by Leticia Espinosa and Ralf Kies
So, we are declared #MebasGroupies, and it was just a matter of time for us to find an excuse to visit them at their newest postcode: Sao Paulo!
What better excuse to plan a two weeks holiday in Brazil during Carnival, than the arrival of #AlexiaRocks and the Meba’s “Celebrate our milestone Birthdays away” tradition (see the Crete bog!) … and as a bonus, escape from the European February weather misery? Add link to Crete
We arrived in Sao Paulo on time for the Birthday celebration with friends and family. In true Meba’s style, they even organized a Bloquinho downstairs to start the Carnival vibe! A little taste of the things to come in Rio.
We were part if a fantastic get together where the guest star was…not the Birthday guy (Abraham) but…see picture below. Which by the way, was also a also a sign of things to come in the Brazilian Foodie adventures!
We then started our Brazilian tour: Bahia (Praia do Forte + Salvador), Rio de Janeiro for Carnival & Paraty.
Bahia: Salvador and Praia do Forte
Our first destination after leaving Sao Paulo was Salvador or more precisely, the custom made beach resort of Praia do Forte. We picked up our car and drove an hour north on the Estrada do Coco and checked into our hotel Pousada Casa do Forte. Pousadas are small to medium sized B&Bs typically privately run. Pousada Casa do Forte has 31 rooms, a restaurant and a small pool with jacuzzi. On Tripadvisor, most reviews rave about the breakfast and that is no exaggeration. Brazilians seem to love their breakfasts and we probably never ate so much tapioca, mango and cake for breakfast in our lives. We had dinner at Pousada Casa do Forte one evening to try the restaurant which we enjoyed. We ended up in the pool every evening as we mostly had it to ourselves. There is one larger all inclusive resort in Praia do Forte called Tivoli which looked amazing however we decided to chose a typical Pousada to give our visit a more authentic Brazilian feel.
We spent one of the days in Praia do Forte on the beach doing absolutely nothing. Praia do Forte has high and low tides and on low tide days one attraction are the ‘pools’ created by the water left behind by the low tide. There are sun umbrellas and chairs available for rent on the beach and we paid 30 Reals for two chairs and one umbrella. The beach here is great for walking as it is very long and wide and there are plenty of restaurants in the main street just behind the beaches.
One thing we highly recommend to do in Praia do Forte is to visit the turtle farm called Projeto Tamar. If you are lucky you will catch a day on which small turtles are hatching and being released into te sea. On our second day we had such an opportunity and spent large part of the afternoon at the turtle farm joined the tour, watched the grown up turtles and sharks being fed and then attended the main event at around 5:30pm. Around 30 small turtle babies were taken out of their shelters in the sand and placed on the beach to run as fast as they can towards the sea. Quite an emotional event as we could see a few of the people watching starting to cry after those small turtle babies were shown to us up close. Apparently most the small turtles won’t survive very long but those who do will remember every little detail of their short run to the sea and come back in 30 years to lay their eggs at the same place.
We spent a day at neighbouring resort Imbassai which has amazing beaches and a lagoon right behind and a few small restaurants in barracks on the beach. Most of the accommodation in the area seems to be for holiday makers looking for an away from it all type of vacation with basic simple beach huts being the preferred choice for people visiting the place although there are a few all inclusive resorts near by such as two Iberostars and a Grand Palladium.
If you stay in Praia do Forte definitely make a day trip to Salvador. It is easy to organise by renting a taxi driver for a day (through the tourist info center) for which we paid only 350 Reals. The Bahia region is home to most of the African Brazilian population of the country with its own culture and customs. We visited on the first day of carnival and did a tour around the Pelourinho, the historical part of the city, with its old colonial buildings and cobbled streets. We were warned though to leave the city by 5pm for security reasons. As opposed to the Rio carnival the Salvador carnival is not a ticketed event with everyone allowed to join hence the advice from our travel agent to be careful and leave early. The Pelouinho area of Salvador was also made famous through the video for the Michael Jackson song They Don’t Care About Us so expect to see several Michael Jackson images in that part of the town.
Overall we felt Praia do Forte was a resort mainly for Brazilian holiday makers and you might struggle a little with communicating in English as it is not widely spoken over there. The main road has several restaurants typical for a tourist resort such a pizza restaurants, sushi or Acai snack places. Overall it was very quiet during weekdays but more lively on weekends. 7pizzas on the main square seemed to be the most busy place for dinner in the evening although we preferred the pizza place just across the street.
Let’s Celebrate Abraham’s 40th with pink tutus & unicorn horns: Carnival in Rio
Our next stop was Carnival in Rio – Abraham’s milestone birthday destination! If you make a list of Top 10 events to attend in your life, then the Carnival in Rio is probably featured on that list. Carnival in Rio basically means two things: The main event in the Sambodromo on Sunday and Monday for which you need to buy a ticket and the various parties around Ipanema and Copacabana beach on Carnival weekend which are free to attend for everyone, and we mean EVERYONE!
Forget what you have seen on TV, nothing comes close to experiencing Carnival in Rio as a live event in the Samboromo with 80,000 other people. There are 12 samba schools taking part in the parade, six each on Sunday and Monday, all accompanied by a marching band playing original samba songs, live! Those samba beats are blasted with a super sound system around the Sambodromo and you simply can’t sit still as the beats go strait into your bones. Each samba school has a few thousand people taking part in custom made costumes. Not to mention the incredible super sized floats featuring celebs and acrobats who are obviously not afraid of heights. Samba and carnival is serious business in Brazil with a whole year of preparation needed for each samba school, live broadcasts on Globo TV and judges keeping a close eye on what is happening during the parade. The parade goes on all night long! Our tickets included transfers from/to the hotel, we arrived at the Sambodromo ~7pm and our pick up time was expected to be around 6.30 AM! We took a taxi back to the hotel at 3.30 AM!! Exhausted!
Not content with just watching the parade we decided to actually take part in it together with 3,500 others and our group was the first to enter the Sambodromo with the Imperio Serrano samba school as the opening act. Nothing can prepare you though for the “sensation” of wearing a heavy fantasy costume in 28 degree heat and 90 percent humidity for three hours! You can see our parade here: link to youtube
When in Rio don’t forget to visit Corcovado and Pao de Azucar as well as the Santa Teresa area. The first two should be visited in the morning if possible to avoid the crowds. Also avoid the blochinos especially around Ipanema beach during carnival as you might become a target for street crime which is a huge problem in Rio.
We had a blast in Rio! So much fun, the Sambodromo experience was a once-in-a-lifetime. But, generally we felt that Rio during carnival is extremely busy and packed with all sorts (we mean ALL SORTS) of people, the Sambodromo event is not to be missed but the parties at Ipanema and around the city are not always that enjoyable and sometimes even dangerous. The city is not at its best and you pay a premium for accommodation in Rio during carnival so, our recommendation is to better consider going there other times of the year. best (I –Leticia– was there for a weekend in October 2016 and I loved it!)
Next up was the old colonial city of Paraty located pretty much in the middle between Rio and Sao Paulo on the Costa Verde. According to Wikipedia “The village of Paraty was founded in 1597. It was established formally as a town by Portuguese colonizers in 1667, in a region populated by the Guaianás Indians. The Guaianás people who lived where the city now stands called the entire area “Paraty”. In the Tupi language “Paraty” means “river of fish”.
If you like cobbled streets then Paraty is your place. We drove through the city on our way to our accommodation in a small bus and the gaps between the stones are so big that arriving at our destination we were shaken more than a James Bond martini. The city probably has not changed much over the past few hundred years and they left the buildings as they were to keep the old colonial charm.
For our accommodation we were undecided for a while between celebrity hotspot Pousada d’Ouro (apparently comes with Mick Jagger photos on the walls at the reception from when he stayed at the place) and Pousada Morro do Forte. Eventually we decided to book a room in the latter. Not only did we save a fortune but we were treated to what is probably the best view over the city and the bay of Paraty. Pousada Morro do Forte has ten rooms most of them overlooking the bay and we stayed in room #4. We were treated to a typical Brazilian breakfast every morning plus enjoying the amazing views for free. Pousada Morro do Forte turned out to be an excellent choice to stay just a 5 minute walk away from the historic center. The owners of the Pousada speak Portuguese and German and get by with English.
When you visit Paraty make sure you book a day cruise on one of the small boats. We booked our little cruise with Paraty Tours, the same company that took us from Rio to Paraty and from Paraty to Sao Paulo (5 hours each way). The cruise takes about 5 hours and takes you to two beaches which are protected and only accessible via boat and two snorkelling locations, at one of them the boat stops for the lunch break. When you are on the boat you get an idea about how green and lush the Costa Verde is and why they call it Costa Verde in e first place. Other options for a day excursion are jeep safaries or day trips to the beaches of Trindade.
Nightlife in Paraty is low key with small restaurants, bars and ice cream places tucked away in the old colonial buildings. We had dinner one evening at a Thai restaurant called Thai Brazil which was a little hard to find but was packed and had a great vibe. Meals are pricy though and cater for the tourist crowd. Also check out Sarau bar which had live samba music every night we were there. You just need a guy with a guitar and two others with bongos to get the party started and as soon as they started playing the whole place started to dance, including waiters.
Sadly after two nights it was time for us to leave but we would not have minded to stay a third night as Paraty is a lovely place to visit albeit very touristy and if you don’t mind spending 5 hours on the bus from either Rio or Sao Paulo. However the journey to and from Paraty was amazing in terms of the scenery and landscape on display and the 5 hours passed quickly.
We will definitely go back to Brazil…maybe very soon!
As much as we loved to go back to Paraty and Praia do Forte, we feel that Brazil has so much more to offer that we must continue exploring! It is a beautiful country and we didn’t even talk about all the delicious food and the ice-cold beer (chop) we loved so much!