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Iguassu Falls, Brazilian Coast and Ouro Preto

BRAZIL | Saturday, 2 June 2012 | Views [1083]

Iguassu Falls

Iguassu Falls are on the border of Argentina and Brazil. The number of actual waterfalls that make up Iguassu falls varies between 150 and 300 depending on what you are reading (and I guess whether they counted in the wet or dry season)! The falls need to be viewed from both the Brazilian and Argentinian side apparently – so we were quite happy to go back to Argentina for another steak and some good red wine.

The Argentinian side has a full day’s worth of walkways that go right in, under and over a significant number of the cataracts. As well as the cataracts trails there are nature trails which we did, but we inevitably saw more wildlife around the cafeteria! The coatis (South American raccoon) were particularly over friendly, being pushed out the café with a broom, rummaging in the bins, or standing up to sniff at your bag. The Brazilian side gives a better overview of the falls but was not such good value for money with only 1 main walkway, and we were done by early afternoon. So we went into the bird park next door, which had large aviaries in a lovely rainforest setting, with plenty of tame toucans. Toucans prefer the tops of the canopy so although we’ve seen quite a few toucans before, we have not been able to get any good photos until now.

Near Iguassu Falls is Itaipu dam, which is built across another river that joins with Iguassu just below the falls. Prior to the 3 Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China, this was the biggest dam in the world, though they still had some dubious statistics about why Itaipu Dam is still the biggest dam in the world (highest production level across all months of the year, and area destroyed vs energy generated!). This river is the border between Paraguay and Brazil and the project was a joint venture. We did the technical tour with a group of German engineering students who couldn’t comprehend that some efficiencies had been sacrificed for the sake of politics!

The bus from Iguassu Falls was an eye opener. It seems most Brazilians don’t go to the falls, instead they go to Paraguay or Argentina to buy cheap electricals, toys, and animal print bed linen and lots of it. People had 4 or 5 times the size of our backpacks and the coach company had scales to enforce their 32kg limit. We travelled to Sao Paulo, and got the next bus straight out to our next destination!


Paraty is an old colonial town located on the coast. The buildings are white-washed, the streets are cobbled and closed to modern traffic, though horses and carts are still allowed. Behind the town rise forested hills, along the coast there are lovely beaches, and a bay dotted with islands. We had a couple of days there exploring the town, walking to the next beach and a day on a schooner cruising around the bay.

Ilha Grande

From Paraty it was not too much further along the coast to Ilha Grande. Until recently the island hosted one of Brazil´s most notorious prisons and consequently large parts of the island were never developed for tourism and now the forests are protected. We got a lovely pousada (guest house) at a bargain rate as its low season, up the hill away from town with a beautiful rainforest garden! There were quite a lot of English people on the island. It’s winter now and the temperature is only in the high 20s, which the Brazilians think is way too cold for the beach, but for Brits it’s perfect. We had a day on Lopes Mendes Beach (getting there involved a boat trip + 20min walk), which according to the information on Ilha Grande is the best beach in Brazil. We did a speed boat ride around the sheltered side of the island with some great snorkeling (too much snorkeling to take photos). The islands, and surrounding landscape are based on underlying granite, and Ilha Grande has a very distinctive peak called ‘Parrot peak’,  so we did the trail up to the top of that on our 3rd day. It was 1,000m up as we started on the seafront, and given the relative high humidity the walk was very sweaty! The views across the island and the bay from the top were superb, even if the drop was a little dizzying (no hand rails!)

Rio de Janeiro

We arrived in Rio in time to make it to Sugar Loaf Mountain for sunset. The sky was a lovely red colour - looking across the pollution of Rio de Janeiro! The summit is 400m above the bay and reached via 2 cable cars. It’s necessary to ‘change’ cable car at an intermediary hill. I made Phil walk up the first hill. It’s not possible to walk all the way up – there are only rock-climbing routes to the very top. From the top you can see that Rio really is squeezed in between the ocean and the high mountains rising behind. In the centre of town there was a concrete monstrosity lit up in multi-colours at night, which we assumed must be a casino, however it turns out that this is Rio´s modern Metropolitan Cathedral.

We stayed in Ipanema, a couple of blocks back from the beach. We did a few tourist-tastic things in Rio: caipirinha on the beach at sunset watching a no-hand volley ball match(?!), coconut water from a coconut, and a churrascaria rodizio, which is an all you can eat buffet with freshly cooked meat on skewers brought round to your table, for you to accept or turn away depending on a card you’re given which you turn over on the table (or alternatively how many spare notches you have left on your belt!)

Ouro Preto

We are now in Ouro Preto, which is Brazil´s answer to Potosi (big mining city in Bolivia, the source of the Spanish Empire’s silver). Ouro means gold! This is a lovely colonial town nestled on a hillside. It hasn´t changed much since the gold ran out around 1900. It’s full of overtly decorated churches – obviously paying to decorate a church was the way to demonstrate your wealth. One small church that we looked in today contains 434kg of gold. It is in the state of Minas Gerais which is famous for its hearty food: the porky bean stew is ok but the chocolate, strawberry pizza served with ice cream for dessert was definitely my favourite!

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