Brazil is a picture perfect, exotic, bustling country with awe inspiring landscapes and attractions. In January 2018, I spent the whole month travelling with my boyfriend, Max, from Rio De Janeiro down south ready to hop over the border to Uruguay to continue our 6 months travelling in South America (which I´ll write about soon.) We got a flight with TAP Air to Rio where our adventures began.
It was quite possibly the best way to start the year! Below I’ve listed where we went, for how long, what we did and what we experienced.
Rio De Janeiro
We started the month in Rio and it did not disappoint. We were both pleasantly surprised with how safe we felt – yes, as with any major city in the world, there are obvious dangers and you should always have your wits about you, but it didn’t take long for us to feel completely at ease in this beautiful city.
We stayed Rio for 4 days, allowing us enough time to see/do everything expected. These were jampacked days, so if you´d rather take things a little shower, I´d recommend adding a day. We split our time between 2 different hostels in Santa Teresa, Bossa in Rio and Terra Brasilias – both great hostels centrally located (although both up a pretty hilly area which is killer with your backpack!).
What we did:
- Cable cart up to Sugarloaf Mountain
- Rode the tram to see Christ the Redeemer
- Strolled around the Jardim botanico
- Walked up Escadaria Selaron
- Wandered around Olimpica Boulevard (and enjoyed some delicious street food)
- Visited the Metropolitan Cathedral
- Ate some amazing vegan food at a restaurant called Las Vegans (we went here a couple of times and yes, it is branded like Las Vegas)
Whilst in Rio, the weather was a bit all over the show (brilliant sunshine, overcast, rain and thunder all in one day) – this meant that we didn’t end up enjoying any beaches and I didn´t get to sing to Copacabanna song on the famous beach (boooo).
Navigating around Rio was pretty easy; the buses are frequent and you´ll be quick to master after a couple rides (they´re also a lot cheaper than taxis/Uber’s!). Although very humid whilst we were there (my hair was outta this world), we also tried to walk wherever we could.
Next stop: Ilha Grande
This is a welcomed contrast of the hustle and bustle of Rio. It’s an island just off of Brazil and can only be described as paradise. No vehicles are allowed on the island, there are no banks (so be sure to take enough cash with you to last your stay!) and the majority of the island remains in it’s natural, untouched state.
We stayed on the island for 3 days at Hi Hollandes hostel (highly recommend!), allowing us ample time to relax and enjoy the island.
What we did:
- Enjoyed a number of picturesque beaches, including Lopes Mendes beach, which we arrived at via water taxi then trekked the 3-hour forest path back (there´s no other way to get there, the trek was hard but worth doing one way!)
- Walked around the shopping and main high street area
Although we did an organised transfer to the island, we made my own way back off again – hostel hosts are extremely knowledgeable, so don’t be anxious to ask them questions! We got the ferry that the locals take and a public bus to our next location, costing us half of what it would if we’d taken the easy option of a transfer. Something we learnt very quickly is to ask ourselves ‘how do the locals do it?’ – we´ve saved a lot of money this way.
Do not miss out this island, we met lots of backpackers along the way that have regretted doing so.
Next stop: Paraty
Paraty is a small historical town with nice beaches and cobblestone streets. Whilst there isn’t as much going on as the previous 2 places visited, it’s a beautiful place and worth your time. We stayed here for 2 days (3 nights) and it was the perfect amount of time.
What we did:
- We paid for a jeep tour to thewonderful, natural waterfalls located in the forests surrounding Paraty – these are difficult to get to yourself and only cost R$60 each for the tour (well worth it) – you get to explore the waterfalls, swim in the beautiful waters and learn about Paraty´s history
- Enjoyed a beach day (that got interrupted by a pretty crazy thunderstorm)
- Window shopped the lovely shops in the main historical town area
After our beach day, we were planning to join a free walking tour (it’s not actually free as you tip the guide at the end), but the weather got in the way of this – something for you to consider whilst you’re there though.
We took a 6-hour coach to that we booked from the bus station from Paraty to São Paulo (we never booked our buses online, as they were much cheaper in person, just remember to take your passport as they always need that to book your ticket).
Next stop: São Paulo
The largest city in South America and it was a little underwhelming, to be honest as we thought it would be like Rio. We didn’t love our time here, but we did enjoy our hostel very much (Viva HostelDesign). We stayed here for 3 days but could have done 1 or 2.
What we did:
- Walked up Paulista Avenue (reminded us of Oxford Street in London)
- Visited Parque do Ibirapuera, a beautiful park in the heart of the city
- Attempted to go to an art museum, but it closes on Tuesdays (we visited on a Tuesday *rolls eyes*)
- Got lost, a loooot (every day won´t go smoothly, but try to remember that it´s ok!)
- We wondered if we could have stayed in a nicer area or if there was something we had completely missed, but after speaking to others we found it wasn’t just us that found São Paulo a bit meh.
From here, we took a 6-hour coach to Curitiba that we booked from the main bus station.
Next stop: Curitiba
A small city that has a very European feel to it. It’s not a particularly backpacker place but offers beautiful and safe surroundings.
What we did:
- Botanical gardens (not as good as Rio´s)
- Wandered around Museo Oscar Neimeyer
The reason we visited Curitiba was to break up the long bus journey between São Paulo and Foz do Iguaçu, so isn’t a must-see city. We stayed for a couple of days.
We took our first night bus from here to Foz do Iguaçu that left at 11 pm and arrived in Foz at 9 am the next morning – this was booked at the main Curitiba bus station.
Next stop: Foz do Iguaçu
Foz do Iguaçu
What. A. Place. It´s home to a number of fantastic tourist hot-spots, including the Iguazu Falls (one of 7 wonders of the world). We stayed at a great hostel called Tetris (which is recommended in the South America Lonely Planet Book), it´s a central hostel with great bus links to everywhere you need to be.
What we did:
- Wandered around the Three Borders Mark (where you can see Argentina and Paraguay from Brazil)
- Visited a beautiful Buddhist Temple
- Admired the Falls, one day spent on the Brazilian side and another day on the Argentinian side – both absolutely worth doing! We did the Brazilian side with a group of people we met at our hostel and we then did the Argentinian side on our own. Most people will tell you that you have to do a tour as you go through border control etc to get to Argentina, but you can do it yourself with some planning if you´re tight on money. It´s really not as hard as everyone makes out!
This is another of my must-see places and up there with our favourite places in Brazil. From here, we got another night bus to Florianopolis that we booked when we arrived in Foz at the main bus terminal.
Next stop: Florianopolis
We hadn´t planned to go to Floripa (as the locals call it), but we´re so glad we did! It´s an island that occupies some stunning beaches and sand dunes, both perfecting for some surfing! We didn´t go to the sand dunes, but they looked amazing. We spent our first couple of nights in a lovely hostel called Le Flâneur (they served eggs for breakfast, heaven!). As we extended our time in Floripa, we then booked into another hostel that was closer to the beaches.
What we did:
- Our first couple of days we very chilled as we´d been running around Brazil for a good few weeks at this point, so we headed to the shopping mall and other homely things like that
- Relaxed on a couple of the beautiful beaches, including Praya Mole and Praia do Santinho. Max was dying to get on a surfboard, so we rented one on the beach for $R25 for an hour and a half
This was our last stop in Brazil before we headed across the border into Uruguay. I´d definitely recommend making time for Floripa if you want to spend some time on some stunning, sandy beaches.
We had so much fun during our January adventure in Brazil and I hope that this will help you with your plans or inspire you to make some!