 minute walk to each. The location is great. The quality and price of rooms vary as some have views of the ocean. The rooms were simple, nice and clean. The view from the pool deck located on the roof top of the 14th floor was nice. They mix up a really good Caiporina at the poolside bar. Breakfast is included. Sauna. There we paid $108 reales a night.
  • The Orla. If you want something really nice, check out the website for this hotel. The rates are $210 reales a night for a single room on the 12th floor with amazing views of the ocean. Great gym, rooftop pool, sauna, buffet breakfast. This hotel is a great value and will make you feel like you are living in luxury.

What to do in Rio

So you found a place to stay and you are ready to get out and see Brazil. What is the first thing you will think to do? Obviously, you are going to go get your feet sandy at the beach. Rio’s beaches pump and are packed with the young and beautiful. My favorite part of the beaches was the south end of Impanema. Bordered by a small rocky peninsula and decent surf it makes for a cool place to catch a tan. Impanema seems to be the better of the two beaches for the young crowd. If you have time I would recommend spending an afternoon on Priaia de Acucar, or sugar beach located just below Pao de Acucar. Tip: Vendors sell all sorts of treats on the beach… Buttery corn on the cobb and a freshly cracked coconut make for a great snack.

  • Corcovado-This is the picturesque postcard image that you always see of the statue of Christ overlooking a panoramic view of the city. A must if you make it toRio. The best time to make the trip toCorcovadois early in the morning before the masses arrive. It does become very crowded. The bus that takes you from Copacabana or Impanema is # 583 that runs the main drag by the beach. Cost is $2.00 Reales but does require time and a hike up the hill. You may also take a taxi which will be upwards of 50 Reales.

Tip: There is a second lookout halfway down the hill that provides a great perspective of the city andCorcovadofrom a different angle. It is lesser known and therefore less crowded allowing for better picture taking opportunities. Ask your taxi driver to stop at the helipad lookout before or after the main area. I enjoyed myself more at the lower lookout.

  • Pao de Acucar- The Sugar Loaf. Another Rio Highlight. A beautiful dome shaped mountain that you can ascend by a cable driven gondola. The buses that take you to the Sugar Loaf from Copacabana or Impanema are # 511 or 512 and can be caught on the main drag by the beach. The Gondola Ride is 35 Reales a person. It is said that the best time to hit the Sugar Loaf is at Sunset for an incredible view.
  • For Surf enthusiasts there is a Surf Bus that runs the main drag from Copa through Impanema heading south to better quality surf beaches and passes at 8:00 am and 10:30. It is a unique looking bright Orange bus that will stop for you if you are waiting there with a surfboard in hand. They also offer return trips but you will have to ask what time that is for yourself.
  • Rio has lots of restaurants and nightlife. Walk around and discover the fine cuisine… you can’t go wrong. As for me I did not party much but I did notice that the “Girl from Impanema Guest House” has an FAQ sheet on the wall that very nicely suggests the most happening bar for each different night of the week. For some reason I trust their opinion.
  • The Botanical Gardens looked amazing as I passed by on the bus but I missed the opportunity to stop.

The Bus Terminal in Rio

All long distance bus terminals in Brazil are known as “Rodoviarios”. The one in Rio is named Novo Rio and is located downtown at Av. Rodrigo Alvez & Ave Francisco Bicahlo. The telephone number is 22915151.

Tip: Travel agents in Copa and Imp. Sell tickets for a $4 real service fee. The 172 or 170 busses will take you to the Terminal but they are about a 2 hour trip with all stops included. I think a taxi is a better value. See if anyone is heading your way and share the cost.

Moving on from Rio…

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North to the Beach Resort of Buzio’s

Buzio’s is a beautiful beach resort located 140 kilometers north ofRio. This charming beach village is a favorite vacation destination forRioelite who are looking to get out of town. Before I get started on the ins and outs I would like to state that Buzio’s had some of our favorite Beaches inBraziland in all honesty it pretty much blewRioaway. We wished we had spent more time there. ThepeninsulaofBuziosextends into the sea like an island and has over 50 different beaches tucked into tree lined coves. Buzio’s has something to offer everyone from scuba diving to shopping in the town center. Busses take 3 hours from Novo Rio and leave twice daily. Take the earliest possible to not waste your 10 to 2 tanning hours. Cost 45 Reales.

Where to stay in Buzio’s

I only have one recommendation because I loved it. On the North East end of the Peninsulais the Buzio’s Guest House. It is a beautiful family run Posada that has a pleasant atmosphere with very nice rooms, an enticing pool, well maintained grounds and a lovely daily breakfast. Going to Buzio’s I found that I should have booked in advance but I was lucky. We paid $100 Reales a night for a double room with matrimonial style bed. That was a discounted rate simply because we asked. The posada is located between the best four beaches we explored on the peninsula and a short walk to the downtown area.

  • The website is www.buziosguesthouse.com.br and the phone number is (55) (22) 2623 2557. E- mail: reservas@buziosguestouse.com.br

The bus will drop you off in the center of Buzio’s and there will be a few people offering alternatives and overpriced rides to the hotel of your choice. If you aren’t sold on the Guest House I am sure they will give you plenty of other ideas. There are white VW busses that pass all around the island for $2 reales a person so don’t be sold on their 35 real offer to take you five or six blocks.
Best Beaches

One thing to keep in mind is that there are two sides to the peninsula. One is more exposed to wind and swell while the other is more protected. For this reason the water is much warmer and calmer on the north side, and better for surfing and water sports on the south side. My favorite beaches were:

  • PraiaJoao Fernandes
  • PraiaJoao Fernandinho
  • PraiaAzeda
  • PraiaAzedinha

These four beaches are in very close proximity to the Buzio’s Guesthouse. They offer amazing snorkeling and beach relaxation. There are also plenty of activities going on to keep you busy if you are more proactive. Wear sun screen is all I can say. 3 weeks later, I am still peeling. The other side of the peninsula has a lot to offer as well but be prepared for sand storms. You get the drift.

Socializing in Buzio’s

The downtown area has a mellow beach town feel that makes you feel good about the fact that dressing up means flip flops and boardshorts. The main street for bars and Restaurants is known as Rua das Pedras. A tip: When choosing a restaurant ask the door person what is included. Suggest first drink free, and without hesitation you and your friends will be sipping your first round of Caiporinhas on the house. They want your business. It never failed me once.

Short list of other cool things to do in Buzio’s

  • Rent a beach buggy. They are inexpensive, come in every color and are way too fun.
  • Go fishing
  • Go shopping
  • Boat taxi from beach to beach
  • Intertube rides behind speed boats
  • Booze cruise
  • Scuba Diving

Farewell to Buzio’s… Onward to Ilha Grande

From Buzio’s we got back on the bus at the same place we got off. I suggest walking across the street when you arrive into buzios to the ticket counter and checking the bus schedule for the day you anticipate leaving; that way you won’t waste anytime worrying about what time you need to get back.

To get to Ilha Grande from Buzio’s you will need to catch a bus back to Novo Rio and connect the next bus to the port city ofAngrados Reis. For that reason it would be good to find out the bus schedule to Angra from Novo Rio before heading to Buzio’s. Fluidity saves you precious time on your trip. It is easy to waste entire days in the bus terminal and it sucks. With a little planning you can cut down on that.

From Angra Dos Reis you will catch a ferry or a boat to the island. The only bus company that heads to Angra from Novo Rio is called “Costa Verde”. Look for their ticket booth at the terminal. They charged 55 reales and it is about a 2 ½ hour bus ride. When we got to Angra it was too late to catch a ferry and we found a very inexpensive hotel to hold out the night. The name was Hotel Colonial and we paid 60 Reales. Basic, nothing to brag about, but it was the cheapest in town.

Be aware of the taxi’s in Angra. For a ten minute ride in search of a store to buy a tent I was ripped off by a taxi driver that charged me almost as much as the bus ride fromRio. Foreigner tax I like to think of it as. Try to limit your taxi rides in this city, and know exactly where you want to go before hand.

The official ferry service that takes you from Angra to Ilha Grande has two departure times… 1:30 and 3:30 and costs 16 reales. I caught a ride from the same dock on an alternative private boat at 11:30 for 20 reales. It was a calm 1 ½ hour ride to the island. You will have to ask the locals to direct you to the dock because I certainly can’t tell you, but I can say that from Hotel Colonial, you walk east to the ocean, hook a right and walk four blocks. It will be on your left. It is sort of inconspicuous. Sorry for being vague.

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Ilha Grande

Ilha Grande is most definitely detailed in your guide book and is all that they make it out to be. Ecological preserve with no roads and no cars. Mountains, hills, and jungle lined beaches that beg to be cast for a Corona commercial. Hit the ATM before you go because banks are only open weekends and I would hate to have to try and find one. Make sure you don’t go on a national holiday weekend like I did or prices will be jacked up with a minimum 3 night stay which is what I expected and the reason I was so desperately seeking out a tent beforehand.

Despite the signs that speak of camping in designated areas they refer to as “camp grounds” locals advised me that camping is possible on all parts of the island. It isn’t called Ilha Grande because it is small; it is a huge island and as long as you bring your tent down when you wake up, no one is going to hassle you about it. Reservations are a highly recommended whether you thinking of staying in a posada or in a camp ground. A little extra effort beforehand will save you a ton of trouble. “’Che Lagarto” has a nice hostel at the north (very far left) end of the beach where you get off the boat.

Ilha Grande has many beaches which can be reached by hikes through beautiful forest trails, but if you really want to see what the island has to offer you need to head to one of the booths that advertise daily boat excursions and sign up. There are lakes, waterfalls and beaches that are incredibly striking so pick a different one each day and go check it out. You could spend weeks there trying to get to know it all. In three days I barely scratched the surface.

The camp sights wanted to charge about 25 reales per person per night. A 3 night package at any posada was between 400 and 680 reales for a private room. I am not sure if these rates were typical but they are what I encountered so be advised.

There was some definite opportunity for nightlife going on there on the island and a few clubs that were bumping house music until I literally heard roosters crowing. Obviously these were in contained areas, so just make sure that you ask the front desk if they happen to have some obscure night club next door.

The island is renowned for its excellent surfing beaches, and surfers there were plentiful. The best beach for surf is Lopes Mendez on the east side of the island which is more exposed and receives a colder current. I don’t think there are many opportunities for board rental on the island so hopefully you already have your stick.

Getting back to the mainland and heading South

At the foot of one of the two docks you arrived on there will be ticket booths to buy a ticket back to Angra. This is the part of my trip where I changed my plans because it began to rain and I was feeling that I was spending too much time on busses and learning too many things the hard way. Originally I had planned to make more stops which I will fill you in on but I was ready to relax and consolidate so I headed straight to Florianopolis for the entire next week.

If you have the time some great places to break up the 18 hour trip between Angra dos Reis Florianopolis in the South would be:

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Parati- a beautiful colonial beach town, loads of history
Ubatuba- miles of jungle lined beaches in where else…Sao Paulo believe it or not.
Ilha Bela/ Camburi- ecological preserve that is much more laid back than Ihla Grande, described as a must see by more locals than I can remember.
Ilha do Mel- Hammocks, hippies, more beaches… need I say more?
These were all ideas that I researched in the footprints guidebook to Brazil if you are interested. I would love to catch these places next time around. I find that when you are traveling by bus, every new place you visit costs you about a day in down time by the time you drop your backpack in the next hotel room. So… my friends, onward to Florianopolis.

Florianopolis

From Angra the agents at the Rodoviario will inform you that to get to Florianopolis you will need to return to North toRioand circle back on a bus from there. I am not a big believer in walking backwards so once again, using Costa Verde I caught a bus intoSao Paulo and connected to Florianopolis there. The name of the bus company that serves from Sao Paulo as well as Curitiba to Florianopolis is called Catarinese and from Angra the total in summation was 130 reales. It was like I said, about 18 hours.

Florianopolis, is an island in the state of Santa Catarina that has a completely different feel from the northern reaches of Brazil. It is known as the surfing capital of Brazil, hosting its share of professional surfing tournaments. From sand boarding the dunes of Praia Joaquina to hiking the beautiful forest trail at Praiado Leste there is not much you can’t do in Florianopolis.

Where to Stay

With hundreds of beaches, there are many places to stay in Florianopolis. The two most popular areas to stay are Praia Ingleses on the north end of the island, or Barra da Lagoa located directly in the center on the eastern coast of the island. I would recommend Barra da Lagoa as I met a very wonderful couple there who rented me a fully furnished one bedroom apartment for the amazing price of 40 reales a night. Plus Barra da Lagoa is more centrally located allowing you to travel around the island with ease.

The owners of the apartment are named Ceia and Cezar. Their phone number is (48)3232.3409 They are located 1 block from the beach at Rua Dorvalina Carolina Florindo, 174 Barra da Lagoa.

A really sweet guy old guy named Eduardo hangs around the bus terminal will take you there for around 20 reales. His cell is 48 9973 0317, he also does tour guides. Was born and raised on the island

Affiliated with Eduardo is Alejandro Cardoza who can make you an excellent deal on car rentals, and may also advise you on other places to stay. I met him in the bus terminal and he is who introduced me to Ceia and Cezar. His phone number is 48 9965 3450 and his e mail is Alejandrofloripa@hotmail.com

From Florianopolis we hopped another really long bus ride to Iguazu Falls. Unfortunately my notes on this part of the trip seem to have gone missing but I can tell you one thing. You definitely don’t want to miss the opportunity to check out one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. It was absolutely mind blowing and hands down one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Make time to visit Iguazu. You won’t regret it. Overall Brazil was an amazing travel destination and it has remained in my memories over the years that have passed. If you like tropical beaches, great food, and an general sense of adventure I would highly recommend you make the trip and see it for yourself.2013-06-29_0001.jpg

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Author:Barry Hackett

Barry is a wedding & lifestyle photographer with a passion for environmental and philanthropic issues. He currently resides in Long Beach, CA. You can view his other work at www.barryhackett.com and www.hitchedphoto.com

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