So here I am, back home for the first time in seven months looking out my window onto a grey British sky wondering how my year abroad has finally come to an end. Along with the denial and reverse culture shock (trust me, it’s a thing!) comes my final blog post on my favourite country of my travels, Brazil. We had just under three weeks to see as much as we could before our flight home and as this map shows we didn’t get very far given the sheer size of the country.
Our first instinct was to follow the sun, which took us straight to Florianópolis, an island in the south of Brazil famous for its stunning beaches and laid-back atmosphere.
After an brief afternoon in Curitiba, a city praised for its eco-friendly urban planning, we decided we’d rather see somewhere with more character, such as Morretes. To get there, we took the scenic Serra Verde Express, one of the world’s greatest train rides which winds its way through Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, alongside steep cliff drops, 14 tunnels and 30 bridges. Morretes itself is a tiny village off the beaten track, home to a wholesome beef stew called barreado, so thick that you’re meant to be able to turn it upside down above your head without it budging. It comes served with cassava flour and sliced bananas which we found quite confusing but all in all we enjoyed the hearty dish. We also tried acai bowls, a delicious healthy smoothie made from açaí fruit, topped with granola and banana, which was the perfect refreshing snack on a 37 degree celsius ‘winter’ day.
For me, one of the most surreal places to visit was Rio de Janeiro, not only because of the Olympics but also the epic films set there that I’d seen in recent years (yes, that includes the animated movie Rio). We’d unknowingly booked accommodation in Favela Cantagalo, and if you’ve seen a few of the films set in Rio, or read the news recently, you’d know that favelas (shanty towns) are not necessarily the safest places to stay. We weren’t quite sure what we’d gotten ourselves into, especially as most taxi drivers we asked didn’t even realise there was a hostel at the top of the favela, or worse weren’t willing to take us there due to it being ‘too dangerous’. However, we walked up and down during the day without any problems, and enjoyed the view over the favela and the lively atmosphere and samba music playing on until 6am.
Going up Corcovado Mountain to see Christ the Redeemer is a must! Once you’re up there, expect it to be crowded with selfie-taking tourists but it’s worth it for the fantastic views. There are even mats on the floor which you lie down on to get the perfect angle to photograph Christ himself and there is also a little church inside.
Escadaria Selarón, between the bohemian Lapa and Santa Teresa neighbourhoods is a vibrant mosaic stairway made up of little tiles collected from all over the world by a Chilean artist.
The cable car up to Sugarloaf mountain is on most guides’ to-do list but at this point we really couldn’t afford to break our budget anymore so we went to Praia Vermelha instead, a small beach with a great view onto the sugarloaf. We also visited the Botanic Garden which has a small fee, and the Parque Lage, which is free! Rio was the place we stayed in the longest out of all the destinations over the two months as there is so much to see. We were there for Brazil’s Independence Day which saw Copacabana and Ipanema beaches fill up as if it were the peak of summer. The beaches are great places to people-watch: crazy cariocas (people from Rio) and street vendors selling all sorts of food and drink, such as corn on the cob, hot dogs, coconuts, tapioca, and caipirinhas, which soon became mine and Alice’s go-to beverage.
Paraty is a small town just a four-hour bus ride from Rio along the Costa Verde (after a total of 30 buses the entire trip, the majority of which were between 7-15 hours, four hours seemed just around the corner!) It’s famous for its whitewashed colonial buildings and stone-paved streets that definitely require your full attention when walking along in flip flops. The thing to do in Paraty seemed to be to embark on boat excursions to nearby islands, including one where they filmed part of Twilight Breaking Dawn.
Arraial do Cabo was our final destination, and I’m glad we saved the best until last. This idyllic beach resort is a favourite with natives rather than tourists and with it being winter/the ‘windy’ season (it was VERY windy), me and Alice seemed to be the only foreigners around. We stayed in Hostel Forfün Trips, a cosy hostel that were so accommodating and friendly that they even invited us to join their equivalent of Sunday Roast, feijoada, which is a black bean stew made with pork and beef served with traditional Brazilian accompaniments like farofa. If you get the chance to go there, don’t miss out on going to some of these white sandy beaches :
There are lots of other dreamy beaches to visit nearby, such as Praia Pontal do Atalaia, but I was honestly too sunburnt after two days to face more sunlight. Thank goodness I’m now back in England with access to limitless amounts of aftersun, and what a way to end my year abroad- thank you to everyone who made it possible, obrigada x