Sao Paulo - Paraty - Trinidade - Rio de Janeiro - Curitiba - Paranagua - Morretez - Foz do Iguacu - Puerto Iguazu - Porto Alegre - Montevideo - Colonia del Sacramento - Buenos Aires
In the morning we arrived in Sao Paulo. Directly from the airport, we went to the Tiete bus station, where we left our luggage and bought tickets to Paraty for one of the afternoon buses (there are 4-8 buses per day to Paraty, all operated by Reunidas bus company. You can check the timetable here).
From the Tiete bus station, we went to the famous Avenida Paulista. Avenida Paulista is widely praised in guide-books as an equivalent to 5th Avenue in New York, but in fact, it’s just a big street, with heavy traffic and lots of passers-by rushing to be somewhere else. We tried, but we didn’t find any of those legendary restaurants or cafes (well, we found a Starbucks place, but you know what they say – open your fridge, and you’ll find a Starbucks café. So it doesn’t count). What we liked was a small park called Trianon or Tenente Siqueira Campos, opposite the MASP museum. We were surprised to find a real jungle inside the concrete one, and we used this opportunity to rest and compensate our ice-cream deficiency there.
From Avenida Paulista, we moved to the area of Catedral da Se de Sao Paulo. A charming part of the city, but dwelled heavily by the homeless. We wandered around the center area for a while and visited other interesting sites in the nearby (we recommend Theatro Municipal). Don’t forget to try one of the famous avocado fruit cocktails in any of the little eateries near the cathedral.
From the center, we went to the Tiete bus station to catch our bus to Paraty. The bus was new and comfortable. The trip took us 6 hours, but only because on the way we stopped near some huge diner for about 90 minutes.
We arrived in Paraty in the evening, but since our hotel in Paraty was near the bus station and very close to the Historic Center, we left the luggage and went for a quick night tour.
Paraty is a charming, colonial town located on the Costa Verde (Green Coast). It has a cobblestone-paved Historic Center, pleasant for walks. Cars are not allowed here, and they have been replaced by horse-carriages. The streets are full of little restaurants and coffee shops. You can easily spend the whole day doing nothing, wandering around and absorbing the ambiance. But if you insist on some muscle work, there are boat trips, kayaking, trekking and diving activities possible to organize from here.
We wanted to go to the beach, and we wanted the best one, so we left Paraty in the afternoon, heading 30 km south, to Trinidade. The buses to Trinidade leave every hour or so from the main bus station in Paraty. The trip takes about 40 minutes (the bus stops on demand, which means it waits more often than moves).
We reached Trinidade early enough to find a place to sleep and see the sunset.
Trinidade was a highlight of our itinerary. It is a small village located within the Cairucu Environmental Protection Area. There are several beautiful beaches in Trinidade, some quite hectic, with crowded bars and loud music, others with big waves popular among surfers. But we were enchanted by Praia Cahadaco – a long, wide and almost deserted stripe of white sand between rainforest covered mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. It was harder to reach, as it required some hiking through the forest, but once we got there, we couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. See our pictures from Trinidade HERE.
in 16 days
We left Trinidade early, took a bus to Paraty and bought tickets for a bus to Rio de Janeiro. There are several buses going to Rio, and we thought there wouldn’t be any problem with getting tickets for the same day. We forgot it was the first day of the carnival and lots of people were planning to spend it in Rio. There were only tickets for the late afternoon trip left. We didn’t want to travel by night, but we had no choice.
After buying tickets, we went again to the Historic Center and watched preparations for the carnival celebration in Paraty.
In the afternoon we boarded the bus to Rio. The trip took us 4 hours to the border of the city. And another 2 hours to enter the bus station. It was the first day of the carnival, and many streets were closed due to the blocos (street parades). We reached the rented apartment a few minutes after midnight.
Our note: During carnival, the hotel rooms in Rio are ridiculously pricey – we weren’t able to find anything for less than 300 USD per night. So we used Airbnb.com and found a nice apartment near the Copacabana Beach for half the price.
We spent the rest of our time in Buenos wandering around the San Telmo and Monserrat area.
After 3 days in this city we know one thing for sure - we have to come back there. Before our trip, we imagined Buenos as a magnificent city with splendid architecture, where tango is danced at each and every corner and where art is the answer. And we discovered all of this is true.
On the second day, we went to the Plaza de Mayo area. We were lucky, as it was Saturday and we found out there were free tours of the Casa Rosada organized on weekends (from 10 am to 6 pm, every 15 minutes). Casa Rosada is the palace famous for the legendary balcony, where Eva Peron gave her rousing speech, known as the “Don’t cry for me Argentina” song (now you’re gonna sing it for the next 15 minutes. We were, after writing this text).
From Plaza de Mayo we went to Galerias Pacifico shopping center, to see the famous frescos. The highlight of our walk was El Ateneo – the used-to-be theater transformed into the bookstore (see our article HERE).
We also visited the Recoleta cemetery, the amazing MALBA Museum, and Floralis Generica – a giant metal flower that opens and closes its petals, depending on the time of the day.
In the evening we went to the Esquina Carlos Gardel Theater for a tango show. It was so spectacular that we even forgave them changing the show time from 8 pm to 10 pm and informing us about it a few minutes before we left the hotel. Don’t take the dinner option unless you need to splurge. The food didn’t look that fancy considering the price.
We started with La Boca – this artistic part of Buenos Aires is the city icon and will easily consume half of your day. Enjoy the bohemian ambiance and expect thousands of other tourists doing the same.
In the afternoon we chilled out in the Japanese Garden.
From Foz do Iguazu we took a plane to Porto Alegre, where we wandered around Centro Historico for a few hours. In the evening we took a night bus to Montevideo (Uruguay).
Montevideo is a nice city and pleasant for walking as most of the interesting things are accessible in the Ciudad Vieja (Old Town) area. We really liked Museo Torres Garcia and Rambla de Montevideo.
From Montevideo, we took a bus to Colonia del Sacramento (2,5 hours).
The bus station in Colonia is located right next to the ferry terminal, where we bought the tickets to Buenos Aires. From the terminal, we went back to the bus station to leave our luggage (there’s no luggage storage at the ferry) and then straight to the old city center (it’s within walking distance).
Colonia is charming and small - we walked the old town back and forth several times before it was time to catch our ferry.
We arrived in Buenos Aires early in the evening.
It was pouring, so we decided to take a bus excursion to Itaipu Dam, located on the border between Brazil and Paraguay. The dam was impressive, and we enjoyed the trip despite the heavy rain.
To get to the Itaipu Visitors Center (from where the excursions depart and where you can get the tickets) take a public bus from Foz do Iguacu central bus terminal, direction “Itaipu Dam” (the ride takes about 30 minutes, the last stop is near the visitor center).
It stopped raining around noon, so we went to Puerto Iguazu. Again we took a bus from Foz do Iguacu central bus terminal. The journey (including crossing the border and getting our passports stamped) took us about an hour. At the Argentinian side the bus stopped far from the entrance to the Iguazu National Park, so we had to take another bus to get us there. After getting tickets to the park, we had to wait a bit for a little train going all the way to Garganta del Diablo (the viewpoint over the very massive cascade of water).
As we said – both sides are completely different, and both should be seen.
In the evening we came back to Foz do Iguacu the same way.
The falls can be visited from both sides – Brazilian and Argentinian. Some people skip one side, as they assume both look the same. Not true! See both sides, as they are completely different. The Brazilian side provides better photo opportunities – the view is more spectacular. The Argentinian side gives you a better chance to feel the power of the falls – there are numerous bridges that allow you to walk really close to the water. And it’s less “tamed”, letting you “feel” nature. In addition, weather near the falls can be unpredictable, so it is wise to have the time reserve in case it pours.
We stayed in Foz do Iguacu, so naturally, we started with the Brazilian side. From the city center, we took a bus to the entrance to the park, where the tickets are sold and a huge line formed (you can’t walk to the falls, you have to get there by special double-deckers leaving from near the ticket counters). There are several stops on the way, so you’d better be sure what activity you want to get engaged into (walking the trails, boat excursion, etc.), as you’ll have to get off the bus at a specific spot.
The Iguazu Falls and the Iguacu National Park were simply amazing. We did the trekking only, but it took us the whole day just to move between the viewing platforms and gaze in awe. We saw many animals on the way, including a toucan, capuchin monkeys, big butterflies, stick insects and ubiquitous coatis.
On the way back we splurged on the helicopter trip (you’ll see the helicopter landing pad near the exit from the park) and enjoyed it a lot.
From Curitiba, we planned to take the Serra Verde Express train to Morretes (it is a special slow train with a purpose of sightseeing nature wonders of the state of Parana). It leaves Curitiba in the morning and comes back in the evening. Unfortunately, it was Sunday, and all the tickets were sold out – it appears it is a very popular weekend activity among Curitiba families. We were told that there were some tickets left for the way back, as some people prefer to go one way only and come back by bus (it’s much faster).
Having no choice left we went to the nearby bus station. Since we had so much time, we decided to divide the trip into two sections – first, we went to Paranagua (the oldest city in the state of Parana, founded in 1648) and from there to Morretes.
In Morretes we were caught by heavy rain, so we spent most of the time in a café. We can’t say much about the views from the train either, as the day was horribly rainy and foggy, and all the supposedly beautiful forests and waterfalls were successfully hidden from us.
In the evening we took a plane from Curitiba to Foz do Iguacu.
The carnival parade took the whole night. We came back around 7 am and slept till late afternoon. We had a few hours left before our flight, so we went to the botanical garden.
In the evening we went to the airport and took a flight to Curitiba.
Our note: Domestic flights from Santos Dumont Airport, located in downtown Rio, provide a spectacular view of the city, so fight hard to get a window seat!
After having cheesecakes and fresh coconut juice for breakfast, we went to the Pao de Acucar. Expect a huge line and expensive tickets, but don’t even think of skipping it. The view from the mountain is incredible. There are two levels (two separate cable cars), so do not miss the proper Pao de Acucar, when you admire the surrounding from the lower level. And give it a few hours – we went to the top quite early, and it was misty, but in the afternoon the sky cleared out.
When you’re down, don’t forget to visit a nearby Botafogo Beach (a few steps from the cable car ticket office) – it’s extremely photogenic with the cables going up and down over the beach. The beach also hosts an interesting monument of Fryderyk Chopin watching reflectively ladies in bikinis.
We came back to Copacabana for lunch, and in the afternoon we took a bus to the Corcovado mountain (to see Christ the Redeemer statue). The shuttle buses leave from several locations in the city, but we went to the ticket office located in Praca do Lido in Copacabana. For the detailed information go to the Paneiras-Corcovado web-site.
The Corcovado mountain is an icon of Rio. The view is just spectacular, we’ve never seen anything like that in our lives! And despite the fact that it’s horribly crowded and for sure you’ll end up having a headache (the heat, crowd and the hassle of transportation) it is another must when in Rio.
In the evening we went to the event that was an icing on the cake of our journey – the carnival parade on the sambadrome. There are no words to describe the show. Even Gabriela, who isn’t much into dancing, was jumping to the rhythm of samba the whole night. To read more about the parade go to our article HERE.
Located 100 meters from our apartment, the Copacabana Beach was the obvious choice for a good start. Equipped with fresh coconuts, we trotted through the beach sand until we reached the Copacabana Fort, which we visited. We continued our tour to the Ipanema and Leblon Beaches. On the way, we joined a colorful bloco. From Ipanema, we took a subway to the central Rio. We visited the cathedral, saw more blocos and followed the aqueduct to the Selaron Steps, connecting the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighborhoods.
On the way back we caught a bus to Niteroi and crossed the Guanabara Bay via Rio-Niteroi Bridge (the longest bridge in Brazil). We visited the Contemporary Art Museum (designed by Oscar Niemeyer) and took the ferry back to Rio.
Our comment: we highly recommend going to Niteroi. Crossing the large bridge is a unique experience on its own, but seeing the Rio side from the ferry is a tourist and photographic must, especially if you take it after sunset when all the city lights (including illumination of the Christ the Redeemer statue) are on. The ferry is crowded, but considering the view – who cares!
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