Rio has never been very high on my “to-do list” but I really wanted to go and see Iguazu Falls and with no direct flights from Amsterdam, I had to make a stop somewhere, so why not Rio.
Getting flights organized was actually a bit weird. KLM has a great offer to Rio (about 520 EUR) but to Iguazu, with a connecting flight, the price was close to 1000. The connecting flight was with GOL, so I went to their website and booked a return flight for around 100 after I had bought a KLM ticket to Rio. I was on exactly the same flights as KLM had offered (all the way), but saved close to 400 just by booking tickets separately. A bit weird that there was such a big difference.
Anyway, after a long flight, I arrived in Rio late in the evening. I was only staying in Rio for 2 nights before going to Argentina and unfortunately the weather was horrible with pretty much constant rain, so the only sights I saw was Copacabana – with plenty of bars where I could seek shelter from the rain. I stayed at Merlin Copacabana Hotel, about a 5 minute walk from the famous beach.
So pretty much nothing happened in Rio, but I knew I was returning later so just hoped for better weather.
GOL is a Brazilian low cost carrier, but reservation and flight as well, went fine without a hitch. Be aware that if you want to visit Iguazu from Rio, there are 2 airports at Iguazu to choose from. Foz do Iguazu (IGU) is on the Brazilian side of the falls, and Cataratas del Iguazu (IGR) which is on the Argentinian side. Both countries allow for visa on arrival, but there might be nationalities which can enter one but not the other, so make sure you know which airport (country) you are going to.
The 2 airports are only about 30 km apart and both are within 10 km or so from the falls, so to visit the falls, it doesnt really matter – just be aware that they are in 2 separate contries.
I had decided to stay on the Argentina side at Hotel Saint George in Puerto Iguzau.
You can make the journey into town on the cheap by taking public busses, but my hotel arranged for a private taxi for USD 30 so I just could not be bothered with the hassle.
The driver was waiting on my arrival and we went straight to the border. Crossing was simple and took just a few minutes.
There are lots of hotels and other accomodation to choose from, but be aware that a lot of the somewhat smaller places will not take credit cards – its cash only.
The town as such has very little to offer – tourists who visit come purely to visit the falls and there just is not a whole lot of other things to do.
There are plenty of ways to visit the falls, for example half day Argentine side, half day Brazilian or full day both sides. The park (with the falls) is huge so this is not a place to go for an hour or 2. You can get to the park entrance by public bus and buy a ticket yourself, but quite frankly, for a few euros more, you will get pick up from your accomodation, taken to the park, driven around etc etc. Take a look here to get an idea of whats on offer (do not book anything until you are there – online prices are usually heavily overpriced).
There are lots of trails for nature hiking as well, so if thats your thing, you can easily spend 2-3 days here. If you have to choose (because of lack of time) most will say go for the Argentinian side, however I can’t really make up my mind – both sides are stunning and definately worth a visit.
Just a few days here was enough for me, so headed back to Rio, again with GOL.
This time, I stayed at Hotel Arena which is located right on Copacabana Beach. Great food, great room and a fantastic outdoor bar / pool area with views over the beach. The weather still wasnt the best, but of course you cannot visit Rio and not visit Christ the Redeemer.
There are several options to get there, but i opted for a bus from the beach, roughly half way up, then change to smaller mini vans the rest of the way. The bus leaves frequently from inside a small park called Praca do Lido. There was not a whole lot of signs around, but the entrance is at Rua Belfort Roxo.
The statue – along with Iguazu – are some of the most popular tourist attractions in South America, so no matter what time of day / year you go, you will not be alone. I went as early as was possible, as most of the organized tours tends to get there a bit later.
I was lucky – not many people were around and just as i got there, the clouds lifted a little. There are 2 reasons for visiting – the statue itself of course, but the views over Rio are fantastic. There are often lots of fog or clouds hanging around so it might be a good idea to check weather forecast before going – would be a great shame to get there and not being able to see a thing.
Oh and on a sidenote – if you are considering doing a similar trip, make sure you have enough blank pages in your passport – this trip added 7 (beautiful) stamps to mine and some countries can be very strict about you having minimum 2 blank pages available.