Tag Archives: Rio de Janeiro

Blowing the budget in Brazil

Português: Verso da moeda de 10 centavos da se...

Brazil is undeniably beautiful and fun. I partied, I indulged in good food and I visited quirky places and and beaches and natural wonders. But despite staying part of the time with a friend, I still spent a lot of money. Because, as all backpackers I’ve met agree, Brazil is expensive. Having overtaken the UK in 2012 to become the sixth strongest economic force in the world, it’s easy to see how exchange rates aren’t going to be particularly favourable for many of us.

Overall, my daily budget in Brazil came to R$90.74 (£43.02) per day but it’s worth being aware that I spent quite a lot of my time in in the main cities, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and on Ilha Grande, none of which were the cheapest of places.  My expenses were pretty standard with no major splurges other than nights out. I did visit Iguazu Falls, which cost R$172(£62.55) for both the Argentinian and the Brazilian sides but was totally worth every penny. And the only actual purchase I made was a pair of Havaianas for R$18 (£6.55). I love living in flip flops and as I was visiting the birthplace of the worlds ‘best’ flip flops (or thongs, if you must), it had to be done.

Here’s a rough idea of costs:

R$ £
Hostel bed R$45 £16.36
1.5l bottle water R$3 £1.09
Cheapish meal out R$30 £10.91
Bus travel (per hour) R$10 £3.64
Taxi ride (2km-5km) R$10-R$20 £3.64-£7.27
Club entry R$30 £10.91
Beer R$6 £2.18
Capairinha R$14 £5.09

With very little effort, I way overspent in Brazil. But on my travels I’m not obsessing about sticking to a daily budget and I’ve accepted that you just have to go with the reality of the costs and deal with it. Even if it means cutting your stay short.

Next up: Bolivia, South America’s weakest economy, where I knew my money would go a little further. I hoped that less time in Brazil and more time in Bolivia would balance things out a bit.

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Sun, sea, sand and… snorkelling on Ilha Grande

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Ilha Grande, Brazil

It was my first experience in a triple bunk hostel in a place that clearly practised rack ‘em and stack ‘em, where tripping over bags and inhaling recycled breath was to be expected.

I’d sailed into the simple docks of Abraão on Ilha Grande where touts eagerly awaited new arrivals offering rooms at rates that easily competed with my pre-booked hostel bed.

Once checked in, me and a friend set off to explore the village. It didn’t take long. Consisting of places to eat and shops stacked high with overpriced souvenirs and Havaianas, Abraão is fully established as a tourist spot.

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One of the main streets down to the beach in Ilha Grande, Brazil

Part of its appeal is the lack of vehicles. People walk and cycle about the place and little boats take visitors out on day trips to more remote beaches on the island. Sixteen trails of different lengths and difficulty are mapped out for walks across the island but it’s the beaches that are the main attraction, some perfect for lounging and swimming, others for snorkelling, others still for surfing.

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Praia Preta, Ilha Grande, Brazil

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Going snorkelling at Praia Preta, Ilha Grande, Brazil

I hired some snorkelling equipment (R$15) and made my way over to nearby Praia Preta with its dusting of black sand. I wasn’t the only one with that idea. Walking away from the crowds and right along to the rocks, however,  resulted in a pleasing reward in the shape of an enclosed bit of privacy.

Swim, snorkel, sun dry, read, chat, picnic, repeat. Good times.

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Praia Preta, Ilha Grande, Brazil

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Private hideaway, Ilha Grande, Brazil

And then what else to do on the island other than window shop, eat out and indulge on tasty desserts from outdoor sweets trolleys, and sit under twinkling fairy lights on the beachfront whilst listening to street musicians as night took hold?

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Sweets stall, Ilha Grande, Brazil

Overall, with more money I could have stayed here longer, exploring secluded bays, maybe doing some diving. But Brazil is expensive for backpackers, and little islands with inflated prices proved to be even more problematic. After three nights on Ilha Grande, I bade farewell to this cute little place and boarded a boat back to the mainland.

Getting to Ilha Grande from Rio de Janeiro is pretty straightforward and takes between three to four hours. You can either take a bus with Costa Verde from RODOVIARIA (main bus terminal in Rio) to Angra do Reis where you can catch a ferry or local boat to Vila do Abraão, or book a direct transfer through your hostel/hotel. The latter can work out a little cheaper if you factor in a taxi ride to the bus terminal. All in, travel to the island should cost you in the region of R$85. Speedy return transfers are easily booked when on the island and depart three times per day.

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Just how sexy is Ipanema beach?

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Ipanema beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Famous for being the place of beautiful girls, Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro is alive with energy and activity.

Back in 1962, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes wrote the song “The Girl from Ipanema” after being inspired by a tall, pretty brunette in her late teens.

Since then, Ipanema has gained itself somewhat of a reputation for being sexy, a place for people to feed their eyes on physical beauty. Does it live up to its image?

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Hanging out on Ipanema beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The idea of a beach in a city always sounds quite appealing but in reality, Ipanema beach is a display of bodies packed in tightly along a narrow strip of sand.

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Surfing Ipanema beach, Rio de Janeiro

Surfers gather at the top end of the beach, the braver going nearer the point and dodging rocks. Teenagers play volleyball and women spill out of string bikinis whilst men stand around chatting in tiny trunks, showing off some upper bodywork.

But not everyone is perfect; there are plenty of thigh ripples and love handles on display too. It’s quite a relief really. Maybe not conventionally sexy, it definitely makes it more real. And that’s more sexy, right?

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Christ! What views

I hate ticking things off of a travel list but this iconic statue drew me in. Religious or not, Christ the Redeemer is really one of those things that you can’t and shouldn’t miss whilst in Rio de Janeiro. If nothing else, the views that show the city sprawl in amongst islands and beaches are worth the trip alone.

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Christ the Redeemer statue, Rio de Janeiro

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Views from Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro

Built between 1922 and 1931 and set within the Parque Nacional da Tijuca, Cristo Redentor is a popular guy. On this sunny day in March, despite it not being a busy day, it still felt packed. Good luck getting a photo without extras in the background.

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Crowds at Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro

From various viewpoints spot the famous Maracanã stadium, Rio’s largest favela of Rocinha, Sugar Loaf mountain and Copocabana and Ipenema beaches stretching off into the distance. Politely fight for a space by the railing if you want to capture the scenery.

And if you can’t make it to Brazil, it won’t be too long before you can swing by Primrose Hill in London instead, if plans to build a replica Christ the Redeemer statue go ahead.

Return minibus trips cost 25 from nearby the tram station (another option but book ahead or get there early) and drop you by the ticket office, where you queue again for another shuttle bus and eventual entry to the statue (26 real for shuttle and entry). Three hours should be enough time to get up, see the statue (and alter inside the base of the statue). On busy days, expect to queue for a lot longer.

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Favela tourism. Really?

Rocinha favela Rio de Janeiro 2010

Slum tourism, poverty tourism, poorism, call it what you like. Gaining in popularity, it´s an area of travel that is debated regularly, a topic that is complex and full of emotive response.

On my way in and out of Rio de Janeiro I drove past many, many favelas. Some just looked like rundown villages, nothing unusual when I compared them, for example, to places in Peru. Apart from this is Brazil, rich in resources, rich financially (Brazil, for example, overtook the UK economy in 2011). But whilst Brazil may well be developing at quite a rate, the disparity between rich and poor is still very apparent, both financially and healthwise. And many millions of people still live in extreme poverty.

By definition a settlement of jerry-built shacks lying on the outskirts of a Brazilian city, slums and favelas are realities of developing countries, neighbourhoods where the most desperate fringes of society try to survive life by whatever means necessary whilst living in cramped, cobbled together set-ups rife with feuding and criminality.

Various movies including City of God and Slumdog Millionaire have drawn the world’s attention to the harsh realities of favela and slum life and have been said to encourage ‘slum tourism’, much to the disgust of many.  Rio de Janeiro is visibly tapping into this trend with hostels in the city inviting middle-class travellers to spectate at favela football matches, take favela tours, go to favela parties. Favela hostels are also starting to make an appearance.

But how appropriate is it really to make favelas into a tourist attraction? And why the intrigue? Do we really need to see extreme poverty, taste a little danger in order to feel better about ourselves? Is it not voyeuristic and intrusive and a little sick to want to observe and capture other people´s misery? Is it not disrespectful?

Can slum tourism, however, actually be a good thing?

If you learn something about a different way of life, if it makes you more tolerant and understanding of other people, then that´s obviously a positive, and if your money gets to the right people and isn´t hijacked by the criminals and drug lords who run some of the slums, then maybe there is some good that can come out of all of this. Exotic Tours, for example, suggest that ´Your visit will help a local school.´ The idea of creating employment for the local community is undoubtedly another upside to favela tourism with companies such as Favela Adventures claiming to be run ´100% by residents in the favela of Rocinha´.

I´ve read so many different reports on favela tours and have a number of conflicting feelings about the whole debate. I didn´t take a tour or attend the eardrum bursting parties. For now, it didn´t appeal, didn´t feel right.

Slum tourism, poverty tourism, poorism, call it what you like. But please, don’t romanticise it.

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