Foz do Iguaçu
My first stop in Brazil was the southwestern city of Foz do Iguaçu. The main attraction here is the largest waterfalls system in the world, Iguaçu Falls. These falls are a UNESCO World Heritage site shared between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. They’re often compared to Niagara and Victoria Falls but Iguaçu is taller than Niagara and not as wide as Victoria. Also, unlike Niagara, Iguaçu is also not surrounded by casinos and doesn’t light up at night, making it the winner! At least in my opinion.
There’s quite the debate on whether the Brazilian or Argentine side of the falls is the best. Although most of the falls are in Argentina, the Brazilian side has sweeping views of the system, which is incredible. I visited the Argentine side on my second day. It was a fun trip that included a stop where the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet. Day trips from either country to the other are easily available if you’re not traveling through. I absolutely recommend visiting both sides to get the whole experience. It’s totally worth it!
With so much waterflow, it’s not surprising that a hydroelectric dam was built on the Paraná River, just downstream of Iguaçu falls on the border between Brazil and Paraguay. The power generated at the Itaipu Binacional Dam is shared between Brazil and Paraguay. The power output currently exceeds the Three Gorges Dam in China, the largest Dam in the world. I had a bit of extra time, so I hopped a bus to take a tour of Itaipu Binacional. It was pretty cool to see, and I was lucky enough to be there when the dam was open!
From Foz do Iguaçu I hopped a plane to Cuiabá to start on my next adventure in the Pantanal, which is the largest tropical wetland in the world. The Pantanal has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its extreme biodiversity, especially with respect to birds. I’m not a bird person- I came for the jaguars!
From Cuiabá we traveled to our home base in Porto Jofre along the Transpantaneira “highway”. It took pretty much the entire day to get there but this allowed us to get deep into the park, away from the more touristy outskirts. Our group was very small and traveled in a small 6-person boat. We made our way along the waterways in search of the elusive jaguar, and we weren’t disappointed! Our guide, Elionil, was able to take us places that the larger boats couldn’t get to. He also spent a lot of time rowing instead of using the motor, so as to not spook the big cats; something that the large boats don’t (and probably can’t) do.
São Luis and Lençóis Maranhenses
Lençóis Maranhenses is a national park on the northeastern coast of Brazil. It’s famous for it’s huge sand dunes; the valleys of which fill up with water during the rainy season. This region doesn’t seem to get as much international tourists as other areas of Brazil, which is a bonus. Of course, this also means that English doesn’t get you very far! My Pictionary directions and terrible Portuguese eventually got me where I needed to be though. This portion of my trip was probably the most complicated, and sometimes frustrating, but I’m very happy I went. The landscape is like nothing I’ve seen before.
First, I flew to São Luis. It’s quite gritty but I thought it was cool. Although its historic centre is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s not a very touristic city. I walked around the old crumbling buildings and took in the sites. As a solo female traveler, I kind of stuck out like a sore thumb though. Next, I headed to Barreirinhas by bus. From there I grabbed a motorboat down the Rio Preguiças to Atins, a tiny fishing village on the Atlantic. The trip to Atins took several hours but it was beautiful ride. As they say, it’s about the journey, right? My time in Atins was pretty relaxing. I joined some hiking tours into the dunes and spent time on the beach, watching kitesurfers battle wind and sea.
Rio de Janeiro
The amazing city of Rio de Janeiro was my last stop in Brazil. Rio has topped my list of places to visit for as long as I can remember, so this was exciting! Not surprisingly, Rio takes up a lot of space in my Brazil photoblog. I just can’t help it!
This week was equal parts work and play because I had a conference to attend. In the taxi from the airport the guy I split the cab with pointed out Christ the Redeemer. I have to admit, I couldn’t spot it at first! With such urban sprawl, the iconic monument kind of gets lost. Once you get to the centre, though, it’s definitely visible. Everywhere. Of course, I went up to the monument, but it was so so crowded. Everyone is bashing into each other while posing as Christ the Redeemer or taking selfies. Yikes. I preferred seeing the statue from the many lookouts around the city. My favorite was buzzing around Rio and Christ the Redeemer in a helicopter, though. Usually a trip like that is out of my price range but a friend of mine got a good deal. It was incredible!
Of course, there’s more to Rio than Christ the Redeemer. I’m not a beach person, but that’s okay because there’s so many other cool spots to visit! We hired Pedro, our crazy guide, to help us explore the Rocinha favela, the largest shantytown in Rio de Janeiro. It was a really interesting and eye-opening experience. Along with taking the food, and the traffic, we also got to see Rio from many vantage points. The skyline is so picturesque, with the iconic Sugarloaf peak and the surrounding mountains. No wonder it’s designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site!