Morro de Sao Paulo

After our brief stint away from the normal beach destinations, we continued our journey to visit another beach on Tripadvisor’s Best Beaches in Brazil. We took a bus south from Salvador to a town called Valenca. From there, we took a slow ferry to the island of Morro de Sao Paulo. Though our guide book said it would be cheaper to do it this way, it is far slower and does not save you a lot of money. It is much better to take the direct ferry from Salvador to the island. Unfortunately, we had to figure this out the hard way.

Morro de Sao Paulo is a cute, little town, on an island south of Salvador da Bahia, where you can enjoy the warm waters of northern Brazil in a nearly waveless ocean. There is really only one street and 5 beaches, appropriately named First Beach, Second Beach, Third Beach, Fourth Beach, and Fifth Beach. Second Beach (#24 on Tripadvisor’s list) and Fourth (#8) Beach are the best and offer very different feels. Though Fourth Beach holds a higher position, I personally liked Second Beach better.

First Beach closest to the town, but is rather thin, especially at high tide. Yet, despite the size of the beach and the rocks scattered throughout, this is where all the local boys play and learn to surf. There is also a zipline that goes from the lighthouse on the ridge above into the water of First Beach.

Second Beach is close to all the restaurants and there are servers walking around all day that can bring you whatever you would like, including our beloved açai. Perhaps this is where açai officially became implanted in my heart. On top of serving our favorite Brazilian superfruit as a snack, one of the vendors would walk around yelling “Açaaaaa (5 second pause) EE!” very emphatically. We thoroughly enjoyed this vendor’s shtick and in fact, it is the only one we still remember. Because of all the amenities, proximity, fine sand, and warm waveless swimming area, this is the tourist beach and our favorite here.

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When you continue down the boardwalk following the water’s edge, you reach Third Beach. Third Beach is not really a beach at all. The tide gets too high here and covers most of the sand. It is still close to the vendors though and nice for an evening stroll.

Fourth Beach is a long stretch of quite beach space with coral in the water. Visit this one if you want to get away from the crowds. You can walk around in shin-high water and explore the reef and marine life. Be careful not to step on any of the dark spots since the coral is alive and you can kill it. If you are a runner, Fourth Beach makes an excellent spot to get some miles (or kms) in.

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As for the rest of the town, we stayed in a Che Legarto Hostel which proved to be nearly the same price as camping. It was very nice and secure, and they also had many activities every night. In town, souvenirs seemed pretty cheap, despite it being a touristic island. Because of the value, we opted to try a pizza “rodizio” at one of the restaurants on the way to the beach. A rodizio is the Brazilian word for all-you-can-eat buffet where the waiters walk around serving you as much food as you want. In this case, every kind of pizza you can imagine: shrimp (camarao), ham, hawaiian, veggie, garlic (alho), and even dessert pizza like chocolate and banana. While I am on the subject, another popular food option in Brazil is what they call “por kilo,” which essentially means you pay by weight. We also tried the famous Bahian street food, aracaje. This is a dense, fried manioc cake, topped with shrimp paste and whole shrimps and spicy oils. To go along with your street food, why not a street drink? Vendors line the boardwalk along Second beach at night making a number of delicious drinks at a good price. We would recommend pointing to one of the many fruits on a cart and asking for a caipiroska.

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Rio de Janiero

“Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking.” Everyone knows the song, but did you know that it was written about a real person? I didn’t either. I did know, however, that Ipanema, alongside Copacabana (which is also a famous song title, but about a club in Miami), is one of the most famous beaches in the world. In fact, the city of Rio de Janiero basks in the glory of its several world-famous beaches. It is even has the nickname of the “Marvelous City.”

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Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro

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One of the most famous spots on the beach, posto 9 is supposedly where the fabulous people congregate.

Undoubtedly one of the most unique and recognizable cityscapes on the planet, Rio de Janiero is home to the world’s largest urban jungle. Green hills flow seamlessly into the city. Sugarloaf Mountain pokes out into the sea. Several famous beaches line the coast. The Maracanã is one of the most famous soccer stadiums in the world, and the Sambadrome is home to the madness that is Carnival. All this is overlooked by Christ the Redeemer, one of the 7 Wonders of the World.

Each of these landmarks add to the city’s fame and mystique, but for me, a look from inside the city revealed a different story. To be honest, I thought I would love Rio de Janiero, especially after watching the colorful cartoon movie called “Rio.” Yet when I arrived in the “Cidade Maravilhosa,” I did not feel the charm I thought I would. Anna and I even stayed in “the best hostel in South America” according to HostelWorld, which was nice, but not “the best” on our list.

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A look at the Maracanã from above.

The hostel staff were careful to remind us about carrying cameras and phones, and not to wear any jewelry, including $10 watches from Target. They pointed out the areas in the city that were safest to walk, and told us to pay extra attention to our belongings while on the beach. Even though we had been traveling for nearly 11 months, we could tell that Rio was probably the most dangerous place we had been. With these (and many more) safety precautions freshly on our mind, we walked the entire length of Leblon beach, Ipanema beach, and most of Copacabana, but were not totally impressed. Though they are nice beaches, I personally think there are better beaches in Brazil. In my opinion, theses famous beaches make the city of Rio look prettier, but the city buildings do not reciprocate. Plus, the higher risk of danger, and dirtiness of the city took away from a potentially very charming place.

It was not until Anna and I took the cable car up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, the famous, tan rock formation that is in nearly every photo of Rio de Janiero, that we began to see the beauty of the city. Just like Huayna Picchu is in every photo of Machu Picchu, Rio de Janiero would not look the same without the “Pão de Açúcar.” Once atop, the real beauty of Rio shined, like the sun in our face. It was almost magical to be removed from the stress of constant vigilance and watch the city lights begin to twinkle on as the sun set over the urban forest that encompasses the city. For a moment, we almost forgot about the potential dangers down below. The pictures do not do justice. This is a must see for anyone visiting Rio.

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Cable car up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain

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Looking at Rio atop the Sugarloaf Mountain at sunset.

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Cable car down with a view of the city below

The next day we wanted to climb to the top of Corcovado so that we could visit the Christ the Redeemer statue. Before we started to hike the trail, we were again reminded of the violence in the city when a group of tourists came down from the trail and warned us not to climb that way. They had just been mugged by 4 men with knives. Even though we had travel insurance, we decided to take the tour van up to the entrance since it was much safer. Christ the Redeemer was looking over us the whole time.

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When we arrived at the top and looked out over the city, I was again moved by the natural beauty of the city’s landscape. There was also a paraglider floating above us and above the 98 ft. statue of Christ. Looks like we were not the only ones enjoying the escape.

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When we came down from Corcovado, Anna and I met up with our Couchsurfing host, Cristiano, at an all-you-can-eat Brazilian Steakhouse. It was awesome to see the waiters carry around sabers of every different kind of meat for you to choose from. This was our first time Couchsurfing and had a great experience with Cristiano.

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Like the unreachable charm that is alluded to in “The Girl from Ipanema,” the beauty of Rio at the time of our visit was much easier seen from afar; in photos or from lookouts atop the Pão de Açúcar or Christ the Redeemer hill. Rio de Janiero has a lot of things going for it and may even have the potential to be one of the prettiest cities in the world, but in our opinion, there is still a lot of work to be done. Was it everything I had hoped it would be? No. Would I go back? Yes. Would I recommend it to others? Yes, but go prepared.

Buzios: Escape from Rio

Cabo Frio

Three hours east of Rio de Janeiro lies the peninsula of Cabo Frio. It would not be unreasonable to think of Cabo Frio as the Cape Cod of Rio de Janiero. It is a favorite vacation spot for Cariocans (the name for people from Rio) because of its wonderful beaches, diverse activities, great weather, and close proximity to the city. The peninsula itself, however, is actually made up of 3 areas: Arraial do Cabo, Cabo Frio, and Armação dos Buzios.

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Lagoa Beach Hostel in Buzios

We ended up here on a whim. As we tried to leave Sao Paulo for Paraty, we found out that the buses were all sold out. So, because there was availability on the buses, we decided that Cabo Frio would be our next destination. Our bus was an overnighter, getting us to the town of Cabo Frio in the morning. From there, we took a local bus to Arraial do Cabo only to determine that the hostels (and campground) there were not what we wanted. This brought us to Buzios, a short bus ride away, but that quick stop in Arraial do Cabo was enough to make us want to come back- for the beaches at least.

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Buzios, which is sometimes called Buzios Aires because of the large amount of Argentinians that vacation there, is a great place for a beach vacation. Although Arraial do Cabo claims a few of Brazil’s best beaches, Buzios also offers its fair share of nice beaches to enjoy. Once in Buzios, we asked around to see which ones were worth our time. Here are a few of the beaches we tested and our opinions about them:

  • João Fernandes is the most well known and popular beach, but is very thin and becomes very crowded when the tide comes in. This is Anna’s favorite beach because of the sparkling water, little to no waves, and all of the amenities.
  • João Fernandinho is a smaller beach right along side João Fernandes over a small rocky strip.
  • Praia Armação/Centro is right near the main downtown area and has nice boardwalks and restaurants though it is not good for swimming.
  • Praia Osso is a little ways down the boardwalk from Centro before you reach the church, but is very similar to Centro and not ideal for swimming.
  • Praia Azeda is labelled as the best place to watch the sunset in Buzios, though it is a bit of a walk from the main tourist area.
  • Praia Geriba is a much larger beach with plenty of space to play beach soccer, play in the waves, build sand castles, or take in the sun’s rays. This was Adam’s favorite beach. It was also the only beach with waves large enough to surf and that was not in a cove.
  • Praia Ferradurinha is a very small beach, but equally as crowded as João Fernandes. It is a little harder to find, but has very calm waters. May be a good place to learn how to Stand Up Paddleboard.
  • Praia de Ferradura is a larger beach that is sheltered in a cove surrounded by large, private homes. This protected it from normal ocean waves. It was also the least crowded beach we visited in Buzios.
  • Praia de Manguinhos is across the peninsula from Geriba and is lined with restaurants which had very nice waterfront seating areas. Not for swimming.

During our time in Buzios, we stayed in a pretty nice Che Lagarto Hostel which was close to the center of Buzios for the first night. Che Lagarto is a chain of hostels scattered throughout South America and it has a reputation of being a bit pricey. This is not our preferred type of hostel so we switched to a cheaper, less crowded hostel called Lagoa Beach Hostel. There were not many guests at this fairly new hostel and in fact, we ended up talking to the owner quite a bit because we were the only guests for most of our stay. The owner, it just so happened, was a young German girl who started her life in South America in Chile. Where in Chile? Pucon. Where in Pucon? Hostel El Refugio. That is right. She worked in the same hostel that we did when she first came to South America. What a coincidence!

Arraial do Cabo

While we were in the Cabo Frio area, we spent most of our time in Buzios, but we ventured to Arraial do Cabo for one day. You see, part of the reason we decided to come to this area was because we wanted to visit as many of the top beaches in Brazil as possible. Arraial do Cabo on the peninsula of Cabo Frio is host to 3 of the top 20 beaches on the list. Even though we found Buzios to be a better spot to find a hostel, the beaches in Arraial do Cabo did live up to the hype. Clear, blue, refreshing sea water, and fine, white, windswept sand, and on top of that, they were not overcrowded with people.

Farol Beach - Arraial do Cabo

Farol Beach – Arraial do Cabo

To visit the best beaches in Cabo Frio it is necessary to take a boat. We took a boat tour from Praia Dos Anjos to some of the hard to get to beaches that were on our list. First we stopped at Farol Beach, then Prainhas do Pontal do Atalaia, and after that we visited Forno Beach before returning to land. Though all the beaches were good, Farol Beach was definitely our favorite and one of the best beaches we have been too. This boat trip is highly recommended if you are in the area, but try to haggle down the price with the people selling you the tour.

TIP: It does not make much difference which tour operator you go with because they all stop in the same spots, unless you opt to go on a longer tour or do some scuba diving.

After our week of relaxing in Buzios, it became one of our favorite spots in Brazil. Next stop, the Marvelous City…

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