I traveled from New york to Sao paulo with TAM (usd $520), and then use the TAM travel pass ($550) to visit Iguacu fall, Rio, Manaus. The services of TAM is okay, people are friendly, food is average, but the leg room for the flight is pretty tight, and for some reason, it's freezing during the flight. The good thing is that TAM provide a blanket and pillow to you for international flight as a gift package.
Maybe we are lucky or what, custom and baggage claim were smooth. From arrival to leave the airport, it took around 45min for international flight, 30min for internal.
Brazil is one of a few trips that I worry about safety, i was nervous about what should we do for transportation, i put money in different places, brought two cameras and SD cards (prepare for mugged), etc.
After I returned from Brazil, I have to tell you that Brazil is a safe, amazing country. All Brazilian that I approached are very very friendly, they don't understand English and we don't understand Portuguese, but we have no problem to communicate at all, some Portuguese-english translation from the lonely planet guide is enough for basic part.
In the centro of Sao Paulo and Rio, you might see some beggars that asked for money, but they won't touch you or hurt you, just ignore them and you will be fine. I don't see any stranger that follow us, even though after dark. Just to be a smart traveler, be aware all the time, it's same in anywhere in the world.
I traveled with a big and small backpack, it's much easier to move around and get into the bus. If you want to go to Amazon, sun protection, bug repellent (pick the strongest one, I purchased 3M Ultrathon from drugstore.com), a good flashlight (Romisen RC-G2II Q5 for me), a handy tripod like joby. Actually it is even better to bring a bug killer, sunburn reliever and pain reliever.
A lonely planet or similar guide is a must
For me, I took yellow fever shot (some Aetna insurance policy might cover this shot, checked before you visit a clinic, otherwise $120 in cash is the best price i got in new york area). I didn't take malaria pill, don't think it's necessary for everyone but judge it yourself and check with your family doctor first.
Brazil is an amazing country, if you didn't visit it because of safety issue, I can't say you are wrong but you will miss some wonderful experience in your life.
Trip report for Sao Paulo, Iguacu falls, Rio, Amazon will be followed....after I cleaned all my clothes :-)
It's not a very pleasant flight from JFK to GRU (TAM), lack of legroom, movie suck, average food.
We finally arrived Sao Paulo GRU around 7am, about 45min later than the original schedule. It was a cool morning around 15 degree celcius, short and flip flop for me, while other brazilian had fleece and coat, I felt like I am tourist now :-)
On the right hand side of the airport exit, there is the airport bus ticket office. we purchased the ticket to Paulista (30R/person), got on the bus and headed to Paulista. Not much traffic on a SAT morning, but it still take around a hour to reach Blue Tree Paulista, bcoz there are a lot of traffic around centro, plus passenger dropoff time. There is an assistant which check each passenger's destination hotel, so they won't miss your hotel.
Blue Tree is a decent hotel, it's not huge but in a good location (one block from Av Paulista, next to MASP), good price (during weekend) and services is good as well. However, they wanted to charge me half day if I checked in at 10am, i was not very happy about that, but anyway it is what it is. Btw, there is HSBC and Citibank right at the corner of Rua Peixoto Gomide and Av Paulista, you can get Real from their ATM.
We walked to the MASP metro station, took a ride to Centro Se (2.2R). To be honest it's a little scary around São Paulo Se Cathedral, as there were a lot of wired people looking around.
But it's very peaceful inside the church, we stayed there for a while. We also walked around the Liberdade and Sao Bento area, there are a lot of stores selling shoes, but I am not confident to tell whether they are real lether or pvc though. Actually nothing spectacular on the Centro area,but it's a nice walk for the historical part of Sao Paulo.
We finally got our rooom in the afternoon, it's in good size, have a balcony facing MASP, we were happy about what we got. Had a nice nap and then we headed to the Central Market, it's around 15min walk from metro station Luz. The market is very nice as you can see those colorful grocery and fruit store, people are friendly, it gave me a feeling of the central market in Budapest, i like budapest one more ;-) We had our dinner in the 2/F of central market, it has a few restaurant, food smell very good. The waiter didn't know a lot of English, so we just randomly picked from the menu, we bought a lot of fruit before we return to hotel.
As we felt hungry after dark, we walked to Galeria dos Paes, it's a 30min walk while you can see all famous botiques along the Rue Oscar Freire and Haddock Lobo. The bakery was very attractive so we stocked up a lot, but I have to say that they look better than taste :D
The breakfast was surprisingly good, ample choices of bakery and fruit, and they served Japanese food like congree, miso soup, fish, rice, etc. We arranged a hotel taxi to go to Embu, it cost 180R for round trip including 2 hours wait time, it's not cheap but it saved us a lot of time. Around 45min drive to Embu centro area, no traffic at all on a Sunday morning. There were a lot of antique and furniture store, lot of carts for selling souvenir and Brazilian snack. I really recommend Embu if you have time in weekend, it will give you a very different feeling of Sao Paulo. After we left Embu, we asked the driver to stop over at Morumbi stadium, there is a Reebok store inside the stadium which has a good view of the green, and you can purchase soccer shirt for Sao Paulo FC. I bought 2 shirts with my favorite players name on it, cool! We spent the rest of day in Ibirapuera park, MASP, and Av Paulista. We had dinner in Cafe Oscar, it has great salad bar and food.
Next morning we took a hotel taxi to airport (85R), and we continue our journey in Iguacu falls.
The bus is safe, it's a little bit difficult to get on if you have big baggage though, as there is a turnstile at the front of the bus, which is typical in Brazil. As recommend by this forum, I booked Del Rey hotel through their on-line chat, you can request to pay cash when you arrive, so you don't need to provide your credit card. I got a double room with 80R/day + 2R/day for using safe, for this price range I would expect a better hotel. It's inn/motel grade, with small and clean room, it's hard to get hot water from shower as they heat up the water directly from the shower head, look like it's common in all small hotel in Brazil. Del Rey has good services at front desk, and we got answer for all the questions we asked.
To be honest, if you have limited time in Iguacu falls, Del Rey might not be a good choice for you because it will take 30min + wait time between the falls and Centro. However, if you want to travel to Argentina side and the itaipu dam, then Del Rey has a convenient location because it's 2 min from the Centro bus stop and 20min bus ride to the DAM.
We took a bus to Iguacu falls right after we settled down in Del Rey. Bus is every 20min and take 30min to get to Brazilian Iguacu falls entry point. Once we arrived the entry of Parque nacional do Iguacu, we purchased the ticket (40R) and get on another yellow bus, there are big locker in the entry plaza so you can lock your baggage if you have limited time in Iguaza fall area. The first two bus stop is for activities like safari and boat trip, the third one is the start of the Trilha das Cataratas, which is a trail that bring you to Garganta do Diable, it should take long for this trail, 30min for average walking speed. At the end of trail there is the best photo spot for Diable, the beginning of the wooden walk will give you the best photo view of the falls. There is a Panoramic elevator, but the view is not that spectacular.
Walked up to the main road, you will see a bus stop on your far right hand side, souvenir shop and food court is over there as well. We had a simple lunch at the food court, it's very pleasant to sit outside if you don't care about the fries and mosquito. There is lunch buffet restaurant with reasonable price, i guess around 20R per person, but we don't want to waste our time there.
If you really has limited time for the Parque nacional do Iguacu, the last bus stop of yellow bus will bring you directly to the Panoramic elevator, so you skip the trail.
The yellow bus brought us back to the entry, and then we walked to the Parque das Ave, which is a bird park for most Brazilian bird. i recommend this park because you can't really see that many bird even in the amazon area, it's expensive 46R, but worth the price. When you exit the Parque nacional do Iguac entrance, Parque das Ave is on your NW direction, around 400m.
Again we took the bus and back to Del Rey around 4pm, stocked up some water and snack from the supermarket (1 block away from the centro bus station), had dinner in a kabab ad bbq restaurant.
A side story, Brazilian is actually very discipline because I walked across a "do not enter" road inside centro bus station, and I got catch immediately by an army or police. He needed me to leave the bus station and enter from the correct sidewalk. I felt bad because new yorker never follow instruction :-)
The next morning we had a good breakfast and then headed to Itaipu dam by bus. Bus stop is across the centro bus station, on av Juscelino Kubltscheck army base side. We waited for almost 30min, and the bus took another 25min to reach Itaipu dam, because the bus has a stop in the Paraguary-Brazil border bridge. If you take a taxi, it may only take 5-10min for the dam.
We joined the 1 hours exterior tour 30R, there is a 2 hours tour that cover more but we don't have time. Night tour is only available in the high season I believe, i don't see that option in July. The bus stop on the dam peripheral for picture, and then stop on the top of upper dam. It's huge and quote similar to Hover dam in vegas.
Return to centro, we get on the bus to Argentina 4R 30min. We skipped the stop at the Brazilian custom and stop only at the Argentina customm, which proved it's wrong, we have to stop on each side to get the stamp. Usually the bus driver will wait for you to get your passport stamp and exchange money, but there is no guarantee, worst case you have to wait for the next bus.
The bus finally brought us to Puerto Iguazu. At the bus stop you will see there is a building complex with some restaurant and travel agents office, you need to go inside and cross the connection bridge to the other side, you can buy the bus ticket to Parque Nacional Iguzu at the first shop on your right (10B/person round trip), they will sell you the package for safari or fast boat tour, but you can buy it inside the park, you never know if you have time or not. It takes around 30min to the park entrance.
We lined up to buy ticket, this time it's 60B per person, quite expensive huh? again worth the price. At first I though the trail sign was clear enough, but unfortunately the spanish name of the trails were that similar and we walked in the wrong way towards the most difficult 6 hours trail, I was wonder why there were no one coming alone with us, luckily I realized earlier and we didn't waste too much time.
Finally we get on the train and began our iguaza falls journey, we went to the Del Diablo first (30min train), and it took around 20min fast walk from the train station to reach the Diablo viewpoint, it was amazing view, you never believe it's so close to the Diablo, it's just like right next to you, but u can get all wet if you stay there for 5min. There was a lot of butterflies along the walk and train trail, you won't miss this colorful little guys.
And then we took the same train and back to the Estacion Cataratas, where you can find the starting point of upper and lower trails, we picked lower trails as it's recommended by everyone. The whole trail will take your a good 45min to reach the pier to San martin, and you can purchase boat ticket near the end of the trail, cash only though, and it's a must do activities to prove that you have been to Iguazu falls, 75B or 45R per person. After we got the boat ticket, we only have 5 min to walk to the pier, but there were a old couple ahead of us, turned out the last boat to San martin was gone before we arrived, the last departure time is 3:30pm :-(
We missed the San Martin island, but we still had a fast boating waiting for us. They provide a dry blue bag which you can put all your belonging and shoes. Don't even think you can keep any part of your body dry, you will be ALL WET!!! I regretted I didn't bring any dry clothes with me. I originally planed to walk the upper trail as well, but it's too late, we decided to skip.
We returned to Puerto Cataratas, had a quick sandwich and caught the 7:00pm last bus (3R) to go back to Foz de Iguacu. Custom for Argentina side was smooth, but the Brazilian custom held us for 15min and questioned us why we didn't get a stamp when we departed Brazil. To be honest, as a tourist that doesn't speak Portuguese, it's very hard to do it right the first time. Luckily there was another foreign student that questioned by custom for other cause, so the bus driver waited for all of us. Arrived hotel at 8:15pm, the first task was to dry all the wet shirts and shoes....
The next day we took a bus to airport and the next destination is Rio de Janeiro.
Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro is known as crime city for most people, so I played extra cautious in this city. Finally nothing bad happened, cautious is good but you just don't need to over-react. The south part of Rio is a safe area for tourist.
Once I arrived the Rio international airport, I paid for the radio taxi in the baggage claim area (80R). The 35 minutes ride didn't worth the money, but to save me time it's still okay. You will get a coupon after you paid for the radio taxi, and there are some nicely dressed driver who will wait for you in the airport exit. The driving skill for this taxi driver is amazing, it's just like Massa driving a Ferrari F1.
I emailed Windsor Martique to book a double room, so I don't need to pay in advance, the price was around usd 120/night. The front desk offered me an option to upgrade to superior room for extra usd 20. At first I thought it's a good deal because it's claimed to have beach view, however, I checked the superior room, it's just a little bigger than standard room, but you only has 10 degree view angle to see the copacabana beach, most of the view were blocked by other neighbor hotels. So we kept the standard room, it's small but clean, no view at all (facing roof of some building). Actually, even though you walked up to the hotel bar at top floor, you can at most get a 20 degree view of the beach. For this price, I was satisfy with what I have, but for next time, i will seriously consider Rio International.
We walked around Copacabana and Ipanema beach, it's a really long walk though, I recommend to rent a bicycle instead. Nothing planned for the first day, so we just walked into the H Stern museum, not much to see unless you have interest on high end jewelery. It's pretty much a marketing technique to attract tourist, they offered free ride to your hotel, but we don't need that.
Copacabana is more like an area for local hangout, while Ipanema is more tourist orientated, with lot of boutiques, restaurants, jewelery shops, and you feel safer. Some people prefer to stay at Arpoador because it's in the middle of Copa and Ipanema, but for me, I feel like it's in the middle of nowhere. I personally like Copacabana more, as it's close to subway and Centro.
We had lunch at Koni, the hand roll was surprisingly good, it's can't compare with the sushi in Hokkaido, but the sushi standard at Brazil is pretty high, I like the texture of rice. After I few days of heavy meat eating dinner, we preferred to stay away from churrasco. At night we had dinner in a kilo weight restaurant, which was suggested by the front desk of Martinque hotel, the food was above my expectation.
After a good sleep...hold on, actually it's not that good. From 9pm to early morning, I heard some sudden loud noise around the hotel, it's like kind of explosion or gun shot. Although I know it's probably not, I really can't tell what that was. Anyway, the breakfast was excellent, the best one in my whole trip. Good bakery, fresh fruit and fruit juice, tasty bacon and sausage.
We took metro from Cantagalo (10min walk from hotel) to Cinlandia (2.8R / trip), the metro is safe and much much cleaner than the new york city subway. There are a lot of churches, historical building and museum in the Centro area, we spent some time in Museu Nacional De Belas Artes (5R). We followed the centro walking tour from Lonely Planet, it was a pretty good and extensive walk for the centro area. I have a few recommendation, the Real Gabinete Portugues de Leitura which is an old library, you will feel like you are in a Harry Potter film. Catedral Metropolitana, which is a dome shape church with beautiful stained-glass windows. There is a red colour orthodox style fire station on the road of Rua Visconde do Rio Branco as well.
Around noon, it's time to visit Santa Teresa. Right next to the Catedral Metropolitana, it's the Bonde station. Unfortunately we have to wait for almost a hour to get on the tram, the ride was fun. Although most of the passenger were tourists, a lot of local just kept getting on and off the tram on your left and right side, it seems like dangerous, but I believe they are all used to it. We got off from the Largo do Guimaraes area, visited some souvenir shops and Parque das Ruins, there you will see a very good view of Rio.
From Santa Teresa we took a taxi to Corcovado train station (12R), then the round trips tourist train to Cristo Redentor cost another 36R. Cristo Redentor look much bigger uphill though, but other than the statue and souvenir shops, there is not much you can do up there, unless you want to wait for the sunset, we only spent 2 hours on the whole Cristo Redentor trip.
We then took a taxi back to Cinlandia (15R), returned to Siqueira Campos through metro, and walked along the Av Copacabana. We tried manga juice, crepes from the street vendor, and dinner at Cafeina. Cafeina has plenty of pasta and salad options, excellent place to avoid meat.
The morning of day 3 we went to Maracana Stadium, it's right in front of the Maracana metro station. It's doesn't look that big from outside, but it took me 15min just to circle the stadium. Unfortunately the stadium was closed that day, because there was a big event in that weekend, a lot of preparation work inside. I was disappointed, perhaps I will have a chance in the future, who knows? ;-)
Then we went to Pao de Acucar, so called sugar loaf, the cheapest way is to buy a metro + express bus ticket in the metro counter (3.6R). There is clear sign in Botafogo station which bring you to the correct exit for Pao de Acucar, the express bus is right across the metro exit, with a sign URCA on it. The bus took around 20 - 30min, let the bus driver know your destination, and he will let you know where to get off.
Around 45min wait time to get on the cable car (44R), it's midday so it's extremely hot outside. The cable car first stopped at Morro da Urca, and then you need to change another cable car to reach Pao de Acucar. You can't really see Cristo Redentor from here, but you have a 360 degree view of Rio, pretty magnificent. There is a short trail at the peak of Pao de Acucar, where you can see monkeys if you are lucky.
If you ask me to pick either Cristo Redentor or Sugar loaf, I will pick Sugar loaf even though it's a little bit more expensive. Because it has a bigger area for walk around, it's not difficult to find a seat right there and wait for the sunset.
From the spot that you got off the express bus, there is a bus stop right across the street, just outside a school. There are buses that go back to Copacabana and Ipanema (2.2R), it's only take around 25min.
At night we walked around in the Ipanema area, had some drinks. I wanted to have dinner at Casa da Feijoada, but we are not that hungry, also the restaurant was completely empty on a Friday 8:30pm, it's kind of wired. Turned out we had dinner at a small local restaurant on Av. Copacabana (walk along Av. Copa toward Arpoador, you will see some roast chicken outside the restaurant). The half roast chicken plate was very good, tasty chicken was rice and french fly, only 15R.
We packed up our backpack, tomorrow we will go to Ilha Grande.
It's was a dilemma to decide whether to go Ilha Grande or not, because it's winter season. After I returned from the trip, I have to tell you that it's still a dilemma for me. Ilha Grande is a beautiful island, but in winter time, it's not much you can do right there.
We took a radio taxi from Windsor Martinque to the Novo bus station (35R, 20min). After you enter the bus station (from taxi drop off area), make a right and you will find the Costa Verde booth, the ticket to Angra dos Reis cost 23R, the bus schedule is once every hours, total travel time 2.5 hours. There is baggage services inside the bus station, you can store any piece of baggage for 5R (24 hours). If you want to go to toilet in the bus station, 1.25R please.
The bus seat was comfortable, so 2 to 3 hours was not a big problem for me. Also the bus have a stop in the middle, you can get some snack for breakfast and go to toilet, there was a toilet inside the bus as well. The bus arrived at the Angra dos Reis bus station, I felt lost because I expected the bus to stop in the pier to Ilha Grande, but luckily there is a Ilha Grande agency right there, they offered fast boat services to Ilha Grande (15R) and hotel reservation too, we refused their hotel suggestion because we wanted to walk around and picked the one we like, after all it's winter season I was not afraid of the availability.
From the bus station we needed to take a 5min taxi to the pier (11R), or you can walk over there for 20min. There is a main pier which offers boat services to different islands, it's right across the supermarket and it has a service desk where you can get a map of Ilha Grande. I believe you can get a cheaper boat to Ilha Grande from there, but it's only once or twice a day. For us we have to go to another private pier (walk toward and pass the square). If you want, you can stock up some food and water from the supermarket, everything is more expensive in the island, the supermarket has good pizza and pastry as well.
Okay, after a short walk, we finally saw our sailing boat. There was a group of tourist from uk, everyone had a big backpack and seemed very excited about this trip. For me, I hope the weather is good in the next two days, because it looked cloudy. We arrived Ilha Grande at 2:00pm, we walked around the Abraao village and shopped for a nice pousada, this island gave me a feeling of those Greek Islands.
We checked the price of a couple of pousada, the price range was between 80R to 130R, some of them look very basic and other look cleaner and nicer. My wife wanted to get a room with the beach view, so we picked Pousada Beira Mar, it's a three beds room on 2nd floor, facing the beach and pier, with a hammock at the balcony, we negotiate the price to 120R per night . There was no TV or air conditioning though, but in that peaceful island, you don't need that.
We felt hungry so we picked a small restaurant and wanted to have a quick lunch but we waited for almost a hour for some fried fish and pasta. One thing I noticed that there were a lot of stray dogs on the island, I feel bad for them because my dog live as a king, while they struggle to stay alive. After lunch it was already 4pm, we decided to walk the Circuito Do Abraao, it's a 1 hour 1.7km trail. The trail leads you past some small beaches, the stone ruins of former prison Lazareto, a tall arch structure and a large swimming hole called Pocao. We accidentally ran into wrong direction and entered another 3 hours trail, luckily some other tourists remind me about that, otherwise we would get lost in the dark.
We didn't see the sunset because it was a cloudy day, actually it started a rain a little bit. We bought some water and fruit from a grocery store because we returned to the pousada. Thunderstorm started shortly after dark.
It's very relax to look at the sea in the balcony, and listen to the tide while you sleep, but unfortunately you are not the only one in the island. Maybe our pousada is too close to the pier, it's so noisy all night. People were singing, talking, playing music until 4am, I could still fall asleep but i waked up a couples of time during the night.
The next day is a beautiful day, sunny and warm, but thing usually not that perfect. The whole island was out of electricity, so we couldn't take a hot shower. We enjoyed the ample breakfast selection, the bread was very good.
There is a travel agency downstair, which offered some boat tour to a few beautiful beaches in Ilha Grande, including snorkeling site, it's only cost 20 or 30R. It's indeed a very good way to explore the island, but in this weather the sea temperature might not be warn enough for swim, so we decided to run trail 14 to Dois Rios.
It is a 2.5 trail (each way) with half steady uphill and half steady downhill, the walking part was not that difficult but the long walk might make you exhausted. 2.5 hours is an optimistic estimate, if you want to beat it you will have to "run". Other than tree and beautiful blue sky, butterfly and ants, it's not much you can see in the whole trail, there is one viewpoint that you have a excellent view of Abraao, and the trail will also pass the soldier pool
We finally arrived Dois Rios, which is the ruins of a prison. The army will write down your name when you enter the Dois Rios area, I am not sure it's because of military reason or they have to make sure everyone leave the site after dark.
There is a museum that present some old days of the prison, but again it's just a ruins, don't expect you can find a lot of interesting stuff there.
Beside the prison ruin there is a quiet and gorgeous beach, it would be an excellent spot to enjoy the sun. I believe it was around 20 degree Celsius that day, pretty cool, and the water was FREEZING! It might be 15 or even lower, I was not surprised because the beach directly face the south Atlantic ocean, without doubt the wave is good for surfing. From that beach you can also see two rivers flow into Atlantic, usually there is wetland at the intersection of river and sea, but from there it seems to be a very natural merge.
There is a small store in Dois Rios, you can get beverage and biscuit there. If you really want more heavy food, you have to get it from Abraao before you hit the trail. We had pizza and icecream after we returned to Abraao, the self serve ice cream store Sorveteria Boca Gelata is worth to try, it has few dozen favor of icecream, the store is right next to the pier (pier that close to the church).
Arrived hotel around 5:30pm, the island still did not have electricity. My pousada did not have diesel generator, so the situation was even worse. I had to light up some candles and took a cold shower, most stores in Abraao closed earlier. While i prepared to sleep at 7pm, suddenly all the light lit up and we hear exciting noise from the street, we knew the electricity finally came up!
There was a fisherman festival in the church square, everyone returned to the street and it's crowded everywhere, we had some bbq stick and soup from the cart. We also checked the ferry + shuttle schedule to Rio/airport.
There are some fast boat+shuttle services which bring you back to anywhere in Rio, include airport and beach, the price is reasonable (65R/person). The shuttle services only departed at either 9am or 5pm, even though it didn't fit my flight schedule at 9pm, we still decided to go with the 9am boat, it's better to spend few hours in Rio, rather than stayed at the island.
The next morning we departed with the 9am boat, it seemed to be the same sailing boat that sent us to the island, it still took around 90min to return to Angra dos Reis. There was a lady who picked up all the passenger with shuttle package, we got into a comfortable minivan and returned to Rio.
We requested to drop off at the Novo bus station, because we wanted to store our backpack over there, it's not the best itinerary but we couldn't think of any place that offer storage services. We then took a taxi to Maracana stadium (12R), and finally we had a chance to visit the stadium and the museum, I forget how much was the entrance fee, it's around 20-30R for the stadium and 15R for the museum, if you really like football, then it's worth the price, otherwise it's not a bad idea just to take some picture with the football star footprints outside. The ticket will bring you to the upper deck to view the VIP seating area and lounge, also will bring you to the underground where you can visit the bath room and massage area for the football players. The museum has a football shirt for Pete, other than that, I recommend to skip.
Our flight was at 9pm, so we still had a few hours to kill. We went to centro area and walked around casually, we also visited the arch. Later the evening we took metro to Estacio, and then caught a shuttle bus to the Nova bus station, very funny that we took the wrong bus, although the bus number was correct, and direction was correct, it looked like they go to different location, so you pretty check with the driver before you get on the bus.
Picked up our backpack, took a airport bus to the Galeão airport. The airport bus only cost 4.2R per person, it's fast and safe, highly recommended. If you want to take the airport bus from Nova bus station. For example you arrive in the front taxi drop off area (the entrance which has baggage storage services on the right hand side, and toilet on the left), you need to go upstairs, walked to the far end and then go downstairs, you will see a lot of taxi park outside, and the bus station is right behind those taxi. You must speak to the bus coordinator and stand next to him, because the airport bus usually just stop around a minute and then continue, it's too easy to miss unless the coordinator remind you. The schedule is every 20min, and it take around 30min (with light traffic) to reach the airport.
We took the 9:50pm flight from Rio to Manaus via Sao Paulo.
Amazon was the most exciting part of the journey, I wouldn't forget the beautiful scenery, the native people and mosquitoes.
I saw some good comments of the Amazon Gero tours, so i contacted Gero through email, and he quoted me 160R/night per person for a private room with fan. I didn't need to pay in advance and he offered free pick from the airport as well. I am satisfy with the tour overall, to be honest it's really a canned tour, standard activities, you can't expect too much. I do have some comments about their arrangement though, will talk about that later.
It's around 3:30am when we arrived Manaus airport, please note that there is one hour different between Rio and Manaus. After we picked up the backpack, we met with the representatives from Amazon Gero tour. The rain was pretty heavy when we stepped out the airport, there was another couple from Ireland who joined us to the Hotel 10 De Julho . I originally asked Gero to book the Hotel Brasil for me, because I read some really bad story about Hotel 10 De Julho, however, Gero said that most hotel in Manaus were full, we had no choice but 10 De Julho.
We really had no choice at 4am, what we wanted to do was take a shower and then sleep, so we accepted the room with 70R/night. It's a very small room with private shower, and a window that facing the hotel corridor, sigh. If you ask me to pick one hotel in Manaus, I will pick Hostel Manaus for sure, it's definitely the right price and right place for backpacker. Btw, I did meet Gero when we arrived Hotel 10 De Julho, because Amazon Gero tour has an office right next to the hotel and they has a small service desk inside the hotel as well. We discussed the itinerary and confirmed to start our tour at 7:30am next day, yes 7:30am, we had 3 hours to rest.
The breakfast was very simple. I then walked to a nearby supermarket to get some cash from ATM, my card in HSBC didn't work so I have to walk far away. One of the staff from Gero tour then got a taxi and sent us to the port, he also picked up James from another hostel, he is a Londoner traveled 8 months in south America already. At the river port Ceasa to Careiro we met a lady from Amazon Riders tours, she had a 3 people group from Rio. From this point, we were really taken care by the Amazon Riders tours, I am not sure if they are the same company, or they just combined tours in low season, but anyway we are okay as long as the tour is good.
We total 7 people got into a speed boat, and after 10min drive we saw the meeting of Rio Negro and Rio Solimoes, it's like a boundary on the sea, while black color water on the right and the light brown color water on the left, because the water density and temperature is different, they won't mix immediately, it's actually the point where the Amazon River begins. We reached a another small river port in around 30min, from there we changed a small minivan for another hour drive on Porto Velho highway, finally it's another hour of small boat on the Araçá River before we reached our jungle lodge Ararinha Jungle Hotel, around 2.5 hours in total. The whole trip was very natural, we saw a lot of birds around the amazon river.
To be honest the Ararinha Jungle Hotel look a lot different from the photo, we stayed at the central lodge which has 2 floors. The ground is pretty much like a dinning area with a few long tables, and our guides will sleep there over the hammock, 2 toilets and 2 showers at this floor as well (only 1 toilet and 1 shower open during our visit). On the 1st floor it has 5 to 6 private rooms, with beds and fan. On the 2nd floor it's a single 3 beds room with shower and toilet. The hygiene level of the toilet are poor, I know they try to keep it clean, but in the middle of jungle, low down your expectation.
There is one more thing that our guide told us, the current river level of Amazon river is the highest since 1953 flooding. We saw flooding everywhere, even though in the river port, people has to construct a wooden bridge to connect to different shops over the water. A lot of local houses were destroyed as well, only those floating shelter can still survive in this flooding. The same situation apply to the jungle lodge, a few of them was total lost, maybe that's why they combined tours. Local said that it's very abnormal to see this river level over their whole life, please note that the average age of Amazonian is 60. People blamed it's the climate change which caused the flooding, but what caused the climate change is pretty much human, globally deforestation, pollution, modernization, etc. It seems like every time we visit a new place, people told us the climate is unusual, Amazon, Iceland, Finland, etc. The earth is not gonna die, but it's sick.
Back to the journey, we arrived the lodge around noon, we had some free time to walk around the lodge or swim around the river. We couldn't get into our room immediately because all the room were still occupied, the arrangement were quite messy indeed, we waited for 2 hours and then we just moved our backpack into one of the empty room, don't expect anyone will clean the room or change the bed sheet, the rooms were more like "first come first serve". The room condition was acceptable, with two little beds, one fan and one light bulb, minimal mosquitoes.
After lunch we went to Piranha fishing and watched the beautiful Amazon sunset with James. The activity usually accompany with one English speaking guide, and one local people. The fishing part was not as easy as I thought, it's just a stick with a fishing wire, then we hooked a small piece of chicken. The guide tried a few places but he still couldn't find a good spot for fishing, he told us that they fished 0 Piranha in the last 5 days, so our chances were..... but we are lucky, the local finally got one Piranha after an hour of fishing, we are excited because it's the first time we saw this creature out of the fishing tank, its teeth are so sharp that you will understand why they can eat a whole person. However, not all the Piranha will attack human unless they are very hungry, also the redness Piranha are more fierce that the other peers.
The fishing technique is that you need to hit the fishing rod a couple times on the river surface, this make the Piranha believe that something drop into the river. After 2 hours, we had a very good result, the local got one, our guide got 2, James got 2, Jessie got 1 and I got 1. It's quite dangerous to get the Piranha off the hook, so our guide handled all of that for us, and he also showed us a special skill to kill the Piranha immediately, he had a bite between the fin and the eyes, it's sounded like eating an apple, but the Piranha will die right away because that area is its brain.
After that we went to a peaceful lake to watch the Amazon sunset, a lot of birds returning to their nest around that time, so you will see birds around all trees. The sunset was very colorful as you can see it from everywhere, but with the amazon river as backdrop or "frontdrop" to be more appropriate, the picture was amazing.
It's almost dark when we returned to the jungle lodge, we had dinner and changed long sleeve and pant. I forget to talk about the lunch and dinner, the food was about same in the new few days, it's a fish or chicken dish, rice, bean, vegetable, watermelon, pineapple, orange. Caipirinha is available whenever the local make it.
We went to Cayman Spotting on the first night, the guide just use a flashlight to spot the Cayman's red eyes. Whenever he spotted a Cayman, he rafted the boat toward there and caught it by bare hands, sometime he need to jump into the water and use a rope to catch them, but you know it's not always work that smooth, he tried to catch a 2 meter Cayman, but it run away a couple times. The biggest one he caught was around 1 meter long, it's only a baby cayman from what we can tell, I hold that baby cayman and told picture with that as well :-)
After an exciting day, we back to a real jungle. There were no electricity, only candle and flashlight, so don't even think about the fan. The worst thing was that we have no water for shower or washing hands because the bump was out with no electricity. As you can imagine, a whole day of activities under 35 degree Celsius, you couldn't take a shower or at least clean yourselves, and now you tried to sleep while sweating in a small room at 35 degree too. It's a very painful night, especially it's only the first night, I though about to return to Manaus the next day. Things look much better when the electricity resumed around midnight, nothing was more delightful as a working fan.
We started day 2 with a refreshing shower, I finally backed to my comfort level. The breakfast was egg and fruit, after that we had a morning jungle trek with explanation about medicinal plants, survival techniques and flora. It's the first time we ever got into the real jungle, the tree were tall and huge, all bugs and insects were bigger too. We saw a lot of termite mount when we walked into the jungle, some of them were taller than a human. Our guide taught us a trick to prevent from mosquitoes bite, it's to put my hand on the termite mount, let a hundreds of termites climbed onto my hand, and then killed them right away. It left a special smell on my hand which similar to herb.
Our guide also used a stick with human sweat to attract the spider from its hole, the spider was bigger than my hand, the teeth were sharp and looked poisonous. We also saw some tree frog which was smaller than a penny. Before we reached the lodge, it's another thunderstorm, we were all wet by the time we arrived.
To talk about mosquitoes, it's not possible to aviod them in the jungle. We used the military grade 3M Ultrathon bug repellent, however, it's didn't help a lot. One time when I killed a mosquitoe on my arm, it had so much blood which liked I had a cut, but it's quite disgusting that the blood might came from me, other human or even other creatures. I was glad that I took the yellow fever shot :-) Mosquitoes are one thing, I hate the "cold fly" more, because it's really hurt when they bited you, but it's almost impossible to kill them.
On the afternoon we canoeing through the creeks, we spotted the Capuchine Monkey, huge lizards, a lot of birds and insects. We supposed to camp inside the jungle that night, but after the morning trek we decided to stay at the lodge one more night. Even though we have mosquitoe net in the camp, but from the experience of other visitor, it's really painful to keep them out of your body, you most likely stay awake all night in the jungle. On one hand it's really a special experience to camp in the jungle, but on the other hand, I don't want to become a night time snack for the bugs, maybe I will come back with a stronger bug repellent few days later, you never know.
On day 3 we packed up our belonging and we planned to stay with the native Amazon people overnight. It's around 90min boat from the jungle lodge, the local people house are very simple, no electricity and nothing more than basic, they usually has a large family, even though small children will be able to handle fishing, hunting, household tasks. One of the boy showed us how to harvest the manioc plant and processed them into manioc flour, which is a very common food in Brazil.
I helped him peel off the skin of the manioc plant, and then they used a machine to mash the manioc, and used another machine to squeeze all the juice of the plant. They then use a large pan to fly the manioc plant until it's completely dry, and it's ready for eat. For the juice they just let it sit in a pot until it become a solid substance, which Brazilian will use it to make pancake, but it has no taste at all.
Thunderstorm is always come and go in rain forest, it usually lasts for around 2 hours and then Sun will return. Our guide cooked some chicken for lunch, that tasted very good. After lunch we had a soccer game with the local kids. Darren, me and the little sister on one side, and two brothers on the other side. It was a fun game indeed, although we lost for sure. All the local kids have tons of energy, they can run and run, but I already felt exhaust in 20min. The kids were happy too, because they told us that the visitors never played soccer with them.
There is no shower over the native people house, all the people just jumped into the Amazon river during the evening time, and we enjoyed a very beautiful amazon sunset. After dark we joined other people to go to Cayman Spotting again, it's pretty much the same experience as last time, but this time we spent more time on the sky rather than the river, because there were so many stars. The sky was so dark that we could see multiple nebula, that's the best sky I have ever seen, it's even better than what I saw from the Grand Canyon.
We slept in a hammock that night, overall it was a good sleep, occasionally I hear roar from the forest though.
The next morning was our last day in the jungle, it was a very pleasant experience to stay at the native people house. We took a group photo before we left, we also gave some candy to the native kids. On the way back to the jungle lodge, we stopover in one of the native family, one of the native kid climbed up a 30 feet tree and harvested some special fruit, it's like grape. Our guide said that they use those fruit to make wine.
The guide tried to spot the sloth along the river, but he couldn't find any. Sloth spotting is one of the famous activity in amazon tour, but sometime the guide use inhumane way to handle those sloths. Basically they will find some way to let the sloth fall from the tree, and then they will capture the sloth for photo while it try hard to climb back to the tree. I didn't take any picture with a sloth, but at some point this maybe good for the sloth.
We tried the wine that made by the guide, but it's didn't taste very good ;-) We left the jungle lodge around noon, we pretty much used the same type of transportation, first boat, then minibus, speed boat again and taxi. It's almost 3pm when we reached the Manaus center. Our flight was in the midnight, it's too early to go to the airport, so we decided to go to Manaus hostel, at least we can store our baggage, take a shower and have some rest.
As I expected, the front desk of Manaus hostel was very nice. We pretended we had stayed that before, he allowed us to store the baggage in their locked room, and we just need to pay 5R for shower, it's not a bad deal, we felt much much better after a good shower. We then walked around the Teatro Amazonas area, and had some sandwich in a local restaurant. Manaus hostel is a very good accommodation choice, not only because the price is reasonable, but you will meet a lot of travelers with different experience, usually you can find pretty good jungle tour deal over there. For example, we paid Gero tour R160/night, but other people in the same tour only paid R120, some even paid R100. If that' low season, don't bother to book your tour ahead.
We wanted to take the airport bus along the Av Getullo Vargas, but I didn't know whether we were in a wrong bus stop, or we just bad luck, we waited for a hour and we neither see any 306 nor 813 bus, it's 9pm so possibly it don't have airport bus after certain hours. Finally we took a taxi to the airport (30R).
We met Darran and Caroline at the airport, they were the Ireland couple that joined us in the jungle tour. Unfortunately Caroline had a slip at the native family house and it hurt her right ankle, even though our guide put some relieve cream on her swallowed ankle and got it bandaged, she still couldn't walk very well. Btw, we got an email from them after they returned to Ireland, they still had good time in Iguazu falls and Rio, but her doctor diagnosed that she had a few bones broken, and she has to rest for several months.
We took the flight from Manaus to Sao Paulo, and then transferred to New York City.
This 2 weeks Brazil trip gave me a very good exposure to different things, I know Amazon will change a lot in next few years. I am very glad that I made the decision to go to Brazil in the summer of 2009, this "once of a lifetime" experience definitely filled my life. When I planned this trip, I didn't think I would visit Brazil the second time, but right now, even though I still has a lot of places to go, I might return to Brazil few years later, my target probably will be Rio Carnival, Pantanal and Amazon in winter time.
If you didn't make up your mind yet, Brazil will be your next destination!