We absolutely loved Brazil. Okay, I know. I say this a lot. And it’s true. There are very few places that we’ve traveled to that I haven’t loved. But seriously, we really really loved Brazil. And how could we not? Vibrant. Passionate. Intriguing. Convivial. Exciting. Stunning. Sexy. Every single one of these words describes this country. We spent ten wonderful days in Brazil, dividing our time between Salvador de Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, and Buzios. These three places were so different from one another; yet each one offered a wealth of beauty, culture, and adventure.
First stop: Salvador de Bahia, the largest city in Brazil’s northeastern state of Bahia with a population of approximately 2.7 million people. Renowned for its African-influenced culture, Portuguese colonial architecture, and tropical coastline, Salvador gives off a fun, spirited, loving, and easy-going vibe. Known as the “City of Joy”, we were embraced by the vivacious people of Salvador, and captivated by the lively musical culture that is so prevalent throughout the streets of this beautiful historical city.
Pelourinho is the historic heart of Salvador. Characterized by its cobble-stoned streets, bustling plaza, and an abundance of boutiques, bars, and restaurants, the Cidade Alta has also become somewhat of a tourist showcase, where you are often approached by vendors and beggars. After spending a bit of time here, we quickly ventured outside of the city’s center to explore the real beauty of Salvador.
Sao Francisco Church and Covent: One of the most beautiful churches we have ever seen. All surfaces inside – walls, pillars, vaults and ceilings – are covered by golden sculpted gilt woodwork and paintings. Absolutely stunning and we may have even felt just a tad bit religious. Just a bit. When in Brazil, I guess.
As seen on the historical streets of Salvador…
While in Salvador, we took an intense ninety minute capoeira class and absolutely loved it. Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics and music and is GREAT workout. I had heard amazing things about Capoeira Mestre Bimba (a facility with no air conditioning I might add) and the class and our instructor did not disappoint. The studio was so hot that T felt compelled to take his shirt off. Oh wait. I forgot. That actually happens A LOT. We got lucky and somehow managed a private session for just the two of us. I don’t think I have to tell you who was more of a natural at capoeira. Don’t let those muscles fool you, kids…
Drunk, happy, and satiated in Salvador. We enjoyed typical Bahian fare while in Salvador, including feijoada (Brazil’s national stew), acarajé (black eyed pea fritters), moqueca (a wonderful seafood stew), and of course countless caipirinhas (Brazil’s national cocktail and oh so delicious).
Salvador’s beautiful coastline
Next stop: Rio. Whenever we mentioned that we were traveling to Rio, many people responded to us with warnings and questioning looks. Be careful! Are you sure it’s safe? were common responses we heard. Perhaps we were lucky or maybe we’re just exceptionally savvy travelers (I prefer to think it’s the latter), but we couldn’t have felt safer while in Rio. It is unfortunate that there are so many myths and misrepresentations that tend to cloud the perception of this incredible city. Sure, like any major urban area, there is crime and you should always be aware of your surroundings, but not once did we feel endangered, threatened, or uncomfortable. We instantly fell in love with Rio’s pervasive boldness, beauty, and energy. Actually, the only thing we were surprised by was the language barrier. As Americans, many of us (T and I included) take for granted that pretty much wherever we go in the world, we’re bound to encounter someone who knows English. From Thailand to Egypt to Peru, I have rarely struggled to communicate with locals. Add in my Italian and T’s Spanish, and we pretty much have always been able to get by regardless of where we have traveled. Surprisingly, this was not really the case in Brazil. Even in Rio, a metropolitan area exceeding six million people, very few people spoke English, nor did they understand my Italian or T’s Spanish. Portuguese is not similar to Italian or Spanish, in case you’re wondering. To this date, we have never encountered as great a language barrier as we did in Brazil. This, of course, was a minor obstacle and by no means detracted from our trip or took away from our love of Brazil. We just had no idea what was being said to us sixty percent of the time. No big deal.
Incredible Ipanema: We loved how much beach life was embedded in the everyday culture. At lunchtime, we saw numerous businessmen in their dapper suits arrive at the beach to eat their lunches, relax, and take in its breathtaking beauty. You need something while at the beach? You got it; take your pick. Vendors selling everything and anything from food, drinks, swimwear, chairs and umbrellas, matte (sweet tea), sunscreen, jewelry, and loads of other crap, stroll up and down the horizon ready and waiting for you to call them over. Unlike other beaches we’ve been to in the Caribbean, the majority of these vendors are not aggressive or overbearing; they seem to have found the perfect balance between being easily visible and available while not being overly pushy or impudent. They’re not annoying or intrusive. If anything, these vendors are a welcomed convenience in this fabulous beach life culture.
Few sites are more symbolic of Rio than the world-renowned Christ Redeemer statue. Arguably the most recognizable and associated monument of Brazil, the Christ Redeemer statue stands some thirty-eight meters tall atop the Corcovado mountain overlooking the sprawling city of Rio de Janeiro. The panoramic views are awe-inspiring and incomparable. Beyond fighting with fellow tourists for spectacular photo ops, standing on top of this mountain surrounded by breathtaking views of one of the world’s most beautiful cities is definitely one of my most memorable travel moments ever.
When you’re in Rio, you kind of have to see a samba show. We saw a two hour show at the popular Plataforma that included dancers, drummers, and sounds that reflected the cultural origins of Brazilian popular music (a mix of Portuguese, Indian and African cultures). The performance even included a Michael Jackson tribute act which I of course, thoroughly enjoyed. Is the show touristy? Yes. Did we still love it? Absolutely.
We took an awesome private cooking class at Cook in Rio with our equally awesome and spirited instructor Simone. For $75/person, we spent five hours cooking and eating a (delicious) typical Brazilian meal consisting of seafood moqueca, cassava sticks, toasted cassava banana forafa, coconut batida drinks, and lime caipirinhas. We may have had some shots, too. I mean, it would have been rude to say no, right. That’s what we thought, too. So Delicioso!
Words cannot describe what it was like to be in Rio while Brazil was playing in the 2010 World Cup. The city shuts down. Everyone: young, old, men, women, children, police officers, it doesn’t matter. Everyone stops what they are doing to cheer on their team and it’s absolutely incredible to watch. I can honestly say that we have never seen such devoted and enthusiastic fans in our entire lives. What was even more amazing was just how orderly and organized the chaos in the streets and on the beaches were. We had the most amazing time watching the match with quite possibly the biggest futbol fan in all of Brazil, aka, T’s new best friend. This woman was the absolute best. Her enthusiasm was contagious and before you knew it, we were all screaming Bora, Brazil! Below you have Brazil’s biggest fan and Brazil’s biggest poser. I’ll let you decipher.
As if the stunning views of Rio from atop of Corcovado Mountain weren’t enough, there’s more. The views from Sugarloaf Mountain are equally as impressive. The queue to board the cable car ride up to the mountain moved rather quickly and after a few short minutes, we were greeted by a breathtaking 360 degree view of Rio de Janeiro, surrounding beaches, mountains, forests, and the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean. We were beginning to sense a pattern here. As with most things in Rio, we were once again blown away by this gorgeous city. I only have one question. Rio, how on Earth did you get so lucky?!
Caipirinhas at the legendary Copacabana Palace Hotel
Rodizio at Porcao: T was in heaven and I was really impressed and appreciative of how much they catered to this pescatarian. Definitely recommend.
After four days, we were sad to leave Rio, but excited to move onto the last leg of our trip: Beautiful Buzios!
Just when you think you have seen all the beauty that Brazil has to offer, you arrive in breathtaking Buzios. This magnificent seaside Brazilian resort is where many Brazilians vacation and boy, are they lucky. Littered with numerous beaches, crystal blue waters, and an abundance of sophisticated restaurants, bars, and boutiques, Buzios is an absolute paradise. Honestly, this place is perfection.
We love you Brazil, for your perpetual energy, beauty, warmth, and fervor. You have left a lasting and significant impression on us Hill’s, so thank you. Saúde!