Travellers' Tales: Brazil, Birding & Barbeques
Ian and Sue Dennis travelled to Brazil with Audley in September 2011, after enjoying a previous trip to Argentina and Chile a few years ago. Here they share their experiences of visiting Iguaçu Falls, spotting kingfishers and Caiman in the Pantanal and relaxing in the coastal town of Paraty.
Ian and Sue at the top of the birdwatching tower at Cristallino
We had wanted to visit Brazil ever since we first went to South America a few years ago and loved our tour to Argentina and Chile. With the helpful advice of Rebecca Profit at Audley we put together an exciting itinerary which took in Rio, Iguaçu Falls, the Pantanal, the southern Amazon area and finally a few days chilling out in Paraty on the Atlantic coast.
As keen amateur birdwatchers we were particularly looking forward to exploring the Pantanal, the vast area of wetlands in the west of Brazil which is home to hundreds of different species. The trip did not disappoint. It was a wonderful three weeks, with so many memorable moments. We began with a long weekend in Rio, mostly in the company of our knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide, Eugenio. The highlight here was taking the cogwheel train up to the massive statue of Christ the Redeemer on a perfect day, and having the most stunning views over this picturesque city.
We had fun investigating the restaurants near our hotel on Copacabana beach; the ‘churrascaria’, or Brazilian barbecue, was notable both for the enormous quantity of meat on offer and the very reasonable price. We definitely did not need breakfast next morning!
"For several minutes we were able to watch this extraordinary animal, which looks like an armour-plated football with a head and tail added on as an afterthought."Sue Dennis
Fisherman Dennis in the Pantanal
From Rio we flew to Iguaçu Falls on the border with Argentina. These were truly spectacular, even in the downpour which accompanied our guided walk. The size of the falls, the widest in the world, the noise and the spray combined to create an unforgettable drama. An unexpected treat here was spotting an armadillo snuffling around the tree roots just a few feet from the path.
They are not often seen in the wild, so this was a real stroke of luck. For several minutes we were able to watch this extraordinary animal, which looks like an armour-plated football with a head and tail added on as an afterthought.
On to our lodge in the Pantanal, Pousada Rio Mutum, where we were warmly welcomed by our guide Zaine. She was delightful, and over the next three days managed to find iguanas, caimans, giant otters and capybara, as well as an astonishing variety of birds for us. To mention just a few of them: herons, kingfishers and flycatchers flew round us in flashes of rainbow colours and occasionally perched long enough for us to get some great pictures.
The climax was on our last afternoon when Zaine took us to see a pair of hyacinth macaws. These endangered birds are the largest species of macaw, a brilliant blue colour, and completely captivating. The journey on to Alta Floresta in the southern Amazon region began with the only scary moment of the trip, a landing in a small plane in a thunderstorm. The pilot circled the airfield three times before attempting the landing, with lightning all around and the rain bucketing down, but eventually made a perfect touchdown with complete control.
We comforted ourselves with the thought that he probably had to do this at least once a week in this rainforest area. At the Cristalino Jungle Lodge we had good views of three types of monkey as well as a rare sighting of a lesser anteater, resting in a tree just by the jetty. Once again, the birdlife was exciting and extensive. Macaws and toucans in abundance, to say nothing of many other species. Our guide Leo endeared himself to Sue by complimenting her on her bird-spotting skills, saying she had ‘eyes like a falcon’.
Paraty, our last stop, has a superbly preserved and pedestrianised historical centre with World Heritage status. We enjoyed exploring it on foot and with rented bikes, and on another day we joined a cruise to the islands in the scenic bay. Audley had recommended a delightful hotel in the centre of Paraty. Pousada do Sandi was a wonderful old building, full of nooks and crannies, with a very pretty courtyard and swimming pool, and an excellent restaurant. It was a lovely last place to stay.
We left with very positive impressions of Brazil. It is a diverse, dynamic country, with friendly, helpful people who are obsessed with football! All the talk was of the World Cup which they will be hosting in 2014. Of course it would be foolish to pretend there are no problems. The gulf between rich and poor is still huge, and crime in the cities is a concern. Having said that, we walked round Rio without difficulty. If you use common sense and try not to look like wealthy tourists you should be fine. Our advice – go to Brazil, start with a caipirinha or two on your first evening, and you won’t regret it!