What began as a dream to hike at least some of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu ended in a three week ‘Highlights of South America’ honeymoon taking in Brazil, Argentina and Peru.
Exploring Rio De Janeiro
Our honeymoon started (and ended) in Brazil, arriving into Rio De Janeiro, where we took a taxi to our hotel located directly on the world famous 4 kilometre long Copacabana Beach. With stunning views of the pristine white sands and shimmering waters, the best way to stave off jet lag was a refreshing swim. All the rumours you may have heard of Copacabana are probably true – it is full of very beautiful people wearing swimming costumes that leave little to the imagination. It seems however this utter lack of self-consciousness never seems to fade so the attire was exactly the same no matter if they were 18 or 80!
We had 3 days here to begin our trip and the following day we caught the cable car to the peak of Sugarloaf Mountain. With spectacular views of Copacabana and the surrounding area, it’s a great place to start your visit to help get your bearings and a perspective of the sheer enormity of Rio. The afternoon was spent meandering the streets and taking in the vibrant atmosphere before catching the historic Santa Teresa Tram through the inner city hills. With local boys running alongside smiling and shouting ola as the tram labours up the hills, we completed the circuit and came back down a few stops before alighting to explore the cobbled streets. We found a small bohemian bookstore and coffee shop nestled in an old run down mansion and relaxed under a shady tree just taking in the world before heading back down. A beautiful way to escape the city for a short time and relax in the hillside suburbs.
The following day began by heading to catch the Corcovado train to the 710 metre summit of Corcovado Mountain, home of the unmistakable Christ the Redeemer statue. The train and summit can get very busy so arriving early is a good idea to avoid the worst of the crowds but there is no escaping them entirely. It can also often be completely shrouded in mist, so if possible, have the flexibility to change your planned visit or head back for a second visit if necessary. The train ride up is pleasant as it pulls up through the forested mountainside, arriving at the top after about 20 minutes. The statue stands 30 metres tall and sits atop an eight metre pedestal and its arms stretch an impressive 28 metres wide. Unfortunately on our arrival the low cloud cover limited our view to only as far up as his waist forcing us to enjoy a coffee in the cafe which still had stunning views back down the mountain. Our wait paid off however and the mist lifted giving us a full view of the statue in all its glory and it was certainly worth the wait. By today’s standards the height of the statue isn’t huge, but there is something quite evangelical and serene as you stand looking up at it bathed in sunlight.
An alternative way to see the statue is by one of the many helicopter joy rides that can be booked, or better still do both. We joined our flight at the far end of Copacabana beach before taking off and buzzing along the length of both Copacabana and Ipanema beaches for a very different perspective. We rose up and circled Sugarloaf Mountain before heading towards Christ the Redeemer. With the sky glistening blue in the sunlight we had a perfect view as we circled around the statue for a bird’s eye view of this magnificent feature. The flight was about 12 – 15 minutes long and as you’d expect not cheap, but when it comes to travelling for us, the memories of such experiences are always worth every penny.
We also had an afternoon lazing on Ipanema beach, the place forever immortalised in the Song ‘Girl from Ipanema’, and believed to be the second most recorded song in history. Ipanema is much more affluent and fashionable than Copacabana and has a much more relaxed feeling to it. Should we visit again we would in fact base ourselves in this beautiful neighbourhood. It has more of a cosmopolitan feel to it and you indeed felt much more relaxed just hanging out wandering the streets and enjoying the many cafes.
One option we didn’t have time to take in, is the favela tours, taking in a very different side and the reality of Rio for many locals. There are many mixed opinions on the ethics of taking a tour into the houses of the poorer people by paying money to the operators but all of them claim to give monetary contributions to the favela’s and claim to help educate people on the lives of the many people who live here.
Leaving Rio De Janeiro behind us we flew south to the border town of Foz do Iguaçu to visit the Iquazu Falls, firstly from the Brazil side before crossing the border and seeing them also from the Argentinian side. The falls spectacle lies in their length and sheer volume of water plummeting over them and you can only begin to imagine the force and power of this natural wonder. The falls stretch in width for nearly three kilometres and their height varies between 60 and 82 metres making the Iguazu Falls taller than Niagara Falls and twice as wide. We made our way to the top of the falls and took a boat tour further up the river, where the calmness of the water disguises the mammoth falls it’s about to flow over. There are a number of small walking tracks as well that are definitely worth taking a guided tour of as the flora are fauna are often like nothing we had seen before. We finished the day with a visit to Parque das Aves, or Bird Park, with an amazing array of tropical birds like Toucans and Macaws, which is located just outside the main entrance to the falls.
We finished the day by then crossing the border into Argentina to begin the next part of our journey, arriving in Puerto Iguazu.
To be continued……..(we return to Brazil at the end of our honeymoon for a week on the beaches of Buzios in part 3)