One and Done Trips
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I had the opportunity to travel to Brazil with work in October of 2015. It was actually one of the longest times I've ever been away from home- because this trip was piggybacked on another. I literally flew from Philly to Munich for Oktoberfest (there for 3 days) then took a train to Lake Garda, Italy (there for 4 days), then flew out of Verona, connected in Rome, and was on my way to Rio (there for a week). The first few days were rough fighting through jetlag- Rio is only an hour off of Philly, so although it was good getting back to my normal time schedule, that lag going east to west is brutal. Plus you know, plane sleeping is never good sleep. The first 2 nights we stayed in a hostel with work colleagues- and it was the absolute worst. I could not wait to get out of there. It had no air conditioning and it was so hot, no private showers/bathroom (I think I was sharing with a floor of other people), we did get a private bedroom at least. The only thing nice about the place was the pool, which was small but needed, and the location - it was just a couple blocks away from Ipanema beach and had many bars/restaurants close by. For the work portion of the trip- we had a beach party and checked out a Futbol game at the Maracana stadium. We were in the front row, which was pretty cool. The stadium was pretty empty, but the fans that were there went nuts basically the entire game. Futbol is not really my thing, but seeing fans like that, you can at least appreciate it. The stadium sells food- but no alcohol/beer/wine, which is kind of my crutch when it comes to getting through live sporting events. Like I mentioned, I was only there for 2 nights with work, and when they left Joe and I moved to a beautiful hotel, the Marina All Suites, right on Leblon beach for the next 5 days, which was 110% the right thing to do. This hotel was awesome- it had an amazing view of the Two Brothers Mountains, a free delicious breakfast every day, a rooftop pool and bar, and a couple restaurants on the property. It was walking distance to everything in the Leblon neighborhood, as well as walkable to Ipanema and Copacabana beaches.
So everything sounds perfect right? The trip started out struggling but greatly improved- why do I think of Rio as one and done? Because you can't relax, or at least, I felt like I couldn't relax. It's a shame because it is so breathtakingly, naturally beautiful there, and the food is amazing, and all the sights are spectacular. However, I was on edge most of the time.
Here are my major takeaways from Brazil, I'll start off with the negatives:
- The language barrier is no joke here. Nobody, except the hotel receptionists, spoke English. At restaurants, sometimes there would be one menu that would have English translations, but often not, and Portuguese is really hard to read.
- To get to all the attractions, you had to take taxis, and the taxi drivers did not speak English either. I would usually have to pull up a photo of where we wanted to go (literally, on my phone, showing a photo of the big ole Jesus statue). Also, the traffic is terrible, so often I'd be sitting in a hot taxi waiting through traffic jams. And I swear, the drivers would purposely drive the long way, or into the most traffic, to jack up the price.
- Crime here is super real and in your face. And we were constantly reminded of it on several occasions. First with work, we had a party on the beach, and my boss had to hire 2 dudes with guns to guard us and make sure no one tried to steal our stuff or rob us. Then, the first day Joe and I go to the beach by ourselves, we are warned by the hotel staff not to bring anything (they provided beach chairs, towels and umbrellas) in terms of clothing, books, shoes, headphones, iphones, etc. Apparently beach thieves will steal your stuff when you head into the ocean. So I had to walk through the hotel lobby, across the street, and down to the beach with no shoes on and in my bikini only. If I thought they were exaggerating, I was reminded this was no joke about every hour when a good dozen police officers in groups would walk down the beach holding large guns. With all this going on, it was really hard to relax.
- Poverty is super real and in your face. For every beautiful view of high rises, jungles and sprawling beaches, there are also favelas, boarded up and crumbling homes, and therefore crime on every corner.
- Because of all this fear and worry, we really didn't get to venture out as much as we would have liked. On other trips, we love to just walk through neighborhoods, or wander around cities, and go on hikes, but we were really limited to where would could go safely. The neighborhoods change over quickly. On a recommendation, we had lunch at this beautiful cliffside restaurant in an area called Santa Teresa, and afterwards did a little wandering. Of course, we made a wrong turn and were shown quickly we were not in the safest area, so we headed back unnerved, but it just became frustrating after awhile.
Onto the positives:
- The cable car to Sugarloaf Mountain and the park surrounding it, Christ the Redeemer, Parque Lage, Santa Teresa - all beautiful sights with amazing views that should definitely be checked out. Pro tip- go on a guided tour of Santa Teresa- or one that includes it. Don't try to self-navigate like we did. Rio is endless - there is so much to see and do here, with a plan and some research ahead of time you will not get bored.
- Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana - all beautiful beaches. When we went, the ocean was a little rough so we didn't do much swimming- but there are parts of Copacabana beach that are calm where you can do kayaking, SUPing, etc. We also did a bike ride and several runs on the trail that runs parallel to the beach-really nice. We also did some running around the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon which was nice.
- The food and drinks - so so so good. Brazilian steakhouses are good for a reason, and here is like eating in one every night. You must try the national drink of Brazil- the Caipirinha, while at a beachside cafe. Sugar, lime, and their national spirit- Cachaca- it will get you from zero to 100 real quick. Restaurant recommendations: Aprazivel (Santa Teresa-views!), Paris Bar (Rio- fancy!), Stuzzi (Leblon), Academia de Cachaca (Leblon- drinks!), Brigite's (Leblon)
- The cost - it is SO GODDAMN CHEAP HERE!!! When we went, their currency (the real), 1 real= $0.25, so everything cost about a 1/4 of what it does in the US. Basically, you can vacation like a king here, as long as you don't get robbed.
- The weather - it was in the 80s in early October, we had a few cloudy days but no storms, made for pretty good beach days.
All in all I would say Brazil is a great place to visit for advanced travelers. As long as you stay aware, stay in safe places, love beaches, love eating meat and go on guided professional tours to any outskirt areas, you will love Brazil! It definitely sparked my interest to visit other countries in South America!