Sequins sparkled, peacock feathers quivered and scantily clad curvaceous ladies danced to a thumping Samba beat. Elaborately decorated floats sailed past and muscle-bound men performed acrobatic moves to wow the audience. We had joined thousands of excited people to descend on the Sambadrome to party and the anything-goes celebratory vibe was completely infectious.
Landlocked Paraguay is officially South America’s least visited country. Many travellers mistakenly assume Paraguay’s lack of big ticket attractions means there’s nothing to see so side-step the country entirely. Paraguay’s location at the heart of the Continent certainly makes it difficult to get to but for those who want to get off the beaten track, it’s an ideal destination. Travellers with an adventurous spirit will be rewarded with a wealth of things to see and do, plus a truly genuine South American experience.
If you’re heading off on a South American adventure then you’ll definitely be using the extensive bus network to get around due to the limited rail and hire car options on the continent, and relatively expensive flights. Long distance or short distance, each bus trip will undoubtedly be an experience in its own right. We had some great fun on buses, saw some amazing sights and met great characters, but we also had plenty of less positive experiences too! Each country does it slightly differently, but by asking a few essential questions at the outset you can save yourself some money and a whole world of pain!
“Don’t look down” the man next to me said just before I lent over the ledge and looked down. It resembled a giant 483 metre waterslide with H2O in abundance lining up to take the ride. The gigantic reinforced concrete gates, above which we stood, were holding back the World’s seventh largest river and when the doors slid open, millions of gallons of water hurtled down the curved ramp at 60 thousand cubic metres per second with a deafening roar.
To describe Iguazu Falls without blatant and unashamed flattery is an impossible task. They are some of the most beautiful and majestic falls man has ever encountered. With an incredible 275 cascades set in dense tropical rainforest, Iguazu is considered to be one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Many such celebrated destinations don’t live up to the hype but Iguazu Falls packs a punch and left us open-mouthed and starry-eyed. We were in good company as even the late United States First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was lost for words upon first viewing Iguazu and simply gasped “Poor Niagara!”
The relaxing island hideaway of Ilha Grande is located 100 miles south of Rio de Janeiro. With beautiful white sandy beaches, clear blue water, unspoilt Atlantic rainforest and relaxed vibe, it’s the type of holiday destination people dream of. The eleven mile crossing from Angra dos Reis to Ilha Grande takes just over an hour, but the difference is huge. Leave behind the high rise developments and busy beaches and arrive on the sandy shores of a laid back, undeveloped paradise. It’s all about relaxing in the sun, swimming in clear waters, swinging in hammocks, hiking forested trails and dining by candle light on fresh seafood with the sound of samba floating through the air.
Our mini-van climbed high into the hills of Rio de Janeiro leaving behind the glitzy malls and million-dollar apartments lining the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. We sped past a chaotic mass of ramshackle houses clinging precariously to the steep mountainside. We noticed the prevalence of armed police and our guide Ricci pointed out walls ravaged by bullets and covered in gang graffiti. We had arrived at Rocinha – Rio’s largest favela – and we were about to step into a world once firmly off limits to tourists.
Rio de Janerio is a city living life at full throttle. It’s energetic, vibrant and dedicated to pleasure. Famous for its hedonistic carnival, fanatical beach culture, pulsating music and passion for sport, nothing is ever done half-heartedly. Rio’s intense urban beauty is also nothing short of mind-blowing. Undulating mountains covered in lush forests overlook curving bays of golden sand and sparkling blue sea. Old districts with colonial mansions and leafy parks blend seamlessly with soaring skyscrapers and modern stadiums. Even the ramshackle favelas stacked high into the hillside add colour and life to this diverse and open-minded city. Locals love to boast, with a cheeky smile, that “On the eighth day, God created Rio” and it’s easy to believe this city has truly been blessed.