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Latin Routes – My Trip of a Lifetime to Brazil & the Amazon

I was very lucky to be invited to join Latin Routes familiarization trip to Brazil, a country that has been on my personal bucket-list for many years & it certainly exceeded all my expectations.

We flew with Tap Portugal via Lisbon – you can also fly direct with British Airways if you prefer.

First stop was iconic Rio de Janeiro, the place where all the images in brochures & the TV ensured this made it to the top of my “must visit” destinations.  Nicknamed the Marvellous City, it most definitely lived up to its name.

We checked into our first hotel, the Pestana Rio, a great 3-star property with a superb beachfront location on Copacabana Beach with fantastic city & beach views. Features include a luxurious rooftop pool overlooking the beach & with a bar & live music in the evening.  On our first evening, we were served dinner at Fogo de Chao Restaurant, where we enjoyed a Brazilian feast on a terrace that gave views out to the shimmer of Sugar Loaf mountain in the distance.  Here, the food keeps coming until you literally show the waiters the red card to say ‘no more’!

Our first day started with a half-day tour of Corcovado.  Here I saw first-hand one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Modern World’ – the stunning statue of Christ the Redeemer.

Our trip started with a scenic drive along the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon to the bottom of the Corcovado Hill. You then embark on a comfortable train that ascends through the Tijuca Forest & up to the statue which stands 2300ft above sea level.  Once the train reaches the top, you can either use the escalators or climb the steps to reach the foot of the statue.  Nothing prepared me for seeing it in all its glory. It really is a sight to behold.  You can take photos from many angles at the top & even though it can be very busy, there is always a spot to get that clear image.

After wandering around the top & taking as many photographs as I could, we then took the train back down through the forest to have lunch at the Porto Bay Hotel, another great location with superb views of the famous Copacabana Beach.  After lunch, we visited the Santa Teresa Hotel.  This hotel is a hidden gem.  A historic property dating back to 1850, it’s an urban retreat in the heart of the suburb of Santa Teresa, also known as Rio’s Montmartre. With easy access to downtown Rio de Janeiro, Botafogo Beach, Marina da Glória & a 10-minute drive to Santos Dumont Airport, this boutique hotel is close to a few of Rio’s main tourist attractions & sights, such as Christ the Redeemer, the Sugar Loaf, Lapa, Parque das Ruínas, Sélaron Steps, the Santa Teresa Tram, local museums, & the Copacabana, Leme, Ipanema & Leblon beaches, but in a quieter location.  This hotel has an open brick bar, popular with locals for its relaxed atmosphere & live music. A curiosity is that this hotel was also a favourite of Amy Winehouse & she stayed here for 30 days on one visit. Due to its unique surroundings it’s also an ideal honeymoon retreat.

We then enjoyed an evening on the famous beach & enjoyed the traditional Brazilian drink – Caipirinhas, a must-try!

Our next trip was to another signature Rio site, Sugar Loaf Mountain. Every year over a million people take a journey to the top in glass cable-cars.  The first cable-car takes you to the top of Urca Hill (215 metres above sea level), while the second takes you to the top of the Sugar Loaf (395 metres above sea level). You get a full 360-degree view of the entire city & the views are simply breathtaking.

Once our time in Rio was over, we took a 3-hour drive up the coast to Buzios. A much smaller & sophisticated slice of laid-back paradise and full of rustic charm, Buzios has plenty of boutiques, restaurants, crystal-clear waters & cove beaches to enjoy.

This is a perfect escape from the hustle & bustle of Rio & an excellent add-on to your itinerary.

We were lucky enough to stay in what became one of my favourite hotels on the itinerary, the stunning Vila da Santa. This beautiful retreat is made up of charming room types, from the main house to villas, & has a real Mediterranean feel. Picture-postcard views of the bay delight & blue & white buildings with shutters & small pools are located in the hotel. The service was second-to-none & we were made to feel like honoured guests. Another honeymoon destination tip – for the adventure of Brazil, combined with a laid-back beach extension, then this would be hard to beat. 

From here, we then got to take a trolley tour around the beaches of the area & key vantage points. This area also features a unique pink beach area, where the sands shimmer pink against the crystal-clear waters & rugged terrains.  After a drive back to Rio, we then took our second flight of the trip, to Iguazu in Argentina, known for the most beautiful & majestic natural waterfalls!

We checked into the Loi Suites in Iguazu. This became another favourite.  Situated in the sub-tropical jungle forest area of Iguazu, with dramatic forest views & just 20 minutes from the world-famous waterfalls.  The hotel features the most picturesque pool area, with infinity edges & views out into the jungle.

The falls divide into the Upper & Lower Iguazu river.  The northern bank of the falls is in the Brazilian State of Parana, while the southern bank sits in Argentina.  The falls consist of over 270 separate falls that stretch for nearly two miles & are over 200ft high.  The most famous of the falls is known as Devil’s Throat due to its U shape – it’s 500ft across & 2000ft in length. 

The Argentinian side of the falls is for the more adventurous & I would highly recommend good walking shoes (if you do not mind getting wet!).  The walk along the lower circuit is approx. ½ a mile of paths that run along the basin of the Devil’s Gorge. All the walkways are a few metres from the edge of the main falls, so every step is a photo opportunity.  There is an ecological experience via a train up through the rainforest, enjoying views of butterflies, lizards & other fauna. Finally, you’ll reach Garganta, a pathway that rises above the other end of Devil’s Gorge to a panoramic vantage point with views of the upper lip of the falls. Nothing can prepare you for the breathtaking views.  

Another ‘must do’ is the Macuco Safari extension. This jeep ride incorporates forest trails and then an exhilarating boat ride next to the Iguazu Falls.  This is not for the faint-hearted as it goes as close to the waterfalls as possible, & twists & turns with amazing views of the falls from water level.  I would recommend taking a swimming costume, or a change of clothes as you will get WET!

The Brazilian side of the falls offers more panoramic views compared to the close-up views on the Argentina side, with walkways, viewing points & trails through the park.  There is a platform right in the middle of the falls where you are completely surrounded.  Again, a mac or poncho would be highly recommended.  You can then end the trail at the viewing platform at the end of the trail, reached by a lift so that you can view the falls from above & experience the full thundering effect of the astonishing torrent. 

We finished our day with dinner at the wonderful Belmond Das Cataratas, one of only 2 hotels that actually sit within the Iguazu National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage site).  If staying here, you get an opportunity to see the falls early in the morning & late in the evening, when all other visitors have gone.  They have a gorgeous restaurant with a terrace, where you can dine outside & enjoy this incredible natural spectacle. This pink hotel oozes elegance at every turn & offers superb dining.

Next, another flight from Iguacu to Sao Paulo & on to Manaus. We flew LATAM – an excellent airline offering comfortable leg room & great connections to the Amazon.

The Amazon needs no introduction, a huge area of rainforest & waterways that cover vast expanses of Brazil, Peru, Ecuador & Columbia.  Our accommodation was an Eco Lodge, situated alongside the river.  The Amazon is one of the ultimate destinations for the adventure seeker. Remote is the keyword, so be prepared for long transfers. Ours comprised four stage parts. Firstly, by road to drop off our main luggage, then a speedboat ride for approximately an hour, then 1.5 hours by road & finally another boat.

En-route we saw the incredible conjunction of the waters, where the muddy waters of the Solimoes River meet the black waters of the Negro River.  An amazing sight where, at the intersection point, the two rivers meet but do not mix & flow side by side.  It is as if the rivers have an invisible border.  Strangely, the rivers have different temperatures, which might account for the separation. 

I recommend transferring your luggage to a soft holdall for your stay in the Amazon & taking just essentials.  As you are in the middle of the Amazon the humidity is high, so I also recommend investing in a couple of quick-drying items.  I purchased mine through an outdoor specialist. Modern fripperies such as hairdryers & dressy clothes must be abandoned, as this is ‘Indiana Jones’ country! 

Our stay was at the Juma Lodge, an eco-friendly lodge that sits on stilts alongside the river. Due to its height & the acidity of the water, mosquitos do not thrive here & no malaria tablets are required.  The lodge offers full board, which is just as well – you’re in the wilderness, after all! 

We made an evening expedition to observe frogs, birds & caiman.  Our guide sought the caiman out & his torchlight brought eerie reflections from their glittering eyes. The statistics for the wildlife of the Amazon are mind-boggling & go some way to explain the botanical and zoological importance of the rainforest: one in ten of the world’s total species and one in five birds are found in the Amazon. The jungle is home to approximately 427 species of mammal, 378 reptiles, 428 amphibians, 1,294 birds, 3,000 fish, 40,000 plants and 2.5 million insect species. Jaguar, anaconda, caiman, capybara and many monkey species all reside in the great forest and its tributaries.

Animals such as the elusive jaguar, caiman, giant river otters, tapir and armadillo are also found in the low-lying wetlands of the Pantanal, which is broadly separated into north, south and the Taiama Eco-reserve. What you experience here depends on when you visit.  From December to March sees the majority of the Pantanal flooded, turning into an aquatic wonderland of anacondas, piranhas, giant otters and caiman. During the drier season, the landscape changes again to dry grassland, lagoons and wooded islands, and fauna congregates along the riverbanks.

The next morning, we took an excursion to see the sunrise on this remote part of the world & listen to the sounds of the birds & frogs.  Then a hike into the rainforest to learn about just a few of the plants, many of which are edible & medicinal.  After lunch we were back on the river to try our hands at fishing for piranha & other Amazonian fish.  It was a surreal experience to be on the mighty Amazon river, with a wooden fishing rod, absorbing the beauty of the surrounding trees & then catching my first fish! (Goodness knows why this should be, as I live near the Severn in Herefordshire, so no excuse!)

I spent my last evening taking time to appreciate the view from my stilted lodge & lying on my hammock on the balcony, listening to the songs of the wild before departing the next day back to Manaus.

On the way back we stopped at Pirarucu floating dock to see the fascinating Arapaima fish, which are over 3 metres tall & weigh over 440lbs. There are excursions to see the pink-nose dolphins, before either staying overnight back in Manaus or, as we did, taking a flight onto Brasilia, the modern Capital of Brazil.

We stayed at the Windsor Brasilia, in a great ‘downtown’ location. I was surprised at how green the city is, with wide roads &, of course, the most remarkable architecture.

Here my trip of a lifetime came to an end. Brazil is an incredible country that amazed & enthralled me from start to finish, a country I would recommend everyone should visit at some time.

Adventure, culture, history, wildlife, stunning scenery, romance & sightseeing, Brazil has them all, not to mention the wonderful, charming people & their food & music that will leave your heart beating to the rhythms of salsa long after your return home.

If I can help you with an itinerary to Brazil, then please contact me on 0800 707 6229 to plan the ideal holiday to suit your requirements. Let me & the experts at Latin Routes make your South America dreams come true!

Now you can follow in my footsteps and discover the iconic sites of Brazil with this tailor-made itinerary for 2018: 

Brazil 2018 Travel Itinerary >>

Deana Manser

Travel Club Elite


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