The Great Escape: Month 60 Roundup

Oh, my monthly roundups. They are so ridiculously out of sync with real time now (this post is basically eleven months late, whoops!) that I recently considered axing the series, but I decided to play catch up instead — so brace yourself for a couple of these coming up! However, now that I’m writing on multiple timelines they do serve as a nice roadmap of my archives for those who want to follow my travels chronologically.

Apologies for the delay, but I suppose better is late than never… right? 😛

3-devide-lines

My first month in Brazil was this roller coaster in which I would be having this unbelievable experience or this really authentic connection or seeing this amazing sight and my heart would be bursting with how lucky I felt to be there, and then moments later something would happen that would leave me baffled or fuming and I’d have to just hold back tears.

A lot of minor things went wrong in Brazil on a regular basis (major attractions being closed, tour disappointments, communication breakdowns) and for some reason I really took them to heart more so than I did on other trips. Maybe that’s because my expectations were so high, maybe it’s because I was nearing heart-attack level stress over work, maybe it’s because I planned a relatively ambitious itinerary. Maybe I just got into a funk early on and had a hard time shifting my attitude. Even so far after the fact, when I hoped to have some clarity, it’s hard to parse, exactly. It terms of frustrations it was up there with Vietnam, which until now was the most challenging trip I’ve ever taken, mentally. Yet there was so much incredible joy in there, too. Like I said — a roller coaster!

Sao Paulo Travel BlogSão Paulo

Indeed, my trip to Brazil was a wild ride. It was also a full six weeks, so it will end up being split up into two roundups — this one here I believe is the longest post I’ve ever written!

Where I Was

• Fifty-two hours in overnight transit

• Two nights in São Paulo

• Four nights in Itú

• Two nights in São Paulo

• Five nights in Paraty

• Three nights in Ilha Grande

• Seven nights in Rio de Janeiro

• Five nights in Buzios

• One night in Rio de Janeiro

Highlights

• Honestly, getting there. Why? Because it was nowhere near as bad as I imagined! A motorbike ride, a ferry, a shuttle, four flights on three itineraries, and a cab ride equaled fifty-two-and-a-half hours in non-stop, door-to-door transit to get from my apartment in Koh Tao, Thailand to my hostel in São Paulo, Brazil.(Normally I would never do a nutso travel itinerary like this, but I had a really short window of time between Songkran in Thailand and Tomorrowland in Brazil!)

It was my longest stretch of uninterrupted transit ever. No fun layovers, no leaving the airports. Just one big blur of boarding passes, security checks and baggage claims. What made it tolerable was flying airlines I love, and having a lounge pass at JFK (thanks for the spare, dad!) that meant I could take a shower and chill a bit before boarding my last red-eye flight to Brazil.

• Falling wildly in love with São Paulo. Honestly, it’s just such a cool place, and I adored both places I stayed there, my hostel in Vila Mariana and my Airbnb in Vila Madalena (where our hosts were some of the sweetest people ever). Both places were both trendy reflections on the city they were set in — which had fun yoga studios, a hoppin’ healthy food scene, and so many chic bars and cafes I could barely stand it. It was good that I loved my accommodation so much, because I spent a lot of time in it — between recovering from my travels and recovering from Tomorrowland, I didn’t do nearly as much as I’d hoped in my two short stints in São Paulo, other than chill.

• Soaking up so much street art. My Instagram tour around the hippest haunts of São Paulo — street art included — was so inspiring and fun, I don’t think I would have appreciated the city half as much without it. I didn’t think it could possibly be topped by the street art tour we took in Rio, but I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite! Both were led by creative, passionate, badass ladies — my favorite kind of businesses to support.

• Dancing my heart out at Tomorrowland Brasil! While there were a lot of disappointments — see below — those couldn’t take away from the hearts-and-rainbow soaked good times we managed to have despite them. Guys, I just love festivals. At this one, the weather was stunning, the natural setting was beautiful, the stages were fun, we loved the cashless wristband system, and in comparison to the Belgian version the music was a little more accessible and the food and drinks were a little cheaper. And oh yeah, champagne was everywhere!

• Dressing up for Tomorrowland Brasil. In comparison to the Belgian original, we noticed that festival go-ers at the Brazilian spin-off were way more into dressing up in crazy outfits — so yeah, we blended right in.

• Making the most of Paraty. After having gorgeous weather for the first week of my trip, Paraty really tested us. But again, we really tried our best to look on the bright side and enjoy the highlights of the seaside town, even when it was darkened by rain clouds — wandering around and photographing the beautifully preserved colonial architecture, a private yoga class and spa day at a really unique, lush villa, and a delightful dinner party and cooking class with two of the most colorful characters in Southern Brazil.

• Soaking up the sun again in Ilha Grande! Oh how happy we were to see blue skies! And we sure made the most of them, wandering every little lane in the charming Vila do Abraão, stand up paddling in the idyllic bay, and tackling three of the island’s sixteen marked hiking trails. Ilha Grande is packed with free and reasonably priced entertainment options — it’s a nature-lover’s playground!

• Being literally the first two people at the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. What a rush! …And a photo op! Getting up and out the door early — rare for this pair — also meant we had plenty of time to explore Lapa and Downtown Rio after, too. We had so much fun spotting tiles from our favorite destinations all over the world in Lapa steps — it was the perfect sightseeing morning.

• Experiencing humbling hospitality in a favela. One of the most eye-opening and enlightening days of our trip was in Santa Marta, where we were welcomed into the home of our tour company owner and got invited to a football game the next day (I wish we’d gone!) by our tour guide. The favela was nothing like I thought it would be — and it’s something I’m so grateful to have experienced. The art project at the base of the hill that made this particular favela famous was the icing on the proverbial cake!

• The rush of hang gliding! I do love my “adventures in jumping off things” series, but somehow hang gliding had alluded me up until this point. What an iconic city to check it out in! Hang gliding is a major industry in Rio, which made it feel very routine, regulated, and safe — can’t recommend a better place to give it a whirl.

• Beach bumming. We were lucky to have beach time in Ilha Grande (so gorgeous!) and Buzios (briefly!) but my favorite beach days were on Ipanema Beach in Rio. In all my years of sun-chasing, I’ve never experienced anything like Brazilian beach culture — one of the biggest reasons I plan to return to Brazil someday despite all the challenges. I loved every second on the sand!

• Playing house. The hostel from our first few days in Rio was a bit of a disappointment, so we were extra wild over our insanely adorable Airbnb by the beach. It was full of charm and character, and was just a really comfortable place to chill out and take a breather from travel — watch movies, order take-away, do some laundry (a surprisingly difficult task to achieve otherwise in Brazil), and generally re-group. I’m a big fan of apartment rentals in general, but in Brazil they are particularly necessary for long trips!

• Going diving in Buzios. After failed attempts in Paraty and Ilha Grande and our first booking being cancelled in Buzios, we were so relieved we got to go diving! And despite the disaster it was to get there (see below) once we were on the Seaquest boat we had a really chilled-out, nice day of diving. I found lots of exotic little creatures to bug out over, and it just felt good to be underwater — in my happy place! — again.

Canceling our trip to Iguassu. It was a hard decision, because I hated wasting the money we spent on what we couldn’t get refunded from our flight and hotel, but I felt ten tons come off my shoulders as soon as we made the call. Honestly, it was a harder decision for Heather than it was for me as she feels less confident that she’ll return to Brazil someday, but I just know that we would have been miserable rushing around in the rain. 

• Getting a bonus day in Buzios. It meant we got another night in our insanely adorable beachfront hostel, we got to go out and experience Buzios’s infamous weekend nightlife, and we got a day of beach-hopping in a buggy! Were we hungover and did we wish we woke up earlier? Yes and yes. But it would have been practically criminal to leave Buzios without checking off this flagship activity. I’m so glad we didn’t have to!

• Getting a bonus night in Rio. We did our week in Rio fairly off-the-beaten path — we split our time between a funky hostel in Botafogo and an Airbnb in the winding hills behind Ipanema. So for our final, spontaneous night back in the city, we booked the first beachfront hotel with a rooftop pool that popped up on Tripadvisor. For $80 each, it was a crazy fun and relaxing splurge!

• Catching epic sunsets. As you’ll read below, the sunset time was a bit of a sore spot for us in Brazil. But we did have a couple spectacular ones — a stunning final sunset behind the main stage at Tomorrowland, a giddy night drinking champagne and watching surfers at Aproador and an evening watching the lights of Rio going on from atop Sugarloaf in Rio, and a beautiful sunset from the dock in Buzios.

• Generally feeling much safer than we anticipated. We were a bit on edge about bringing out expensive electronics to Brazil, mostly in Rio, and ended up relieved not to experience any crime — or feel particularly threatened by it, either.

Tomorrowland Brazil BlogTomorrowland Brasil

Lowlights and Lessons

You’ll notice that a lot of the highlights and moments I loved from my trip were almost universally tainted with disappointments and frustrations, too. I think if I had read a post like this that basically told me to brace for impact, I would have been mentally prepared and been able to adjust my expectations and attitude before walking in. So consider this my gift to you.

Also, this is where I hope to work through all my lingering resentments from Brazil so just be warned, this is going to be one of those months where the lowlights are longer than the highlights and I’m going to get petty AF. It’s so much cheaper than therapy!

• Moving way too fast. Seriously, when will I learn. Twelve different beds split across five cities and one festival, all in thirty days? I know better than to think I could do that while working from the road and without burning out — but I forged ahead anyway. This one was my bad, not Brazil’s!

Also, we moved accommodation in three out of those five cities, which added to the sense of chaos. In retrospect, I would have skipped the two comped hotels in exchange for just hosteling all the way through, if it meant less moving parts and check-ins and check-outs.

• Sunset time. It sounds like a hilarious thing to complain about, but seriously, the sun was setting at 5:15-5:30pm throughout our trip. As someone who has hated the dark and suffered from an animal-like craving for Vitamin D her entire life, I am all about the 9pm summer sunsets. The later the better. And when you happen to be on an insane sightseeing schedule like we were, an early sunset just becomes an enormous hassle.

My work productivity starts at an all-time peak the moment I wake up and basically nose-dives throughout the day, so when I’m on the road I try to wake up early and get as much work done as possible before leaving my accommodation. In Brazil that left us with a small window between work time and sunset, and it always felt like we were scrambling against the clock to get everything in that we wanted to do during daylight hours.

• Weather. We were woe-fully unprepared for both the rain and the low evening temperatures we encountered. Oops.

• Festival flops. So, in a lot of ways Tomorrowland Brasil was a complete organizational disaster, so much so that I was not really surprised to hear it was cancelled indefinitely in anticipation of its third year. I don’t want to take away from what a serious blast we had making the best of it… but Rome was pretty much burning around us and we were just dancing in the flames.

The magnitude and frequency of the issues at this particular event were just plain unforgivable given the ticket price, and they really put a damper on the overall experience. The big three were the camping situation outlined below, almost getting locked out of the festival when trying to upgrade to VIP, and our daily struggle to find one English speaking staff member at a festival with thousands of attendees from English speaking countries. Normally I am super careful to frame my frustrations with my communication issues in Brazil to take all the blame for not speaking Portuguese. But not here — if you aggressively market an international music festival to English speaking countries and have an English-language website and exclusively sell tickets in US currency, you sure as hell better make sure you have at least a handful of staff who are comfortable speaking English so that those guests feel safe and informed.

• Wasting $700 on “VIP” camping. We were extremely disappointed with the Dream Lodge situation and one of my biggest regrets from Brazil is not saving nearly a grand by doing Easy Tents instead. Among a million minor disasters and disappointments, we were literally held hostage on check out day. Also, the layout of the campground was so illogical it hurt our brains, things were stolen from our tent, and staff at our “VIP” campgrounds were indifferent and inefficient and frequently gave us incorrect information or shrugs when we requested help. It just felt like a huge rip-off, particularly painful after it was one of the highlights of our festival at Tomorrowland Belgium.

• Getting booked out. In a way, I really regret not being more spontaneous in Brazil — but in another, I realize that even planning ahead like we did, I struggled. The private room I wanted at my hostel in São Paulo? Only available one night, had to switch into a dorm after that. The room we requested at our hostel in Rio? Snapped up before we got the chance, as were so many of the amazing Airbnbs we first bookmarked. Some adventure tour companies I contacted were booked a whole month in advance, and flights skyrocketed in price if you didn’t book crazy early. It drove me crazy to feel like I was doing so much research and planning so far in advance, and still not getting exactly what I wanted.

I’m trying to use my frustration and disappointments to finally learn this lesson once and for all: JUST BOOK IT. My wavering and wishy-washy decision making over trivial details meant I missed out on AirBnBs and hostel rooms that I knew I wanted right from the get-go! I wondered if I could reach out and partner with those brands, I wondered if maybe I wanted to tweak the itinerary by a day or two here or there, I wondered if I might magically find an even more perfect unicorn of an apartment the day after. My indecision really makes me want to punch myself in the face sometimes.

• A total washout in Paraty. I honestly have concluded that Paraty is a fabulous destination — that we really didn’t get to enjoy because it downpoured the entire five days we were there, with the sun finally breaking through the morning we left. In retrospect, I wish we’d just accepted that it was going to rain the whole time and embraced the time to get work done. But instead we spent a lot of time agonizing over weather reports and trying to run around and reschedule stuff every time there was a momentary break in the clouds. It was a huge waste of time and mental energy, and it would have been better to just get ahead on work.

• When it rains, it pours. Paraty is a pretty good example of the “even when things went right they went wrong” phenomenon. That fabulous dinner party? We had a booking snafu that left us both sick to our stomachs with stress. That spa day we adored? Well, we were pretty bummed when a power cut meant we had to cancel half of it. And yeah, our horseback trip? Well, nothing went right there, other than the fact that we were out of our rooms and the rain was holding off and technically, we were sitting on horses — otherwise it was a complete mess on my part.

Paraty Travel BlogParaty

• Running around Rio. I actually loved every single tour we did in Rio and would be very, very hard pressed to pick a favorite. Our only major “time wastes” were transportation snafus and going to Sugarloaf only to find it closed. That said, we had a very packed itinerary and I left craving more chilled-out beach days! In retrospect, I think I would have been much happier if we’d taken our exact itinerary for Rio and stretched it from one week to two, allowing the extra time to be filled in by work time and morning runs and drinking caipirinhas on the beach. When you schedule things down to the minute it leaves very little room for those inevitable little disasters, like when I had a last minute work call pop up that I had to clear and afternoon for, or when Heather took an unexpected trip to the hospital for an infection.

• Sugarloaf frustrations! Wow, was this iconic Rio site hard to see. Our first evening in Rio, we threw down our bags, rushed like crazy people to get into an Uber, and arrived to find… that the cablecar was closed for three days due to construction. Buzzkill! Later, on our Christo Redentor tour, the guide was talking about taking the other guests there after and we were like, oh gosh, luckily you mentioned this to us because it’s actually closed! And he kind of shrugged and said maybe it was open. And we told him the guards very clearly informed us that it would be closed for three days and he seemed irritated — I couldn’t believe he was going to waste the other guests time like that.

And then it was our final night in Rio and our last chance to go. Our Uber driver was literally the worst I’ve ever had and ignored the apps directions, got lost, and made us frantically late. I was almost in tears in the cab! We made it just in time, and ended up with a stunning sunset… but suffice it to say that it was a microcosm of our time in Brazil.

• Biking blues. In what is pretty much another perfect metaphor for our time in Brazil, we were extremely excited that Rio had a bike share program, with a bike stand right next to our Airbnb! What an affordable fun and sustainable way to get around the city for two bike lovers! Fast forward a few hours and a few handfulls of hair: the bikes required a local SIM card to be unlocked, and we only had one SIM card, and reservations online could only be made for one person, and reservations in person blah blah blah it was completely impossible to do. This was when all the stories about Rio not being ready for the Olympics were reaching a fever pitch and I was reading them thinking… yup.

• Fabulous as our tours in Rio were, there were some minor frustrations — forgetting my camera battery on our favela tour (my fault), not getting the full street art tour because other guests had refused to go into a pacified favela (eyeroll), getting blatantly misled on the hang gliding photo package (such a rip off), having to reconfirm our Christo tour not once, not twice, but three times (and then getting annoyed at our guide when he told us to buy snacks and then immediately insisted we board a shuttle where no food or drinks were allowed and sniffed at us for holding up the group), canceling our favela nightlife tour and not being able to get a refund (actually, the manager kindly offered to give it to us in cash, but it would have taken hours to cross the city to get it so we passed — and this one was our own hungover fault anyway).

Between the poor transportation infrastructure for tourists and the struggle to obtain correct information when booking tours and planning outings, I have concluded that it is very hard to “do stuff” in Brazil and really rewarding and amazing to basically do nothing in Brazil. It’s more or less what I finally gave up and did for my final week in Brazil (coming up next roundup) and, well, it was way better.

Ilha Grande Travel Blog

 

• A professional meltdown. As I alluded to in this post, I had one of the greatest communication disasters of my entire blogging career while in Brazil that landed Heather and I in deeply awkward, horrible situations I simply felt powerless to disentangle us from. I still don’t feel comfortable sharing every dirty detail (as I can’t find a way to do so without being unprofessional myself), but suffice it to say that it really taught me some huge lessons: the importance of being clear in my requests to and expectations of the brands I partner with, the self-respect to pull the plug when I see so many red flags that there’s a sea of crimson in front of me, and the need for a business manager in my life who stands up for me when I am being treated unfairly.

I was also reminded that sometimes, the risks of partnering with travel brands outweigh the benefits, and that my focus should always be on increasing my income rather than arranging so-called “freebies” that come with a million strings attached.

The entire situation was undoubtedly the greatest mental burden on my time in Brazil, an ordeal that left me sleepless and my stomach twisted with stress and terrified to look at my inbox from the day we left for Tomorrowland to the moment I finally felt free of the situation half-way through our time in Buzios. Dying of curiosity? I promise, the whole story will come out some day… hopefully when I can tell it in print.

 

• Our symbolically loaded failed transfer to Buzios. It was, in short, a total nightmare. I described it pretty well here, but the bottom line is it was arranged by the organization from my previous bullet point — so, yeah:

The transfer we’d literally triple confirmed from Rio to Buzios left us cooling our heels on the sidewalks of Copacabana for two hours after handing in the keys to our Airbnb, and we eventually had no choice but to take a $90 Uber if we were to reach our accommodation by nightfall.

Frankly, it was one of the most stressful days we had in Brazil — sitting on the hot curb of a notoriously crime-heavy city with thousands and thousands of dollars in electronics and one slowly dying phone, surrounded by dog poo and waiting for a confirmed transfer that never arrived and then later being reprimanded for missing it — and it put us in a pretty funky mood.

• Another spa “situation.” Heather felt so bad for me after everything came to a head in Buzios, she treated both of us to spa day at Casas Brancas. It was kind of a hilarious example of even on the good days, things went wrong. We shivered in the plunge pool until realizing it was, in fact, a broken hot tub, and I found myself wandering around the spa unattended after being left alone, explanation-less, moments into my facial. At least at this point the little stuff just seemed funny.

• Post office rage. Wow, did this little thing not seem funny at the time though: in Buzios, I put together a pile of gifts to mail home rather than continue traveling around the country with. We arrived to a ridiculously long, slow line. I tried to look around for a box to purchase, but unlike US post office, all the mailing supplies are kept behind the counter. I tried to quickly and politely grab a box from an employee in between customers so I could prepare and label my package while I cooled my heels in line for nearly an hour, but they just angrily yelled at me to get back in line, and I watched while every single person in the line went up one by one, got a box/envelope/whatever, and stood there painstakingly preparing their package while the employee just stared at them. This post office is where efficiency went to die. It was the worst system I’ve ever seen, and I couldn’t believe everyone just accepted it! Basically I was the stereotypical traveler who can’t accept why things aren’t done the wonderful way they are at home (who would have ever guessed I’d be longing for the coherence of the US postal system) and rather than just patiently accept things for what they were I stood there burning from the inside with rage. Totally not embarrassed about that in retrospect at all.

• Our diving near-disaster. Our first diving attempt was cancelled by wind and when we finally made it, the visibility wasn’t great. But you can’t do much about weather. You can, however, do something about not being a jerk to your customers. From the moment we were picked up by Pablo, I had a bad feeling. He was downright rude, and totally ignored my attempts to speak to him in Spanish when I realized he was from Argentina (I thought perhaps he just didn’t speak English comfortably as first). Then, he gave us the wrong wetsuits — and was totally rude about it! Thankfully our dive day was rescued by the company he handed us off to upon arrival in Arraial do Cabo, because it came really close to being a total wash.

• Losing my dive computer. Yup, that was an expensive mistake. I can’t really be sure when exactly this happened, but my suspicious is it may have been stolen somewhere in Brazil. However, I can’t confirm it — there’s a chance I misplaced it when moving out of my apartment in Thailand, too. Regardless, it stung.

• Sticker shock. Back in Rio, my computer charger died. No big deal, I thought, at least I’m in a big city. Until I saw the $200+ price tag! Say what?! They weren’t kidding about electronics being marked up in Brazil. I literally cried in the store. Thankfully I was totally rescued yet again by Heather, who gave me her charger and let me send a $50 Amazon one to her next stop in Chicago. She’s such a good friend.

• Wanting more. This is just me being greedy, but I wish I’d had more time in a few destinations! There were so many things I wanted to do that I didn’t have time for in São Paulo in particular — parks, museums, walking tours, etc. In Ilha Grande, I’d loved to have tackled more hikes and in Rio I was down for more beach days. In Buzios and Paraty, we definitely scheduled the perfect amount of time, had we not had rain.

• Communication. I wrote extensively about our communication struggles in this post, but suffice it to say I’ll never again brush off someone’s concerns about language barriers. I guess my first 30ish countries just didn’t prepare me for the fact that sometimes, communication frustration can seriously damper a trip.

Rio Travel BlogRio

LOLs

• Google Translate saved our bums many times. This wasn’t one of them — but these wine list translations from Paraty still makes me belly laugh when I look at them.

• One of my more comical misunderstandings from Brazil involved bubbly — my thirty minute attempt to purchase a glass of champagne in which I was continually pointed from one line to another until a frightened-looking employee thrust an empty champagne flute into my hands and ran away. That was one of my favorite laughs from Tomorrowland Brasil.

This sign.

• We planned our trip at the height of Zika mania, and my dad showed an uncharacteristic concern for my well-being on this trip. On one heavy phone call where he actually asked me to consider postponing it, he asked me for Heather’s parent’s phone number 😂 Heather is a grown woman in her thirties with her own business who hasn’t lived at home in nearly two decades, so that really tickled my funny bone. And it was also really cute.

Best and Worst Beds of the Month

Best:  We loved both our Airbnbs so much, and I adored our ocean-front hostel in Buzios and my charming colonial one in Vila Mariana

Worst: Our hostels in Rio, Paraty and Ilha Grande were nothing to write home about. Rio was particularly disappointing — didn’t get the room we thought we booked and felt kinda meh about the whole place (which later closed, so apparently we weren’t alone.)

Best and Worst Meals of the Month

Worst: I’m going to level with you — really, aside from the specific meals I will list below, we were very underwhelmed by the overall restaurant experience in Brazil. On the whole, prices were very expensive, service was so-so, and meals were, well, often just okay. This is one of the reasons I was thrilled to break up our hotel stays with Airbnbs and hostels that had kitchens — and to have some beach snack picnics along the way!

Best: Normally I pick one standout, but for the reason listed above I’m going to list out all my highlights in one place for anyone who might be planning a trip to Brazil. I loved Raw, Maha Mantra, Biozone, and Motocó Cafe (order the dadinhos de tapioca com queijo coalho and a Guaraná for a super Brazilian snack!) in São Paulo, Banana da Terra and Thai Brasil in Paraty, Meza, and Zaza in Rio de Janeiro, and Salt and Rocka in Buzios. More recommendations can be found in my posts for each destination. Bom apetite!

Buzios Travel BlogBuzios

Spending

This Brazil trip cost a fortune — my four days at Tomorrowland Brasil alone cost almost what an entire month does for me in Thailand! Read the breakdown for more details. This was my second most expensive month of the year, only beat out at the last moment by my month spent in Hawaii. Food, accommodation and transportation all gave me sticker shock in Brazil! It’s wild to think I spent so much even considering some of the work perks I was able to take advantage of — comped tours, transfers, a few nights of accommodation, and using some of my Airbnb credit took some of the sting off what could have been an even bigger bill.

My biggest stand-out expenses were our group transfer from São Paulo to Paraty ($70) our cooking class in Paraty ($80) our unexpected cab to Buzios ($45), our diving day in Buzios ($90) and various cancellation fees for our non-trip to Iguassu Falls ($100, and the best money I’ve ever spent on nothing!)

One thing I nailed was flights, after several hours spent pouring over spreadsheets and search engines trying to figure out the cheapest and most efficient way to get from Thailand To Brazil and eventually back to New York was this:

• I booked a round-trip flight from New York to São Paulo for $508 after watching for weeks. Flights kept dropping due to zika madness and political instability and for once I got them right at the bottom of the curve. One way flights along this route were more than a round-trip ticket!

• I used 35,000 AA frequent flyer miles to fly from Bangkok to New York one-way, paying $60 in fees.

• Knowing how long I was going to be in transit already, I majorly splurged and bought a flight from Koh Samui to Bangkok for $144, basically the priciest way to get from Koh Tao to the international airport in Bangkok — but also by far the fastest and most comfortable. With the insane journey ahead, it was a guilt-free splurge!

I also did something very out-of-character for myself and did a lot of shopping in Brazil! Brazilian bikinis, beach cangas, Havianas, and colorful Brazilian work-out wear were just too fun to resist and I found myself filling my already over-packed bag even further to the seams. It was fun!

Saving

For better or for worse, I had a flood of projects come in while I was in Brazil. For one, I scheduled tons of tour reviews with Viator, which are fun but indeed time consuming. I also picked up projects with a sunscreen brand, a new travel app I hadn’t worked with before, and an old travel app I had worked with before. Between those and my standard annual contracts, it was a very busy month behind-the-scenes, too. I’m amazed I produced any blog content at all! (At the time, it was my lowest posts-per-month rate in five years! I’ve since lowered the bar again, oops.)

In addition to the major professional disaster that I went into detail about above, it was a tough month for making work work. I had a client for a very simple project who absolutely insisted we “hop on a call” and also pushed for a crazy deadline that messed with our plans one week, and I literally spent hours on the phone and in tears trying to track down a product that had been shipped to me for another project the next. Thankfully, it was a very profitable month, which helped offset the crazy cost of Brazil and made the suffering worthwhile! I just barely made it out in the black.

Rio Travel BlogRio, again

Health and Fitness

Real talk: Brazil was BAD for my waistline. And I definitely let it get to my head after working so hard to get back on track in Thailand. Outside of the amazing vegetarian food we sought out in São Paulo, we found Brazilian fare to be heavy, fried, and composed primarily of meat and cheese.

Heather is one of those tall, naturally slim chicas who can literally eat pizza every night and still look like a glamazon. I, unfortunately, blow up at the simple contemplation of cheese plate, and though Heather and I travel together frequently, I found it challenging to be in Brazil with someone who happily eats heavy bread and pasta at every meal. It was so hard to avoid them and seek out healthier food, and it was made a lot harder by traveling with someone who didn’t have much incentive for doing so.

And unfortunately, the insane-in-the-membrane itinerary I created for us didn’t leave much time for working it off. One thing I noted was that yoga isn’t super popular in Brazil. While Sao Paulo had a few studios, Rio had a shocking dearth of them! Ashtanga, Iyengar and Hatha were the styles of choice in Brazil over the Vinyasa and Yin that I favor.

I went to one studio bikram yoga class and used our Airbnb gym once in Sao Paulo, went for one run and a private yoga class in Paraty, went hiking and stand up paddleboarding in Ilha Grande, went to a hotel yoga class in Buzios, and used the hotel gym on our last night in Rio.

What Was Next

Two more weeks in Brazil, followed by summer in the USA!

Thanks for coming along for the ride, my friends!

Since I left home for my Great Escape, I’ve been doing monthly roundups of my adventures filled with anecdotes, private little moments, and thoughts that are found nowhere else on this blog. As this site is not just a resource for other travelers but also my own personal travel diary, I like to take some time to reflect on not just what I did, but how I felt. You can read my previous roundups here.

Surprises From Six Weeks in Brazil

As my biggest getaway of 2016, I spent plenty of time meticulously planning my six week trip to Brazil. And yet for all my research and reading, nothing can actually prepare you for the culture shock of completely immersing yourself in a new country, new language, and new lifestyle.

So many aspects of Brazil took me completely by surprise — both good and bad! While I’ve sprinkled in plenty of stray observations throughout my coverage, here are a few final thoughts on the biggest bombshells of my trip. Of course, in the end these are just the musings of a tourist — my experience was shaded heavily by my luck and by my mood. Others might have a different take. Brazilians, feel free to set me straight if I’ve misinterpreted your culture in any way.

Brazil Travel Blog

How safe we felt

One of our pleasant surprises of the trip was how comfortable Heather and I felt as two women traveling alone through what is often considered a very dangerous county. I should note that we had very low expectations in this regard. Stories of theft in Brazil are so rampant that I literally considered buying a backup iPhone before this trip, because that�™s how much I had pre-accepted that I was going to be robbed blind. My first day in São Paulo was a hilarious wake up call that I really needed to chill.

While we were constantly — like literally, constantly — warned by everyone we encountered to be careful with our cameras (to which we were like, yeah, duh), we were vigilant and cautious and had zero issues and really felt surprisingly safe and secure throughout our time in Brazil, with a few uneasy but brief exceptions. Of course many travelers do experience crime in this country, hence the constant warnings, but our experience was a reminder that there are plenty of travelers who move through the country grief-free, too.

Brazil Travel Blog

How no one gave a flip about Zika

Our trip was at the HEIGHT of Zika mania. My dad, a busy CEO who probably isn’t really sure what country I am in the vast majority of the time, called me specifically to ask if I might consider postponing or canceling my trip — Heather’s parents did the same.

So I arrived half-expecting some sort of Hazmat-covered country under quarantine. And seriously? No one cared. No. one. cared. The first few times Heather or I casually brought up Zika to Brazilians, they looked at us like we were paranoid nutjobs. When we told them that Zika was still headline news every night in the US, they were baffled. “Oh yes, Zika. I had it last year. Dengue is much worse,” a doctor we met at Tomorrowland told us flippantly before casually ordering up another caipirinha. As someone who is kind of the opposite of a hypochondriac, I found the whole attitude very refreshing.

Also? We literally did not see one mosquito. Anywhere. Ironically, our two biggest fears before arriving in Brazil could not have been less of an issue.

Brazil Travel Blog

How hard it was to communicate

Yet the thing I didn’t think to fear left me so frustrated I nearly flew home early. Living in Thailand, a country where I speak no more than a pitiful few throwaway phrases in the country’s notoriously difficult and tonal language, I have done plenty of pantomiming and getting by with little-to-no shared vocabulary. I’ve traveled to 37 countries now and before Brazil, communication has never been an issue beyond a passing flicker of frustration — I certainly never imagined that a language barrier would negatively influence one of my trips.

It started with a very misplaced sense of confidence. I like to classify myself as a “blissfully barely-competent Spanish speaker.” Which is a winking way of saying that while I’m far from fluent, I love speaking Spanish and embrace the challenge with gusto, never letting an improperly conjugated verb get in the way of a productive conversation in Latin America. And I thought, how different can Spanish and Portuguese be?

Ha! That false sense of security was only heightened by the planning stage of our trip, in which I was able to fairly easily understand several all-Portuguese websites. Oh, how naive I was! I’d soon learn that written Portuguese and spoken Portuguese are two entirely different beasts. While the former is quite similar to its Spanish cousin, the ladder was unlike anything I’d ever heard. “When we first boarded our plan to Brazil for Argentina, we wondered why they were giving the announcements in Russian,” confessed my Israeli travel companions in Jericoacoara. At the risk of offending my Portuguese-speaking readers, the primary adjective I’d use to describe Brazilian Portuguese was mushy. Without the sharp clarifying corners I’d grown to love in the Spanish language, I couldn’t even pick up the different words when spoken to in Brazilian Portuguese. And again, I greatly hesitate to write this and offend any Portuguese speaking readers, but the truth is the language didn’t agree with my ears. In the same way that some people’s taste buds are predisposed to certain foods, the sound of different languages appeal to different people. Portuguese just isn’t my jam.

Of course, I accept full responsibility for not knowing more than the basic guidebook phrases when I arrived in Brazil. Translation apps can only go so far, and I should have been better prepared.

But regardless, you must be thinking, surely there are plenty of Brazilians who speak English? Nao muitos! Studies claim only 3% of Brazilians speak English as a second language. And I found that those who might were extremely reluctant to speak it.

In Southeast Asia, for comparison, my experience has been that there is no expectation among locals that foreigners will speak Thai, Khmer, or Laotian. Fluency in English is also a rare trait in this region, though communication between traveler and local is generally light-hearted and earnest. There’s a sense of, we’re in this together, and neither of us is leaving until we figure out how many papayas I want to buy and how much you’re going to charge me for them, gosh darn it. 

Brazil Travel Blog

But I found that in Brazil, it was harder to get anyone to even attempt to communicate �” my apologetic English or hapless attempts at Portuguese were frequently met with terror, blank stares, and the person I was speaking to simply walking away from me. At Tomorrowland Brazil, I was unable to hear an employee at the information booth’s hesitant reply to me in English due to the loud music playing; when I asked her to repeat herself, she shook her head over and over again in mortified horror until I finally gave up and walked away. In Duty Free at São Paulo’s international airport, multiple employees practically sprinted from me in fear when I, again, always apologetically, requested assistance in English. When I wrote emails to hostels with English websites, they went unanswered. And more than once, I called a business and was told harshly, in perfect English, “we don’t speak any English,” before being hung up on. Needless to say my attempts to politely ask, “puedo hablar in Español?” were, with a few exceptions, also a giant flop.

I don’t think any of the people — just a few random examples plucked from six weeks of exasperation — were trying to be rude or unhelpful (in fact, the Brazilians we met who were comfortable speaking English were overwhelmingly warm and bubbly.) It was explained to me that many Brazilians are simply embarrassed by their lack of English abilities. In fact, one Brazilian I met explained that the reason we’d encountered so many domestic travelers at the hostels we stayed at was that Brazilians are often hesitant to travel to other countries, given their limited English abilities. It affects not just travel but business, too. And while many articles I’ve read in researching the lack of English speaking in Brazil assured me that locals would go out of their way to help me despite our lack of shared languages, I unfortunately did not find that to be the case. Maybe we just had bad luck.

Heather and I spent a lot of time reflecting on why we personally found the language barrier in Brazil so upsetting. We met quite a few men on the road (women traveling without male companions in Brazil were rare from our observation) who were basically like, “ha ha yeah we don�™t understand anything! Who cares!”

Is it that as women we have to be more concerned about our physical safety? Is it that we are highly attuned to being talked over and brushed off? Do we just find communication to be more important? Whatever it was, I found myself very on edge knowing that I was unable to express myself in the local language, and that if I were to try to use body language or, heaven forbid, my mother tongue, I’d clear the room. I felt invisible and vulnerable in a way I never have before while traveling.

Brazil Travel Blog

The champagne campaign

On a lighter note, I couldn’t believe how much Brazilians LOVE bubbly. I was extremely onboard with this. Tomorrowland Brasil had more champagne tents than beer ones, our brunch restaurant in Rio de Janeiro had a DIY Bubbles Bar for creative mimosas, and at three out of the five hotels I stayed at on the trip, sparkling wine was handed to us at check-in — at in some cases, again at check-out!

We learned at our cooking class in Paraty that the sparkling wine industry in Brazil is booming, which made it all click.

Brazil Travel Blog

How diverse it is

One thing that struck me immediately is how many nationalities Brazil encompasses, especially coming from uber-homogonous Thailand. Brazil is enormous and incredibly ethnically diverse, and there is no one way to look Brazilian.

From the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, German-descended Brazilians of the south to the Afro-Caribbean Brazilians of the northeast to the indigenous tribes of the Amazon and everyone inbetween, Brazil is a really beautiful mosaic of different faces.

Brazil Travel Blog

What novelties we were

I mean hello — this is the country that has hosted the World Cup and the Olympics in just a few short years! Surely a few blonde gringas wandering around would be no big deal? Yet even in one of the most famous cities in the world, we were blessed with some very authentic little interactions that reminded us that we were a fairly exotic sight to some, and provided a sweet and refreshing counter-point to the frustrating anecdotes I outlined above.

It started with the dozens of Brazilians whose eyes lit up with excitement when they saw the American flag I was waving at Tomorrowland and came over to give me a high five — a refreshing reaction, as a citizen of a country that tends to take a lot of international flack.

And it continued with the hilarious National Park Ranger at Christo Redentor who whipped out a notebook and solemnly quizzed us on random English slang and insults after hearing us chatting; furrowing his brow and taking detailed notes at each of our replies. The employees at the pet supply shop it Botafogo who were very indiscreetly taking photos of us with their cell phone until we started chatting in broken Spanish and showing them pictures of our dogs, at which point they dropped the secrecy and each took turns taking photos with us and shyly gifting each of us a special free dog toy to bring home to our pups. The man in the favela who waved us over and insisted I try his BBQ meat straight off the grill, wanting only a smile in return. The salesgirl who sold me a $12 dress and gave me a huge, heart-felt hug before I left the store.

The Uber driver who saved us from disaster and drove us all the way from Rio to Buzios, calling everyone in his phonebook and excitedly repeating the same story — we got the gist of it when we heard “Americanos!” sprinkled in over and over again. Though he didn’t speak a single word of English, he chivalrously tried to be of assistance when we stopped at a rest area for snacks, hugged and kissed us when we got to Buzios, and looked back at his star fares with pride as he started the long three-hour drive back to Rio.

Brazil Travel Blog

How much I loved São Paulo

While planning this trip I kind of considered São Paulo a necessary evil; a place we had to fly into and out of and stop in on the way to and from Tomorrowland. And yet it literally turned out to be one of my top two favorite destinations of the trip (alongside Jericoacoara, its polar opposite).However, while São Paulo might have been the greatest surprise, all the destinations I visited were great in their own ways. There’s not one stop on our trip that was a disappointment in and of itself, though some were somewhat marred by terrible weather and other circumstances.

I originally only planned four nights in São Paulo, but it was long enough to have lingering moments of wondering what it might be like to move there. (And also to my great surprise, I never once had that “if I lived here…” daydream in Rio.) I loved South America’s largest city so much, however, that I ended up stopping there for three more nights on my way back out of the country.

I spent most of it chilling out and reflecting on the six weeks behind me and little else (hence the lack of a blog post on this time), and what a better place to do so than Hotel Unique, where I wildly splurged on one last night of luxury. One of the most architecturally distinctive hotels I’ve ever stayed in, Hotel Unique summed up the cutting edge art, stylish design and bold style that made me fall for São Paulo in the first place — what a perfect note to say goodbye to the city, and the country, on.

Brazil Travel Blog

Brazil Travel Blog

Brazil Travel Blog

Brazil Travel Blog

Brazil Travel Blog

The crazy kissing culture

Heather and I didn’t go out much for the first five weeks we were traveling together (my final week, when I was itinerary-less in Jericoacoara, I let loose a bit more.) However, we had one big night out in Rio and one big night out in Buzios, and both of them had one common theme — we were fending off random liplocks left and right!

In Buzios, we actually ended up chatting to a group of guys away on a bachelor weekend who spoke great English, and playfully confronted them about the apparent Brazilian preference for kissing first, asking names second. They conceded with a laugh that it was true, but countered with a scandalized observation of their own. “But American women… it’s crazy… they dance like they want to [redacted term for intimate activities]!” 

The finer nuances of twerking, it seems, have not reached the shores of Brazil. We couldn’t stop laughing. But it’s true — in the US, it’s fairly common sight in nightclubs for people to wordlessly approach each other and dance pretty intimately, which we were learning was as shocking to Brazilians as their saying-hi-with-a-snog was to us.

Brazil Travel Blog

That Brazil is not a year-round tropical paradise

Perhaps some of you will read this and say “duh.” But Heather and I were ridiculously unprepared for the weather we encountered throughout April and May in Brazil, which is their autumn. Our first week was glorious (residents of São Paulo complained of a heatwave but it felt great to us!), our second was a disaster (it downpoured in Paraty non-stop for days), and the two weeks that followed were mostly nice with a few full days of rain tossed in to keep us on our toes. We had to cancel a bunch of activities as a result, which was a bummer.

However, the larger issue is that we were just completely unprepared for the evening temperatures. During the day, these two Southeast-Asia expats were happy and smiling in sleeveless tops and sundresses. But as soon as the sun went down at 5:30pm, the temperature would drop down to the fifties — omg! — and we would literally be sent into a frenzied cold panic. Neither of us had anything more substantial than jeans and a cardigan, and I kid you not when I say there were multiple people in Paraty wearing puffy coats and winter hats to keep warm. There were many days where we’d make big plans to go out for a few drinks in the evening and as soon as we felt that chill in the air we would freak out, run back to our rooms, put on as many layers and possible, make ourselves into bedding burritos and wish for for the warmth of the sun until morning. Dramatic? Abso-freaking-lutely. But there is very little that I loathe more than being cold — I’ve literally designed my entire life around avoiding it. And I didn’t do a very good job in Brazil.

Don’t let the pictures of palm trees fool you. Brazil is an enormous country with four seasons and a major range of eco-systems. Do your research and pack accordingly!

Brazil Travel Blog

How carefully you need to pack

In addition to the weather wake-up call above, we also discovered a few other surprises that make packing well essential for a happy trip to Brazil. First of all? Laundry is surprisingly tough to do. Hostels don’t offer per-kilo laundry service like travelers might be used to in Southeast Asia or other parts of Latin America, and laundromats are few and far between.

Second? Electronics are insanely taxed and tough to track down. For long trips, bring extra camera batteries, a spare laptop chargers, the works. I got the shock of my life when my MacBook charger fried and it was going to cost a cool $17oUSD to replace it. No joke! I heard at least one Brazilian explain that Apple products in particular are harshly marked up by both authorized and off-the-books retailers — one of the reasons iPhones are one of the prime targets for street snatchings.

How few backpackers we met

I’ve touched on this before, but in our weeks of traveling through Brazil, I was absolutely blown away by the lack of English-speaking travelers we encountered (which meant, compounded with our issues communicating with locals, Heather and I got to have a lot of deep and meaningful conversations with each other. I’m pretty sure she was ready to never, ever hear the sound of my voice again by the time she headed home.)

Having experienced the Gringo Trail full blast in Peru and Ecuador and throughout Central America, I found it baffling at first. Hello… where are all the battered-passport, backpack-toting Europeans, Australians, and North Americans on long haul trips around the continent?! Where are the retirees in zip-off pants? Where are the honeymooners? I didn’t find a heavy concentration of any of them, or any sort of traditional backpacker scene, until I hit Jericoacoara.

Why? Brazil has more visa restrictions than its neighboring countries, it is bigger and more expensive and thus a bit more intimidating to travel. Plus, six of the seven hostels I stayed in throughout my six weeks in Brazil were overwhelmingly populated by domestic Brazilian travelers. The cool thing is that the Brazilians staying in hostels are more likely than the rest of the population to speak a bit of English, and getting to bond with locals who are also traveling is pretty unique and fun — I went to the beach and to dinner with Brazilians in Jeri, we partied with Brazilians at Tomorrowland and I had some awesome chats over breakfast with Brazilians in São Paulo. However, those were kind of the exceptions and for the most part, everyone in the hostels spoke Portuguese and it was hard to break into that clique as an English speaker. Speaking Spanish does help, as many non-domestic travelers hail from neighboring Spanish-speaking countries, specifically Argentina.

Typically I love traveling alone, however in this case I was incredibly grateful to be on the road with Heather for the majority of my trip, lest I feel totally linguistically isolated from the world for six weeks straight.

Brazil Travel Blog

How unique the beach culture was

As a certified beach girl, I thought I knew a think or two about spending a day on the sand. Nah. Brazilians have the most unique beach culture I’ve encountered anywhere in the world — I wrote a whole post about it! People always talk about how Brazilians can teach the world a thing or two about how to party. I think they can also show us how to go to the beach!

Brazil Travel Blog

How tough it was to get a visa

Seriously, hats off to those of you who have to go through the difficult process of procuring a visa for every country you travel to. As a US citizen, most of the visas I’ve applied for in my life have been because I have desired to stay in a specific country longer than the standard visa-waiver would allow. And while they’ve often been a headache to procure, Brazil was the biggest eye opener by far.

First, I had to travel in-person to Bangkok to apply, and by that point I’d already gone back and forth with the embassy multiple times with questions about the application questions and procedure and other logistical issues. The amount of information I had to procure was astounding and I felt like I had assembled approximately twenty-seven documents by the time I was finished. My appointment was stressful, with my interviewer grilling me on minute details of my trip, cross checking my application with Heather’s (who had gone in separately) and berated me for not photocopying my passport ahead of time to the point that I broke down after my appointment worried that my application was going to be denied.

And it was expensive! The whole shebang set me back about $230, not including the cost of a trip to Bangkok, where thankfully I was going to be anyway. I was definitely left with a newfound respect for my fellow travelers who have to cut through this much red tape and more for every trip.

Brazil Travel Blog

Have you been to Brazil? If so, what surprised you about your trip? If not, which of these would catch you off guard?

A Brazilian Pearl: Where to Eat, Stay and Play in Paraty

I already confessed that my time in Paraty was a washout. But while five days of rain followed by three hours of sun was frustrating, it did leave us plenty of quality time to eat ourselves silly, lounge about in our accommodation, and look for a few creative activities that didn’t require a dose of Vitamin D.

Heading to this beautiful Brazilian beach town? Regardless of what the weather report predicts, I hope you’ll find my mini-guide useful!

Paraty Travel Guide

Where to Stay

As a popular stop on both the Brazilian backpacker trail and as a getaway for Rio and São Paulo’s well-heeled crowd, Paraty has ample accommodation on all ends of the spectrum. We were able to experience digs on both ends!

Pousada Do Sandi

We were in for a treat arriving at Pousada do Sandi. Ranked as one of the top three hotels in Paraty on Tripadvisor, this colonial gem was just the welcome we needed after a hectic festival followed by running around Brazil’s biggest city.

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Located right in the heart of Paraty’s colonial center, Pousada do Sandi fits seamlessly into the cobblestone streets that lead up to it. As one of the area’s larger pousadas, Pousada do Sandi boasts large gardens as well as a spacious bar and restaurant.

As dreary as it was outside, it was equally bright and cheery inside these walls.

Paraty Pousada do SandiPhoto by Heather Holt

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Rooms are spread on two floors around the garden courtyard. As this is a historic building there are no elevators, so those with an overpacking addiction or mobility issues should request a ground floor room; those who want a bit more privacy and to keep their bedroom windows open should request the second floor.

My favorite detail of the rooms? The brightly colored mosaic bathroom.

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

A beautiful breakfast was included every morning, and one night when a torrential downpour made us dread leaving the hotel, we splurged on room service. Who wouldn’t want to spend as much time as possible in this color explosion?

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Paraty Pousada do Sandi

Che Legarto Paraty

Later, once we were pampered silly, we headed over to Che Legarto Paraty to get a dose of backpacker camaraderie. Che Legarto is a popular South American hostel chain that I’d heard much about despite never staying at before, and I was excited to check one out. With several hostel options around town they do have some stiff competition, though after scouring reviews Che Legarto seemed the liveliest of the bunch.

Che Legarto Paraty Hostel

Che Legarto Paraty Hostel

Che Legarto Paraty Hostel

Located just on the outskirts of the historic center, Che Legarto Paraty has a nice array of public spaces, from a small pool to garden hammock lounges to indoor movie rooms. They even have resident marmosets that pop in from time to time!

Our private room was basic but proficient, and a continental breakfast was included. Dinner specials are offered as well as hostel-run tours.

Che Legarto Paraty Hostel

Che Legarto Paraty HostelPhoto by Heather Holt

Before arriving in Brazil, I’d been warned by a few friends and fellow bloggers that Brazilian hostels were unlike those in the rest of the continent, and could be a tricky place to meet people if you don’t speak Portuguese. Having experienced hostel culture in other South American countries, I found this hard to accept prior to arrival.

Alas, I found it to be true. Brazil is a massive country that can be tricky for foreigners to visit due to cost and visa restrictions, and so hostels are often filled by Brazilians, who love to travel within their own country. While this is wonderful news for those who speak the language and are keen to meet locals (who wouldn’t be?!), it left these language-challenged gringas feeling a bit left out. Speaking Spanish does help, as many non-domestic travelers hail from neighboring Spanish-speaking countries.

Che Legarto Paraty Hostel

Che Legarto Paraty Hostel

What To Do

Paraty’s most popular activities take advantage of its natural beauty. Schooner cruises, stand up paddling, beach hopping, whitewater rafting, hiking and ocean kayaking were all on our to-do list that were quickly scratched off due to weather woes.

So we had to get creative!

Photography

Well, when a travel blogger and a professional photographer travel together you better believe there are going to be plenty of photo walks involved. Paraty is beautifully preserved and bursting with color. Anyone who is photographically inclined should set aside at least a few hours to go out and capture the details of this beautiful city. I found myself wishing I had a sketchbook, too!

Paraty Photography
Photo by Heather Holt

Paraty Photography

Paraty Photography

Go to The Spa

As two certified spa junkies, Heather and I flipped when we found Shambala Spa. We decided to splurge on a full day of indulgence at this beautiful retreat overlooking Jabaquara Bay.

We started our day with a private hatha yoga session in a gazebo in the Balinese garden. It was a peaceful practice, and put us perfectly in a relaxation mood.

Shambhala Spa Paraty

Next, we made our way to the spa where we learned the unfortunate news that the previous night’s rain had caused a power and water cut through the entire village. Thus, we’d have to skip the body scrubs and special garden soaks we’d booked — if you see the photos of the gorgeous outdoor soaking tubs on their website you’ll understand how gutted we were. I know, I know — woe is us, right?!

Luckily, the massage we were about to enjoy would ease away all those troubles.

Shambhala Spa Paraty

Finally, we capped off our day with lunch at the Shambala Lounge, a ten minute drive outside town. Unfortunately, the lounge closed not long after our visit — a shame as it was one of the best meals we had our entire trip! But stay tuned as I can only imagine the owners have something new up their sleeves.

Shambhala Lounge Paraty

Shambhala Lounge Paraty

While I can’t recommend the Shambala Spa or yoga more highly, I wish we’d also had time to check out Casa do Dharma, which offers regular yoga classes, meditations, massages, origami workshops and more.

Shambhala Lounge Paraty

Shambhala Lounge Paraty

Horseback Ride

One one cloudy day with respite from the rain, Heather and I head out to the countryside for some horseback riding. While I made a total rookie travel mistake and booked a different tour from the one Heather and I had discussed (we thought we were headed to a waterfall and a cachaça farm from the saddle — nope!) it was still nonetheless nice to get out and see some of the scenery outside the city.

Stay tuned for a full review of this tour soon.

Horseback Riding Paraty

Take a Cooking Class

I saved the best for last — one of our absolute favorite memories of Paraty was our evening at the Academy of Cooking at Other Pleasures. And yes, the night was every bit as fabulous as that name hinted at. Part cooking class, part dinner party with the most fabulous eccentric aunt and uncle you always wished you had, it was exactly the kind of quirky travel experience you find yourself swooning over years later.

Paraty Cooking Class School

Paraty Cooking Class School

Paraty Cooking Class School

Along with two other guests, Brazilian-American couple Yara and Richard welcomed us warmly into their beautiful home with caipirinhas and conversation. We lapped up their story of falling in love with Paraty and making a home there in the historic center, enjoying all the highs and lows of life in what is in many ways still a small village. I was also keenly interested in this business they had created, which Richard described as a natural choice for them as opposed to retirement. “What would we do, sit around and watch TV in the evenings? Instead we host travelers from around the world,” he said with pride.

Between Yara’s impressive background in cooking and Richard’s penchant for art and photography, their home would have been equally appropriate in an issue of Architectural Digest or Bon Appétit. They were without question a hospitality powerhouse.

Paraty Cooking Class School

Eventually, we made our way into the kitchen, where Yara demonstrated how to make some of the Brazilian dishes that she perfected in her decades as a culinary professor, cookbook author, and TV host. We were each given small tasks which we embraced with gusto, excited to contribute to our home-cooked meal.

Yara was accommodating of both my non-fish eating and Heather’s vegetarianism, which we were extra appreciate of considering the intimate setting. When we all sat down to eat we felt like old friends, and when we finally said goodbye around mid-night I knew it was an evening I wouldn’t forget soon. While Heather and I walked home we agreed we couldn’t imagine a more beautiful “retirement.”

Don’t come to Paraty without setting aside a night to meet Richard and Yara.

Paraty Cooking Class School

Paraty Cooking Class School

Where To Eat

Paraty had one of the most impressive restaurant scenes I found in Brazil outside São Paulo. While we mostly treated ourselves to the higher-end offerings, cheaper buffets and local joints were also smattered around town.

Paraty Restaurants

Banana Da Terra

Our big dining splurge of our five days was dinner at Banana Da Terra, which lived up to its impeccable reputation. We laughed until we cried at our Google Translate app’s translation of the wine list, and then practically cheered as each course we’d ordered was artfully presented. After a beautiful meal, we waddled home. If you can afford it, don’t miss it!

Banana Da Terra Paraty Restaurants

Punto Divino

Heather and I make it a mission to enjoy the best pizza every city has to offer (everyone has their passions) and we found Paraty’s at Punto Divino. Don’t miss the outdoor seating if you’re lucky enough to have nice weather!

Thai Brasil

Long time readers know I can’t pass up Thai food no matter how recently I spent six months in Thailand! Heather and I were both so pumped to try Thai Brasil we ran their on our first night, and my only regret is we didn’t make it back the rest of the trip. The bright decor, fun presentation and mouth-watering menu made this my favorite pick of Paraty.

Don’t confuse it with similarly-named Thai Paraty, which we also tried one evening and were less than impressed with.

Thai Brasil Paraty Restaurants

Have you been to Paraty? Tell me what I missed in the comments!

When It Rains, It Pours in Paraty

I fell unexpectedly in love with Brazil’s biggest city, but it wasn’t long before I felt the ocean calling me home.

Leaving São Paulo, we made our way towards the sea, where we’d planned to drip along the coast all the way to and beyond Rio de Janiero. Tucked along this so-called Emerald Coast is a turquoise jewel — the colonial town of Paraty. As we planned the trip, it was one of the stops I was most looking forward to. In fact, aside from Rio, it was where we’d scheduled to spend the most time.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty is widely hailed as one of Brazil’s most charm-soaked towns. With an exquisitely preserved colonial center, a mountainous jungle backdrop and an endless array of tropical beaches and islands in the bay, it’s almost painfully picturesque. The lack of cars in the historic center makes it pleasant to stroll aimlessly, and easy to imagine you’ve traveled in time.

The town is a magnet for creatives and a popular getaway for both wealthy Brazilians from both Rio and São Paulo and in-the-know travelers, primarily from Europe. As two bumbling American gringas, we certainly broke the mold.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog PostPhoto by Heather Holt

While some travelers breeze by in a day or so to soak up the white stucco, others — like us — linger. For those that do, there are a dizzying array of ways to entertain yourself. Schooner cruises of the archipelago’s islands are the most popular choice, though a SUP tour, a beach-hopping hiking trip, a cooking class, yoga and spa treatments, horseback riding to cachaca farms and waterfalls, whitewater rafting and ocean kayaking were also on our wish list.

When the sun shines, it would be shameful to find yourself bored in Paraty.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

So how did this dreamy place come to exist in reality?

Paraty was already inhibited by the indigenous Guaianás when the Portuguese first rolled up in the 1500’s. Within a hundred years it was a popular stopover on the gold rush route between the mines and Rio de Janiero, though a new route later saw the city decline from greatness. Later, the coffee boom gave the city a boost, and since a new coastal road from Rio was extended to the city in 1960 tourism has been the name of the local economy game.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty is a photographer’s playground. Heather and I went crazy with our cameras, roaming the cobblestone streets looking for the next hit of colonial charm to capture through our lenses. Our options were truly endless.

For the first time in a long time, I longed for a sketchpad and watercolors, for some of the scenes were just begging to be painted. Paraty might just be the most scenic hamlet I’ve come across since my travels to Luang Prabang in 2012.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog PostPhoto by Heather Holt

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog PostPhoto by Heather Holt

Pretty amazing, right? Well, here’s the truth. Almost every single photo above was taken in our last three hours of five days in Paraty. The rest of the time, it rained. Rained, poured, or simply threatened to with dark, ominous skies.

The scene below? It looked like that for our last morning, as we frantically scrambled around town trying to get in every last blue sky click we could. The rest of the time, it looked like this.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

As a photographer, I embrace the challenge of trying to find the beauty in every day and destination, regardless of the weather conditions. Yet as a storyteller, I struggle sometimes to paint an accurate picture of how bleak it is to spend day after day fruitlessly checking the forecast, heavy-heartedly canceling your plans one by one, and staring frustratedly at dark angry skies when the photos I take paint a sunnier picture.

Yes, we tried to make the best of things. But as these behind-the-scenes iPhone snaps reveal, we spent much of our trip in makeshift garbage bag rain coats, laughing so we didn’t cry, or taking advantage of breaks in the downpour to jog off our frustration along stormy cliffs.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

While Paraty is a beautiful city regardless of what the weather is doing, it is a teeny tiny one and cancelled boat trips and flooded beaches left us wondering how to fill our days. We did find a few gems, which I’ll cover in an upcoming guide on where to stay, eat and play in Paraty.

But we did find ourselves wondering if we’d done ourselves a disservice by pre-booking our accommodation and transportation so that we had little room to be flexible. We were reassured however by the fact that we would have been more or less stuck, regardless: the storm blowing through the area was vast and covered any other destinations we could have easily reached by bus, and the steep prices of last-minute domestic plane tickets make spontaneous state-hopping hard to swing, anyway.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

So after sunny skies and deliciously warm temperatures in Itú and in São Paulo, it seemed our good weather luck had run out. Even Paraty’s animals seemed a little glum, after a few days.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog PostPhoto by Heather Holt

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog PostPhoto by Heather Holt

Sometimes when it rains, it pours. Weather is the one thing that simply can’t be predicted when planning a trip. We were visiting at the tail end of the rainy season but even locals agreed that arriving in the midst storm of this length and determination was a stroke of bad luck, on our part. Looking at a historic weather chart for the month we visited, it’s almost comical how the temperatures stayed steady throughout the month, our five day visit aside — they plummeted the day we arrived and soared again the day we left, while precipitation levels did the opposite.

You can’t win ’em all.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

I feel a little sad when I think back on my time in Paraty, only because I think back to how frustrated we felt and regret all the activities we missed out on. I felt a bit trapped by our rigid itinerary, and panicked wondering if we’d be stuck shivering and wet for the rest of our trip. But in spite of that, I have many fond memories from Paraty as well — which I’ll share in upcoming posts.

In the end, there are worse places to be stuck in the rain.

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Paraty Brazil Travel Blog Post

Stay tuned for where to stay, what to do and where to eat in Paraty!