Brazil is one of the greatest countries to visit, no question about that. Occupying almost half of the south american continent, Brazil has lots to offer, requiring several trips (or living there for a bit) to explore. Given the fact that it was ‘Caranaval’, it was wise to stay in one city for the entire time, however, I managed to squeeze in three days of São Paolo before the carnival. The top cities to experience the carnival are Rio de Janeiro, Recife and Salvador. Heard great things about Salvador, but was very difficult to skip Rio the first time I go to Brazil.
For a U.S citizen, you need to apply for a visa to Brazil prior. I applied by mail (not recommended) in the Brazilian consulate – Chicago, and my application got denied since my name was missing from the inbound airline e-ticket (Thanks American Airlines). I did not have time to reapply (takes 2-3 weeks), since I was about to leave for Cuba to start my backpacking journey.
As a result, I decided to apply when I get to Buenos Aires, which was my last stop before Brazil. It took three days to get my passport, and I believe this is due to being a high season for the carnival. I read on numerous blogs that you can usually get it the next day. Regardless, you need to submit a visa application form online, print the confirmation, and accompany it with a valid passport, one passport photo, inbound and outbound airline tickets, accommodation confirmation, proof of address and a credit card. I suggest you use the walk in option instead of mailing, so they can validate your documents on the spot and make sure nothing is missed. These requirements change all the time, so it’s wise to refer to your local Brazilian embassy/consulate prior. The Chicago consulate, for example, can be found at http://chicago.itamaraty.gov.br/en-us/visas.xml.
The trendy neighborhood of Vila Madalena is where I stayed in São Paolo. The neighborhood is home to the best graffiti artists, specifically ‘Beco do Batman’, an area that holds some of the best street art I’ve came across. Here’s a glimpse:
I had some of the best coffee at a place called ‘The Coffee Lab’ in this neighborhood, offering what they call ‘rituals’. On another note ‘D-Edge’ was definitely the spot to be at night if you’re in for some dancing and ‘Jazz nos Fundos’ if you’re in the mood for some live jazz. Overall, since the nights spent in São Paolo were Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, there wasn’t much going on.
Rio de Janiero
Now, on to Rio! Very hard to describe Rio, it has a unique vibe. One of the most beautiful and fun cities one can visit. The scenery, beaches, islands, weather and music cannot be beaten. Stayed between Ipanema and Copacabana, which was a perfect spot to get the carnival experience while staying close to the beach. Also, Leblon is close by, which is considered the classy area of Rio, offering fine dining options and great nightlife.
The food is pretty decent as well, although I was not too impressed by it. There are some restaurants offering ‘Feijoada’, a traditional meaty meal – must try. Brazilian steakhouses are to try as well; I am very biased on my review of steak in Brazil especially after having an intense steak course in Argentina the week prior. There is no match. However, only around Carnival when you can have a hearty Brazilian steak meal while you have a view of the streets going absolutely crazy outside.
The services on the beach enhance your experience; you are constantly approached by food options, especially grilled meats and cheese. People yelling ‘camarão, camarão’ (shrimp) should not be passed. Additionally, there are low key beach bars mixing your favorite drinks; the caipirinhas are to die for.
On another note, let’s discuss the carnival. The entire city is in party mode, costumes, traditional music and insane block parties ‘blocos’. These block parties are organized and are on a specific schedule, which can be easily found online and on Facebook. I wrote a separate post for carnival, which can be found here.
I didn’t take my phone with me amid concerns from different people that it may get stolen, hence the lack of multi media material. However, towards the end, I started carrying it and did not feel any threat; you just need to pay some attention to the surroundings (which is not that easy in these blocos). Here’s a video and a snap from the rare instances I took my phone out of my pocket:
Despite the fact that the whole city is taking part in the blocos, there were some events taking place adjacent to the carnival, with pretty good DJs.
Saw Jackmaster smash the dance floor at ‘Museu de Arte Moderna’ with an outstanding sunrise set. Here’s a video I took during this event, of Rose, one of my favorite tracks by St. Germain:
Finally, on my last day, took a break from all the partying and went to pay Jesus a visit. At the ‘christ the redeemer’ statue, you get the chance to have a 360 degree view of Rio, which is obviously spectacular. The statue is enormous as well; definitely worth the visit.
Rio is to be visited again outside of ‘Caranaval’, since the city is full of activities that you don’t get to do if there is a carnival going on. The carnival, on the other hand, is a must see/experience.