Brazil

Brazil Photos

Brazil

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, both by size and population, with almost 200
million people.  Geographically, it constitutes nearly half of South America and borders all
other South American countries except Chile and Ecuador.  Brazil used to be 90% Catholic, but
over the past 20 years this percentage has slipped to about 65% (losing ground to Evangelical
Christians).  Because of this slippage, as well as scheduling of the every-three-years World
Youth Day (WYD) celebration, Pope Francis made his first foreign trip as Pope, going to Rio
de Janeiro in July 2013 to address the adoring multitudes and shore up Catholicism in Latin
America before any more doubters left the flock.   His visit happened to overlap by four days
with our (myself, daughter Liza and her friend Colleen) trip to Rio so we got to “hang out
together” on Copacabana Beach – along with (literally) three million other people.


Rio de Janeiro
The topography of Rio makes it one of the most spectacular cities in the world.  Bay, ocean,
beaches, mountains – they all come together stunningly in Rio.   The four iconic places to visit in
Rio are Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches, Sugar Loaf Mountain (with cable car) and, number
one, Corcovado (Christ the Redeemer Statue on the mountainside).  Check out this video — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98PWKpMfWEg&feature=youtu.be — pictures speak louder than words.
I was in Rio in 1971 but had not returned because of all the bad press over the years about
crime in the city.  Things have improved but currently there is turmoil and demonstrations
over government incompetence, corruption, and money being spent on World Cup (2014) and
Olympic (2016) stadiums rather than hospitals and schools.  There is much poverty in Rio (and
Brazil) and there are sections of the city I wouldn’t go at night, but there are also areas where
commerce and tourism seem to rule, not crime.   Safety was hard to gauge from our visit because
there were cops and military everywhere to ensure the safety of the Pope.  And with millions of
pilgrims and religious young people around there were absolutely no problems during our visit.
At another time…hard to know.  I’d go, but pay attention to your surroundings at all times.
Rather than recount the details of our trip, let me make several suggestions of things to do (based
on what we saw and did):
1. Stay in Ipanema (first choice)  or Copacabana (second choice); both are great areas.
Yes, touristy, but beautiful.  I think it is worth it to pay extra to have a view of the
beach/ocean.  If two people, a hotel is fine.  If more than two, consider a vacation rental
apartment (which we did).  Check “Trip Advisor” for recommendations and comments.
Our apartment was through StartBrazil, but also check HomeAway and Airbnb.  Staying
a week and having a refrigerator, living room, etc. was wonderful.
2. Rent bikes for half a day and do both beaches (they are almost adjacent), the lagoon and
the Botanical Gardens.  The bike paths are good.  The Botanical Gardens do not have
a lot of plants, but are well laid out and have great old trees.  There is a helipad at the
Lagoon (also others near the top of Corcovado and at Sugar Loaf) – I regret not doing the
helicopter ride around Corcovado; it looked worth the high cost (in good weather).
3. Sugar Loaf, with two levels of cable cars, to the middle and the top, was great.  Go at 8
am when it opens to avoid crowds.  Don’t take a tour, just take a cab and do it on your
own.  We hiked down the bottom hill and it was very steep – I wouldn’t recommend
doing this; just take the cable car up and down.  Terrific views from the intermediate
level and the top.  Also there is a very nice flat, paved trail around the side of the lower
mountain – a half hour (round trip) walk along the little bay; well worth the time.  Great
views of the city; be sure to go when it is not cloudy.
4. Corcovado (Christ the Redeemer Statue) is the picture postcard of Rio and an iconic
world structure (tops, in my book, after with the Taj Mahal and the Sydney Opera
House).  This is part of why you go to Rio – for the terrific views from 125 foot tall
Corcovado.  Again, make sure you do it in good weather.  Most people take a tour that
includes mini-bus or tram, but we did it the hard way by hiking up from the bottom.
It’s a tough, straight up trail (2 hours up, 2300 ft elevation gain) and I would highly
recommend “Jungle Me” tours to guide the hike.  We took the mini-bus on the return; it
would have been a total bitch to hike down.
5. Tijuca National Park/Forest is just an hour’s drive from the beaches and is a nice contrast
to the hassle and hustle of the city.  We did a half day hike here that was well worth the
time – again with “Jungle Me”.
6. Downtown Rio has some history and a beautiful, modern cathedral, but was not one of
the highlights of the trip.  It’s worth a half-day tour if you are staying a week.  If you’ve
got less time, spend it elsewhere.


Iguacu (Iguassu) Falls
I have been to the other two “world famous” waterfalls – Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) and Angel
Falls (Venezuela), as well as Sutherland Falls in New Zealand and Yosemite, Yellowstone and
Niagara Falls in the U.S., but this was my first visit to Iguacu Falls.  It is in the southwest corner
of Brazil on the border with Argentina and Paraguay.   Bottom line: In my (not so) humble
opinion Iguacu is clearly the most spectacular set of waterfalls in the world.
It helped that we stayed at the Hotel das Cataratas, a five-star Orient-Express property right in
the National Park and in view of the falls. (Everything else on the Brazilian side is 15 miles
away.)  The park opens at 9 am and closes at 5 pm.  We had the whole place to ourselves from 7
– 9 am and after 5 pm.  The average water flow over the 278 separate/ajoined falls is 1.5 million
liters per second, but there had been big rains prior to our visit and the flow when we visited
was 3.1 million. Wow!  There is a half-mile paved trail from the hotel to Devil’s Throat, with
waterfalls continuously along the way.  I walked this trail four times in the day and a half we
were at Iguacu; I was totally mesmerized.
We did a boat ride right up underneath the falls (great fun; totally wet) and a helicopter ride over
them.  Both were expensive, but well worth the cost for such life experiences.  If you are an
adventurer, by all means go to Iguacu Falls.



BRAZIL 2013 from Colleen Rafferty on Vimeo.