Some people said I was crazy taking a trip to Brazil during a pandemic, maybe I was? But my wanderlust made me do it!
It was my first time going to South America, normally I would venture to Asia during the winter months however after spending sometime on “Skyscanner” I saw a flight for 165€ from Lisbon, Portugal to São Paulo, Brazil and before I knew it, it was booked.
After touching down in Brazil I took a connecting flight onto the city of Rio de Janeiro. Arriving in the city for the first time I felt somewhat on edge. I was tired after 16 hours of travelling and my guard was well and truly up. Online you often read how dangerous Brazil is and travelling solo and speaking limited Portuguese I felt somewhat vulnerable.
I landed into the cities Santos Dumont airport and took a taxi to my hostel, I laid on my bunk wondering what the city had in store for me. The bed was very firm and narrow. I was awoken at 2am by five guys coming in drunk, I pretended I was asleep I didn’t want to make conversation. The next day I realized they were all Brazilian and couldn’t speak any English.
I woke up and after a shower I was keen to walk down to the cities famous Ipenema beach. Leaving the hostel I was greeted by grey skies and rain it wasn’t the image I had in my head. During my stay in the city the weather was more bad than good.
Rio is a city that has it all, from the Atlantic rainforest, to museums and sandy beaches there really is something for everyone. During my stay I took a trip up to Santa Maria, a hilltop in the city with stunning street art and the best Pão de Queijo (little bread rolls with melted cheese) that I had during my 5 weeks in Brazil.
When it comes to accommodation there are endless options during my 12 nights in the city I stayed in Hostels, boutique hotels and an Airbnb in one of the cities favelas. These ranged from 15-35€ a night with breakfast.
I spent a lot of time walking around Copacabana and Ipenema beach. The city had a great vibe with people sitting around drinking Caipirnha’s, the local cocktail, made from a spirit made from sugar cane, fresh lime, crushed ice and sugar you could pick one up for as little as 1.50€ and they were STRONG.
I feel like my time in the city was pretty unique as due to the pandemic there were very few tourists I would say around 80% less. That being said most of the tourists were from Brazil. I hardly heard a word spoken that wasn’t Portuguese. Brazil is a huge country nearly the same size as Europe so therefore it’s common for Brazilians to go on holiday within the country.
Sometimes during my time in Brazil I felt lonely, it was hard to engage with other tourists and in Brazil, English is not widely spoken.
Due to the pandemic you didn’t want to mix as much with strangers. It was well known that the countries hospitals were nearly full, everyone was wearing facemasks, and you would have your temperature checked entering the local supermarket. It was always in the back of my mind that I could catch the virus and I could struggle to get treatment. Ironically I caught it a few days after being back in the UK.
Rio is filled with attractions and I wanted to visit as many as possible:
Sugar loaf mountain, which is accessible by cable car, costs around 12€ and had one of the most iconic views of the city. Due to the pandemic I literally walked straight into an empty cable car, apparently sometimes the queue can reach 2 hours!
Christ the Redeemer, the famous statue looking down on the city. You can reach by van or the original route the cog train. This costs just under 20€ and is the most expensive attraction in the city. The statue often disappears completely under the clouds and during my first 4 days in the city I didn’t see it once.
The Museum of Tomorrow, one of the most unique buildings from the outside, it looks a bit like a crocodile. It costs 5€ to get in. It is located in downtown Rio and just a short walk away you will find an incredible street art mural by Kuba. It was designed for the Olympics. Do not miss it!
The Botanical Gardens were great! They cost just 2.50€ to enter. You will literally forget that you are in one of the biggest cities in Brazil. If you are lucky you will see the Christ statue up on the hill as well as spot monkeys and toucans. The garden has a wide range of plants, trees and water features with photo ops galore.
If you fancy a hike climb up to the Forte Do Viagia at the top end of Copacabana beach. It’s a military base and free to get in. It has a unique view of the Sugarloaf Mountain and over Copacabana beach.
Finally if you are looking for adrenaline then go hand gliding. This cost around 70€ including transfers and 100 photos with a video. What an incredible experience running off the mountain top and soaring like a bird for around 10 minutes down to the beach below.
Despite my original fears over safety I actually felt safe during my whole stay in Rio de Janeiro and my 5 weeks in Brazil. I went on to visit São Paulo, Curitiba, Paraty and Foz do Iguaça. It’s a really vibrant country with lots of wildlife, good food and friendly people and I would definitely recommend it.
We would just like to thank John for writing this piece for The Travel Story Society! John will also be appearing on our podcast, The Travel Story Society Podcast , where we talk to him about more of his travel stories. John has his own blog, www.johnbrenttravel.com, where you can check out more of his pieces especially more about Brazil. He is also the owner of a very successful Instagram with well over 11k followers, that is @Johnbrenttravel. So go check his stuff out and if you loved this blog don't forget to read Obrigado Rio the story of a year as a student in Rio.