The call for Rio Carnival had finally arrived. It was time to tick the party of all parties off my ‘To do before I die’ list. But before experiencing Carnival I set off on our Buenos Aires to Rio tour and enjoyed some of the highlights that Argentina and Brazil have to offer.
My first stop was Buenos Aires (BA), the city of tango halls and dinosaur sized steaks. What a fabulous city it is too. Commonly known as the Paris of South America, Buenos Aires has a cosmopolitan feel enjoying beautiful architecture, stylish cafés, cobbled colonial streets and unique, ethnic barrios (neighbourhoods) such as The Centre, San Telmo, Palermo, Recoleta, La Boca and Puerto Madero. I arrived in BA a few days before the tour started to spend a few extra days exploring the city. The city certainly warrants a couple of extra days if you can spare the time. Whilst BA is a huge city most of the key attractions are found in just a handful of barrios making it a great city to travel on foot. Our meeting point hotel is very centrally located enabling me to walk to all the barrios except La Boca where I took a quick, inexpensive cab from San Telmo. For the steak connoisseurs out there I would highly recommend La Cabrera restaurant in Palermo Viejo - save your appetite and no need to order any sides as your meal is accompanied by an array of mini side dishes to enjoy. The steaks really are dinosaur sized!
Next stop was the mighty Iguazu Falls. Wow! I have been to Niagara and Victoria Falls and they seemed small in comparison to Iguazu. Iguazu Falls really are an awe-inspiring natural wonder. Rain ponchos are quite handy as you can get pretty wet from the spray of the fall as you watch the water thunder over the edge at Devil’s Throat, of course I didn’t have one! The following day we crossed over to Brazil to enjoy the falls from that side and if you thought the Argentinean side was impressive the Brazilian side is equally impressive but very different, offering a more panoramic view.
Just opposite the Brazilian falls entry is a bird park which is also well worth a look. You can get very up close and personal with all the amazing birds in South America including Toucans and Macaws.
Finally, via the Atlantic Rainforest and chill-out time on gorgeous Honey Island, the time had arrived when I could now officially stand on Copacabana beach and sing the famed Barry Manilow song, ‘Copacabana’ …..I was in Rio!
“Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl - with yellow feathers in her hair and her dress cut down to there - she would merengue and do the cha cha”
(I know you know the words!).
During my time in Rio I took a half day guided tour city tour which included Sugar Loaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer and the Lapa Steps. A tour certainly saves time trying to get to the sites independently as they are located at opposite sides of the city and probably difficult to do all in one day on your own. The views are fabulous from Christ the Redeemer! Some others also took a short helicopter tour over the city from Sugar Loaf Mountain and their videos looked awesome. I watched the sunset on Copacabana beach and watched the sunrise on Ipenema beach. I also went to the Macarana stadium to see a live football game which I would highly recommend even if you are not a football buff like myself. The atmosphere was electric. They are definitely passionate about their football.
Carnival you ask? I am definitely glad that I ticked it off my ‘To do before I die’ list. It is quite the spectacle. The floats and costumes are amazing and the Brazilians show great support for their favourite samba school. I went on the first night of the two competition nights and was fortunate enough to have seen their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners of the previous year perform. The samba schools have up to 5,000 performers in each school. Each school has a theme and the floats, costumes change throughout their performance so the scenery is changing constantly. They parade down a 400m stretch with stadium seating on either side of the runway. Unless you pay an extortionate amount of money for a ‘reserved’ seat, you will be sitting in an ‘unreserved’ section even if you are paying to be in a more expensive section of the stadium. If you want to get a great bird’s eye view of the parade/performers then get there early, like 6pm early as the stadium fills up and you may find yourself sitting at the very back. The first school starts at 9pm with the last school finishing at around 6am so it is quite a long night. I stayed until the last school came on but didn’t feel like I had been there for as long as I had.
On top of the samba parade at the sambadrome there are also numerous ‘street parties’ to enjoy. These are held at various times in various neighbourhoods over the 4 days that carnival lasts. These are also good fun but keep your money safely tucked away and wear closed shoes (for broken bottles).
Overall Rio Carnival was a great experience and it has gone down as the party of all parties for me so far!
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