April, 2016: As we’ve said before, Brazil is BIG and it’s two most famous cities provide perfect if not in some cases contrasting examples of this. Both are BIG on urban sprawl and traffic jams filled with lung busting fumes. But, while Sao Paulo felt BIG on culture, fine dining and the arts, Rio seemed more to specialise in BIG butts squeezed into tiny g-strings spread out across BIG glorious beaches! In between these two awesome cities we also had the pleasure of spending time at the aptly named Happy Hammocks Hostel in Paraty, a veritable oasis of phosphorescence filled water and super comfy hammocks. This little story is about 10 days traveling Paraty to Rio.
From Sao Paulo one can take a bit of a windy road through the mountains and down to a coastline filled with lush jungle, hidden coves and golden sandy beaches. While we loved the big city vibe of Sao Paulo we were looking forward to winding it back a notch by heading to the old colonial village of Paraty. Paraty is one of those idyllic, postcard like villages with white washed cottages, cobble stone streets and horse drawn carts….and a surprisingly authentic Turkish restaurant. We spent a night there and could easily have stayed longer except for having a date with waterside hammocks, a 25 minutes boat ride away at a hostel run by two legendary Swiss lads.
The two Swiss boys along with another couple had leased a waterside villa with it’s own private jetty from a wealthy Sampa (Sao Paulo local) and had financed their stay by turning it into a hostel. We slept in a simple but neat and tidy dorm, the lads cooked up 3 meals a day of delicious, vegetarian treats and there was an honour board to record the ever increasing amount of booze we were consuming. The whole place was fronted by a big old balcony slung with stupidly comfortable hammocks. From there, one could look out through a coconut palm and the branches of a mango tree towards the greeny blue Atlantic. Brightly coloured fishing boats bobbed gently in the water and the 30 degree heat felt perfectly manageable courtesy of a gentle breeze which came and went every day. As you might expect, we didn’t get much past the hammocks each day (other than the odd attempt at paddle boarding) and spent the time talking rubbish with an awesome English crew and a sole German legend. By night we would play cards and drink caipirinhas until the power went out and then make our way down to the jetty to swim with the phosphorescence, dance like muppets and watch for shooting stars. Our stay started with 2 nights, which quickly became 3 and without thinking 4 until we finally decided we should move on.
On our final morning I managed to drag my slightly sore head out of bed before dawn to take the paddle board out for sunrise. Other than a few sleepy fishermen getting prepared for the day, and the odd random dog barking a half hearted challenge I had the dawn to myself. The swell rolled gently beneath me and ever so slowly the sun poked it’s nose over the horizon lightning a fire across the bay. The whole scene would have made for a perfect Jack Johnson music clip except the requisite, well chiseled, dreamy looking surfer was an uncoordinated, potbellied me who kept stacking it into the water!
With my Jack Johnson moment complete we sadly said goodbye to the lads at Happy Hammocks and joined our new found English buddies to the bright lights and beautiful beaches of Rio de Janeiro. Traveling Paraty to Rio is a bit of a hair raising venture by mini bus and we were highly glad to arrive in the ritzy Rio neighbourhood of Leblon (next door to Ipanema). The guys had hired a top floor, 3 level penthouse in Leblon and were kind enough to offer us a spot for a few days. It’s kind of hard to put my finger on what we did for the next few days but am pretty sure it revolved around eating, drinking and wandering the 5 minutes down to Ipanema beach. Our first night there we did manage to get out for a hilarious night of dancing and cheap caipirinhas at a samba street party in Pedra do Sal. We fired up the WeberQ on the rooftop looking out over the bright lights of the city, went out for an epic feast of Japanese and generally lapped up the slightly unusual sensation of feeling like one of Brazil’s elite. It was certainly a lovely break to have after ‘slumming’ backpacker style for the previous few months.
Alas our time in the penthouse had to come to an end when our English compadres returned to London so we packed our bags and headed for the other end of town to stay in one of Rio’s infamous favelas (slums). While I know there are favelas where you just don’t want to go this one set high above the far end of Copacabana beach was full of laughing children, friendly old timers not to mention outstanding views out across the ocean. Our new digs were nowhere near the luxuriousness of where we had just been staying, however it felt great to be staying somewhere slightly more authentic and friendly. For the next few days we took in one of the best views of the city from Christ the Redeemer statue and were serenaded by taxi drivers singing ‘The Girl from Ipanema’. Our second last day in Rio, we hooked up again with our German buddy from Happy Hammocks for a rather loose night out in Lapa. We had been due a decent hit out for some time and started our night with a delicious feast of oxtail stew in hipster Santa Teresa before rolling down hill to the caipirinha fueled debaucery of Lapa. Night turned into day and before we knew it we were cabbing it home while Rio’s buffed and beautiful started their daily parade along their runway of golden sand. Looking out over Copacabana beach as the sun rose seemed to make the impending hangover all that much easier to take.
Now, about Rio’s famous beaches. I had been somewhat skeptical about the quality of Rio’s most famous assets but I have to say that I was impressed. While the dumping waves aren’t great for swimming, it really is such an epic, postcard like setting with long stretches of perfect, golden sand flanked by towering mountains of thick jungle or colorful favelas, all surrounded by twinkling blue water. Then you have the continuous parade of beautiful people with their beautiful bodies not to mention the availability of pretty much any munchy, beverage (alcoholic or otherwise), massage, beach furniture or annoying racquet based game you could desire. Arguably the most impressive thing about Rio beaches are the continuously watered ‘sand ways’ which take you from the concrete footpath down almost to the waters edge meaning that even on the hottest of days you didn’t need to worry about burning the soles of your feet on the roasting hot sand. Bring all this together and you have yourself one very tempting proposition…one which we tried our best to maximise at every opportunity!
Anyway, 5 days after arriving into the snarling traffic of Rio we were on our way to the airport feeling sun kissed and slightly sketchy from our night out in Lapa but more than a little smitten with Brazil’s most famous city. Traveling Paraty to Rio was fantastic. Next stop was Salvador on the way into the country’s far north….
Traveling Paraty to Rio tips:
- Paraty plays home to an authentic and relatively cheap Turkish restaurant called Istanbul Paraty which is worth a look for home made breads and sticky, yummy desserts (R. Manoel Tôrres – Parque Imperial, Paraty)
- If you’re in Paraty you really need to put aside some time to go and stay at Happy Hammocks (USD35/bed in 6 person dorm/night including all meals). Get in touch with the guys there and they will pick you up in a speedboat and take you back to the hostel, 25 minutes away.
- Explore the beautiful streets of the Santa Teresa neighbourhood and then pop into Bar do Meneiro for a hearty beef stew or even just some delicious pasteis
- Head for a crazy night out on Av. Mem de Sá in the Lapa district of Rio. Grab a cheap caipirinha, head into a bar or just party on the street.