Around Brazil: Praia do Pontal, Macumba, Prainha & Grumari (Rio de Janeiro)

By Steve Nelson
March 5, 2011

The beaches of Rio de Janeiro are possibly the most famous in the world, Copacabana and Ipanema especially. The city does have many more miles to explore as well though, principally those heading south and west along the coast. There are more beaches to explore heading up the north-east from Rio too, although these belong to the city of Niteroi across the bay.

After passing the Dois Irmaos mountains at the end of Ipanema, you reach São Conrado, landing point for hang-gliders from Pedra Bonita above. The beach is also known as Praia do Pepino, after one of the pioneers of the sport in Brazil. Around more rocks and you come to Barra da Tijuca, the start of Rio’s longest stretch of sand at 20km. The first 5km of it are backed by the high-rises and condominiums of Barra, the next 10km known as Praia da Reserva by the nature reserve of Lagao do Marapendi which makes it the quietest beach in Rio. Another 5km and you arrive at Praia do Pontal in Recreio dos Bandeirantes. The beach is named after the Gibraltar-like Pontal headland, which can be climbed reasonably easily for stunning views down the beaches and to the mountains behind. The headland also helps provide wonderful conditions on at least one of its two sides for some of the best surf in Brazil.

The beach used to be almost exclusively for surfers and many stayed in the area permanently. Their simple houses on the sand roads are now being swallowed up by condominiums and new developments, but the beach remains a relaxed pleasure, even when busy at weekends with people coming from all over Rio. The Pontal headland provides a little protection and calmer water so tends to be popular with families. The currents are still strong here as well as all the other beaches. High summer brings many tourists from the interior of Brazil who are not so used to strong seas. A helicopter fishing strugglers out of the sea with a net is not an unusual sight.

During the week many local surfers and body-surfers are in the waters of Pontal and Macumba next door, and the warm evenings can also be full of the religious ceremonies that gave Macumba its name. Candles in the sand, offerings of flowers, food and drink litter the beach, and the music, singing and dancing add some rhythm to the evenings, especially in the run up to New Year. There are regular kiosks, a running/cycling path and a skate ramp, all being very well populated on dry nights in Rio’s safest beach zone.

The far end of Praia da Macumba is the end of the city. After this, the mountains reach the sea and the Municipal Ecological Park of Prainha has prevented any construction. Prainha and Grumari hide amongst the mountains, more similar in aspect to beaches of the Costa Verde than those of Rio de Janeiro, hemmed in by mountains covered in green jungle. Frequented by surfers and a younger crowd, Prainha has no buses unlike Praia do Pontal, so you need to either drive or walk up the final half an hour from Macumba. From here to Grumari, there are excellent places to eat seafood. A steaming dish of moqueca or an entire corvina or linguado eaten on the sand as the sun drops behind the mountains, or amongst the trees watching the surfers below can make it worth the journey out from the city.

If driving or even cycling, you can climb out of Grumari on the Serra road, and before passing Sitio Burle Marx – the gardens of Roberto Burle Marx, the renowned Brazilian landscape architect – you will enjoy a view from the top that shows you more of the Litoral Fluminense. On a clear day you can see all the way down the Restinga da Marambaia (military controlled and closed to the public) and even to Ilha Grande. The mountain peaks of the true Costa Verde, perhaps Brazil’s most spectacular coastal stretch, are there in the distanced too, tempting you like a group of green sirens.

A day or two exploring the beaches of Pontal, Macumba, Prainha and Grumari will give you a taste of the emerald treasures that await you on the Costa Verde.

You can visit Steve&rsquot;s blog at http://are-you-ready-for-brazil.blogspot.com

Previous articles by Steve:

Around Brazil: The Rio de Janeiro Marathon
Around Brazil: Tijuca Forest, Rio de Janeiro
Around Brazil: Lapa, Rio de Janeiro

Around Brazil: The Rio de Janeiro Marathon

By Steve Nelson
February 15, 2011

There are many ways to see a country or a city. Rio has a whole host of different places to see and different ways to see them – cable cars, trails, wings, boards, kites, helicopters, planes, trains and automobiles. Perhaps one way not considered by many people though is to see Rio on foot, or at least a good deal of it anyway. The Rio de Janeiro Marathon is a wonderful way to do this. You can also combine it with a first visit to the city and perhaps some time relaxing by the beach in Buzios or on Ilha Grande afterwards.

If a whole 26 miles/42km of running in the tropical heat of the world’s most exotic city doesn’t appeal to you, there is also the Half-Marathon and a 6km Family Run. They all take place on 17 July for the 2011 version. July is the middle of what passes for winter in Rio, and although it may still be anything up to 30˚C on a clear, sunny day, there is never the humidity of January or February, so even the hottest days are bearable. Temperatures on a cool, cloudy day can drop considerably, well below 20˚C especially if the weather comes from the south.

The temperatures won’t be a worry for the first few hours at least anyway, the gun fires at 7.30am. If you needed any extra reason to participate, perhaps being able to say that you heard gunfire in Rio but weren’t scared at all might swing it for you. The Rio de Janeiro Marathon is run mostly along the coast, obviously a wise choice in a city built around mountains, and as well as having no real inclines to speak of, the other important benefit is that runners receive the Atlantic breezes just about the whole 42km.

An early start gives you chance to appreciate the sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean by Praia do Pontal in Recreio dos Bandeirantes, one of the final beaches of the city before the mountains take over. The race starts backwards, heading out of Rio before turning 180˚ at the pontal, the wonderful little headland that gives the beach its name. There are regular water points even at this early stage as the first 15km cover the emptiest beach in Rio, Praia da Reserva , on your right with the Lagoa de Marapendi Reserve protecting the area from any development all along your left. There may be surfers to watch, with the Tijuca Forest and Pico de Tijuca, Rio’s highest mountains, plus the Moai-like Pedra da Gvea ahead on your left the whole way.

After arriving in Barra de Tijuca high-rise buildings and condominiums appear for the next 5km until the halfway point. This is where you leave the longest beach in Rio to enter what might be welcome shade. The two tunnels between Barra and São Conrado are about the only break from the views. The Elevado do Jo motorway gives you a scenic break from any weather between the two tunnels. This would be the only time running is recommended on this road…

After arriving on São Conrado, the hang-gliders descending from Pedra Bonita might need to be avoided, before you reach the only incline of the marathon after 25km, unfortunately placed where you may begin to hit the wall. The Avenida Neimeyer hugs the coastline between Rocinha and Vidigal, two of Rio’s most famous favelas. You may find this the safest day of all on the coast road, although this is nothing to do with the favelas. Rio bus drivers tend to treat this stretch of road as a racetrack, and plenty of them have probably hit the wall along here too. After a few twists and turns, with waves crashing on the rocks below you, the whole stretch of Leblon and Ipanema Beaches appears to energise you at 30km.

You drop down to two of the most famous roads in Rio, which will be full of all kinds of Sunday beach activities and outfits to spur you on to impress the crowds, with the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue visible occasionally between buildings. Passing Arpoador at 35km you come out at the end of Copacabana Beach, another marvellous stretch of sand, curving away from you.

At the far end of Copacabana, you enter the final tunnel to arrive in the shadow of Sugar Loaf Mountain at 40km, as you curve around the little inlet of Botafogo, decorated with boats. The finishing line should be in sight as you come around the final bend and into Flamengo. Glory is yours if you’ve made it as far as the Marina da Glória!

And there you have it. A 42km tour of Rio. On foot. Such great views all along that you won’t even notice the blisters. Who needs any other mode of transport when you can enjoy it all like this?

The Rio de Janeiro Marathon is open to all-comers, feel free to contact me if you want to participate as a beginner or even to compete seriously. I will see you at the start-line and hopefully at the finishing line too.

You can visit Steve&rsquot;s blog at http://are-you-ready-for-brazil.blogspot.com

Previous articles by Steve:

Around Brazil: Tijuca Forest, Rio de Janeiro
Around Brazil: Lapa, Rio de Janeiro

Around Brazil: Tijuca Forest, Rio de Janeiro

Steve Nelson
January 22, 2011

Rio de Janeiro has many surprises hidden away but perhaps one of its most impressive secrets is either completely hidden or visible from just about every part of the city. The Parque Nacional Floresta de Tijuca is the forest covering the mountains that dominate Rio, with the city centre, the Zona Sul of Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches, and Barra de Tijuca all sitting between the slopes of those mountains and the waters of the Atlantic or Guanabara Bay.

As an escape from the city within the city, Tijuca Forest is perfect. Access is easy whether driving yourself, being part of a tour group, or taking the metro to Saens Pena and catching a bus or minivan up the hill to Alto da Boa Vista. The climb up the winding roads through Usina, behind the Jardim Botanico or past the Itanhanga Golf Club in Barra de Tijuca, takes you into the cooler mountain air almost immediately, as the humid city air becomes clean enough for mosses to grow on damp tree trunks.

The whole area was originally cleared of trees, cut down for timber by the colonialists in order to build the developing city of Rio de Janeiro, and later to make space for coffee plantations. The idea of replanting it is reputed to have come from Dom Pedro II, with a Major Archer charged with the task in order to save Rio&rsquot;s water supply. Major Archer passed on the replanting task to 6 men who had not quite been freed from slavery, and worked from 1874 to 1888 before abolition meant they were joined by others. They planted 100,000 seedlings between them. The park was later turned into a recreation area with bridges, fountains, lakes and leisure areas for turn of the century cariocas.

It is a safer place now than in previous years as Rio begins to take its tourist industry seriously, with park guards on the gates and at the bottom of the trails to the peaks. Weekends have more visitors, and are by definition safer times to be walking quiet trails. Anyone can visit for some jungle ambience, although perhaps not everyone would be able to make it to the tops of the peaks. Those in decent shape should not have much trouble though, even in wet conditions. The paths are straightforward to follow, and even have signposts (which still appear to be an unnecessary luxury item for many Brazilian trails and treks) once you have left the road at its highest point, an hour or so walk up from the park gates and the bus stop.

From urban jungle to wild jungle in half a morning. The trail splits, one to Bico do Papagaio (Parrot&rsquot;s Beak) and on to Pico de Tijuca (Tijuca Peak), both of which can be &rsquot;conquered&rsquot; in a comfortable day. Pico de Tijuca is the highest peak in Rio at 1,012m/3,340ft, so has the best panoramic views. It is also high enough to deter many people from reaching the summit, so the trails can be nice and quiet even on a weekend. An and a half after leaving the warden, you can be leaving the trees, circling the peak and climbing up the steps hewn from the rock, with a (not completely trustworthy) steel railing for support. This part needs particular care when wet as the rock can be slippery. The views sweeping down the valley to the city are worth many minutes rest, and they only improve from here up. The small peak on a clear day gives you a wonderful 360 degree vista of almost every part of Rio.

The whole city spreads out before you with the two airports on either side of the Rio-Niteroi Bridge leading across Guanabara Bay to Niteroi and the MAC Museum of Contemporary Art. You can even see the mountains around Petropolis and Teresopolis, including the Dedo de Deus, pointing its Finger of God at the sky. The views of the now-closed Maracana Stadium may be the best way to see inside it before it reopens for the 2014 World Cup. The Engenhao Stadium, which is being used for Flamengo, Fluminense, Botafogo and Vasco da Gama matches in the meantime, can also be seen a little further down the Linha Amarela road to Barra de Tijuca. The hills open out behind Bico do Papagaio to allow you a clear view of the areas around Barra de Tijuca and Lago Marapendi, which were empty flood plains until only about 20 years ago, now filling with buildings as the city creeps outwards. The view stretches along Praia de Barra de Tijuca all the way along Rio&rsquot;s longest beach to Recreio dos Bandeirantes and the mountains that shelter the best surf beaches of Prainha and Grumari as the city finally runs out of room.

Your are still close enough to make out the features on Pedra da Gavea though, with the Dois Irmaos (Two Brothers) Mountains dwarfing the tall buildings of Ipanema and taking you around to Copacabana and Sugar Loaf Mountain. The views are genuinely awe-inspiring, totally panoramic. The only thing that appears to be missing is Cristo. You can see the back of his head though, if you look carefully enough.

The best way to see him properly is to combine your trip to the Tijuca Forest with a visit to Corcovado as well. The views from the statue of Christ the Redeemer there are right on top of the city, a different aspect to those of Pico de Tijuca and at least as impressive. A clear day from the peaks of Tijuca and Corcovado should leave you with memories, photos and videos of Rio de Janeiro that you will find hard to beat on any day in any other city in the world.

You can visit Steve’s blog at http://are-you-ready-for-brazil.blogspot.com

Previous articles by Steve:

Around Brazil: Lapa, Rio de Janeiro

Around Brazil: Lapa, Rio de Janeiro

By Steve Nelson December 7, 2010 The options for Nightlife in Rio de Janeiro have long been famously excellent. The meat markets in Ipanema; the Gentleman&#145s Clubs of Copacabana; masked balls around the Lagoa; blocos passing along the avenidas; samba in the Sambodromo; chorinho in the street; and lately baile funk parties in the favelas. Rapidly growing in popularity, the district of Lapa has a mix of them all. The turn of the century buildings in Lapa, tucked under the arches that carry the little yellow bonde tram up to Santa Teresa, had long been neglected and never made part of Rio&#145s glamorous nightlife scene. Over the last 15 years or so though, Lapa has turned itself into possibly Rio&#145s favourite nightlife area. As with other semi-abandoned districts close to the centre of our world cities – Hoxton in London and San Telmo in Buenos Aires spring to mind immediately – the large colonial houses and warehouses were too central and too spacious to remain dormant. The antiques market of Rua do Lavradio in Lapa was perhaps responsible for germinating the revitalisation of the whole area, stemming from people simply selling old furniture out of the front of their houses. The Saturday market developed into a typical carioca street fair, with samba and choro bands providing the entertainment. Cafes and bars sprang up as well and began to stay open after the market finished for those still in the party mood, which is usually quite a few people in Rio. The logical next step was to turn the huge empty spaces into larger bars and clubs. The Scenarium Club opened initially in 1999 as a space to house furniture and antiques for rental to the theatre, television and cinema worlds, before opening as a fully fledged cultural centre in 2001. The next decade has seen a complete revitalisation project undertaken by the city government which has helped to turn the quiet, mean streets of Lapa into the best regular night in Rio, and is now spreading to neighbouring districts such as Catete. Thursday, Friday and Saturday are the biggest nights, with kiosks selling cheap food and drink in the shadow of the 42 Arches of Lapa that make up one of Rio&#145s postcards. The construction was originally built as an aqueduct to carry water down from the Santa Teresa hills and across an empty plain to the 19th Century city centre. The area is now anything but empty on the weekend nights, with cariocas mingling happily with many Brazilian and foreign tourists out on the streets. The area is generally relaxed on those nights, although much quieter on Sunday daytime and for the following few nights. Clubs such as Sacrilegio do open occasionally on Sunday to Wednesday, but it is best to check the program in advance, and maybe catch a taxi directly to the doors on these nights. At weekends, buses, minivans and taxis disgorge revellers arriving from all over the city within easy reach of the arches, and you can follow the crowds from there. A cheap night of milling around the praa is possible if you have a tight budget but still want to enjoy the Lapa experience. For those with a little more to spare, there are plenty of bars too, especially on Avenida Mem de S which now closes to traffic on Friday and Saturday nights. There are many types of music to be heard in the bars and clubs of Lapa – electronic music; baile funk; rock n roll; although the main reason for visitors to Rio heading to Lapa has to be the samba. Some cariocas do feel that the old atmosphere of Lapa, with bands playing samba and choro in the streets, has been diluted as the music moved inside the clubs, but for visitors feeling the beats of those samba drums in reasonably-priced places such as Carioca da Gema is as memorable as it is fun. The prices can be a bargain as the kind of top quality professional bands and vocalists can leave you with an unforgettable positive vibe, completely in contrast to the impression that many people have before they arrive in Rio. From street samba to bars and clubs, and up to the impressive sophistication of The Scenarium, Lapa really does have something for everyone, and if Cristo, Sugar Loaf, Copacabana and Ipanema haven&#145t completely melted your heart, then a visit to the samba clubs of Lapa may finish the job and leave you falling in love with Rio de Janeiro. You can visit Steve’s blog at http://are-you-ready-for-brazil.blogspot.com

Around Brazil: Hostelling in Salvador de Bahia

By Kari Winn
November 25, 2008

About Salvador de Bahia
Located on the northeast coast of Brazil in a region of tropical rainforests, Salvador is historically known as ‘São Salvador da Baia de Todos os Santos’ (or Holy Savior of All Saints Bay). As the third most populous Brazilian city, Salvador is known in Brazil for its cuisine, music and architecture. The metro area is one of the wealthiest in the north-eastern region of the country, and over 80% of the population has some Black African ancestry, making for a heady mix of cultures and traditions.

Go
Salvador’s Deputado Luis Eduardo Magalhaes International Airport is one of Brazil’s main airports, receiving many direct flights from Europe and North America. As the airport is 28km from the city centre via the Paralela expressway, travellers are advised to take either a taxi or urban bus. Additionally, Salvador’s long-distance bus station is in the middle the middle of the new city, 14km from downtown, and scheduled buses arrive from all over the country daily.

Stay
Hostels in Brazil, particularly in Salvador, are one of the most economical options when travelling throughout South America. Prices start at just over $7.00 for a shared room option, with a private room ringing in at around a very reasonable $10.00.

See
As a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site, the Historic Centre of Salvador represents an excellent depiction of the 16th century, and is also recognised as the first capital of Portuguese America. Salvador’s considerable wealth during colonial times is reflected in its palaces, churches and convents, and a walk around the older parts of the city will uncover a wealth of wonderful architecture. Also recommended are the Arte Sacra and Abelardo Rodrigues museums, housing the biggest collection of sacra art in the whole country.

Eat
The local cuisine in Salvador reflects the African heritage of its inhabitants, and centres on spicy, seafood-based concoctions. Traditional dishes can be found everywhere, with some of the best flavours and deals coming from the local street vendors. Sample acaraje, a fried ball of black-eyed peas served with caruru, an okra, onion, shrimp, peanut and palm oil condiment. Don’t miss the chance to sample any variety of moqueca (and there are many), a thick, fiery seafood stew.

About the Author – Before joining HostelBookers in 2008, Kari Winn contributed many food and music titles as well as following her passion for world travel, including hostels in Brazil.

Around Brazil: Oktoberfest Parade in Blumenau

By Ricky Skelton
October 2, 2009

Oktoberfest in Blumenau was never top of the list for Brazilian cultural events that I needed to attend. Even with Blondie’s relatives in the area, it didn’t appeal because going to a German festival while in South America just seems wrong. I’ve been to plenty of German beer festivals and always had a fantastic time there, but they had the added advantage of being in Germany, and full of Germans, and full of German beer. I didn’t imagine it could be this way in Brazil, although at least Oktoberfest in Blumenau is actually in Oktober.

Blumenau was founded in 1850 by Hermann Blumenau and his group of German immigrants. They headed up the Itaja River in Santa Catarina past the floodplains on each side, possibly filled with flowers at that time as they are now filled with paddy fields and cattle. With a name that means Floodplain in Bloom in German, he must have felt immediately at home and decided to stop where the green hills on each side converged and their boat couldn’t travel much up into the mountains. The scenery may have reminded the fresh immigrants of home, with tree-covered hills and fertile land to grow the things that Germans love, such as hops and wheat amongst the native fruits.

They grew families too, with Blumenau having a high percentage of blond people, some who still speak German as a first language at home and have Portuguese tinged with Teutonic accents. With such a strong Germanic influence, perhaps it was no surprise that after the floodplains flooded in 1983 and Blumenau was cut off from the world for a few weeks that the locals turned to the fatherland for inspiration. With most Brazilian beers having been brewed by German immigrants with their pilsner knowledge, the idea was to start an Oktoberfest to cheer up the town. It worked quite well. Just over twenty years later and the town is famous throughout Brazil for its huge festival, the largest in South America.

Much as in Rio, there are also parades preceeding the weekend days of the seventeen day cervejaganza. The idea for us was to watch the parade and laugh at people we knew wearing lederhosen and dirndl. But our blond-haired blue-eyed Brazilian met with something of an accident as he was playing bowls on the night of his birthday a week before. While examining who was closest, the rival team hurled down their final bowl, slammed the jack into the air and straight into his conkers. The pain was so bad that he was carried home in the back of the pick-up. After arriving home, things got even worse for him but I should not go into such private details, suffice to say that he would not be leaving the house for the his club’s desfila. He’d only just bought a brand new pair of lederhosen for the occasion. We were offered their place in the line-up. Wearing the outfit. Now many gringoes can say they’ve taken part in one of Brazil’s largest cultural events wearing a Carnaval costume, but not many can say they’ve taken part in one wearing a German costume. How could we say no – it sounded like there may be some quality comedy involved as well as free beer and free entrance into the arena.

An afternoon of dressing up and giggling followed, with some dance moves learnt from youtube. Hats were to be worn, hair was to be rolled into buns and long white socks were to be bought. I never thought I could look forward to wearing leather shorts and dancing amongst large German men with moustaches, I’m not that kind of guy. But by Saturday afternoon I was already drunk with excitement and laughter, and still 12 hours away from the finish line of the night. This was really going to be a marathon not a sprint.

The reason that Oktoberfest was founded in October, the reason that those floodplains were full of flowers, and the reason that the area is so green is because the mountains behind attract the clouds. In spring it rains regularly and heavily in Blumenau and Saturday was one of those times. The clouds came down the valleys and obscured our view of the town in the afternoon. The phone call came half an hour before we were due to start. Cancelled. My Big Moment blown. I don’t want to hear that ‘Rained on Your Parade’ phrase, thanks.

You can visit Ricky’s blog at http://redmist-redmist.blogspot.com/

Previous articles by Ricky:

Cultural Brazil: The Alambique
Around Brazil: Whale-Watching in Santa Catarina
Brazil: Tainha Time
Deported from Brazil? Part 2
Deported from Brazil? Part 1
Brazil: The President in Florianópolis
Swine Flu in South America?
The Best Club in Brazil…?
The Great Brazilian Animal-Off (Land)
Understanding Brazil: Giving Directions
Understanding Brazil: Driving
Understanding Brazil: Farra do Boi
Brazil: Catching Flu’
Around Brazil: Garopaba
Understanding Brazil: Funerals
Brazil: Bernie the Berne
Around Brazil: Journey to the Amazon Jungle
Around Brazil: Crazy Town Ceremonies
Around Brazil: Crazy Town
Around Brazil: Manaus
Around Brazil: Santarem & Alter do Chao
Around Brazil: Amazon Swarms and Amazon Storms
Understanding Brazil: Playing Pool
Around Brazil: Gurup
Around South America: Peninsula Valdes
Around South America: Patagonia
Around South America: Montevideo, Uruguay
Around Brazil: The Amazon
Around South America: Bariloche, Argentina
Understanding Gringoes: Drinking
The Great Brazilian Fruit-Off Part 2
The Great Brazilian Fruit-Off Part 1
Understanding Brazil: The Kids
Brazil v Argentina: Buying Beer
Understanding Brazil: Mosquitoes
Around Brazil: São Luis
Teaching English in Brazil
Around Brazil: Lenois Maranhenses
Understanding Brazil: The National Anthem
Around Brazil: Barreirinhas
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara to Barreirinhas
Understanding Brazil: Shopping Centres
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara
Around Brazil: Chapada da Diamantina/Lenois
Brazil vs. Argentina: Statues of Christ
Around Brazil: Salvador
Brazil vs. Argentina: The Buses
Around Brazil: Morro de São Paulo (& Itabuna)
Understanding Brazil: The Workmen
Around Brazil: Praa Pateo do Colegio
Around Brazil: Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Rio de Janeiro to Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Cristo Redentor
Understanding Brazil: The Sellers
Around Brazil: Ilha de Gigoia
Brazil Journeys: São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro
Understanding Brazil: Dogs Part 2
Brazil: A Lie-In in Downtown São Paulo?
The Best Job in Brazil: Ankle Specialist?
Understanding Brazil: Dogs
Brazilian Places: Ilha do Santa Catarina (Floripa)
Classic Brazilian Journeys: South to Florianopolis
Understanding Brazil – The Shower
Brazil: Boats on the Amazon
Brazil: Understanding Novelas
Brazil: Bus fires in São Paulo – always a bad thing?




Around Brazil: Top Ten Things to Do in Rio

By Andy Jackson
October 2, 2009

Famous for its golden white beaches, carnival and samba, Rio de Janeiro is one of the world&rsquot;s most popular tourist destinations and home to more than 6 million people. However, while no trip to the Rio would be complete without sipping a cocktail on Copacabana beach, there is much more to the city once you&rsquot;ve booked your Rio de Janeiro Hostel.

1. Take the Corcovado Train to the Christ the Redeemer Statue
A journey up to the 100 foot tall statue on top of the Corcovado Mountain is an absolute must do activity. It is the iconic monument of Rio and provides stunning views of the city and the sea below.

2. Go to Carnival
Carnival is the largest event in Rio and is another must see if you are visiting the city while the event is on. Carnival is a fusion of music, colour and dancing which captures the mind of the whole city. Highlights include the Samba School floats which make their way to the 70,000 Sambadrome Stadium, where they compete to be named King and Queen of Carnival.

3. Eat Out at a Churrascaria
Having a meal at a Churrascaria is a dining experience like no other. Churrascarias have massive buffets with a whole host of salads, breads, cheeses and local specialities on offer. However these are only the backdrop to the main event – the meat. Waiters come round with up to a dozen freshly cooked meats on cookers and cut slices directly on to your plate. A card system is used to determine whether you&rsquot;ve had enough – keep your red card handy or you may bite off a little bit more than you can chew!

4. Go Exploring in the Parque Nacional and Floresta de Tijuca
This is the best place to visit to get an idea of what Rio once looked like. Here, you can wonder among 46 miles of untouched rain forest and get lost among the stunning scenery of dense green vegetation and beautiful waterfalls. Serious hikers can climb up to the 3220 foot summit of Pico da Tijuca which provides breathtaking views of the city.

5. Take a Cable Car Ride to Sugarloaf
This is a great way to see the city. Pao de Acuar or the &rsquot;Sugarloaf Mountain&rsquot; is one of the city&rsquot;s most famous landmarks. The funicular ride provides glorious views of Copacabana beach and the city below while the views from the top are stunning. Vendors are on hand at the summit selling coconuts and a whole host of refreshments.

6. Sample a Football Game at the Maracana Stadium
Football is second only to religion for Cariocas (the residents of Rio) and a trip to watch a football game at the Maracana is a truly magical experience. The action starts early at the biggest football stadium in the world, with locals turning up to the stadium hours in advance of the kick-off to get the party started with drums, singing and dancing. No drink is permitted inside the stadium, but there are bars and vendors aplenty around the stadium for an obligatory pre-game beer.

7. Go on a Favela Tour
With so much vibrancy and partying going on in the city&rsquot;s restaurants and clubs, it is easy to forget that Rio has a darker side. Whilst a sobering experience, a tour of the town&rsquot;s shanty towns (which can house up to 150,000 people) is, nevertheless, a worthwhile experience and puts things into perspective.

8. Take a Ride on the Bonde de Santa Teresa
The Bonde de Santa Teresa cable car is all that remains of what used to be the principal form of transport for the city. The ride starts in Lapa by the cathedral and crosses the imposing viaduct to Santa Teresa. From here you can take the cable car all the way to the top of the hill or get off to see the Museu da Chcara do Cu.

9. Visit the Monumento Nacional Aos Mortos da II Guerra Mundial
Located at Avenida Infante Dom Henrique, 75, Parque do Flamengo, this monument is dedicated to those who lost their lives in WWII, especially in Italy. The monument includes a small museum with military artefacts, a mausoleum and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and is guarded by the three Armed Forces. Entry is free.

10. Soak Up the Rays on Copacabana and Ipanema Beach
Of course no trip to Rio de Janeiro would be complete without a trip to the city&rsquot;s two most famous beaches. Surrounded by mountains, restaurants and miles of golden sand, the beaches are a great place to kick back and relax. Ipanema Beach is great for surfing and also has fashionable streets of chic boutiques and trendy restaurants. On Sundays it hosts a hippy market selling handicrafts, clothes and other souvenirs.

Freelance travel writer Andy Jackson works for HostelBookers, and has been backpacking across South America. Last year he stayed in a Rio de Janeiro Hostel to soak up the sun during Carnival.

Around Brazil: Whale-Watching in Santa Catarina

By Ricky Skelton
September 8, 2009

The Whales are Here! Santa Catarina whale-watching season began in July with the arrival of the first three Southern Right Whales of the 2009 season. The Instituta Baleia Franca (IBF) had a little ceremony to open observation season after two adults and one calf were spotted playing around off Praias Ibiraquera and Ribanceira, between Imbituba and Praia do Rosa. Local authorities enjoyed a little jolly for the opening ceremony at Pousada Vida Sol e Mar in Praia do Rosa, which had already been organised. The three whales timed things perfectly and saved the local dignitaries the embarrassment of opening… nothing much.

The whales continue to visit the beaches and bays of Florianopolis and the rest of Santa Catarina through until October or November time. Whale-watching as an activity can be enjoyed at many of the beaches, with a little luck. Favourite beaches on the island for the whales include Moambique & Barra da Lagoa, Armaão, Matadeiro (where they were once herded into the sand for slaughtering – hence the name of the beach) and Pntano do Sul.

From the sands and the headlands of all these beaches, it is possible to see a whale or few going through their morning… their morning what? Nobody really knows why the whales come so close to shore at this time of year. They only seem to be playing, rolling around on top of each other, flapping the water with their flukes (a technical term that only those of us who have broken our whale-watching virginity are allowed to use – &rsquot;fins&rsquot; to the rest of you), blowing, diving, breaching (another term) and all kinds of interesting behaviour. One theory has it that they hide their calves from the orcas of the area, but if that was really the case, then why do they only appear close to the shores in the morning? Do orcas only eat breakfast? Do they have an afternoon siesta?

There are more whales up and down the coast of Santa Catarina, with by far the best place to see these huge, beautiful, curious creatures being a boat trip out from Imbituba. This port town lies around 90km south of Floripa, slightly further south than Garopaba and Praia do Rosa. There are more whales per beach than anywhere else in Brazil (don&rsquot;t check that stat please, I just guessed) and they like to hang around the waters of Rosa, Ibiraquera and Ribanceira in particular. These surf and kite-surf beaches can all be a little wild for putting a boat out, so the best idea is to drive to Imbituba.

The whale-watching voyages are run by IBF and are properly organised trips, with the whole coast being an Area of Environmental Preservation.

Luis and his team of guides run them from their office at the old Imbituba train station. Before the trip, a little education video is shown to the passengers about the work of the IBF and about the whales in general. The boats head out of the port and along the coast to where the whales have been sighted by fishermen that morning. The boats don&rsquot;t drive too close to the whales as it can be disturbing. With calm seas, the boats can stop though, and the whales come nosing around to see if their visitors are worth impressing. This affords wonderful photo opportunities, and is one of the only places on earth that you can possibly come within touching distance of such a large creature in the wild.

Florianopolis is the usual starting point for tours, with Praia do Rosa certainly being the best place to stay close to Imbituba. Staying overnight there is not necessary to make the boat trip, but if you want to give yourselves the best chance of being nose to nose with a Southern Right Whale, a night in Rosa is a must. This way, if the seas are too rough for the humans to brave, or the whales are playing elsewhere along the Santa Catarina coastline, you can always have another try the next day. The arrival of Brazil&rsquot;s largest creatures is not guaranteed, but a memorable encounter with nature certainly is if they are around – especially if you find yourselves being interviewed for one of the Sunday night Brazilian TV Specials, as my own mother did!

You can visit Ricky&rsquot;s blog at http://redmist-redmist.blogspot.com/

Previous articles by Ricky:

Brazil: Tainha Time
Deported from Brazil? Part 2
Deported from Brazil? Part 1
Brazil: The President in Florianópolis
Swine Flu in South America?
The Best Club in Brazil…?
The Great Brazilian Animal-Off (Land)
Understanding Brazil: Giving Directions
Understanding Brazil: Driving
Understanding Brazil: Farra do Boi
Brazil: Catching Flu&rsquot;
Around Brazil: Garopaba
Understanding Brazil: Funerals
Brazil: Bernie the Berne
Around Brazil: Journey to the Amazon Jungle
Around Brazil: Crazy Town Ceremonies
Around Brazil: Crazy Town
Around Brazil: Manaus
Around Brazil: Santarem & Alter do Chao
Around Brazil: Amazon Swarms and Amazon Storms
Understanding Brazil: Playing Pool
Around Brazil: Gurup
Around South America: Peninsula Valdes
Around South America: Patagonia
Around South America: Montevideo, Uruguay
Around Brazil: The Amazon
Around South America: Bariloche, Argentina
Understanding Gringoes: Drinking
The Great Brazilian Fruit-Off Part 2
The Great Brazilian Fruit-Off Part 1
Understanding Brazil: The Kids
Brazil v Argentina: Buying Beer
Understanding Brazil: Mosquitoes
Around Brazil: São Luis
Teaching English in Brazil
Around Brazil: Lenois Maranhenses
Understanding Brazil: The National Anthem
Around Brazil: Barreirinhas
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara to Barreirinhas
Understanding Brazil: Shopping Centres
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara
Around Brazil: Chapada da Diamantina/Lenois
Brazil vs. Argentina: Statues of Christ
Around Brazil: Salvador
Brazil vs. Argentina: The Buses
Around Brazil: Morro de São Paulo (& Itabuna)
Understanding Brazil: The Workmen
Around Brazil: Praa Pateo do Colegio
Around Brazil: Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Rio de Janeiro to Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Cristo Redentor
Understanding Brazil: The Sellers
Around Brazil: Ilha de Gigoia
Brazil Journeys: São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro
Understanding Brazil: Dogs Part 2
Brazil: A Lie-In in Downtown São Paulo?
The Best Job in Brazil: Ankle Specialist?
Understanding Brazil: Dogs
Brazilian Places: Ilha do Santa Catarina (Floripa)
Classic Brazilian Journeys: South to Florianopolis
Understanding Brazil – The Shower
Brazil: Boats on the Amazon
Brazil: Understanding Novelas
Brazil: Bus fires in São Paulo – always a bad thing?



Around Brazil: Backpacking from Iguacu Falls to Argentina

By Lauren Smith
August 6, 2009

Straddling the Brazilian-Argentine Border, the falls of the Iguacu River are some of the world’s most dramatic waterfalls (also known as the Iguazu Falls or Iguassu Falls). Tumbling for 2km over a 70m cliff, the Garganta del Diablo lies at its heart, a dizzying gush of water hurtling into a boiling river canyon.

Surrounded by two National Parks of subtropical forests, filled with exotic birds, plants and animals, the falls are a must-see on any backpacking tour around South America. But a trip to the falls requires some forward planning, especially if you want to explore the rest of Argentina afterwards. Here’s a handy guide to backpacking to the Iguacu Falls.

When to Go
The falls have a different appeal year-round – March to November is probably the most pleasant time to visit, as temperatures are not too high, but if you can face it, the falls are more spectacular during the rainy season from May-July. During the hot summer months, the blue skies and intense heat can make the falls even more mesmerizing.

Begin in Brazil
Although most of the falls lie on the Argentine side of the border, the views from the Brazilian side are equally impressive, and promise even better photo opportunities. For overnight accommodation, stay in Foz de Iguacu, a sprawling metropolis close to the Brazilian side of the park.

After viewing the falls from the Brazilian side, you’ll need to cross the border and take the bus to the Parque National Iguacu, in Argentina. Remember to take the appropriate visas and get stamped as you enter the country.

Exploring the Park
The extensive network of trails and catwalks on the Argentine side offer a better experience of the falls – with views from above and below, and the chance to see the Garganta del Diablo.

Exploring the park is easy – as soon as you arrive, head to the visitor center and pick up a map. Then follow the two trails past the falls – the Paseo Superior (a shorter, easier walk along the top) and the Paseo Inferior (a winding trail through the forest that ends up close with some of the smaller falls).

To see the Garganta del Diablo, take the Cataratas bus from the visitor center to Puerto Canoas, where a small viewing platform takes you within meters of these staggering falls.

On From the Falls
After exploring the park, the rest of Northern Argentina is within easy reach. The best option is to stay in a Puerto Iguacu after visiting the Argentine side – this tranquil town of tropical vegetation and quiet streets is a peaceful place to crash after a hard days hiking.

Argentina is vast, so it’s probably best to stick to the North East of the country after visiting Iguacu Falls. The easiest way to get around is by bus, and most of the long-distance buses are clean, comfortable and tickets can be bought on the spot.

The rest of the region is full of beautiful reserves and national parks, such as the freshwater lakes of the Esteros del Iber. One of the finest places to see wildlife in South America, this Nature Reserve is still relatively unspoiled.

A good route is to tour the fascinating cities along the river, finishing up in Buenos Aires. Start at Posadas, a modern bustling city, and base for visiting the ruined Jesuit missions. In the early 17th century Jesuit missionaries established Indian missions in the surrounding area, which in their heyday were colonies of utopian progress and socialism, with over 150,000 inhabitants. Today the ruins are a fascinating place to explore.

A little to the west is Corrientes, an elegant city of 19th century boulevards, famous for its colorful carnival. There are a couple of interesting art museums, a Belle poque Theatre and a Colonial Monastery that are well worth a visit.

Further south lies Santa Fe, a great city to stop off in for a day or two. Despite the relaxed city center, filled with colonial buildings, this is a buzzing student town, and by night the Recoleta district comes alive with party-hungry students.

If you have time to make the trip to Buenos Aires, be sure to stop off at Rosario along the way. A pretty port town and the home of Che Guevara, formerly derelict buildings have been converted into galleries and restaurants, and there are river beaches and islands to enjoy in the summer.

Before joining HostelBookers in 2009, Lauren Smith indulged her passion for travel, backpacking around Argentina and staying in Puerto Iguacu hostels.

Previous articles by Lauren:

A Gastronomic Tour of Brazil
Best Beaches in Brazil for the Backpacker
Brazilian Football Tour

Around Brazil: Everything&rsquot;s Coming Up Roses in Holambra, the City of Flowers

By Marilyn Diggs
August 4, 2009

In 1654, the Portuguese expelled the Dutch from Brazil after maintaining a foothold in the Northeast for almost 25 years. In 1948, the Dutch were invited back and have been in Holambra (SP) ever since. War-torn Europe was replaced by 5,000 green hectares in São Paulo state, and its ideal climate for floriculture. Today the city&rsquot;s population is around 10,000, of which 10% are direct Dutch descendents and their influence lives in the architecture, customs and gastronomy.

The City of Flowers is located only 155 km from São Paulo city. The sienna brick gateway to Holambra, with its distinct zigzagged edges, prepares you for similar Dutch architecture throughout the town (see photo below). Dont miss the new commercial complex, Hulshof Galeria, on the main street with it historical replicas of facades dating back to 1640. Some houses maintain the custom of identifying the residences by putting name plaques over the door with phrases in Dutch like, Everything I ever wanted.” The most impressive landmark remains the full-size windmill, the largest in Latin America, whose interior you can climb up for panoramic vistas.

Some tourists expect flower-laden calendar landscapes (preferably with tulips) on every corner in the City of Flowers, but this is not the case. Instead, guided rural tours open up greenhouses full of orchids, chrysanthemums and daffodils, then take you to fields of orange bird-of-paradise and roses with white net hats protecting the buds (see photo below). Thirty percent of Brazil&rsquot;s flower production is in Holambra, 80% of which is exported – mostly roses to the USA. For those wanting an even closer contact with nature, there are horseback rides through the countryside and a lunch buffet cooked over a wood-burning stove afterwards. Another attraction is Lindenhof Park with its Dutch motif playground, where city children come face-to-face with goats, donkeys, rabbits, turkeys, peacocks and turtles in a miniature zoo.

In town, the Historical Museum has a photo gallery, immigration mementoes, tools, toys, clothes and utensils. Youll learn that the city has the original Dutch agricultural cooperative&rsquot;s name, which is an abbreviation of Holland, America, Brazil. Outside the museum, shoppers can take a bit of Holland home with Delft china, wooden shoes, lace, woven goods, authentic pastries, imported spices, cheeses and beer found in specialty stores in town.

Some visitors to Holambra come strictly for the authentic Dutch cooking. This cuisine is a fusion from various countries, including Germany as well as Indonesia (a former Dutch colony). Think sauerkraut and sausages, but also filet mignon and sea food. Sweet and sour mixtures surprise the palate, like a sauce made of apple, onion, beer and typical spices. After savoring some imported beer, you may have the courage to try to pronounce Jachtschotel, Eilandenpot and other menu choices. Be sure to save room for Appeltaart.

Brazil is a fascinating conglomeration of races and cultures. Immigrants have been attracted like magnets and have ended up thriving and contributing to the country&rsquot;s growth. Here is a chance to enjoy the Dutch influence in Brazil. Holland has never been so close.

Tips
May through October is the best time to visit Holambra. EXPOFLORA is a traditional event in September, which combines plant sales with folklore events.

The museum and some activities are open only on weekends and holidays unless scheduled through the local tourist agency. Visit: www.holambra.sp.gov.br

Theos Turismo Receptivo: tourist agency with friendly guides and comfortable vehicles. English-speaking guides and pick-up service available upon request. (19) 3802-4675; (19) 9125-3102; (19) 9168-2199. www.theosturismo.com.br and contacto@theosturismo.

Em Busca do Galope: Stables that have trail rides, including rides during full-moons. Restaurant with country cooking at lunchtime on weekends and holidays. Well-groomed horses. (19) 3802-1433 www.embuscadogalope.com.br and embuscadogalope@uol.com.br

Where To Eat
Old Dutch: Chef /owner Robert Jager brings traditional recipes from his homeland. Jachtshotel (The Hunter&rsquot;s Plate) includes filet mignon cubes in special sauce, typical potatoes and apple sauce. Frikandel appetizers are unbeatable. Homemade bread. Outstanding meals in a Dutch house. (19) 3802-1290. www.olddutch.com.br

Where To Stay
Pousada Europa: Quaint, middle-range priced hotel with chalets and rooms. Restaurant on premises. Swimming pool. (19) 3877-1021. www.pousadaeuropa.com.br

Marilyn Diggs is an American living in Brazil for over twenty years. She is a freelance writer, artist, lecturer and author of nine books – two about Brazilian art history. As an art reporter and travel writer she has two monthly columns in Sunday News, Brazil’s English language newspaper that circulates in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia. She has written for the Miami Herald and Museum International, a UNESCO publication. Marilyn has a degree in Latin American Studies and is often contracted by intercultural training services to give talks on expat challenges. www.mdiggs.com

Previous articles by Marilyn:

Around Brazil: Embu Das Artes – History, Headdresses and Handicrafts
Full Steam Ahead! Chilean Vineyards by Train
A Trip to Easter Island: Beyond the Obvious
Atacama Desert, Chile – I Came, I Saw, I Explored
Journey through the Fjords of Patagonia
Around Brazil: Jap Mountains, When Nature Calls
Around Brazil: Living the Amazon
Brazil: A Spa that Takes Care of Body and Soul
Around South America: Puyuhuapi – Chile’s Patagonian Secret
Around South America: Looking for Adventure in Chile&rsquot;s Patagonia
Around South America: Road Trip through a Forgotten Land – Aisn, Chile
Conquering Cape Horn
Around Brazil: Hang-Gliding Over Rio
Around Brazil: Sailing in Paraty
Santiago: Gateway to the Chilean Experience
The Enchanting Easter Island
Nature and Nurturing in Chile&rsquot;s Lake Region
Chilean Patagonia: Going to the Ends of the Earth
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 2
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 1
Spending the Night in the Lost City of the Incas – Machu Picchu
Brazil: Happy Moonlit Trails To You
Brazil: Paradise Found – Fernando de Noronha