I wasn’t sure about Brazil. It’s not a culture I know much about, beyond beaches, rainforest, carnaval, and …capoeira? While I love beaches, and I hear that Brazil has some of the best beaches in the world, I have already been to the Amazon, I don’t study martial arts, and you couldn’t pay me to go to Rio for carnaval. Ok, I would (begrudgingly) take the money and the free trip, but my point is that hanging out in Rio with two million other tourists doesn’t sound like my idea of fun.
I’m focusing on learning Spanish, so as a Portuguese-speaking country, Brazil doesn’t help me with that. And everyone, everyone, EVERYONE says Brazil is so dangerous. People talk about how one street can be totally safe while the parallel street is ground zero, and there’s no way to know. Everyone says you cannot wander around, definitely not by yourself, and don’t even think about going out after dark. Folks I know who went to Rio for carnaval mostly talked about how everyone in their hostels got robbed. I thought about not even going to Brazil.
That would have been a shame.
I loved it. I only spent four days there, to visit the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls and tour Rio de Janiero, but I really enjoyed it. I will need to plan a massive trip back in order to thoroughly explore it – as the fifth-largest country in the world, this will take some time. I swear, the more I travel the longer my bucket list gets…
Anyways, Brazil is blessed with some amazing natural beauty which I first got a taste of in Iguazu. I had visited the Argentinian side the day before, and was skeptical that the Brazilian side could offer such an awe-inspiring, wonderful experience. It did. The Argentinian side has more trails and you can spend all day walking around, enjoying getting up close to hundreds of falls. (And because there is more room to spread out on all those trails, the Argentinian side never felt as crowded as the Brazilian side did).
The Brazilian side is all about the stunning panoramic views, building up to a dramatic overlook of the Devil’s Throat. I swear, we saw falls that we weren’t able to see from the Argentinian side because sometimes you need to be further away to get some perspective. But the Brazilian side isn’t without its own up-close-and-personal experience, as one of the walkways goes out into the falls. You will get wet.
After being wowed at Iguazu, I flew to Rio where I stayed in Copcacabana. What an amazing place. The natural beauty of Rio is ridiculous. I’ll always remember the first time I walked out onto the soft white sands of Copacabana beach and took in the view towards Sugarloaf mountain. I almost cried (right into my Capirinha). Ipanema beach is equally stunning, and the view from Corcovado will take that breath right from you.
I was surprised. I felt completely at ease walking around (by myself, naturally). I even stayed out until after dark. Although not much later… I like to go to bed early. The vibe is chill, people are friendly, and the food is amazing. I didn’t know about feijoada before, but it’s gospel now. The metro is clean, safe, and efficient. And there are urban monkeys, y’all – I didn’t know that such a thing existed.
Not everything was perfect. Getting around can be difficult, if you don’t want to go somewhere on a metro line (and unfortunately many of the places I wanted to go were not near a metro stop). The downtown area lacks charm, and without the cool ocean breezes it gets to feeling humid quite quickly. And in Lapa, right near the cathedral, was the only “this seems strangely unsafe” moment – some kind guy told us (some folks I met on my walking tour) to turn around and not go walking through this area. In the middle of the afternoon.
So it wasn’t perfect, but nothing ever is. I loved my trip to Brazil and am glad I didn’t let the naysayers keep me from going. I’ll be back someday, to lay on the glorious beaches some more, head to the Amazon, and maybe even find myself at a carnaval. Perhaps I’ll spend some months learning Portuguese…