This leg of the trip was the most tiring for me. Our flight left Uyuni at 8.45 pm and reached La Paz at 9.25 pm and our flight to Rio de Janeiro is only at 4.40 am with another 1 hour transit in Lima before reaching Rio at 4.40 pm the next day. This was the only choice we had so we had to bite the bullet and rough it out. When we reached La Paz airport, 80% of the shops were closed ( only 2 café was opened) and even the check-in counters were not opened so we could not roam freely with our luggage.
We settled at the food area where all the tables has been cleaned for the day before taking turns to roam around. There is no lounge at all in the public area except for Onkel Inn which is a payable sleep box. The concept is very similar to capsule hotels where guests are charged by the hour for a bed. More information can be found here. If you have priority pass, the VIP lounge is only available in the boarding gates area and is only opened from 3.00 am onwards. ( It only opened at 3.30 am when we were there so we just rested on the chairs instead )
We opted out of the sleeping box as it was extremely crowded so we simply passed our time with pre-loaded videos on our phones and passed out in the plane. We did make use of the priority pass lounge in LIMA but it was so crowded in the morning that we had to queue for 1 hr before being allocated 2 seats in the lounge so we could hardly get any rest.
Upon arrival in Rio, I was greeted with this and after multiple google translate conversation, the airline agreed to pick up my luggage from my hotel for a repair and deliver it before I leave Brazil. With the reputation of Brazil being dangerous for female travellers, we booked into a chain hotel at a generally safer zone. We got into a taxi for BR 102 sending us to the Best Western Premier Arpoador Fashion Hotel. Although the hotel is designed and furnished by a famous Brazilian designer, I was really not impressed as the rooms were really tiny and design was really basic therefore I totally forgot to take any pictures. However, the food was the only redeeming factor.
We ordered a starter to share and this really blew my mind away. We had plantain chips with guacamole. The plantain was sliced so thinly and fried to the perfect crisp. It was absolutely not oily and there was no extra seasoning so you could taste the sweetness of the plantain and when dipped in the guacamole, it was a winning combo. I would have ordered another set or eaten it daily if not for the pretty high price tag.
The main was a seafood black ink risotto with grilled octopus. The grilled octopus and the seafood was crunchy and fresh while the risotto was very flavourful but a tad salty. Overall the dish was good and the service was very thoughtful. After dinner, the hotel staff helped us booked a private guided tour with Rio Carioca Tours at BR 650 which is comparable to a group tour offered by other companies. They have pretty fabulous reviews here
Our guide Enete picked us up the next morning with our driver in a SUV. He spoke perfect English, Spanish and Portuguese. He also spoke some Chinese and Cantonese greetings he learnt from his past guests. Our first stop was to the Christ the Redeemer. We drove past the famous Copacabana beach on route and it was packed with tourist and locals swimming or simply chilling on the beach. This picture taken from the car really reminds me of a scene in Rio the movie when the bird was flying across the street
We reached our first stop and it was packed with tourist. We had to leave our car at the ticket office area and take the designated buses up the Corcovado mountain. To reach the statue, you will take an elevator and another set of escalators before reaching the small platform where the statue is located. Just below the statue is a tiny museum. As we started our tour late, we arrive on site about 12.00 pm and the sun was shining from the back of the statue so our photos had too much light exposure. The suggestion is to arrive really early like 8 – 9.oo am for a much better backdrop for the statue. ( refer to the back view of the statue we took.. perfect blue skies ) Being early also means less crowd sitting / lying on the grounds or squeezing and posing in front of your pictures.
Our next stop was the Escadaria Selarón which is also known as the Selaron Steps located in the Santa Teresa neighbourhood. The steps are famous in Brazil as they are the work of Jorge Selarón; a Chilean born artist who found the steps in his neighbourhood to be too plain and run down. He started renovating the steps from 1990 with colourful tiles he bought by selling his paintings. As more people got to know about his project, they started to bring him tiles from all over the world. Today, the artist’s house is converted to hostel and his project has become very popular with tourist with its super vibrant colours. We spotted a tile from Malaysia but nothing from Singapore.
We visited the Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro next which is right in the centre of the city. The architecture of the church is very modern and unique and was inspired by the Mayan pyramids. It is shaped like a cone and has a huge capacity of 5,000 seats and 20,000 standing. The church has 4 huge stained glass panels and the acoustic of the building was amazing. I can imagine the service here to be so astounding.
Our last stop for the tour was the famous Sugar loaf mountain. The name was coined by the Portuguese who thought the mountain resembled blocks of sugar which was shaped in a conical shape during transportation in the 16th century. The view was amazing on the top of the mountain where you can see the whole area of Copacabana and Ipanema. Sunset is also the peak period where everyone will come up to the mountain to catch the orange hue casted over Rio and also the picturesque city lighting up in the dark. Our tour was supposed to end by 6.00 pm but our guide extended the tour slightly for us to catch the sunset.
We asked our guide to recommend a dinner place which is popular with locals and where we can try the local Brazilian dishes. This restaurant is visited only by locals and the owner do not understand a single word of English. They offer a churrasco buffet as well as a pizza buffet. Since we are in Brazil, we could not leave without trying the local churrasco. The meal was very affordable at only 120 Brazilian Real. ( the meal is actually much cheaper but we had 3 jars of pineapple juice which was not included in the buffet and was quite costly ) I found the meats a bit salty and we could not stop drinking water so we got full quite fast and could not finish our meal.
The next morning, we dropped by Ipanema beach where we can see the Corcovado mountains in a distance. Compared to Copacabana, this beach was less populated and cleaner. The whole time round the song The girl from Ipanema was ringing in my head and it was such a pity we did not have time to lay on the beach chairs and sip a pina colada watching the world go by. The only down side was the sun was blistering hot and we got a bit darker just being in the sun for 10 mins.
One of the favourite local dish in Brazil is the Feijoada which is a black bean stew made with black bean and meat. Since it was our last day in Brazil and the temperature was super hot, we picked a coffee shop just a few steps away from our hotel. The shop was shouting local Brazilian and many taxi drivers and locals staying in the area would stop by for a cup of coffee or lunch. The owner could not speak English but luckily there was an English menu. We order fried fish with rice and chicken stew with rice and a big bowl of stewed black bean. Feeling adventurous, we also order a batida de coco which is a popular coconut liqueur made from rum or cachaça mixed with coconut cream. The drink was so strong that my face flushed just with 2 sips and I could not finish it at all. Aside with the super strong drink, the meal was so delicious we emptied our plates. It was so simple yet as satisfying as eating from your local hawker store. With our tummy filled, we headed out to the airport for our flight to Iguazu falls.