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Brazil

Brazil, a photographic journey through the Southeast Region

As I said so many times here, I am passionate about Brazil. Went there for the first time in 2004 with my son and 2 friends, and from then on went there over and over again, and even lived in Rio for 8 months. This time, instead of talking about it, I decided to leave it to your imagination by posting a collection of photographs I took along the years, in the South East region (São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro States). Hope you enjoy, and do not forget: TRAVEL. ALONE, IN GROUP, BUT DO. The memories we create make us turn back in time, dream, and be happy.

Insecure on where to go or how to Plan? Send me an e-mail and we can come up with a nice plan for your unforgettable vacation

I usually start my holidays in São Paulo, as from where I fly from all flights land in São Paulo. The first time I went there had mixed feelings about it, but soon found the somehow magic of this big city, that has amazing gastronomy, culture, shoppings, a huge park (Ibirapuera) in the middle of the urban jungle, the São Paulo equivalent to 5th Avenue, the Óscar Freire street, welcoming people and beautiful sunsets.

Avenida Paulista in São Paulo, Brazil
Avenida Paulista in São Paulo. A huge avenue filled with shops, restaurants, art, museums. It’s where I usually stay
A sunset in São Paulo
São Paulo Has beautiful sunsets
Paulista avenue on a grey rainy day
Paulista Avenue on a rainy day,
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São Paulo, Frei Caneca Road

From São Paulo I usually take the bus (I love relaxing on the amazing Brazilian buses, really comfy and allow me to see the landscapes, and even spot new places for visiting) to the north of São Paulo state and I follow the coastline on BR 101 (one of the most beautiful beach front roads I know) to Rio de Janeiro where  I am usually based (check past posts like this: Why you should go to Rio, How to get to Rio).

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On the way to Rio, on BR 101
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Arriving in Ilhabela an Island in the north coast of São Paulo state
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Ilhabela historical center
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A baby Tucano in Ilhabela
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Ilhabela historical center
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Tucano in Ilhabela
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Ilhabela – the amazing Singuitta lodge

 

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On the road to Rio
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Stopping point on the way to Ilhabela

One of my favorite places along the Southeast coastline is Paraty a small town that is unexpectedly a gastronomic and culture hub and held the famous annual literary fair of Paraty. It is a perfect place to rest, to relax, enjoy the beautiful surroundings, take a day trip to Trindade, eat while listening to amazing live music, shop on the small cobbled streets (that frequently inundate when raining) and go on a boat tour around the islands and the coastline.

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The small charming streets of Paraty
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Typical architecture in Paraty
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Amazing view from my accommodation
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Paraty by night
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Relaxing with birds singing and a beautiful view
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Live music and fine dinning
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Me with friends I met in Paraty
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Getting ready for a boat tour
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Trindade beautiful beaches
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Climbing the rocks to get to the perfect spot for a shot
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Cobbled streets of Paraty
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Trindade
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Trindade
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Paraty main canal

Another fantastic place you can visit along the coast from São Paulo to Rio is Angra dos Reis, an Archipelago with 365 islands, most of them private. The small town itself is not a nice place to be, but visiting the islands is a must and staying in the coastline North or south of Angra dos Reis Town, or at Ilha Grande is fantastic.

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Stop point, look at the color of the water
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Boat tour around the Islands
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People having a blast in the transparent emerald green waters
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On a boat tour around Ilha Grande
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Our boat and Biscaia (Angra East Coast

And then you get to the Cidade Maravilhosa (marvellous city) Rio de Janeiro. The next photographs will surely tell you why that name, what a perfect combination of nature, beach, city, mountain, sea, art, culture and architecture Rio is.

Ipanema, Posto 8, Rio de Janeiro
This is the beginning of the famous Ipanema neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro
Parque Lage Rio de janeiro, bairro Jardim Botânico
This is Parque Lage, a beautiful place close to Jardim Botânico, in Rio de Janeiro
sunset at Arpoador, Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro
The beautiful Aropoador, the most famous sunset spot in Rio de Janeiro
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One of the numerous view points, this one overlooks one of the famous favelas
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Devil’s beach
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City center
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The beautiful design of the Municipal Theater
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The fascinating contrast between the modern and the old buildings
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Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon
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The world famous Copacabana beach
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Walking around Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon
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View from the Sugar Loaf Mountain
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Sunset at Arpoador
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The famous Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio
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Another stunning sunset
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São Conrado
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Copacabana busy streets – urban jungle
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The brand new Museu do Mar (Museum of the Sea)
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Cristo Redentor – Christ the Redeemer
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The famous Calçadão in Copacabana
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The view from the apartment I rent in Rio
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View from the Corcovado

Another place that you can easily reach from Rio, on a 2.5h bus drive is Búzios. Búzios became world famous in the 1960’s due to being Brigitte Bardot’s favorite summer place. It is a peninsula with 25 beaches, islands and a small yet luxurious and cosmopolitan town, with the famous Rua das Pedras where all the action happens. It is a fantastic place for holidays, with world class restaurants, hotels, resorts, B&B and even rental apartments. I will write a dedicated post about Búzios, stay tuned.

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Sunset in Búzios
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Praia dos Ossos in Búzios
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The pier where the boat tours departure
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One of the many beach bars
Azeda beach at sunset, in Búzios
Azeda Beach
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Walking along the promenade
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The famous Rua das Pedras

You may be thinking by now “so, the southeast is all about the beach?”. No, and I will leave you, to finish this post, with two charming places in the mountains: Petrópolis, the Imperial city where King D. Pedro lived, 1 hour away from Rio by car/bus, and Campos do Jordão, in São Paulo state, a busy, hype, luxurious destination, home of winter festivals, the fondue town, where the famous hang around during winter due to the cold weather (very cold), fantastic gastronomy, beautiful landscape and…yes…beer!

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Imperial Palace in Petrópolis
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The entrance to Imperial Palace in Petrópolis
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The gardens of the Imperial Palace in Petrópolis
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View to the cathedral
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One of the typical buildings
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Lateral wing of the Imperial Palace in Petrópolis
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German/Swiss architecture in Petrópolis
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The railway line crossing Campos do Jordão from where tourist train rides to the surroundings departure
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The typical buildings in Campos do Jordão
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The beautiful Amantikir gardens
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The gardens in Campos do Jordão
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Campos do Jordão cozy landscape

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Where to go in Rio – My places

I keep repeating myself I know, but Rio is Rio. I am planning to go there again in December/January and can’t wait to see my beloved city again. As with other big metropolis Rio has problems. Safety is one of the main problems Rio now faces, as crime rates have increased a lot and favelas, that were successfully pacified, are again on the spotlight due to drug trafficking and assassinations of Military Police. However, media has the power to exacerbate things, and people that do not know Rio will believe in everything that is posted or broadcasted. I live in a dangerous place, that, contrary to Rio, does not get the same attention. I travel frequently to Johannesburg, that is a very dangerous place. What we need to have is common sense. We need to know where to go, how to behave. Wearing jewelry and expensive electronics is a ticket to being robbed, not only in Rio, in many places. Going to neighborhoods and spots already known for having crime issues its a call for being robbed or assaulted – in any place not just Rio.

Getting back to my post. Today I am presenting you three of my places in Rio.

  1. Feira Hippie in Ipanema (Ipanema Hippie Fair)

Feira Hippie operates from 7:00am to 7:00pm on every Sunday and its located at  Rua Visconde de Pirajá | Praça General Osório (buses and metro take you there beautifully).

The fair is running since 1968 being known and appreciated worldwide, both for its creative and innovative works, local gastronomy and out of the box decorative articles and handcrafts.

The fair opened for the first time in 1968, in the middle of the military dictatorship. General Osório Square soon became a spot for artists and craftsmen.  A the beginning there were no stalls or tents, the artists just laid down a piece of cloth on the floor to display their work. Over the years the fair evolved and today it has organized line up, with stalls, attracting tourists and locals. There you will find handcrafted and exclusive arts based on the amazing diversity of materials Brazil has, and on the stupendous creativity of its people.  From earrings, to necklaces, purses, bikinis, Cangas, toys, table cloths, to shoes, souvenirs, and clothing you will surely find something to buy. If not into buying, just walk around it and  feel taken by the cheerful vibe, colors and the vibrant personality of the Brazilian people.

Don’t YOU DARE leaving the fair without tasting the Acarajé – a king of croquette, fried in Dendê (Palm) oil, filled with spicy shrimp and bean paste, a delicacy from Bahia.

2. Mirante da Paz

Mirante da Paz is located at the top tower in Ipanema and is accessed through one of the exits/entrance of General Osório subway station in Rua Barão da Torre. Among the various exits of the station, there is one that leads directly to the Rubem Braga Complex. The complex consists in  a series of elevators and walkways aimed to make life easier for the residents of Morro do Cantagalo. The elevator works from 5am to 12am. Just take the elevator, ask the attendant to stop on the 2nd floor and climb three flights of stairs.

If you go on foot, the complex is located at the intersection of Teixeira de Melo and Barão da Torre streets. It is a tower with a panoramic elevator that leads to the Mirante da Paz.

When you get there, you will have a 360º breathtaking view of Ipanema beach, Cagarras Islands, a part of Arpoador, a part of Copacabana, the Cantagalo Favela, Corcovado (Christ the redeemer) , Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, Botanical garden, and even a little piece of Gávea, Leblon  and Morro Dois Irmãos., as well as a very good picture of Cantagalo Hill, to which the elevator gives access through a long walkway or pedestrian bridge that connects to another elevator that does in turn reach a higher level of of the community.

And guess what? All that amazing view FOR FREE, not bad huh?

3. Mirante do Leblon

This is for sure one of my favorite places in Rio, when I want an amazing sunset and a relaxing time. Overlooking Leblon and Ipanema, there is this large wooden deck, based on a rock platform that gives us a beautiful view of the ocean and all of the beach front road of Leblon and Ipanema on the way down to Arpoador from one side, and São Conrado, and Vidigal favela on the other, with the magnificent Morro Dois Irmãos at your feet. The deck is populated with two kiosk that sell beer, snacks and coconut water (prices are very high).

It is very easy to get to the Mirante by simply following the beach front road and climbing the hill at the end of Leblon, or taking a bus that stops at the end of Leblon or goes to São Conrado, Vidigal/Rocinha, or Barra. There is a small parking lot on site, which works on the Rotating River system. You pay $ 2.00 and can be parked for up to two hours. On weekends it becomes chaos and it is difficult to find vacancies.

For those who like to exercise while enjoying the scenery, try a good walk there from Copacabana or Ipanema and go admiring the entire border of the south zone (but go prepared, tennis, appropriate clothes if you choose to walk the entire edge, Hey!), You can stop halfway, admire the beaches and when you get there sit at one of the kiosks and drink an ice cold coconut water or a beer, for the lovers. Then just admire the landscape, and it is to be thrilled to see! Go in sunny day, it is much more beautiful!

In case you do not take long to do this walk of about 7.5km (little goes … rs), just go by car, there is parking in the place, or even by bus and walk a little until you reach the belvedere.

It is very common to see fisherman, some standing close to the wall, others sitting on a bench throwing their lines into the sea to catch fish. At the end of the afternoon all types of crowd reunite there to watch the sunset and have a nice cold coconut water.

Where to Go in Rio – Arpoador

Arpoador or Arpex as it is affectionately called by Cariocas deserves a post of its own. I have literally hundreds of photographs taken there and its beauty is only possible to describe visually. Nothing I would write would prepare you for the beauty of that place.

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Ipanema viewed from Arpoador rock

Its a cliché but its nonetheless a different experience each time. Its breathtaking and only once there you can feel the vibe and fantastic energy of that place. Its calming, invigorating, anti-depressant, its an experience not to be missed.

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People gathered for sunset at Arpoador

Arpoador is located between Copacabana and Ipanema, in a 800m long stretch between Fortress of Copacabana and Francisco Otaviano Street. It’s name derives from the fact that a long time ago whales could be harpooned in the vicinity of the coast.

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Each day a different color, a different crowd, but always amazing

The beach is very popular with surfers due to its strong and good waves for practicing that sport. For the adventurous, spotlights on the beach allow surfing at night.

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Surfers and swimmers

At the base of the rock there are paths and hiking trails. Either in summer or winter, this is THE place to be for an unforgettable sunset. Arpoador Stone can be visited at any time of the day; try to go early, sip a caipirinha or Limonada Suiça at the Arpoador Inn hotel and close to sunset walk all the way up and choose a place to sit and enjoy.

 

 

Where to go in Rio – Part III

The list of clichés about where to go in Rio is almost endless. Its such a diverse and beautiful city that I could go on and on about it and I believe I would never end. So, I am focusing on the most obvious, safe, and that will certainly satisfy everyone. I will also, on another post, write about my “secret” places and another not so secret favorite places.

Today I will focus on the Jardim Botânico (Botanical Garden) and Parque Lage.

Jardim Botânico – the Botanical Garden

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The line of Imperial Palms is the first image you get when entering the Garden
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Xafariz das Musas
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Several species of monkeys cross your path when you stroll around the Garden
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One of the many ambiances of the Botanical Garden
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Flowers, trees, herbs, every corner has a surprise
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One of the many orchids from the “Orquidário”
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One of the many orchids from the “Orquidário”
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Bridge to Japonese Garden

The Botanical Garden is a magic place showcasing an outstanding diversity of flora and fauna. It was founded in June 1808 by D. João VI, who was the prince regent, of Portuguese Monarchy that was governing Brasil. It is one of the ten most important Botanical Gardens in the world, being home to the rarest species of plants of the Brazilian flora and also of other countries. It is a great option for family programs and a true treat for the lovers of nature. The Botanical Garden Janeiro is listed both by the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute and was defined by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve area.

There are more than 6,000 species of plants, over an approximate area of 54 hectares, divided in several environments. Just walking around it, amidst the fragrances, sounds, views, discovering a new feature at every step, watching the bird diversity, the monkeys running from one place to another, the squirrels calmly looking at you as if you were part of the setting, or simply sitting on a bench and letting time flow is a program you will not forget soon.  Make sure you do not get distracted by the calmness and peace of the place and take a time to visit the various attractions of the garden, which include:

  • Central Fountain (Chafariz Central or Chafariz das Musas): Four figures are represented in the central fountain, that was made in England and transported to Rio: music, poetry, science and art.
  • Casa dos Pilões: an archaeological nucleus representing the activity of the former gunpowder factory.
  • Orquidário: Contains and immense collection of orchids as well as anthuriums, ferns and avencas, being one of the most beautiful collections
  • Japanese garden: It was created in 1930´s, and is a delight to the eyes, showcasing the delicacy of Japanese culture, with its bonsai, cherry trees and bamboos
  • Sensory Garden: it was conceived in a way that the plants can be touched by the visitors, and it was mainly aimed at the visually impaired. It has aromatic plants and the visitor is invited to touch and smell. Plant species are identified by plaques with braille writing.
  • Amazon Area: This part of the botanical garden evokes the vegetation of the Amazon, with examples of rubber trees, andirobas and cacao.

Map of the Botanical Garden

The Garden is open every day of the year except December 25 and January 1st. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 8am to 5pm, and on Mondays from 12am to 5pm. The entrance fee is approximately 5USD, being free for children under 5 years old and half entrance for people over 60 years old. The entrance is only by Rua Jardim Botânico nº 1008 and there is no parking available on site.

You can get there by car, taxi, Uber, cabify or Bus. Those who drive can park at Jockey Club, located opposite the Garden, and Santos Dumont Square, 31 (in front of the Square). Visitors to the Botanical Garden have a discount, by presenting a parking ticket stamped at the Garden when paying for the parking time.  For people with severe difficulties of locomotion there is exclusive parking (4 parking spaces), which entrance is through Rua Jardim Botânico, 1008.

Tips

  • Wear comfortable clothes and sneakers
  • Take mosquito repellent.
  • There are drinking fountains and WC in the park., but taking a bottle of water is always advised
  • Do not forget your camera
  • Check the Botanical Garden website and the Facebook page for special events.
  • Jockey Club and Rua Pacheco Leão, behind the Botanical garden have excellent gastronomic options
  • There is an app from the botanical garden both for , iPhone, iPad e iPod Touch and Android

Android app

Parque Lage

Parque Lage is located near the Botanical Garden, at the foot of Morro do Corcovado where Christ the Redeemer is. Parque Lage is a place that joins culture, arts and nature in an unique way.

When you cross the entrance gate you enter into a magic world of green, where a diverse flora, both native and European makes you believe that conservation is a dream come true. Walking inside you get to the main building and all of a sudden you are transported to the 16th century, in a unreal feeling of being truly in the past.

Parque Lage was, in 1957, listed by the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute (IPHAN) as a historical and cultural heritage site. It was initially designed by the English landscaper John Tyndale in 1840. As you walk through it you come across imperial palms, artificial lakes and islands, caves and the aquariums embedded in the walls of a cave with a diversity of fish.

The main building, which is a mansion from the 16th century, hosts the School of Visual Arts (EAV) that offers free workshops and classes for artists, training courses for young people, as well as diverse program of exhibitions, and seminars. The EAV also has a library and an auditorium.

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To get there you can get the same bus as for the Jardim Botânico and although both are close to each other, I would advise to visit them on separate days to make sure you take enough time to enjoy the place. Taxi, Uber and Cabify are also options to get there, as well as driving. Contrary to the Botanical Garden, parque Lage has 50 parking spaces within the park, for approximately 2.5USD per period. t is also easy to park in the surrounding streets. The Park is open 7 days a week, from 08:00 – 17:00, and the entrance is free of charge.

Tips

  • Free maps are distributed in the Visitor Center
  • The central courtyard has a pool, and there is a Bistro (Bistro Plage) that offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sit there and enjoy a coffee or  meal while watching and listening to the art and music events that take place all year round. Be prepared to pay high prices, as with any other tourist point in Rio;
  • Explore the trail leading to Corcovado, but be careful, it’s not for beginners, and it can be dangerous for people that do it alone
  • If driving go to Vista Chinesa (there are directions to get there) from where you will have a stunning view from the City. If a woman, be careful and do not go there alone
  • Take comfortable shoes and clothes as well as a bottle of water and mosquito repellent
  • If staying in Leblon, Copacabana, Ipanema or Lagoa, walk from parque Lage home. Its a beautiful walk, around the lagoon. Make sure you have comfortable shoes as the distance can be considerable.

Location/Map

Website of Parque Lage

Rio – Where to go Part 2

Continuing with the clichés, today we have Calçadão (walkway) and Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon

Calçadão

Probably the most famous walk way in the world. Walking along the alçadão with a coconut water in your hands is still a must when you travel to Rio. The calçadão stretches from Leme, at the beginning of Copacabana all the way down to Posto 6 (limit with Aropoador), and then from Arpoador, all the way to Posto 12 in Leblon. There is also one at Barra, of which I am not going to talk because I never stayed in Barra. As I said in a previous post, I am a Zona Sul kindda gal 🙂 One interesting thing to note is that the design varies according to the zone, being the most famous the waves of Copacabana.

From sunrise, to sunset, along the day and into the night, you will always find people walking along the calçadão. Some in suits (yes suits), some in shorts, some in sports clothes and some wearing bikinis. Some running, some walking, some standing, some walking their dogs and even cats (yes cats, I have came across 1 or 2 looking as cariocas as their human family). From Leme to Arpoador, you will see all sorts of people from all over Brazil and all over the world. The beach is usually crowded during weekends, when the main road has one way closed for cars to let people enjoy walking along the beach. During the week, the beach is less crowded and its a pleasant walk to take early in the morning or late in the afternoon, feeling the vibe, watching the colours, smells and moods, talking with locals (who are very friendly) and enjoying Rio. At the end of your walk, sit in one of the Kiosks and have a chilled coconut water or a Chope (Brasilian draft beer, light and less bitter), eat a grilled Coalho cheese (very similar to Halloumi) or a portion of calabresa sausage.

Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon

The lagoon is located in the neighborhood of the same name “Lagoa”, one of the most expensive and fanciest of Rio. It is surrounded by other fancy and nice neighborhoods such as Jardim Botânico, Ipanema and Copacabana and  from there you have an amazing view of the Christ statue, making it a perfect place to be specially at sunset. The lagoon is connected to the ocean, allowing sea water to enter by a channel that divides Ipanema from Lebon – on the edge of a park known as Jardim de Alah.

You can walk, run or bike around it, as there is a paved biking path surrounding it, with approximately 7.5km. There are bikes for renting and you can simply enjoy a ride looking at the beauty surrounding you. It is stage of many water sports such as rowing, pedalling, SUP, etc, and you can hire a pedal boat and enjoy a good exercise moving around the lagoon. Its is loaded with kioks and restaurants, some with live music.

It is also at the lagoon that the world’s taller Christmas tree is displayed during the festive season. Seeing the lights turning on after sunset is something that always makes me go there for more. The tree is financed by Bradesco Bank, and sadly this year, due to the economic crisis, for the first time in decades it was not there. Hopefully in 2017 it will be there again to delight us with its beauty and magic.

You can get to the Lagoon by feet, taxi, bus, metro. There are also parking options available. The Lagoon is connected to the road that goes to the International Airport by Rebouças Tunnel.

Tips:

  • Hire a bike in one of the hiring points, take a ride from Copacabana to Leblon and from there to the lagoon
  • Like to run or walk? Take your sneakers, a bottle of water, some cash, a cap and enjoy it
  • Make  sure you do not have valuable belongings like jewelery, smartphones, cameras visible when walking around the lagoon and calçadão, specially if in less busy hours
  • Always behave like a local, do not go to the beach alone during the night or sunrise specially if being a woman or carrying valuables with you
  • Kioks at the beach are quite expensive, and prices increase as you move from Copacabana to Ipanema and Leblon
  • Go to the lagoon for sunset, its beautiful, as it is in Arpoador (no way the lagoon beats it, will dedicate a section just for it), Ipanema and Leblon

Rio – Where to go Part 1.

Where to go in Rio is probably the most difficult to write about. There are endless choices for food, sightseeing, shopping, having a good time.  Rio is Rio. Rio is beautiful. Rio is diverse. Rio is eclectic. Rio is more than what you read in newspapers, more than what you see in documentaries, books, magazines. Rio…Rio

We can start with the clichés, the places everyone talks about. It’s worth it. Some can be pricey, nonetheless still worth it. No matter how many pics you see, how many ads you see, you are never prepared for what they are.

1. Corcovado/Cristo – Christ the Redeemer

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Cristo Redentor – Christ the Redeemer
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Lagoon Rodrigo de Freitas and Jockey Club
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Rio Centro and South View from Christ – Sugar Loaf, Marina da Glória, Downtown Rio
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Lagoon Rodrigo de Freitas

One of the most stunning views of Rio de Janeiro. Its tricky, you might have to go there more than once to get THE perfect day. It is often clouded, the weather changes from one moment to another, but from up there you will totally understand why Rio is the Cidade Maravilhosa – the Wonderful City. The mix of green and cement, the graciousness, grandiosity, the sea, the lagoon, the rock outcrops  characteristic of Rio, the contrasts between the Favelas and the chic places such as Ipanema and Leblon, all seen from a distance, coming together in a picture of immense beauty

It was elected as one of the 7th wonders of the world and an UNESCO Heritage Site. The Christ welcoming everyone with open arms, a serene face, it’s something that has to be seen at least once in your life.


Since 2016 Corcovado or Cristo, was revamped (Olympics) and new attractions added. There is the Visitors Centre (Centro de Visitantes), located in a old hotel (hotel das Paineiras). It provides tourist support, is home of the new ticket office, has a souvenir shop (I would not buy anything there as it is extremely overpriced), toilets, restaurants and a free exhibition.

How to get there:

You can get there by bus, subway, Uber, taxi and van. And of course, you can rent a car and drive there. If you choose the train (Trenzinho) you will not pass through the Visitor Centre as it will take you straight to the Christ, from where you take the stairs (be fit) or the lift. Car is the least preferred option due to the lack of parking close by. The place is usually crowded, everyday at anytime. To avoid getting there and have to wait for a long time, buy your ticket online:

Online Ticket office

The train is the most charming way to climb to the Christ. It passes through Tijuca Forest, the largest urban forest in the World and takes you to the foot of the statue. Make sure you seat on the right side of the train to enjoy the best view. Trains start at 8h30 and end at 18h30, leaving every half hour, 7 days of the week. When you get there, well take a deep breath and enjoy. Enjoy the view, enjoy the city at your feet, stay till sunset, you will never forget, you will come for more.

2. Pão de Açucar – Sugar Loaf Mountain

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Downtown
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Cable Car, Praia Vermelha, Copacabana
ferias 250 (Cópia em conflito de Dalila-PC 2013-12-26)-01
View of Sugar Loaf from the terrace of Botafogo Praia Shopping
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Rio from the Sugar Loaf

Another one of my favorites, another cliché, another place where breathtaking scenery makes you realize its worth going there, and nothing you read will prepare you for what you will see.

The ascent is made in two steps: The first, from Praia Vermelha in Urca neighborhood  up to the top of Urca Hill (app 220m asl), and the second to the top of the Sugar Loaf Mountain from where you will have literally a 360º view of the whole city and its surroundings, Guanabara Bay, Niteroi, and with good weather even the God’s Finger Mountain in Teresópolis.

The tickets are sold in a ticket office at Praia Vermelha and the cable car runs from 8h00 to 21h00, every 20 minutes.The ride is smooth and you can hop off on the first station, take you time, enjoy the view and at any time hop on again.

 When you get to the top, nothing prepares you to what you will see, breathtaking views, ranging from Leme to Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon. From Downtown to Flamengo, Pedra da Gávea and Corcovado mountain, the planes taking off from Santos Dumont Airport, the Rio-Niterói bridge, Niteroi, Guanabara Bay, Marina da Glória, Urca. The sunset and the slowly change in colors as night rises its something you do not want to miss.

How to get there

Getting to Urca is easy, either by bus, taxi, Uber or cabify. If going by bus, from downtown Rio take bus 107, from Zona Sul bus Circular 2, bus Circular 1 are the options.  If taking the subway, leave at Botafogo Station and take bus 513. For more information on rates, and other general information the official site is a good starting point:

Official Site of the “Bondinho”

Tips:

  • New to Rio, traveling solo and feeling unsure of what to visit or insecure on being safe? Hire a reliable Touring Company. There are many, they have several packages, and they take you to Corcovado and Sugar Loaf in one day, with lunch at a steakhouse.
  • Dress in comfortable clothes and shoes, a cap or hat, take your sunscreen and sunglasses, camera, and cash (in case for some reason your visa card will not work, it happens sometimes)
  • Restaurants and cafes are expensive, over priced. You can of course eat there but be prepared to pay and the food being only ok.
  • Take water with you unless you want to pay more than it is worth it
  • Souvenirs are expensive. You can find all of them in shops other than at the Corcovado or Sugar loaf.
  • I like to go in the middle of the afternoon and wait for sunset. However, that is also the time of day when it rains frequently (depending on the season)
  • Be prepared for queues, crowds. Be patient, take care of your belongings
  • If taking a taxi, negotiate or ask them to switch on the meter
  • Buy tickets online in advance, do not forget to take your passport
  1. To be continued ….

Rio – Where to stay

Rio is divided in zones (as all cities) being Downtown (Centro), North Zone, South Zone and West Zone.

The West Zone is the most modern, its where you will find Barra and Recreio, noted for large avenues, green areas and a concentration of shopping centres per square meter I have never found anywhere else in the world.

Centro has been upgraded lately (after the Olympics and other high attention events in the last few years) and what was before a highly dangerous place to be, is slowly being revitalized and people are also slowly moving back to live there. I confess, as a woman solo traveler, I feel uneasy there, specially at night.

The South Zonis mostly made up of neighbourhoods along the coastline, such as Leblon (the most expensive), Lagoa, Ipanema, São Conrado, Copacabana, Leme, Urca, Botafogo, Flamendo and Glória. Contrasting with the high end shops and restaurants, houses and shopping centres, Zona Sul also includes a number of favelas such as Rocinha, Vidigal, Cantagalo in Copacabana and Dona Marta, in Botafogo.

Its in this zone most tourists usually stay. It is packed with accommodation options – the world famous Copacabana Palace is at Avenida Atlantica, Posto 2 in Copacabana, hostels, guesthouses (not so common) and apartments for renting.

Botafogo is a rapidly becoming the apple of the eyes for people that are looking for nice bars and restaurants and a cheaper option to stay. However, the beach is bad and safety is moderate. Rio Sul, a great shopping mall, is located in Botafogo, as well as Botafogo Praia Shopping, not a good shopping but with a breathtaking view of Sugar Loaf from the terrace at the last floor, worth a couple of visits only for the view.

Urca is a very charming neighborhood (where Roberto Carlos, an Icon of the music scene lives), very safeand ideally located close to Botafogo and Copacabana. The It has a small town feel and you will be surrounded mainly by locals

I must confess I am hooked to the South Zone (Zona Sul). I started being a Copacabana  kind of girl but lately due to various factors I stay at Ipanema. These two parts of Rio are  where most foreigners stay, being touristy and expensive when compared with other parts of the city

Copacabana, also called the Princess of the Sea is home of the famous calçadão, Copacabana palace, Forte de Copacabana and an impressive array of restaurants and bars. Prices range from medium to very high depending on the time of the year. The beaches are good, and crowded, and you will find English speaking people quite easily. Lately safety has become a concern, and that is the main reason why I am now staying at Ipanema, definitely a more expensive option, but where I feel safe most of the time. The beach is excellent, shopping is 5 star, lots of bars and nightlife, and very good restaurants to choose from.

Lagoa and Leblon are extremely pricey, although beautiful neighborhoods to stay, safe enough and also with good options for bars, restaurants and shopping. A walk in the lagoon is a must for everyone. If you are into the famous people scene, Leblon is THE place to find all actresses and actors from the world famous Rede Globo de Televisão (TV broadcasting).

Map

And how to choose accommodation?

Well that highly depends on your budget and what do you want when on holidays. The Hotel offer in Rio is impressive. However, its generally expensive. As closer to the beach the more expensive it gets. The Brazilians are a very welcoming people, very talkative and the customer care at hotels is great. Guesthouses are not as common, but slowly its a niche that is developing. Backpackers/hostels are a few, with really nice options and conditions.

I personally prefer, as I travel alone and for longer periods of time (21 days at least), to rent an holiday apartment. It gives me the independence I like, and the possibility to cook at home (I just love to cook), saving my money for special restaurants. Renting an apartment is easy and you will find really good places to stay, with welcoming owners that will quickly put you at ease and make you feel like family.

For me the best options to find accommodation is by using the sites below posted. They are reliable, you get value for money and there is a lot of options to choose from. To find accommodation in Rio, I mostly used alugue temporada, and was always able to find very good options. I like to stay at the same place every year, so when staying in Copacabana I always rented the apartment from a really nice man called Raul, located in Rua Souza Lima 37, Posto 6, the prime zone of Copacabana. Since I changed to Ipanema, I stay at a very quiet and nice apartment at Barão da Torre, Posto 9, from a lovely lady called Diana, who I strongly recommend. Its clean, it has all you need, extremely organized, located in a very nice area and with a very good restaurant just in front of it, called Salitre. Close to the apartment you can also find lots of Bistros, high end restaurants, botecos, healthy food restaurants, coffee houses, you name it.

Bookings

Alugue Temporada

AirBnB

Tips:

  • Make sure you take enough time to plan and to book, best deals are made when booking in advance
  • Avoid (unless you like it) high season: overpriced and crowded
  • make sure you rent from a trusted source, there are a lot of scams on the internet. If negotiating directly with the owner, try to avoid paying a deposit in advance, unless you trust the person
  • Choose an apartment with a doormen (portaria), it helps with safety as well as luggage if needed
  • Always check the norms and rules of the apartment
  • Beware that some people always push up the price for foreigners, negotiate
  • Always ask for free wifi and aircon
  • When entering the apartment, check it with the owner by your side, to agree on the conditions found and ask for replacements if items are not working or missing
  • An important tip (warning: TMI): sewerage pipes in Brazil have a smaller diameter than usual, always make sure you use the trash can instead of the toilet for throwing paper, etc, otherwise you will get into a very embarrassing situation
  • . Many apartments have electric showers. make sure they are in good conditions, and beware that pressure will be lower and temperature sometimes difficult to control.
  • Make sure you know where the waste disposal is. Many apartments have a dedicated place inside the building (on the stairs), and large bags do not fit there.
  • make sure you bring an adapter for your cell phone, shaving machine, hairdryer, etc. Not all apartments have it.

 

Rio – How to get there, when to go

How to get there:

  • By plane: There are many airlines that fly directly to Rio; that would be the preferred option. Where I live usually I take a flight on SAA (South African Airways) directly to São Paulo and by personal choice I stay a couple of nights in SP (will explain why in a dedicated post). From São Paulo you can choose to fly to Rio, using a company like Azul, TAM or GOL. I confess I find their prices high, and when you book online, as a foreigner, you will pay the double a Brazilian does. So, if price is an issue, buy the ticket at the airport, and always leave room for a one night stay in São Paulo (Sampa, as we call it) in case the flights are full. Do not change money at the airport, the exchange rate is very low and taxes are added. Preferably take Reais with you or only change money if you really need. Coffe shops and restaurants only take the local currency but the free shop accepts USD or Euros. Credit Cards are accepted almost everywhere. Visa, American Express or Mastercard. Do not miss having your first Pão de Queijo (cheese bread made of cassava flour) at the Airport. When arriving in Rio, the same applies regarding exchange rates. Rio has two airports – Tom Jobim or Galeão (International flights mostly) and Santos Dumont airport. I can tell you that landing at Santos Dumont airport its a breathtaking experience you will never forget, never, the landscape, the colours, the sugar loaf mountain, all the views are something you need to experience, its again breathtaking. From the Airport take a taxi (the taxi kiosks inside the airport are reliable but pricey, the yellow and blue taxis outside are cheaper, specially of you ask them to use the meter (bota no relógio). There is also a Bus service, that takes quite a long time to get to Copacabana or Ipanema, but its cheap and reliable (link below)

Airport Bus Service

Another option is the BRT (Bus Rapid Transport), which is faster as the buses move through exclusive lanes in Rio de Janeiro. There are two BRT options to reach the airport: the TransCarioca line with stops, passing through 47 stations and 5 terminals along the way, and TransCarioca Express, which departs from Terminal Alvorada, with stops on the Fundão Terminal, Vicente de Carvalho Station (integration with the subway) and Madureira. In Galeão Tom Jobim Airport there are two stations serving passengers:

  • Galeão – Tom Jobim 1: located in the Terminal 1 arrivals – H door
  • Galeão – Tom Jobim 2: located in the Terminal 2 arrivals – D door

BRT service

Another option would be to book a transfer company, its a safe option but pricey.They have various destinations such as Copacabana, Santa Tereza, Barra da Tijuca, Ipanema, Leblon, Flamengo, Botafogo, Búzios, Angra dos Reis, Paraty, Macae, Cruises Terminal.

Book a Transfer

  • By Car: you can hire a car at any of the rent a car offices at Guarulhos airport and drive to Rio. I never tried and its not the best option for me. If you do not speak Portuguese, getting directions is a difficult task. If traveling solo, its not that safe to do that, you will be vulnerable, specially if you do not speak the language. If you decide to hire a car, remember that in Brazil is driving is like in Europe (not like UK, South Africa, and generally English speaking countries).
  • By bus. I must confess I am not a fan of flying and I love seeing the landscape so I usually go by bus. Also, I often go from SP to other destinations along São Paulo or Rio coastline, and from there to Rio so, bus is my choice. Beware that in spite of being a bit daunting and overwhelming, as the bus station is enormous and crowded, Buses generally leave on time and are extremely comfortable (choose leito or semi leito). You can take the Airport bus (much cheaper than taxi and with a fixed fare, no need to negotiate and you will not be a target of dishonest taxi drivers), cabify or Uber, to Rodoviária Tietê. You can even book and pay for your ticket online and collect it at the Bus Station (get there at least 1 hour before to collect it).

Click bus – ticket reservation

From SP to Rio takes approximately 7 to 8 hours depending on traffic (run away from rush hours like the plague. Avoid traveling to Rio by bus during public holidays, festive season and carnival. It is hell on earth). From SP you arrive at Novo Rio Bus Terminal, located very close to downtown, as well as the main city exists such as Linha Vermelha (to Barra and Recreio), Ponte Rio Niteroi (goes to the lakes region) and Avenida Brazil.

The Novo Rio Bus Station connects with most important tourism destinations in the country and in Rio de Janeiro State (Angra dos Reis, Mangaratiba, Paraty, Teresópolis, Petrópolis, Búzios and Arrial do Cabo e.g.).Taxi cooperatives are also present inside the bus terminal. The yellow and Blue taxis are usually cheaper and are located outside. There are also metro buses, public buses and premium buses. From the Bus Terminal to Zona Sul ( South Zone ) take the so called Frescão (premium bus) that departs every 20 minutes. Public buses are at the main entrance ask what lines are available to your destination

When to go there? Anytime is a good time to visit Rio de Janeiro

  • Summer:  Summer runs from December through the first half of March. I confess I love to travel to Brazil during the festive season. Climate during summer is extremely hot and humid, some days almost unbearable to walk on the street due to the high humidity. It rains a lot during summer, specially at the end of the afternoon. be prepared, and plan your holidays to have something to do on those rainy days. Being at Copacabana to watch the fireworks is an experience you must have at least once in your life. However, if you are looking for peace and tranquility, do not go to Rio during the festive season and Carnival. I have been to Rio in all months of the year with the exception of Carnival season.  Its indeed one of the attractions of Rio, just not my style. Over priced and over crowded. Hotels are all full, inflation rates hit the roof, crime rockets.
  • Spring and Autumn – These are my favorite seasons. Lower temperatures but still high enough to go to the beach, less crowded and less expensive unless it coincides with  “Feriadão” – public holiday. In Brasil, public holidays such as Easter, Independence day, and a couple more are a reason to increase prices, as everyone travels to Rio and other popular destinations. Outside these dates, prices are  fairly cheap and the beaches are not very crowded.
  • Winter – well, if you can call winter to a season where you are still able to enjoy the beach, with lower and much more enjoyable temperatures and humidity, then its winter. Locals (Cariocas) will say its cold, I rarely used more than a jacket and a scarve at night. On the negative side, it coincides with the European holiday season, so August and September can be pricey and somehow crowded. For surfers its an amazing season to go, as waves are fantastic

Why Rio de Janeiro?

Many people ask me why I go so often to Rio de Janeiro. The answer is in fact quite simple: I fell in love with it during my first visit to Brasil in 2004. Why? Gosh there are a multitude of reasons, in fact I don’t even know where to start, so why not starting with the obvious?

  • Rio has one of the most fantastic mixes of styles, colors, smells, landscapes, cultures, races that I have ever seen
  • Rio is a perfect mix between the urban landscape and nature
  • Rio offers a multitude of places to visit so you can spend a month there and still have to return to visit the so many places still to see
  • Rio has beautiful beaches (crowded), cool waters, and chuveirinhos
  • Rio has an amazing gastronomic offer, for all pockets, for all food restrictions, from food trucks, to botecos (small bars), cafes, restaurants, you name it
  • I do not know of a better place to buy bikinis and gym clothing
  • Rio has the best manicures in the universe (will tell a funny story later)
  • The cariocas (either born in Rio or adopted) are funny, welcoming, easy to talk to. Well they are also terrible in getting on time, in giving directions and in speaking English, but those are minor comparing to the rest. You will never feel alone in Rio, be sure of that.
  • As a solo traveler, Rio is not for me the intimidating place many paint it. It is dangerous, as dangerous as so many other cities in the world. You have to know how to behave, where to go and what precautions to take. Planning is crucial, knowing where to stay, the surroundings, helps a lot
  • Rio has options to move around. From buses (for the faint hearted maybe not so nice), to metro, VLT, taxi, Uber, cabify, you name it
  • Rio is amazing for shopping (yeah I love shopping)
  • Rio is a delight for photography

Rio… is Rio, you have to go there to know what I mean, really.

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