Brazil Photos


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 — — 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.