I’m not going to lie, I was super excited about returning to Brazil. The first time I visited – in 2016 – ended up being a bit rushed as I was at the tail-end of an 18-month round-the-world trip. While I did get to explore the city in the few days I spent there, I felt like it was a place I would eventually have to return to. Rio is a special place and you can feel its uniquely awesome energy pretty much as soon as you arrive.
With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as as surprise that Rio is precisely where I chose to start this Brazilian adventure. After 5 months spent practically looking at a screen in Colombia it was time to get back on the road. I found a hostel to stay in Botafogo and booked myself for nearly a week, so that I could do everything I wanted. And I mean everything. Botafogo is practically in the heart of Zona Sul – which also includes Ipanema, Copacabana, Flamengo, and others – and close enough to all the attractions. It’s perfect!
This time around I didn’t want to miss out on anything so I made a thorough itinerary to keep me busy. Among the activities I liked the most were taking the bondinho up to Pão de Açúcar, by far my favourite tourist attraction in the city despite its eye-watering €25 admission price; walking from Copacabana all the way to Leblon along the gorgeous calçadão soaking up the good vibes; and visiting the Museum of Tomorrow, a futuristic museum located in a revitalised part of town. Oh, and the Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading. How could I forget! It is considered one of the prettiest libraries in the world for a reason.
I also went up to Cristo Redentor, something I hadn’t had a chance to do in 2016, and have to say I was a little underwhelmed. Granted the weather wasn’t great but my conclusion is that the statue is cooler to look at than to look from. Other than that it was just a lot of walking around and visiting many, many stunning churches in the Centro district. Rio is a magical place and it’s very hard to resist its charm. Despite its well-known problems, after a week there I concluded what I already suspected: it is easily one of my very favourite cities in the world.
Next stop was the city of Vitória, in Espírito Santo state, which I reached by taking a long overnight bus. There’s no major reason to visit Vitória but truth is distances in Brazil are HUGE and I’m never shy about breaking distances down to discover a new place. Furthermore, there were a couple of nearby viewpoints that seemed very promising to explore. You know me, can’t resist a hike! I opted to stay in the city centre, which was – sadly – very rundown. To the point where I wouldn’t even consider walking around alone at night. A shame. I did manage to explore a little one afternoon and could tell the city would benefit tremendously from some TLC, the impeccably restored Anchieta Palace being a great example of it.
The trip to Vila Velha, across the bay, ended up being the highlight of my stay in Vitória, namely the climb up to Penha Convent for some truly stunning views of Vitória. I also quite enjoyed the nearby hike to the top of Morro do Moreno for great views of Terceira Bridge and Vila Velha’s beaches. As I was alone, it was a bit tense going up but thankfully I didn’t run into any trouble and the views certainly more than made up for it. On the way back to the centre I checked out Curva da Jurema – the main beach on Vitória’s side – but can’t say I was particularly impressed by what I saw.
Next stop was a special one for me. As a history buff, I was quite curious to see the place where the Portuguese first arrived back in 1500. I got to Porto Seguro (which means ‘safe harbour’!) via overnight bus and was immediately impressed by the slow pace of the small city. This would be the first of two stops in Bahia state. The architecture in some areas still retains its colonial charm and it’s pretty fun to explore. While Porto Seguro lacks major attractions due to its size, the two it does have more than make up for it. For history nerds like me, that is.
The first is the historical centre, an old settlement from colonial times located in an upper part of town and excellently preserved. It offers magnificent view of the Atlantic as well as the opportunity to visit a few old buildings now mostly converted to museums and galleries. Sadly, most of them were being renovated when I visited so I had to stick to exterior photos only. Bummer! The second is the Epic Discovery Memorial, which offers a rather average exhibition about the arrival of the Portuguese but still deserves a visit to see the replica of Pedro Álvares Cabral’s caravel.
Since I had plenty of free time I decided to go visit a nearby town by the name of Arraial d’Ajuda. It seemed like it was only a ferry + van ride away so I didn’t even think twice. Result? I loved it! It’s a tiny colonial town with a gorgeous square and one of the few places in Brazil where I felt like I could let my guard down completely because it felt absolutely safe. There isn’t much to see beyond the square so before I left I walked down to Mucugê Beach to see what it was like and… boy, was it busy! Apparently Arraial d’Ajuda is very popular among holidaymakers.
All in all, the first couple of weeks of my stay in Brazil were a success. I was loving to be back on the road and seeing new places rather than just staring at my screen. There were a few minor setbacks but I was glad things were working out in the end. Whenever I got a chance I’d stop for some açaí on the street. It was delicious, and cost about half of what you’d pay in Europe so I was having a hard time finding excuses not to eat more of it! Next up was Salvador, also in Bahia state, and – spoiler alert – I was in for a shock.