The other day I was on the verge of a “I need to stay in a Marriot” / “I don’t know if I can handle this for two years” breakdown. Luckily, my attitude drastically improved thanks to some awesome recommendations from our friends Johaan and Kayce! A stunning beach, a welcoming hostel with delicious food, and feeding some cute little monkeys was exactly what I needed to feel like myself again.
Ihla Grande is a beautiful island a few hours south of Rio de Janeiro. You can take a bus and then a ferry, or a boat directly from Rio. The island is mountainous and covered with lush, dense jungle; a big portion is a protected park. There are no cars on Ihla Grande (except for a couple police vehicles), which really adds to the feeling of escape from the big cities.
As I said in my previous post, I’m a picky beach person. But we absolutely loved Ihla Grande’s most notorious beach; Lopes Mendes! White sand, crystal clear water, and very few people – it’s easy to see why this beach is said to be Brazil’s Best and one of the World’s Best Beaches. We have been to a lot of incredible beaches in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Tahiti. It took us awhile to think of which beaches we’ve been to that compete with Lopes Mendes (Antigua’s Rendezvous Beach and Dominican Republic’s Playa Rincon are the contenders). The only downside of Lopes Mendes is that the water was a little chilly while we were there (I’m not sure if this is the norm). Lopes Mendes is a 45 minute boat ride (about $8 USD each way) or a 2+ hour hike from the main town in Ihla Grande. Just don’t make the mistake we did by thinking you can hike in flip-flops! The route there is mostly uphill and full of large rocks and roots. In the last few minutes of the trek to Lopes Mendes there are dozens of Marmoset monkeys. Remember Ross’s monkey Marcel on “Friends”? Marcel was a Marmoset monkey. If you bring some bananas, the monkeys will come over and hang from their feet, hold your hands, and grab the bananas. It was adorable to see their cute little faces covered in banana. The second day I spent $4 USD on pears at the market to feed them and the monkeys were no where to be found (probably because of the impending storms). Ungrateful monkeys!
Another highlight to our 3-day stay in Ihla Grande was our wonderful hostel Studio Beach. Johaan and Kayce raved about this place and they were definitely on point! The hostel owner George loves to cook, and he makes the most delicious home-made dinners (only about $7 USD per person). George and his crew start cooking early in the afternoon and serve dinner at 8. We ate dinner there every night – there was no need to try anywhere else.
For all those fellow travelers, I want to pass on an important lesson that some American girls in our hostel learned the hard way. NEVER use your debit card to pay for things while you are traveling! The three girls have been using their debit cards a few times a day for the last 10 days since starting their journey. While they were on Ihla Grande they logged on to their bank accounts and saw that all three of their accounts were drained. At one of the restaurants in Rio someone must have copied down their information when they paid for their meals. Luckily, they were able to get in touch with their parents and their banks and all of their money will eventually be reimbursed. It’s not even a good idea to use your credit card because people can steal that information too (even though it’s easier to dispute with a credit card). Cash is by far the best way to pay while traveling.
A ferry ride back and a 2-hour bus ride took us to our next and final destination in Brazil – Paraty (pronounced para-chee). I thought I had seen plenty of cobblestone streets before Paraty, but I’d never seen anything like this. I’m talking big, uneven rocks of all shapes. You better wear your hiking boots and watch your step, or you’re going to go home with a cast as your souvenir from Paraty! The rock streets slope dramatically inward in the center and there are openings under the bridges because the city’s streets are designed to let water in and out with the tides. During high tides you’ll see the the streets near the bay flood. When you are feeling confident enough to look up from the sloped, rocky walkways to check out your surroundings, you’ll see that the city is a quaint, adorable colonial town with plenty of shops, restaurants, and old churches. On every street corner you’ll find an ingenious invention – a dessert cart! They are filled with homemade cakes, pies, and other delicious treats for sale. I need to bring these back to the States! The area around Paraty is also known for its many Cachaça distilleries (the Brazilian liquor used in caipirinhas). The local tours of nearby islands and their beaches and waterfalls are popular among the tourists. We’ve just done so many of those types of tours already that we decided not to spend the money. Plus, it was overcast or raining nearly the entire time we were in Paraty. We can’t complain though – this is the first time in our two months of travel that weather has inconvenienced us. Our Sunday wasn’t much different than our Sundays at home in Virginia – an afternoon of “football” and beer with friends. But this time it was Brazilian futbal; aka Soccer. We watched a small soccer tournament at a sandy field along the bay, and shared a few cervejas with some American girls we met in Ihla Grande. The barefoot soccer players were extremely talented and intense.
We’ve had an unforgettable time in Brazil (well over a month), but we’re looking forward to crossing over into Argentina at Iguazu Falls!