Brazil! The biggest country in South America and somewhere I’ve wanted to visit since I watched Twilight: Eclipse Part 1, since that’s where Edward takes Bella on their honeymoon. Myles had also always expressed interest in going so we decided to go for his 27th birthday, when it would be summer in Brazil. We had an absolutely amazing time and definitely want to go back one day.
During December, we were staying at my mom’s in Tennessee, which made it much easier to get to Brazil since we were already near the Eastern side of the country. We left to Jersey to spend the weekend with his family, and then from there we were going to decide which flight to take. We had the option of leaving on DL from ATL to GIG or leaving on UA from EWR, ORD, IAD or IAH to either GIG or GRU. I was looking all weekend and at first flights were oversold, but oddly enough, when it came to the day of, almost every single flight ended up opening up.
We were also aiming for first class, so deciding on a flight was stressful. Eventually, we went with the red-eye flight from IAD to GRU, and then we decided we would ZED from GRU to GIG. The flight from EWR to IAD filled up, so at the last minute we had to do EWR-BOS-IAD, and our EWR-BOS leg was delayed on the runway so we almost didn’t even make the BOS-IAD flight! Just typing this has me stressed all over again lol.
However, we made it to IAD and were called up to the podium where we both received our seat assignments in United’s Polaris! Such a lovely time with great food, drinks and movies on the huge screen. After dessert, I fell asleep in the lie-flat seats and slept until an hour before we landed, basically getting a full night’s rest.
We arrived in GRU at about 10 a.m., and I had no idea how huge the airport would be. This was easily one of the biggest airports I’ve EVER seen, with so many different terminals, gates, everything. We went through immigration and I purchased a ZED for $40 total for both of us with LATAM from GRU to GIG, departing at 1 p.m. Thankfully, all the airline staff members around GRU were very helpful, because we had no idea that our gate for our next flight was several terminals away! The walk wasn’t that bad and we eventually made it to our gate. Unfortunately, the flight was full with a few people listed before us, so we didn’t make it. They rolled us over to the next flight, which left about 4 hours later, so we killed time by having some drinks and eating at TGI Friday’s (which is really popular in South America).
We walked over to our next gate and saw boarding was about to start. I walked up to the ticket counter, explaining we were nonrevs, and the employee assigned us our seats by writing down our seat numbers on our boarding passes and told us to board last. In between all of this, Myles got the official call that he was hired for his new job with SkyWest in Minneapolis! We were in full celebration mode now.
Unfortunately, we ended up getting to Rio around 7 p.m. due to not making the first flight, but it was okay! We were so excited to arrive! During my pre-trip research, I knew we were going to stay in Copacabana. This area received the highest ratings on places to stay and the only negatives I saw about the area was some people deeming it “too touristy”, which I absolutely disagree with. The area was perfect and centrally located. During our layover in GRU, I booked our stay at the Windsor Excelsior Hotel. It was hard to pick the hotel because Copacabana’s main strip is full of beautiful hotels! I eventually decided on this one due to the price ($340 for 3 nights) and the fact that the hotel provides its guests with beach chairs and umbrellas, free of charge.
When we deplaned, I ordered an Uber to pick us up. One major thing to note about Brazil: Uber is the way to go. Don’t rent a car, don’t catch a taxi. Uber is extremely cheap it’s almost shameful. For example, Copacabana is 15 miles from GIG airport, which can be as fast as a 25 minute ride or over an hour, depending on traffic. We arrived during rush hour, so it took us over an hour, and our Uber was $13! $13!!! That was the most expensive Uber of our entire trip. The others were $5 or less, every time.
As I mentioned above, we ubered to our hotel, catching the sunset along the way and even getting into a fender bender when the car behind us hit our Uber lol. It took over an hour in traffic, but when we arrived to Copacabana, we were in awe.
It’s the picturesque Rio scene that you imagine in your head! So beautiful. We checked into our hotel, where they gave us two free drink tickets to use at the rooftop bar, and then headed to our room, which was so cute and nice. By this time, it was about 8 p.m., and we were tired and hungry. We decided to do Uber Eats for dinner, and got McDonald’s, because if you remember from my Tahiti post, Myles likes to eat at McDonald’s in every country we visit to see how the menu differs. Then we napped for a couple hours.
When we woke up, we were ready for Rio’s nightlife! We asked the front desk where we should head, and they confirmed to us that Lapa was the area to go. Even though it was a Monday night, we were not disappointed at all! The streets of Lapa are filled with bars. We started off inside one bar/restaurant and ordered shots and a drink and then we started to walk around. We stumbled upon a bar in the middle of the street that had a complete selection of liquors and mixers. Myles and I ordered caipirinhas, Brazil’s national cocktail which is made with cachaça, sugar, and lime (I 1000% recommend these drinks, we drank them the entire trip)!
After the street bartender made our drinks, we went to one more club that we stayed at the longest. There was live music and people dancing on the dance floor, Myles and I had to join in of course! We ordered a few more drinks and some empanadas since they were taking food orders as well. We stayed until they were practically closed (around 3 a.m.) and then went back to the hotel to rest before our first day of exploration.
In preparing for this trip, I paid close attention to the weather. I saw it was going to be cloudy majority of the trip, which means you won’t be able to see the Christ the Redeemer statue. On our flight from IAD to GRU, I sat next to a woman originally from Brazil. She told me that the cloudy and rainy weather during this time of year was actually abnormal for Brazil!
Tuesday was the only day where it was going to be sunny all day, so I made sure we got up early to take advantage of that. We woke up just in time to eat the free hot breakfast that our hotel provided, and then we asked the front desk what company is best to book a Christ the Redeemer tour with. They advised us that three blocks down, on the main strip in Copacabana, there was a company that did tours. Since it was a local company, and we paid in cash, I do not know the name or remember the exact price, but I want to say it was about $30/ea, which included the ride there and the entrance fee.
The ride up the mountain was beautiful. We passed the favelas and got to get an amazing view of Rio. The process once we got up was smooth too, we were handed our tickets and we walked up to see the statue in person, which was so mesmerizing.
I’ve always wanted to see the statue, but to finally see it in person was an incredible experience. Myles was surprised at how huge it was, though it didn’t surprise me that much. I mean, the thing can be seen thousands of feet below it! We walked all around the little area surrounding the statue, taking pictures from different angles, staring at the city of Rio below us, and just taking everything in. Once again, we were in a place I had dreamed of going to for years, so I wanted to make sure I scanned every area and took in as much as I could so I could remember it forever. It was also exciting to say I had marked my 2nd World Wonder off the list 🙂
After a couple hours, we got back on the van and headed back to Copacabana. We were starving at this point, so now was the perfect time for us to try our first Authentic Brazilian restaurant! We decided on one across the street that had several TV’s and an outdoor patio. A soccer game was on, so it was packed with fans wearing jerseys and cheering along, giving the place and city as a whole an awesome vibe that made me so happy to be there.
We ordered drinks and a plate that fed two, with Brazilian steak, rice and fries. It was SO GOOD! I was instantly hooked on the food.
After eating, we went to ride the cable car at Sugarloaf Mountain. When we got there, they told us it was closed for a company party! Apparently, you can rent out Sugarloaf Mountain for events, which is cool! But it bummed us out because we were not able to see it.
Instead, we decided to head back to our hotel and relax at the rooftop pool. We were there for sunset and swam, watched the traffic below us and looked up at the Christ the Redeemer statue, which actually glows at night! If I ever go back to Rio, I definitely want to visit the statue again at night to see it glow up close.
After swimming for a couple hours, we went back to our rooms and ordered room service and napped before going out.
We decided to check out a different part of Rio called Ipanema. I read great things about the nightlife there and would not be disappointed! We decided on a bar called Barzin Rio Live, which is a restaurant/bar/nightclub. The club is on the third floor and has a huge dance floor and stage. Myles and I got there around 10 p.m. which was entirely too early (we were literally the first ones in the club lol). We wanted drinks and looked over the prices which were so cheap! They actually had a deal for an ENTIRE bottle of vodka, plus six red bulls for like $60! We aren’t even huge vodka drinkers but we couldn’t pass that up.
This night was so much fun! Definitely our favorite night we went out. They played great music and had a saxophone player playing along to the songs they played. I was also very intoxicated and Myles had to be the guiding light to make sure we got home safe. We left around 2:30 a.m. but the club looked like it was going to stay open for hours longer.
When we got home, we were hungry and ordered some food from Uber Eats to our hotel. By the time we showered, ate and finally got ready for bed, the sun was up and it was 6 a.m. lol.
We got about six hours of sleep and then were back at it, even with the hangovers. This was originally supposed to be our last day so we had to squeeze as much in as we could. I knew Sugarloaf Mountain was a must so that was at the top of our list. We missed the hotel’s breakfast, so we went out for something to eat. We decided on a Brazilian buffet down the street. They charged by the weight of the plates so we got what we wanted and ate before catching an Uber to Sugarloaf Mountain.
When we arrived, we purchased our tickets at the ticket counter for about $30/ea. The ticket was the cheapest package and included the cable car ride up, which departs every 20 minutes.
You have to take two cable cars to get to Sugarloaf Mountain. The rides are fun! Myles was a little scared but I loved it. It was cool to look out the windows on the ride up.
The first ride takes you to Morro da Urca, which is about 700 feet tall. This mountain was cute with little things all over to take pictures of.
The next cable car takes you to Sugarloaf Mountain, which is about 1,300 feet tall. It was a dream from the moment we got off the cable car.
The mountain is so high, you are literally in the clouds. And there’s so much to do on the mountain! There’s a bar, restaurant, gift shop, garden, everything. You could easily spend hours up there.
We stayed a good hour, eating ice cream, walking around and just admiring the clouds as they floated by.
After Sugarloaf, we went back to our hotel to just relax at the beach. Our hotel provided us with beach chairs, an umbrella and towels and we tanned. The beach was definitely filled with hustlers. It felt like hundreds of people passed by trying to sell us bikinis, shirts, sunglasses, food, everything! It was crazy but I respected it.
One note for the ladies: stock up on bikinis in Brazil. They sell authentic, quality Brazilian bikinis for about $15 for the top AND bottom! I got four and am in love with them. You can either buy these from the vendor on the beach, or stands along Copacabana Beach.
We spent an hour or two at the beach then went back to our room and showered and changed, having one last delicious Brazilian meal before getting ready to head to the airport. All the flights leaving Brazil were redeyes, so I had the hotel still booked for this last night just to have somewhere to keep our stuff this day. Flights looked kind of tight, so I told the front desk that we were attempting to catch a flight and we may or may not be back that night, and they said that was fine!
We got to the airport and tried for both the United flight to IAH and the Delta flight to ATL. Neither worked out, so disappointed, we went back to the hotel, where they already had our room cleaned. We were exhausted from the day and the hours spent in the airport, so we decided to just call it a night, and we slept for so long! It was nice catching up on some sleep.
I refused to make the same mistake we made in Greece when we were presented with an unexpected extra day of vacation. We took full advantage of this extra day. We started out with a Brazilian meal, of course, and then ubered to the Parque Lage, which might look familiar to some of you.
The entire video for Snoop Dogg and Pharrell’s “Beautiful” song was shot in Rio in 2003! The crazy part is, all the places they shot at still look the exact same, especially the mansion with the pool they had the party at, called the Parque Lage. The mansion was owned by a family and remodeled in the 1920s. In the 1960s, it became a public park and an art school, where they have displays and things you can buy along with a cafe you can sit and eat at or order drinks and walk around. When the sky is clear, you can also see Christ the Redeemer directly above the mansion! A truly beautiful site.
We were dropped off at the end of the driveway, and it’s actually a decent walk to get to the mansion.
Once you’re there, there’s a gorgeous fountain in the front yard.
We walked in and ordered caipirinhas and walked around, taking in the beauty of the mansion. There was a short line to take pictures in front of the pool, which we gladly waited in. We took pictures in the exact same spot Snoop and Pharrell stood in during the video.
We were planning on going upstairs to walk around, but you had to purchase something from the art school in order to do this. They had cute, small things, but we were already pressed for time anyways, so we decided to just finish walking around the first floor before heading to our next stop.
Next, we went to the Escadaria Selaron located in the Lapa district in the city. This was the site of where Snoop and Pharrell are sitting on the stairs.
This breathtaking piece of art work was designed by Chilean-artist Jorge Selaron, who started working on it in 1990. Selaron worked tirelessly and ended up covering 215 steps with tiles, ceramics and mirrors. 2000 of the tiles are donated from 60 different countries. In the time we spent looking around, we saw tiles depicting different states, such as Minnesota and Hawaii, and countries like France, Mexico, Greece and so much more.
After visiting these steps, I grew curious about the artist, so I did some research. Interestingly enough, of the 2,000 tiles, there are about 300 tiles hand-painted by Selaron that depict a pregnant African-American woman. He never commented on this, except to say that it was a personal problem of his past.
I also learned Selaron was obsessive about his work, constantly changing aspects of it so it was an “ever-evolving piece of art”. He was also quoted saying he considered the work “never complete” and further went on to say “this crazy and unique dream will only end on the day of my death”. Unfortunately, in 2013, Selaron was found dead on the stairs he dedicated his life to. Apparently he had been receiving death threats from someone who used to work for him, and grew depressed. Even to this day, there are no articles saying whether or not his cause of death was murder or suicide.
May he RIP and hopefully you all get the chance to one day experience his beautiful work in Rio.
After leaving Escadaria Selaron, we went back to our hotel. We were already packed, so we showered, got a couple last drinks from the bar and then ordered an Uber to the airport.
Tonight, both flights looked good, so we decided to take UA from GIG to IAH. We made the flight easily, and one of us was actually eligible for Polaris! Myles took it (don’t get me started, huge argument lol) and I sat in an aisle in economy. It was a 10 hour flight, but left really late so I slept the entire flight. Overall, a completely different experience from the night before when we initially tried to get home.
What I Would Have Done Differently
I’m really happy to say that planning-wise, this was probably our most successful trip yet. We really got to do everything we wanted to do, and see all the things we wanted to! It was cloudy for every single day except the day we went to see the Christ the Redeemer statue, which was a huge blessing.
I enjoyed our time in Brazil so much, we’re planning on going back one day to explore other parts, such as different cities and islands.