It was time to say goodbye to Rio and head to Foz do Iguacu to visit the Brazilian side of Iguazu falls. The only thing that stood in our way was a 24 hour bus ride and at 1am in the morning, as we were going cross country and I was starting to feel travel sick I wondered if the falls were worth the journey.
The next day the park shuttle dropped us off at the trailhead and you could hear the thunder of the falls before you saw a drop of water, upon our first sight of the falls we were amazed by the scale and the beauty of them. I knew straight away that the 24 hours on the bus were worth it. Words cannot describe Iguazu Falls and the pictures just don’t do it justice. We followed the trail along the river and everywhere you looked there was another waterfall, the book says 275 separate cascades make up the falls which extend nearly 3km across the river.
As you come to the end of the trail there is a walkway which takes you over the falls and into the Devils Throat, this is the point where we both got a much needed shower!!
An amazing day in the park, we didn’t want to leave but it was time to head over the border to Puerto Iguazu to visit the Argentinean side of the falls.
The Brazilian side gives you best overall views and the Argentinean side allows you to get up close to the individual cascades. As you walk through the tropical forest you come across wildlife, we saw lizards, butterflies, fish, turtles and the cute but annoying coatis (who steal food). If you have time you should visit both sides, we enjoyed our days in the park and it’s been the highlight of our trip so far.
We spent a full week in Rio; we biked, walked, got lost, drank Caipirinha’s and partied in the city. The highlight of the week was being part of Carnaval, if you hear the samba drums there is usually a party going on! We were excited to get to Rio after travelling none stop for the last 3 weeks, it was so nice to be in one place for more than a couple of days and we had an apartment booked just 2 blocks from Copacabana beach, yeah.
Rio is a huge city with a spectacular backdrop; it is sandwiched between the coast and the mountains. Rio is well known for some amazing landmarks Christ the Redeemer sitting on top of Corcovado Mountain and Sugarloaf Mountain standing at the entrance to the bay and everyone has heard of Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. For footie fans the Maracna stadium is the place to go, it was renovated to host the world cup final in 2014 and the Olympic Games later this year. Carnaval was the main draw for us, to see the iconic floats and colours from the samba schools and of course the street celebrations (known as Blocos and Bandas).
Sambadrome The Samba schools parades at the Sambadrome was an amazing evening and one of the highlights of Rio de Janeiro, the Sambadrome is a 700 meter purpose built arena constructed in 1984 either side of an existing road with a capacity of 90,000.
We watched 3 Samba schools compete in the time we were there although there was a total of 6 on the night, each school has about 30,000 people in the parade and they have between 60 and 90 minutes to complete their parade through the Sambadrome, the schools are marked in 10 different categories and the competition is very fierce.
The size of the floats was amazing with some of them having dozens of dancers all shaking everything they had, which was making them bounce up and down, together with the attention to detail and along with the 100’s of brilliant costumes it is such a huge event to put together and to pull of successfully they deserve a lot of praise and credit.
Travelling up the Brazilian coast to Rio we stopped off in Florianopolis and Paraty, I was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful the coast is. Florianopolis is in Santa Catarina state and has 42 different beaches, I wish we had more time here I would have hired a car and bummed around for a couple of weeks. With only a few days we visited Centrinho da Lagoa, Praia Mole and Praia doe Ingleses. Mole was our favourite beach and is considered to be one of Brazil most beautiful, you walk over sand dunes and there is ocean stretched out in front of you. The beach is fairly quiet due to there being a deep drop off right at the waters edge. Florianopolis we will be back one day to explore some more.
Paraty has the feel of a Caribbean island even though it’s on the mainland, UNESCO considers the city to be one world’s most important examples of Portuguese colonial architecture with its cobbled streets and churches. We were a little disappointed with Paraty on the whole, it was very touristy and not as naturally stunning as some of the places we had passed through on the coast on the way there.
A few facts about Uruguay –
Uruguay gained its independence from Brazil in 1826.
The first World cup was held here in 1930, when Uruguay defeated Argentina 4-2.
Uruguay becomes the second Latin American country after Cuba to legalize abortion in 2012.
It was the first country in the world to legalize the growing, sale and smoking of Marijuana in 2013.
Arriving in Montevideo after spending a week in Buenos Aires was a chance to catch our breath and chill. It is a smaller city compared to its more affluent neighbour BA but this doesn’t detract from what the city has to offer. We walked around the Ciudad Vieja (old town), ate Chivito and watched people dance Tango in the local squares.
My favourite part of the city is the Rambla which is the waterfront promenade that stretches for 15 miles. It’s always busy with people skating, running, fishing and just enjoying the great weather.
I thought the British loved their PG Tips or Tetley Tea but the Uruguayans have taken it to a whole new level. They drink Mate which is grassy tea. I noticed people carrying a thermos flask of hot water and holding a cup containing the grassy tea leaves which is drunk through a stainless steel straw.
After Buenos Aires our next destination to spend a few nights was Uruguay’s capital city of Montevideo, but instead of taking the ferry from Buenos Aires straight there we decided to go via the small town of Colonia Del Sacramento in western Uruguay.
This beautiful little town dates back to 17th century when it was a Portuguese smuggling port designed to disrupt the Spanish base in Buenos Aires. It is a very picturesque place with the old town still having the remains of the original city gateway and what is claimed to be Uruguay’s oldest church the Ingesia Matriz.
At its southwestern corner is Plaza Mayor which has a lighthouse dating back to 1857 which holds nice views across the bay, with its quaint cobbled streets and restaurants spilling out onto the terraces and pavements it was a really nice place to spend a couple of hours before catching the bus to Montevideo.
Now for the boring bit (logistics) We visited the Buquebus office while we were at Puerto Madero one afternoon and purchased our one way ferry ticket to Colonia Del Sacramento. We opted for the slow ferry as it was half price but half the speed (3 hours in total). Once we arrived in Colonia we walked about 5 minutes to the bus terminal and purchased our onward bus ticket with COT to Montevideo for later that afternoon. We left our large backpacks at left luggage at the bus terminal and off we went with just our day packs.
Well its official we are now backpackers, we have replaced perfume and aftershave for bug spray and I have given up on applying make-up and I’m going for beads of sweat running down my face look! We spent our first week in South America in Buenos Aires “Paris of South America”.
We walked the streets for hours as part of two free guided walking tours learning about the history, politics and architecture of this cosmopolitan city. Our highlight of the week was spending the evening with Gerry and Lucia our Tango dance instructors. We arrived at their dance studio in San Telmo on a Monday evening and nervously waited outside hoping that we weren’t the only couple signed up for the lesson! Relief as another couple and a guy on his own showed up for the 9pm class. The next hour was spent learning basic Tango steps, Gerry and Lucia were amazing, they were very patient and were great teachers. When I danced with Gerry I felt like I was actually dancing, well moving my feet in the right direction at least. After the lesson we all walked to a local Milonga (dance hall) where we able to experience locals dancing the Tango, we listened to a live orchestra and drank local wine.
New York City is one of our favourite cites in the USA and if you love Christmas like we do it’s the best time of the year to visit. You walk the streets with a glow, feeling like you are in a Christmas movie from Home Alone 2 (Lost in New York) to Serendipity to Elf. The city that never sleeps is lit by the iconic Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza, the large department stores have the Christmas windows and you can go in and visit a very real looking Santa Claus (Miracle on 34th street) but you have to believe!
Christmas lunch with the Salvation Army singing at ‘21 Club’ has been on the bucket list for a few years now, so of course this was our first stop on the Saturday before Christmas.