13 months
May 10:
19 kinds of meat for a vegetarian
May 16:
life's a beach
May 29:
bizarre beach bazaar
Jun 2:
fast friends
Jun 3:
ciudad del este
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view of Sugar Loaf and harbor
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; May 12, 2005

the low down

Overall: Brazil, simply put, is a very fun place to be.

beach soccer in Rio de Janeiro

What we did: A month in Brazil lazying along their miles of beautiful beaches and exploring a few of their vibrant cities. It's winter right now which means it rains in parts of Brazil for days on end and that it's the low-season for tourists. We spent 2 weeks in Rio de Janeiro (1 week in an apartment in Leme and 1 week with our friends Jeremy and Hope in an apartment in Ipanema). The four of us then decided to drive east to a small beach town called Buzios. Jeremy and Hope left a few days later and we stayed on while it poured rain (we took the opportunity to plan the next couple of weeks of our trip). We ended up flying up to Salvador for a week and then to Foz de Iguazu (Iguazu Falls) for 4 days.

Essentials: A carnivorous appetite, as the cities are filled with churrascarias (see brazil: 19 kinds of meat for a vegetarian). Steaks and other meats are much more readily available than veggies and salads.

People: A local in Chile described the Brazilians to us this way, "I love the Brazilians. They're just happy people - everyone is so, so poor but they just think 'oh well, I'll just go to the beach and dance in the street and sing. I'll just be happy."

celebration of Corpus Christi day in Salvador...

Cost of Living: Food and housing is fairly cheap here and since people spend most of their time at the beach as entertainment, it's relatively cost-free although a fresh coconut with a straw will cost you about $3 USD.

Standard of Living: People here seem happy despite a poor standard of living in most of the cities. There are richer parts of the city with nicer housing, restaurants and shops.

Daily budget: Including accommodations, about $75 USD/day for the two of us. This doesn’t include our rental car.

Food: We most enjoyed a style of eating called Comida-a-kilo which is exactly what it sounds like - eating and paying for what you've piled on your plate, by weight. You can look around and see if the food looks good first, then fill up your plate and weigh it before you sit down. Usually these places have a variety of salads, cheeses and grilled meats.

Exchange rate: $1 USD = 2.5 Reais

What's fabulous: the beaches

Weather: It's winter here which means it can rain all day, most the day, part of the day, or none at all. The weather reports change all day long. The temperature, however, is usually still in the 80s farenheit (27 celcius).

Friendliness: Mixed – we met some people that were incredibly nice and some that weren’t. It might have been partially our fault since we were so on-guard from everyone telling us how dangerous this country can be.

Getting around: Brazil is a big country. We elected to fly from place to place, but it is possible to do it by land if you like. The flights are fairly cheap, however, and it saves a lot of time.

Sugar Loaf (the mountain in the center) in Rio de Janeiro...

Difficulties: There aren’t too many English-speaking people here, especially in Rio (strangely enough), but some Spanish can be quite helpful. Don’t bother trying to understand what they say back to you in Brazilian Portuguese, though, if you don’t speak the language.

Finding a place to stay: We rented apartments in Leme and Ipanema, each for one week (see recommendations below). This was a lot cheaper than staying in a hotel, and especially when Jeremy and Hope arrived for the second week, we were able to stay in a pretty nice place for a very reasonable price. Lucky for us, a friend of a friend previewed a bunch of apartments for us, so we’d like to send a big huge thank you to Tuzinho!

Specific places we visited/things we did:
Rio de Janeiro:
  - Leme: A beach area neighborhood on the more residential side of the coast, next to Copacabana. It’s not as crowded in this area so if you’re looking to get away from the crowds, this works. However, it's a bit grittier and the ocean in this area is too polluted for swimming. If you do find yourself in this neighborhood, eat at a restaurant called Cervantes (recommended by our local friend Tuzinho) which serves up some of the best small grilled meat sandwiches. Grace recommends the steak, pineapple and cheese sandwich.
>> Recommended restaurant in Leme: Cervantes<<
address: Av. Prado Junior, 335
Our friend Tuzinho recommended this one, and it's excellent. They serve up some of the best small grilled meat sandwiches. Grace recommends steak, pineapple and cheese.
  - Copacabana: We walked around this lively area but this part of town has become one of the most dangerous for tourists. Several locals told us to stay out of this part of town at night. We did do some night walking anyway, and it was fine, but the area seemed less happy than some other parts. And hey, you can sing Copacabana, by Barry Manilow and giggle about it.
  - Ipanema: Ah, now we’re talking. It’s the safest and nicest part of town but, of course, it will cost you a little more to stay here. This area has most of the nicer food choices and a fun, crowded beach. The waves in Rio are much larger than we’re accustomed to seeing at home so you get a workout just splashing around in the water.
  - Ipanema Craft Fair: This fun and funky fair sells all kinds of local handicrafts and is great for souvenirs big and small.
  - Corcovado: Well, it’s a big statue that’s currently under renovation. The view from up there is nice though, and the tram ride to get up to it is a few minutes of steep-hilled fun.
>> Recommended accomodation source: All Rio Apartments Dilma Loes <<
email; phone: +55 (21) 2523-8021 or (212) 461-4987 (from the States)
contact: Dilma Loes. Dilmas is so nice! We rented a great apartment in Ipanema Towers through her, and she also provided us tons of inside advice about what to see and do (restaurants, music, etc.)
>> Recommended accomodation source: EZ-Rio Rentals <<
website; email; phone: +55 (21) 9447-9981 or (954) 681-4316 (from the States);
contact: Kenn - he arranged a very reasonably priced apartment (small, but with an incredible view) for us in Leme.

- Overall: Buzios is a small beach town we really enjoyed, just a few hours drive away from Rio. The town is a bit touristy but in general, it’s pretty quiet. At least this time of the year. It has several beaches around town that you can get to on foot or by a short taxi ride. There’s a good selection of reasonably priced food.

early evening in Buzios
  - Beaches: There are a lot of beaches in Buzios. Some of the ones we visited are Joao Fernandes (a popular and friendly place where it's easy to spend an afternoon - there are lots of cafes that serve you drinks right on the beach), Praia Azeda (a small, mostly locals beach - no real restaurants, so bring your own stuff), Playa Ferradura (most popular beach with the locals, so it can be crowded - The tide goes up and down here and when it’s high, there’s no real shore. The fun part is that there’s a small strip of restaurants at the beach where people sit for lunch and the surf washes over your feet under the tables.)
>> Recommended accomodation: Ville Gaignon <<
website; email; phone: +55 (22) 2623 0913;
address: Estrada da Usina #27, Armacao Dos Buzios;
This place is not far from all the action, but is much quieter and more reasonable than some of the places on the main strip (though calling it a strip, in Buzios, is a joke since the place is so relaxed). The owner, Gustavo, is extremely nice and helpful.
>> Recommended accomodation: Pousada Hibiscus Beach <<
website; email; phone: +55 (22) 2623-6221;
address: Rua 1, Nº22 Quadra C, Praia de João Fernandes ;
This is a quiet little place that's a bit off the beaten path. The rooms are cute little huts with balconies. Try to get one of the cabins high up - the view is great.


  - Overall: An interesting contrast to Rio, this town has kept much more of it’s old town feel. It has more of an African influence that spreads through its food and culture. Of course, there are still several beaches on which to relax. Most of what there is to see is around Pelourinho. Try some of the traditional Bahian cuisine, like Bolinhas (deep fried balls of flour with various flavorings) and Moqueca - it is like a curry made with palm oil and coconut milk served bubbling hot in a clay pot (we had ours with soft-shelled crab).
>> Recommended activity: African Dance at the Bale Folclorica da Bahia <<
website; email;
where: theatro Miguel Santana, rua gregorio de matos, 49 – pelourinho;
This performance is amazing - so full of energy and excitement. The venue is small, which means you might have to get tickets in advance, but the benefit is that you're so close to the dancers that you can see the sweat flying off them.
>> Recommended accomodation source: Alain Zamrini <<
email; phone: +55 (71) 3264-9940 or +55 (71) 8107-8986
Alain has the inside track on a lot of places to stay in Salvador. He gave us some good options and the one we choose was a great home base for our week there.
Iguazu Falls:

- Overall: We almost didn’t make the journey to get here, but we’re really glad that we did – it’s amazing! The Brazil side is best for the views and the Argentinean side is better for getting close to (and under!) the falls. Spending a day on each side was about right for us, but you could certainly spend longer if you liked.

Iguazu Falls

>> Recommended activities: walking around, and a boat ride <<
Take as much time as you can just walking around and exploring. It's also fun to do a boat ride that goes close to the Falls. There are several to choose from. We did the Grand Adventure with a company called Iguazu Jungle Explorer (website) - it is a quite truck ride through the jungle and then a (pseudo speed) boat ride into Devil's Throat Canyon (80 Argentinian pesos each, which we booked when we arrived, but it was low-season so maybe you have to book in advance at other times).

>> NOT Recommended accomodation: Recanto Hotel <<
email; phone: +55 (71) 3264-9940 or +55 (71) 8107-8986
They claim they're on the edge of the city but it's just too far away from the action. The price was reasonable, but in the end we had to catch too many buses to get where we wanted to go and there are no food options nearby.
Ciudad del Este, Paraguay:
  - Overall: Okay, we know this isn’t in Brazil but it’s a common daytrip from Iguazu Falls and is worth seeing just for its out-of-this-world insane shopping frenzy-ness (or if you actually want to do a bit of shopping). The prices are pretty good and there’s a lot of high-end stuff as well as regular street market stuff (for details see ciudad del este).

Check out the brazil gallery for pix of all the above!

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved

-- comments from readers --


we will have 2 nights in iugassu. with one full day to see the brazil side of the falls, and half a day to see the argentine side as we will fly out to buenos aires at 3 pm. do you recommend that we travel across the border and stay overnight in argentina, so that we can maximize our limited time at the argentie side of falls. also, was it easy to get around by bus or taxi to the falls and the airport.

--Michelle D. (Atlanta, Georgia, USA); Jan 31, 2007

Tough call. Moving hotels takes time, but also getting to the other side of the falls takes time (with all the buses and transfers it took us about 2 hours). So definitely get started early on your second day. If you have a lot of gear to carry, it might make more sense to change hotels on the evening of the first day. Transportation in general was fine, though not the quickest. Budget some time for it, but the hotel folks can usually tell you the fastest way to get places, so that's helpful.

--Susan & Grace; Feb 12, 2007


We are going to Brazil in April. We want to go to Rio and Buzios then Salvador and Iguacu Falls, but only have time for 3 places. Which would you choose Salvador or Iguacu falls?

--Mlomascolo; Feb 15, 2006

Ugh... that's a tough call, and we think it really depends on what you find most interesting. Iguacu is certainly resplendent with natural beauty. We've seen lots of falls, but this one really took the cake; it is amazing. Salvador is an interesting place to visit because the culture there is significantly different than in Rio (more African). And of course Buzios is great, too, but it its core it's simply a beach town, so in terms of seeing things that are different, you might consider nixing that one instead of one of the other two. That said, if relaxing on the beach is an important part of your holiday, Buzios is perfect for that. Hope this helps!

--Susan & Grace; Feb 17, 2006