Every single person and guide book out there tells you that if you’re going to visit Iguazu Falls, you *must* spend one day EACH on either side (Brazil and Argentina). Well, in true Monsoon fashion, we decide to do the impossible and not only do BOTH sides in one day but also cram in room for a side trip to Paraguay before having to catch a 7pm overnight bus to Buenos Aires.
Could we do it? Let me show you our one epic day in a nutshell:
Iguazu Falls and a random American tourist in my way just got served
The 'Supermarket of South America' just got served
Here’s how we did it:
We started off our day early by waking up at 7:30am at our hostel in Fos de Iguacu, Brazil (at Iguassu Guest House). We booked it to the 8:15am Bus #120 from the Fos de Iguacu Bus Terminal to the Iguazu Falls entrance (about a 30min bus ride, costing 2.85 Brazilian Reals):
At 09:00am, the ticket booths opened and after storing our luggage in their left luggage facility and waiting about 10 minutes in line, we paid the 50 Brazilian Reals entrance fee which included a bus ticket straight to the falls:
And with a hop and skip away, we were immediately at the entrance of the falls by 9:40am:
From there you begin a 1km hike. And somewhere along the way a band of opossums attacked Chris and stole his food:
We trudged onwards, undeterred by Chris’ defeat:
You’ll see a catwalk leading directly to the opening of Devil’s Throat. Walk it.
And then you’ll gape at where the river descends into…
Trace your steps back to the beginning of the catwalk and head up into the viewing elevators to your right:
At this point it was about 11:00am.
Returning to the entrance of the Brazilian side of the falls at around 11:30am, we split the group into the daring vs. the not so daring. With the limited amount of time that we had, I figured we could throw sanity out the window and also include a brief visit to neighboring Paraguay…because why not?
So the 4 of us (Natasha, Ben, Karthik, and myself) found a cab driver willing to take us not only to the border but through it and back and then to the Argentina side of the falls for a mere 300 Brazilian reals (split among the 4 of us, it wasn’t a bad deal.
So off we went:
After passing through the Brazilian border with nobody stamping our passports exiting the country (I guess they assumed we’d be coming back anyway?), we began to cross the Friendship Bridge between Brazil and Paraguay at around 12:00pm:
We then approached the Paraguay border:
And then an unbelievable thing happened: our car just literally went through Paraguay passport control without being stopped. That’s right, nobody bothered to check for our visas or passports! We felt like we had just violated international law. But it’s really not our fault if nobody bothered to do their job…
And immediately past passport control is the city of Ciudad del Este itself, famous for its contraband goods from all over the world that would earn it its nickname “The Supermarket of South America.” It was as if we accidentally descended upon an apocalyptic ghost town; literally nobody was around and we were probably the only tourists within at least a 5 mile radius. For once, we felt we were doing something off the beaten path.
Definitely one of the highlights of our trip.
After 30 minutes of exploring, we got back into our taxi at 12:45pm and drove across the Friendship Bridge towards Brazil:
…and then to Argentina’s border at Puerto Iguazu:
The Brazil-Argentina border is a little more professionally run as we were all properly given exit stamps upon leaving Brazil and then entry stamps upon entering Argentina.
After about 20min more of driving, we were at the entrance of the Argentine side of Iguazu Falls by 1:30pm:
Once arriving at the ticket booth to the Falls on the Argentine side, we found out that unlike Brazil, they did not accept credit cards. And the only ATM is inside the park. If you get a kind enough officer — which we did — he will let one person in your group to go inside and retrieve cash if you don’t have enough pesos. At this point it was around 2pm.
Once we paid, we got on the 2:30pm train to the Falls’ “Devil’s Throat”, this time the Argentine version. The train ride might require you get off the train somewhere in the middle and back on another one towards “Devil’s Throat”, but don’t be alarmed if you’re running short on time as the transfer is pretty quick (less than 15-20 minutes):
Take care of your belongings (and sanity) because there’s always a huge crowd heading to this part of the Falls:
At 3:15pm we began a 1km hike down a narrow catwalk, where we eventually came across the Argentine side of Devil’s Throat:
We stayed there taking it all in and left by 4pm. After exiting the park by around 5pm, we booked it to the bus terminal in Puerto Iguazu and arrived there by 5:30pm.
Then, Natasha and I spent the next hour and a half scrambling to find a way to print out our missing pre-paid vouchers that we needed to exchange for actual bus tickets to Buenos Aires. The bus company — Crucero del Norte — steadfastly refused to help us (whether to let us use their internet to access our e-mailed vouchers or to use their printers). And because it was a Sunday, everything — including internet cafes — were closed. We kept being told “go down another 2 blocks” to another closed internet café…and then to another…and then to another.
Luckily, we finally found an open internet café located inside a supermarket on the other side of town. After a bit of another snafu trying to figure out why their printer wasn’t working (it wasn’t turned on), we ran back to the bus terminal to exchange them for tickets.
We managed to get on our 7pm bus just in time.
As they wonder what's taking me and Natasha so long...
And with that, we begin our 18 hour overnight bus ride to Buenos Aires…
- At time of posting in Iguazu Falls, it was 13 °C -
Humidity: 40% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear
Flew into Fos de Iguacu via TAM airlines, and at one point during the 2 hour flight I went to offer my medical expertise to help a passenger that appeared to have had a seizure. There also happened to be 3 other U.S. trained Emergency Medicine docs on the plane as well, so he was in good hands. Random story, but like I had to mention it.
We also played a game of musical chairs on the flight prior to take off that ended up in my making a new friend who sat next to me as we talked about travel and what it means to us. It was one of those travel moments that reveals some kind of force out there that compels people with similar energies/wavelengths to connect. I’m glad it happened this early on the trip.
We touched down at around 7:30pm and took Bus 120 to the city center (about 2.85 Brazilian Reals, taking about 30min):
After dropping off our stuff at our hostel — Iguassu Guest House — we walked 5 minutes to their version of Costco to go shopping. We’re preparing a long day of hiking tomorrow:
Yes, this is a real shopping cart that I used!
We then pigged out on some Brazilian Churrascaria all-you-can-eat BBQ at Buffalo Branco. It’s about 70 Brazilian Reals per person, but you get a 20% discount if you’re staying at Iguassu Guest House (which we did):
Noms. That’s all I can say:
So we’re turning in early tonight as we got a big day tomorrow: We’re doing Iguazu Falls from both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides in 1 day instead of the recommended 2. So call us crazy…yeah that’s it. We’re crazy.
- At time of posting in Fos de Iguacu, Brazil, it was 18 °C -
Humidity: n/a | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: mostly cloudy
Christ the Redeemer just got served
After a late night out on the town last night, we woke up fairly late for our Day 3 plan in Rio. We still needed to see the Christ the Redeemer statue (i.e. the newly voted “7th Wonder of the Modern World”) and Copacabana Beach.
Luckily for us, the government recently set up a constant bus service that takes you to the Christ the Redeemer statue from 3 different places in Rio for only 51 Brazilian Reals (which includes the round trip fare and the admission fee). The buses come and go on a constant basis to accommodate a continuously growing throng of people:
All you have to do is show up at one of the 3 sites and buy your ticket, line up, and head to the statue. Depending on traffic, it can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour to get to the top. The bus service will take you directly there:
All you have to do when you get up there is to climb a few flights of stairs (or use the newly constructed escalators on your left!):
Take in the other views from the top:
Maracana Football Stadium, where the World Cup 2014 Finals will be played
There’s nothing else up here but a handful of gift shops and a few juice bars/snack bars. Also budget some time to get out because there will be long lines to get back on the buses.
A useful tip is that you can get on another line for a different drop off point than where you were originally picked up. We did that to get to Copacabana Beach, which saved us an extra taxi ride!
After about an hour ride back down (traffic), we took a look at and a quick walk along Copacabana Beach, which is famous for being a microcosm of everything Rio has to offer, from favela kids to the ultra-rich:
Afterwards we scrambled to catch our late afternoon flight to Fos de Iguacu. This would be our last day in Rio de Janeiro, and we already know we will dearly miss a few things, namely the views:
A sunset view of Rio from Pao de Acucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain)
Sunset on Ipanema Beach
Panorama of Ipanema Beach at Sunset
…and of course, the unbelievable acai:
- At time of posting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, it was 35 °C -
Humidity: 40% | Wind Speed: 12km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear
Today we headed into the favelas of Rio, made infamous by movies such as Fast 5 and City of God, or games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. It’s stereotyped as a slum rife with gangs, shootouts, violence, and lawlessness.
The one we entered — Rocinha Favela — is the densest favela in Rio, with over 200,000 inhabitants. Although most of its economy still runs on the drug trade, it maintains the peace fairly well. The police recently took over Rocinha in preparation for the World Cup, but they’ll need about 10x more policemen (about 2,000 of them) than what they have now in order to fully keep the favela under control. In the meantime, a steady peace is maintained between the favela gangs and the police. That is how we were able to enter and explore it without feeling any sense of danger.
We also made time for sightscaping at the end of the day:
Yesterday's view from Pao de Acucar
Ipanema Beach just got served
Let’s start with our morning journey into the Rocinha Favela:
Entrance to the Rocinha Favela
Entering the favela
We headed into the favela fairly immediately, walking down their narrow alleyway style streets for about half a kilometer before climbing up the stairs through an art studio.
We got stupendous views there:
And the art studio itself was pretty impressive:
Afterwards, we kept walking and ran into an impromptu performance:
We kept walking through the entire length of the favela:
Grabbed a snack:
After an hour of walking, we ended up at a nursery where most of our donations to the favela would go to. We climbed up to its roof and saw that we had already walked the entire length of the favela:
Said hi to the kids on the way down:
Upon leaving the favela, we came upon a site of a recent police crackdown of a drug bust:
A walkway designed by a famous artist, inspired by Carnival...it represents a woman's butt and thong
Afterwards we had lunch in the Santa Teresa district:
And then we took a cab to Ipanema beach, where we headed to the giant rock or Arpoador on the east side of the beach:
…because that’s where you get the best views of the sunset:
After an indeterminate amount of time sitting there, we rounded out our day with a stroll along Ipanema Beach at night:
Now it’s off to the bars in Lapa for Friday night!
- At time of posting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, it was 28 °C -
Humidity: 40% | Wind Speed: 26km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy
Escalaria de Salaron just got served
I won’t lie. Our first 24 hours upon landing in Rio de Janeiro was anything but smooth.
- We arrive at GIG airport all okay, and we gave the airport HSBC bank ATM a shot, as recommended by everyone to use over the Brazilian bank ATMs in terms of security. However, none of our cards were able to withdraw cash. Perplexed, I gave my bank, Charles Schwab (which I chose for their waived fees for any ATM around the world), a call….
- They informed me that that particular single HSBC Bank ATM was reported to have been compromised and that they would shut down any card associated with that ATM, including mine. That means on DAY ONE I would not be able to withdraw cash. Nuts.
- They then offered to ship a new card to me, but since I travel pretty fast, nobody was sure where it would end up and if I would receive the card in time or at the right place. We eventually gave it a shot for April 15-16 in Chile, but that still meant no ATM access for a whole week.
- Andy’s — who would be the last person we would wait for — plane was delayed by 45 minutes, but the main screen didn’t say that. So we thought we missed him and ran around the airport for an hour looking for him.
- Chris left one of his bags in the taxi on the way to the hostel. It wasn’t a prepaid airport cab, so there was no way of tracking it down.
- Be careful of which cab you get into from the airport. We thought we were getting into a regular cab instead of a prepaid cab (more expensive but also more secure) because we made them turn on the meter, but even then we got jipped 30 Brazilian Reals on our way to the hostel.
- My iPhone 5 charger (I use my iPhone as a flashlight and compass, NOT AS A PHONE -_-) just stopped working today.
On the bright side we were able to still be productive and see a few places in our first 24 hours.
No big deal; horses on the highway
From our home base, The Discovery Hostel, in the Gloria/Lapa district, we took the metro north to Centro:
Then we walked around the neighborhood and then south along Avenida Rio Branco, where there’s bank after bank after bank…
Took a right along Avenida Almirante Barroso and found the streetcar behind Petrobras:
Too bad it was closed until next year. So we decided to walk to the famous Ecadaria de Salaron, a public display of art by a Chilean artist. It’s 215 steps from Santa Teresa to Lapa with 2000 tiles from over 120 countries:
Go up the hill by the arches to reach Escalaria de Salaron
Escalaria de Salaron
Starting up a van
Afterwards we took a cab to Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain):
Entrance to the Tram up the mountain
Dare to climb it?
…Paid $30 USD ($15 USD if with student ID) to take the trolley up to the first peak, Morro de Urca:
And took in the views there before sunset:
Friends at our hostel!
Afterwards there’s a tram behind (don’t miss it!) Morro de Urca, where it takes you to the second, taller peak of Pao de Acucar:
Stay there until night to really get a feel of Rio:
And then it was back to Discovery Hostel for a BBQ dinner before having a few drinks in Lapa. Low-key night tonight.
- At time of posting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, it was 30 °C -
Humidity: 40% | Wind Speed: 28km/hr | Cloud Cover: light rain