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Breathless Over Brazil: Swimming With Piranhas And Gazing Upon Spectacular Falls

Our first port of call was Rio de Janeiro. At night, the city shimmered like a bronze goddess with perfect golden highlights in her hair. We couldn’t really see much on our way to the hotel since it was quite dark, but the sight of Belmond’s Copacabana Palace when we arrived made my husband’s jaw drop, at least a little bit. Everyone, and I mean everyone, from the bellboy to the receptionist to the cleaning lady, was gifted with natural pulchritude. When God created Adam and Eve, he must have made them Brazilian.

 

Belmond’s Copacabana Palace

 

Christ the Redeemer

 

Rio and its residents (known as Cariocas) have a natural beauty that is hard to beat, a lethal combination of tanned and toned bodies, undulating curves. Rio has dramatic mountains and forests ringed by beaches, beautiful bays, and the Atlantic Ocean. Sugar Loaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer, and the amazing architecture of Oscar Niemeyer surround the city in a beautiful embrace. As Niemeyer says, it’s all about beautiful curves in Rio de Janeiro. Bom dia indeed.

 

Niterói Contemporary Art Museum

 

Our days were spent going on safari along Copacabana and Ipanema beach checking out homo sapiens (natural and enhanced). My husband was entranced. There really is a reason why all these supermodels come from Brazil. We then moved to the more fashionable part of town, the Fasano Hotel on Ipanema beach, after a couple of nights at Copacabana. Ipanema, our guide Marcelo insisted, was the only place to be. From Brazilian furniture to fashion to art galleries and museums, this side of town has a lot to offer to the cosmopolitan traveler (the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum is a must see!). And for fans of bossa nova, as my husband was, a pilgrimage to Veloso’s Bar, where Tom Jobim composed the classic song “Girl from Ipanema” while watching one particularly beautiful girl walk to the beach every day, is a must.

 

Exploring the Amazon Rainforest

 

From Rio, we flew up to Manaus and took a scenic seaplane ride to Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge, nestled deep in the Amazon on the banks of the Rio Negro. Daily activities included boating to see the pink dolphins, jungle walks with in-house naturalist guides, and piranha fishing. We love adventure and have been on many safaris to Africa, but nothing prepared us for being told to jump into the Rio Negro, swim in the black river with piranhas and caimans eyeing us hungrily from the shore, and emerge unscathed. Which, thankfully, we did.

The expanse of the Amazon and its waterways is truly Amazonian in size and breadth, and although out of the way, it is an experience not to be missed for those with a passion for nature and wilderness. 

 

Fazenda Catucaba and Iguazu Falls

 

Our next stop was São Paulo, a sprawling metropolis which felt strangely familiar because of the traffic, the warm nature of the people, and the inherent sophistication in some parts which reminded me of the Aoyama district in Tokyo. We were happily ensconced in the relentlessly chic Fasano hotel, designed by Isai Weinfeld, and fell in love with the well-designed and well-proportioned rooms, the hotel’s bossa nova bar, and its one-Michelin starred Italian restaurant. My husband didn’t want to leave and even inquired about buying a room at the hotel. I spent my days checking out the design scene and buying Havaiianas in an array of colors, while my husband waited for our reservation at the three-Michelin-starred restarant DOM, helmed by the truly ground-breaking chef, Alex Atala. We appreciated our Amazon experience a lot more after eating his Amazonian ant, which tasted better than its bite.

My personal favorite was the three-hour scenic drive from São Paulo to Fazenda Catuçaba, the hacienda of my dreams. Fazenda Catuçaba is a working organic farm surrounded by rivers, lakes, and mountains. The original 1850s farmhouse has been beautifully restored and transformed by the current owner, epitomizing rustic luxury and effortless contemporary chic. As someone obsessed with design, I was in design heaven. Brazilian furniture from design greats such as Sergio Rodrigues and Marcio Kogan was scattered around the property. The Campana Brothers are also building a bamboo cathedral in the premises. I felt I had found my spiritual home.

We spent a relaxing few days hiking, horseback riding with gauchos, and eating delicious home-made meals using the farm’s own produce, before making our way to our last stop in Brazil: the majestic Iguazu Falls.

I’ve been to Victoria Falls in both Zimbabwe and Zambia numerous times, as well as Salto Angel in Venezuela, but I must admit that Iguazu is truly the mother of all waterfalls and left us absolutely speechless. We traversed the Brazilian side of the falls with our guide, then drove over to Argentina to see the other side of the falls made famous by Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons in The Mission.  Perhaps, nothing ever prepares one for experiencing the majesty of Iguazu. After soaking it all in, we ended our trip drenched, breathless, but immensely happy.

 

Best time to go in Brazil

Brazil is a sunny year-round destination, being on the equator. But the best time to go for the different experiences would be as follows:

  • Pantanal (wildlife experience) – June to September
  • Amazon – August to December
  • Sun and beach – between October and March
     

A longer version of this article appeared in Metro Society Magazine May 2016 issue