January 2016, Denis surprised me with a trip to Brazil (I have the best boyfriend ever ). For a long time we aspired to travel to Rio and finally here we go! We didn’t have much time to prepare, but we did our best to combine ecology and tourism. The program was divided in 4 parts, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Chapada Diamantina and Praia Da forte.
We stayed in total 16 days and because we loved it so much we created an itinerary for you to download for free, to share our experience and hopefully give you inspiration for your own itinerary. Here is a short summary of the itinerary.
We flew with Iberia as the ticket was extremely cheap (Amsterdam to Rio for only 450euros, amazing right?). This airline is quite bad on the environmental aspects as they have no sustainability programs and in the plane their disposables are absolutely not eco-friendly, huge amount of waste. The good thing for the C02 footprint though is that the plane was almost full so the carbon footprint per individual was relatively ok. The flight had 1 stopover, as there was no direct flight from Amsterdam.The food on board was really basic and the service non-existent. But well, at that price, we couldn’t really expect too much.
We arrived at 8pm, got our luggage and grabbed a taxi as we were not confortable about public transportation at night (the bus goes through the whole city and takes between one or two hours). After a 30minute taxi ride, we were at the Solar Ricardo homestay in Botafogo district.
The program for the next 1 day and a half was pretty simple:
- A walk in Botafogo; nice during the day, residential and relatively safe, but we do not recommend to go to the beach mainly used as a football field and quite dirty. The walk on it is doable by foot or by bike, we saw a lot of cyclists.
- We then left to visit Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf). The ascension to Sugar Loaf is in 2 parts, first you go to Morro da Urca and then the funicular takes you to Pão de Açúcar. We decided to go for the walk , since it was such a nice hike. We met some animal friends (monkeys) on the way to the top. They are cute but please note you should not feed them as it is clearly indicated in several places. Unfortunately, people still do it. Note as well if you decide to walk to the top by foot you can’t access the Pão de Açúcar if you don’t have a funicular ticket bought down the street, at the base of the mountain. Basically it is not possible buy a ticket on the intermediary stage of the Sugar Loaf. We didnt know and therefore stayed at the Morro da Urca, which is 215 meters high, but which already gave us a very beautiful view on the city.
- The shopping center nearby Sugarloaf called Rio Sul. We ate there but nothing spectacular in terms of food and definitely not organic food.
- In the evening we went out in Botafogo which was great, animated, and local and above all, not expensive! The prices confirmed this district was less touristic than Copacabana or Ipanema as for 8-11R$ (2.8 euros) you can get a 600ml beer, that is quite cheap for Rio.
- Lunch at a very nice little organic restaurant called Refeitorio Organico located very nearby the pousada and one of the only organic and vegan restaurant in Botafogo. Very good food and very cheap.
After almost 2 full days in Rio, we took the plane to Salvador. Salvador was our departue point for Chapada Diamantina, from there we took an early bus the next day; we could have taken the night bus directly to go to Lençois but we felt it would be too exhausting. So we stayed not far from the bust station (Rodaviara) in the financial district (Stiep). The Sotero hotel, where we stayed, was very nice, spacious and had a great view. We arrived there around 5pm so we just decided to go for restaurant and sleep early.
The evening? Diner at Yemanja, which is specialized in sea food. Good dinner not too expensive.
Early wake up to go to the bus station and no other way to go than by taxi (no other way at that time).
We bought the vouchers from Busbud.com, very user friendly company where you can pay with credit card and without CPF number (kind of Brazilian social security number, required for most internet bookings). They send you vouchers to exchange for bus tickets at the station. There is only one company going to the Chapada (Lençois) and therefore only a single bus type: Rapido Federal.You have to arrive at least 30 minutes before departure to exchange the ticket (or buy it if you don’t have any). Then you go to 1st floor at the station and look for the Rapido Federal desk. The person will exchange your tickets and indicate the departure platform. Then you need to go back downstairs and look for the right platform. Once there you board showing your ID and ticket.
The journey from Salvador to Lencois takes roughly 6 hours with 2 or 3 stops depending on the driver’s mood. He also stops for lunch so you can also grab something and relax your legs a bit. Surprisingly, they had waste sorting bins at the small village where we stopped. The seats are ok for a day trip but you won’t sleep very comfortably if you take the night trip.
Once arrived in Lençois , have a walk and enjoy the town, it is really cute, quite touristic and you’ll find enough to keep yourself busy for a day.
- Sightseeing in the town, main square, small streets …
- Walk in the surroundings, in the nature, swim in natural pools, sunbathing, waterfalls etc…
Beware thatif you don’t have a guide for the visit around Lençois, you might get lost, so ask your pousada or hotel for advice on ways to visit the Lençois surroundings. A guide though would “only” cost you 100R$ for a half day.
In the evening we ate at the restaurant Absolutu. Nice but expensive. I can’t remember what we had, but it was not exceptional.
- Be aware that there is 1 bank only that allows you to withdraw 500R$ per day per card: You can pay by card in most restaurants and shops
- No vegetarian restaurants but always an option to order vegetarian dish
- Several shops in the town; one even provide with hiking material but very expensive
- Best to stay close to the main square, this is where life happens in the evening.
- If you go by bus, do not take the seats under the airco (middle rows) and do not take the back seats (toilets). Best spots are front and middle-back.
The 5 day-trek tour included a day visiting some keys interest points before starting on day 2 the “real” trek to Vale Do Pati.
The trek is also detailed in the Chapada Diamantina Vale Do Pati 4-day-trek article.
The hike is absolutely gorgeous. Challenging but not too much as you can just go at your path. We found that 4 days duration was perfect to really disconnect from the urban agitated life. No internet, no phone network… just you and the nature. Amazing.
We decided to go back by bus to Salvador the same evening of the last day. We had a shower at the pouso da trilha (20R$ for a shower if you are not a client) and went eating before jumping in the bus for a 6 hours trip to Salvador. We left at 11.50pm from Lençois and arrived at 6am in Salvador. We didn’t sleep very comfortably in the bus as it was a seating bus and not a sleeping bus. We wanted to save a day of traveling, which was convenient but we didn’t sleep really well obviously.
We wanted to see a different part of the city, the more traditional. We were not disappointed. The city center is really poor and some parts of the old city center really look like favelas.
That is the reason why we don’t have so many pictures of Salvador, because we were worried to get robbed and we didn’t want to take the risk. So we left the camera and took only my phone, which has good quality pictures but I didn’t dare to take it out everywhere. We saw a pickpocket stealing a phone from the pocket of a tourist and we saw a guy looking at the pictures of a camera he had probably stolen from a tourist (it was not his that’s for sure)
In Salvador, we visited:
- A nearby market with a lot of street food stands (super cheap about 2R$ for a bolinho de queso or an acaraje)
- A shopping center (can’t recall the name but it was next to the market)
- A few churches including the ones in the Pelourinho district
- Barra district and we walked along the beach, went to the Forro da Barra and had a beer there to enjoy the sunset
- We had diner at Casa Tereza
- We visited the Bonfim church. The ride is about 20 minutes. Bonfim is very interesting but you have nothing else around to visit.
- Had a drink in a typical Salvadorian bar “O Cravinho” not far from our hotel. The bar was crowded with localsWe found Salvador very charming due to its contrasts even as the misery of people and deteriorating city buildings remind of the harsh reality.
On the morning of the 3rd day in Salvador, we left with a shuttle to get to Praia Da forte, located a 150km away from Salvador and is really famous for its beautiful beaches.
The shuttle, also called Onîbus in Salvador, took 3 hours to get to Praia Da forte. We booked it with the hotel but we were told that the journey would take an hour and a half. But it actually took 3 hours…Sooo long. We couldn’t handle it anymore. The driver stopped 20 times at least and the agency that we used was really bad. We were not told that it was like an organized trip to Praia Da forte, only that the ticket would also include the return trip which we would not use as we needed to fly back to Rio on the following day. We had no discount (even though we would not use the trip back) and paid 140R$ for 2. Anyway we didn’t like this company so if you plan to go to Praia da Forte, try to check with other agencies than only your hotel to get better prices.
From the Praia Da forte center, we took another 5-minutes cab to reach the Iberostar Praia Da Forte, our green resort for the next night, before heading back to Rio. We got the opportunity to only stay one night but the minimum stay is usually 4 days. Which is a good length as there are quite some stuff to do in the surroundings, and to enjoy the wonderful beaches.
The resort’s full review is here. We liked our time in Praia Da Forte a lot, especially the visit to the Project Tamar, and the beach walks along the turtles’ nests. We felt really privileged. We didn’t see any turtles coming to nest onto the beach but we knew there were thousands of baby turtles under our feet.
We left to the airport to fly back to Rio around 5pm. The journey takes about 30min/1h depending on the traffic from Praia Da forte to the airport. We used the hotel shuttle for 110R$ per person. We landed in Rio and went directly to the hotel.
The hotel location was perfect to have a quick access to the beach.
We had 4 days in total in Rio. The plan was to relax and visit some key attractions. So basically the program went like this:
Day 1: Copacabana / Ipanema / Churrascaria
The program was simple, beach, beach and beach :). Then visit of Ipanema and copacabana districts.
In the evening as we wanted to try the Brazilian specialty, the Churrascaria, we went for one next to Copacabana. The principle is simple. You pay a fee per person (130R$) and you have unlimited meat and a buffet of veggies and other stuff. I asked them how was the meat supplied. They of course replied that the meat was very high quality but appeared to come from ”normal” meat supplier, and in Brazil, that means terrible animal welfare and medicated and corn fed animals. So we really do not recommend you to try.
Day 2: Shopping/ Academia de Cachaça / Zaza Bistro
- Shopping for souvenirs at the Ipanema Hippie market and some streets shops. We also crossed a street market, which had amazing fruits!
- Then we did a lot of walking around and decided to drink some caipirinha and cachaça at the Academia of Cachaça. The academia was great, they have hundreds of Cachaças and there are not so expensive. From 1euro to 20 euros the shot depending on the cachaça.
- We decided to try one of the best restaurant in Rio, and in Ipanema, but also very expensive, Zaza Bistro. We didn’t like it at all. First the food was not good and second when we asked them questions about food origins, they simply told us they don’t know! Also be careful because there is a huge line until 11pm/12pm every day to get to the restaurant. We really found it overrated on Trip Advisor for what is was. And it cost us nearly 65 euros for 2 mains and 1 starter plus 2 beers.
Shuttle ticket to Cristo: 65R&
Entrance Cristo do Retendor: 17R$
New natural cost: 50R$ (including fresh juices and a water)
Day 3: Jardin Botanico / Copacabana / Rio Scenarium / Sambodromo
- After a swim at the beach, we went to the botanical garden. Beautiful park.
- In the evening we went for the Rio Scenarium experience. Make a reservation 24h before online. If not, you will have little chances to get in. Also dress up a bit. The Rio Scenarium is a bar-restaurant with several floors and different rooms where artists come and play music. Each room has its special ambiance and it is pretty well decorated. We liked the place a lot, but as we wanted to make sure to get in, we went for the dinner option, and we were really chocked as they serve a wild fish from Amazon which is endangered; the Pirarucu. The menu is quite expensive and not even special. We do not recommend to go for eating. They do have good caipirinhas for 20R$. The music was great, local and the ambiance was awesome.
- After that we left to the Sambodromo around 11pm because we knew they had rehearsals that day (every Sunday and Saturday the month before carnival). We didn’t take the camera out because the neighborhood was not so reassuring. But it was fabulous to see them dancing in this amazing place. If you get the opportunity to go to Rio before carnival, just go to the Sambodromo, you will have a great preview of what carnival is all about.
Taxi to Rio Scenarium Ipanema: 40R$ (11/12$)
Entrance Jardim Botanico: 7R$
Rio Scenarium bill: 250R$ (including entrance fee 35R$ and dinner + 4 caipirinhas)
Day 4: New Natural/ Cristo Rendentor/ Ipanema beach
- Lunch at a “biological” restaurant New Natural or we thought it was written in our guide. But it is not. The food is fresh and natural (no usage of chemicals) but it was not organic food, so we were disappointed. The prices were relatively ok and the food was good. But we really wanted to eat organic as we felt we had some hard time digesting Brazilian food, first because it is pretty fat and they use only palm oil, and second because they are a huge chemical user. So we wanted to make sure to end on a healthy meal. Which was not the case. Anyway, we like the principle of paying on weight of food, we saw that a couple of times in Rio and Salvador. This time the price was 39R$ per kilo. You can imagine that this is quite cheap.
- Then we wanted to go to Jesus the Redeemer (Cristo Rendentor). Of course, because bad luck happens at least once during holidays, we didn’t have any more batteries on both my phone and his camera. And we realized that in the shuttle to get to the statute. I was really upset but well, we had queued for 2 hours to get the tickets and we couldn’t miss the chance. The statute is big (7meters high) but not as impressive as I expected. The view on the other hand, is simply amazing, breathtaking. Definitely worth the trip. The official shuttles depart from different part of the city and you have one departure from Copacabana every 15 minutes until 5pm to get there and the return is until 7pm. Check on the website. To buy tickets, go early in the morning and choose the time you want to go to the Cristo, because if you come late, you’ll have to queue for ages like us.
Shuttle ticket to Cristo: 65R&
Entrance Cristo do Retendor: 17R$
New Natural cost : 50R$ (including fresh juices and a water
Rio is a great city, but can be dangerous. Just make sure you always put your money and phones in safe places on you and don’t go in empty streets at night (of seems obvious but not so much for some crazy people). We had the opportunity to see some samba schools parade prior to the carnival. I would say that if you can’t afford the carnival, go like us, one week before, you will see already a lot of samba schools parading. The accommodation prices are very high in Rio at that time and in all honesty, even if we were eating one meal per day except breakfast, we spent quite a lot in Rio.