A Travellerspoint blog

Rio de Janeiro

Beach days in South America’s most spectacular city


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Brazil is by far the largest country in South America, but we chose not to spend a lot of time there on our journey through the continent. One reason is that the country is a high-risk region for many mosquito-born diseases and we try to avoid those areas. Another reason is that we already made an effort to learn Spanish, which is of little help in Brazil where Portuguese is the official language. Lastly, we feel there is enough to see and do on the rest of the continent to utilize our six months here. With that being said, we could not leave South America without visiting its most famous city, Rio de Janeiro.

We arrived to Rio by plane from Montevideo, with a stopover in Porto Alegre. For five nights, we stayed at a nice hotel directly at the Copacabana. There were fantastic views of this iconic beach from the rooftop pool of our hotel. During our time in Rio, we focused more on relaxing at the beach or swimming in the sea than on sightseeing. The Copacabana was right on our doorstep, so we spent most of our time there. It is a fantastic beach, long and wide with fine white sand.

Copacabana, seen from the rooftop of our hotel

Copacabana, seen from the rooftop of our hotel

Copacabana beach

Copacabana beach

Lots of sales people walk up and down the beach, but we found them to be much less annoying than what we know from popular beaches in Southern Europe. They walk around announcing their product, but generally leave you alone unless you signal interest. You can buy useful things like Caipirinhas, beer, hats, bikinis or massages. One inventive guy even walked around with a miniature grill, offering to make a barbecue for you. Some sell crazy things like the two guys who walked around with a giant hammock and a bunch of heavy carpets. Who buys a hammock at the beach? There are no trees, so where would you attach it? So many questions!

The water was a pleasant 25 °C, but unfortunately there was quite some trash swimming in the water in some parts of the beach. One day, we went to explore nearby Ipanema beach and found this one to be much cleaner. Therefore, if we will ever come back to Rio, we would stay in Ipanema instead.

On our second evening in the city, we went to the famous Sugarloaf mountain. Two cable cars brought us to the top of the 392 meter high peak. There were too many clouds in the West to have a beautiful sunset, but the views were nevertheless amazing while we watched the lights go on in Rio.

The cable car to Sugarloaf mountain

The cable car to Sugarloaf mountain

Christ the Redeemer standing over Rio at dusk, seen from Sugarloaf mountain

Christ the Redeemer standing over Rio at dusk, seen from Sugarloaf mountain

Rio de Janeiro at dusk with cable car in the foreground, seen from Sugarloaf mountain

Rio de Janeiro at dusk with cable car in the foreground, seen from Sugarloaf mountain

Copacabana at dusk, seen from Sugarloaf mountain

Copacabana at dusk, seen from Sugarloaf mountain

Rio de Janeiro by night, seen from Sugarloaf mountain

Rio de Janeiro by night, seen from Sugarloaf mountain

The second attraction we visited in Rio de Janeiro was the Christ the Redeemer statue. Probably Rio’s most recognizable landmark, it stands atop the 710 meter high mountain Corcovado. The platform at the top was very crowded, but that is no wonder given the views to be enjoyed from there.

View over Rio de Janeiro from Corcovado (shared with lots of other people)

View over Rio de Janeiro from Corcovado (shared with lots of other people)

Christ the Redeemer on top of Corcovado

Christ the Redeemer on top of Corcovado

Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer

Cloudy view over Rio de Janeiro from Corcovado

Cloudy view over Rio de Janeiro from Corcovado

Sugarloaf Mountain, seen from Corcovado

Sugarloaf Mountain, seen from Corcovado

We had a great time in Rio de Janeiro and definitely did not regret the detour. It was not always easy to navigate with Spanish and English though. When people spoke Portuguese to us, we understood absolutely nothing. This language sounds completely different from Spanish.

We had good weather for the first four days in Rio, but the evening before our departure it started to rain so heavily that we did not leave the hotel for the rest of our stay. It poured down constantly until we departed for the airport. Only later did we learn that in this 24 hours, it had rained three times more than it usually does in the entire month of April. In poorer parts of the city, there had been floods and landslides. Luckily, we had no problems getting to the airport and departed without delays.

Posted by samandmarta 16:58 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Uruguay

Colonia del Sacramento and Montevideo


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On the first of April, we left Buenos Aires by boat towards Uruguay. The one-hour trip over the muddy waters of the Río de la Plata brought us to the small town of Colonia del Sacramento. Colonia is the oldest town of Uruguay and is known for its beautiful colonial architecture and cobbled streets. On weekends, it’s a popular getaway for people from Buenos Aires, but as we arrived on a Monday, the old town was very quiet. We just stayed for one night and there would be no reason to stay longer. It only takes two hours to walk through the old town and there is not much else to do. But after the busy Buenos Aires, this relaxed town was a great place to slow down. The old-timers spread throughout the old town center, that have been repurposed as flower pots, were especially picturesque.

Cobbled street in Colonia del Sacramento

Cobbled street in Colonia del Sacramento

Old car in Colonia del Sacramento

Old car in Colonia del Sacramento

Tree growing out of an old car in Colonia del Sacramento

Tree growing out of an old car in Colonia del Sacramento

Uruguay is one of South Americas smallest countries, but for European standards it is still big (somewhere between Greece and the UK). Politically, the country is unusually stable and progressive for this continent. They have legalized same-sex marriage, abortion and the recreational use of marihuana. Maybe that is why the Uruguayans seem more relaxed than their Argentinian neighbors.

Sign for cannabis shop in Montevideo

Sign for cannabis shop in Montevideo

We took our first inter-city bus in South America from Colonia to Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital, where we spent two nights. Our hotel was located near Plaza Independencia, at the border between the new and the old town. At this plaza, there is the most famous building of Montevideo, Palacio Salvo, which was once the tallest building of South America. Under the plaza are the remains of the Uruguayan independence hero José Artigas, though the true hero of the Uruguayans is Alcides Ghiggia who scored the winning goal in the 1950 World Cup final against host country Brazil.

Plaza Independencia in Montevideo with Palacio Salvo on the left

Plaza Independencia in Montevideo with Palacio Salvo on the left

Sunset behind the old town of Montevideo

Sunset behind the old town of Montevideo

Ashes of Uruguayan independence hero José Artigas under the Plaza Independencia

Ashes of Uruguayan independence hero José Artigas under the Plaza Independencia

Street signs with ads, a smart way to raise public money

Street signs with ads, a smart way to raise public money

We left Uruguay after only three nights. We liked our time there, but we also feel that there is not much in this country that you could not see anywhere else. The Atlantic coast is supposed to have many excellent beaches and we first planned to spend a couple of days there. However, when we saw that the prices for flights to Rio de Janeiro, our next destination, doubled for the weekend, we decided to skip the beaches of Uruguay.

Posted by samandmarta 11:30 Archived in Uruguay Comments (1)

Buenos Aires

Two weeks of tango dancing in the Argentine capital


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After more than two months of intensive travelling in Chile and Argentina, we felt like we needed a bit of a break before continuing to other South American countries. Therefore, we spent a full two weeks in Buenos Aires. For once, we did not go sightseeing every day, but spent most days much more relaxed.

The only thing we tried to do every day is learning to dance tango. We had the ambition of learning this beautiful dance while we were in the city where it was created. The first difficulty already came in finding suitable classes. We would have liked to join some intensive group class that offers continuous progress, but this does not seem to exist. Instead, we went to different beginners classes all over the town. Every teacher would focus on some other aspect of the dance and for the first week, we felt like we made progress every day. But then we hit some sort of ceiling. The beginners classes did not teach us anything new, as they had always lots of first time dancers. More intermediate classes, however, were often not so open to new faces, especially to tourist faces. More than once, the teacher has politely told us, that we are not good enough for his class, despite the fact we have inquired previously whether the level will be adequate for us. Learning tango can be frustrating at times. You are supposed to lead with very subtle movements of your body and by changing the center of your weight. It can take years to do this well and for the follower to pick up these movements. So maybe our plan was a bit too ambitious, but we did learn the basics and we managed to dance at a few milongas (tango dance events). Our favourite place to dance was an outdoor rotunda called La Glorieta, which reminded us of the dancing at our wedding.

From time to time, we also did some sightseeing in Buenos Aires. We were most impressed with the Recoleta cemetery, where Argentina’s rich and famous are buried. The decadence of this place is astonishing. Instead of simple graves, the people there have built opulent mausoleums for themselves and their family. The grave of Evita Perón, wife of former president Juan Perón, is the most famous one in the cemetery. The story of what happened to her body after her premature death is absolutely unbelievable, much like the crazy history of Argentina itself. We will not repeat it here, but we encourage you to read about it online.

Recoleta cemetery

Recoleta cemetery

Statue on top of a mausoleum in the Recoleta cemetery

Statue on top of a mausoleum in the Recoleta cemetery

Recoleta cemetery

Recoleta cemetery

Plaque for Evita Perón on her family’s mausoleum

Plaque for Evita Perón on her family’s mausoleum

Another interesting visit was the one to the colorful neighborhood of La Boca. This is where tango was created by the poorest of immigrants in the early 20th century. Nowadays, the colorful street El Caminito gets crowded with tourists every day.

Start of El Caminito in La Boca

Start of El Caminito in La Boca

Colorful lanterns in La Boca

Colorful lanterns in La Boca

Mural in La Boca

Mural in La Boca

Murals in La Boca

Murals in La Boca

What is interesting about Buenos Aires overall, is that the neighborhoods in the city feel and look remarkably different. With every trip, we could experience a new side of the city. There are classical European buildings in Recoleta, high-rises in Puerto Madero and lively streets filled with bars and restaurants in Palermo, where we had our apartment.

Skyscrapers of Puerto Madero

Skyscrapers of Puerto Madero

Puerto Madero seen from Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur

Puerto Madero seen from Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur

Bird in the Japanese Garden

Bird in the Japanese Garden

Parque 3 de Febrero

Parque 3 de Febrero

Statue of former president Juan Perón

Statue of former president Juan Perón

Around the Plaza de Mayo in front of the president’s palace (Casa Rosada), there were some demonstrations happening on most days. Every Thursday, for example, a group of grandmothers called the Madres de Plaza de Mayo demonstrate for a thorough investigation into the disappearance of their children during the last dictatorship. They do this since 41 years and sadly, there are not many left to demonstrate these days.

Casa Rosada

Casa Rosada

Demonstration of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo

Demonstration of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo

Demonstration near Plaza de Mayo

Demonstration near Plaza de Mayo

Buenos Aires also has a great food scene and we ate very well in our two weeks there. We had to adjust our daily schedule a bit though, since the Argentinians are very much a late-night society. Most restaurants open for dinner only at 8pm and most locals don’t show up before 10pm. Accordingly, the milongas usually start around midnight. On our last weekend, we were invited for an asado by a couple that we met while wine tasting in Mendoza. Asados in Argentina are similar to a barbecue, but they last longer and you are usually served several rounds of different cuts of beef.

Posted by samandmarta 19:47 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Argentinian Wine

Sipping Malbec in the shadow of the Western Hemisphere’s highest mountain


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Opposite from Santiago on the Argentinian side lies the city of Mendoza and just like in Chile, at this latitude is the main wine producing region of the country. Where they grow Carménère West of the Andes, they grow world-renowned Malbec East of it. We already tried lots of Malbec on our journey through Argentina. We found it to be consistently great and with its deep and intense flavor, a perfect companion to a good steak at a parrilla (steakhouse). Unlike in Europe, where Malbec is often marketed as a premium wine with a premium price, it is extremely cheap in Argentina. A good bottle at a restaurant usually costs around 8$ and a glass costs 2$. When ordering a glass of wine, you can expect it to be filled to the top, usually it is listed as 185ml.

There are many different valleys around Mendoza where Malbec is grown. For our first night in this region, we stayed at a winery in Tupungato in the Valle de Uco. After two nights in the tent it was great to stay at a nice hotel, swim in the pool and watch the sun set over the surrounding vineyard and the Andean peaks in the West.

Vineyard around our accommodation in Tupungato

Vineyard around our accommodation in Tupungato

Malbec grapes almost ready for harvest

Malbec grapes almost ready for harvest

Vineyard with Andean peaks in the background

Vineyard with Andean peaks in the background

For the next two nights we stayed in Mendoza itself. The city has some amazing restaurants and we spoiled ourselves with some fantastic gourmet meals (with wine of course). We also visited the Basílica de San Francisco, Mendoza’s main church. There is a large statue of Polish Pope John Paul II and a chair where he sat on his visit to the city in 1987. On the other hand, no sign of Argentinian Pope Francis can be found. We got the impression that the Argentinians don’t actually like their Pope so much. For some, he is way too liberal and progressive. But more importantly, he has not yet visited his home country as the Pope, despite visiting Latin America four times.

Chair where the Polish Pope John Paul II sat, on display in the Basílica de San Francisco in Mendoza

Chair where the Polish Pope John Paul II sat, on display in the Basílica de San Francisco in Mendoza

We also wanted to visit some vineyards from Mendoza, but due to the difficulty of navigating the bus system, we only managed to visit one. Sadly, this vineyard also had one of the least tasty Malbec we have tried. More successful was our wine tasting in the city, where we discovered another grape from this region which is not quite as famous. Torrontés is a white wine grape that we liked very much. The wines from this grape are smooth, aromatic and very refreshing on a hot Mendoza day.

Barrels of Malbec

Barrels of Malbec

To return our rental car, we had to cross back to Chile. The easiest connection between Mendoza and Santiago is over the 3200 meter high Paso Los Libertadores. Along this beautiful mountain road there is a lot to see, but the most important sight is Cerro Aconcagua (6962m), the highest peak of the Americas. A short hike from the road brought us to a great viewpoint for this mountain. Somehow, however, the high Andean peaks in this area did not seem quite as imposing as what we saw in the Himalayas.

Puente del Inca

Puente del Inca

Marta in front of Cerro Aconcagua (6962m)

Marta in front of Cerro Aconcagua (6962m)

Cerro Aconcagua (6962m)

Cerro Aconcagua (6962m)

Mountain of the Andes near the border crossing Paso Los Libertadores

Mountain of the Andes near the border crossing Paso Los Libertadores

After driving down from the pass, we spent one night in the town Los Andes. It was a big effort to repack all we had lying around in the car for the flight the next morning. We returned our car at the airport in Santiago after 59 days and 11’600 kilometers of driving. We are very happy that we did not have any of the common problems along the way. We did not puncture any tire on the gravel roads, nor did our windshield crack due to a stone from a passing car. Most importantly, we did not hit any wildlife along the way. From the airport, we flew to Buenos Aires for a small break from travelling.

Posted by samandmarta 16:24 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)

Northbound on Ruta Nacional 40

2100 kilometers on Argentina’s iconic highway


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We had a lot of distance to cover from Argentina’s Southern Patagonia back to Santiago in Chile. On Argentina’s side of the Andes, Ruta Nacional 40 runs almost the entire length of the country along the continent’s rocky spine. There is however, much less to see on this side of the mountain range, which is why we drove a lot and stopped mostly to sleep on our way North. The first night after Cuevas de los Manos, we stopped at another estancia in the sleepy town of Río Mayo. We came across a small town about every 200 kilometers, so it is very important to remember to fill up gas at every opportunity. It is hard for us to imagine what life in these remote villages might be like.

Ruta Nacional 40

Ruta Nacional 40

Armadillo trying to hide from Sam’s camera

Armadillo trying to hide from Sam’s camera

For the next night we drove to Parque Nacional Los Alerces, near the town of Esquel. There, we found a beautiful campground at Lago Futalaufquen which was almost empty. Luckily, as we drove North, it also started getting warmer and camping got more enjoyable.

Road between Esquel and Parque Nacional Los Alerces

Road between Esquel and Parque Nacional Los Alerces

Sam drinking a Patagonia Amber Lager at Lago Futalaufquen in Parque Nacional Los Alerces

Sam drinking a Patagonia Amber Lager at Lago Futalaufquen in Parque Nacional Los Alerces

The most beautiful area along the road was around the town of Bariloche, where we stopped for two nights. Bariloche was founded by Swiss immigrants and it is easy to see what drew them to this place. The town is surrounded by lakes, forests and mountains. The Swiss brought with them the craft of chocolate making and Bariloche is now known in Argentina as the place where the best chocolate comes from. We also found the best ice cream since we left Switzerland here.

Chocolate shop in Bariloche

Chocolate shop in Bariloche

Catedral Nuestra Señora del Nahuel Huapi in Bariloche

Catedral Nuestra Señora del Nahuel Huapi in Bariloche

Juicy steak

Juicy steak

Lago Nahuel Huapi

Lago Nahuel Huapi

Bariloche and Lago Nahuel Huapi from Cerro Otto

Bariloche and Lago Nahuel Huapi from Cerro Otto

The 180 kilometer section of Ruta Nacional 40 between Bariloche and San Martín de los Andes is known as Ruta de los Siete Lagos, because it passes seven different lakes. With a few short side trips, we managed to bring the lake count up to eleven. Since there are very few villages in this area, the lakes are all superbly clear. We spent the next night in San Martín de los Andes, which is like a smaller and more charming version of Bariloche. We enjoyed this small town a lot and could have easily spent a couple more days there.

Lago Espejo Chico

Lago Espejo Chico

Lago Traful and Villa Traful

Lago Traful and Villa Traful

Boats at Lago Traful

Boats at Lago Traful

Waterfall along the Ruta de los Siete Lagos

Waterfall along the Ruta de los Siete Lagos

The landscape went back to flat and boring after San Martín de los Andes and we drove a lot the next three days. We camped for two nights on the way North. First in Chos Malal, a town we will remember only because it happens to be the midpoint of Ruta Nacional 40 and because of the confusing amount of police. We have never seen a higher police presence anywhere in Argentina than in Chos Malal and we have no idea why. The second night we camped in Malargüe next to a trout farm out of town. For dinner, the owner caught and grilled two fresh fish for us.

Sam in Chos Malal with the sign marking the midpoint of Ruta Nacional 40

Sam in Chos Malal with the sign marking the midpoint of Ruta Nacional 40

Our car on an unpaved segment of Ruta Nacional 40 between Chos Malal and Malargüe

Our car on an unpaved segment of Ruta Nacional 40 between Chos Malal and Malargüe

Ruta Nacional 40 shortly before Malargüe

Ruta Nacional 40 shortly before Malargüe

Posted by samandmarta 22:00 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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