OYOP: Brazil Beach Towns-Buzios & Arraial do Cabo
The arrival to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was overwhelming. It was the first time since first arriving in Peru at the beginning of our trip that I felt the anxious and exciting feeling of being somewhere completely foreign. Most of the feeling came from the immediate realization that we would have trouble communicating in Portuguese. But also, something about the city on first impression felt more foreign, more unique, and more chaotic than what we had gotten used to elsewhere. We had not booked a hostel since we weren’t sure if we would get our Brazilian visas in time and make the flight from Iguazu Falls that day. Upon arrival in Rio, we used the airport wi-fi to search for hostels in neighborhoods recommended by a travel friend we met back in Isla del Sol, Bolivia, Lucas, who lives in Rio de Janeiro. Once we had a place booked, we then struggled with getting cash. None of the ATMs at the Rio airport worked, a problem we thought may have been related to our inability to read in Portuguese until we saw others’ failed attempts. We had to resort to exchanging a US $100 bill for Reals to get cash for transportation, a process that forced us to lose a third of the money in the unfavorable exchange rate and fees. With cash finally on hand, we took a taxi to the hotel. The driving from the airport into Rio was the scariest we had yet experienced in South America. Drivers whipped their cars around at high speeds in real and imaginary lanes, motorcyclists weaved in and out of traffic, and pedestrians seemed to barely make it across roads unscathed. When we made it to the address, we realized it was more of a self-sufficient apartment with no one there and, it appeared, no other guests staying. We waited around for half an hour for someone to show up before deciding we weren’t comfortable with the choice and caught another taxi to a backup hostel recommended by Lucas. We were able to get the last 2 beds in an 8-bed dorm room in the popular hostel. We were exhausted by the day, and after a nice conversation with a fellow traveler, crashed on tiny top bunk beds in the crowded room.
We headed out of the city the next morning. We were excited to explore Rio, but first, we needed to refresh. We took a 3-hour bus ride to the beach town of Buzios, Brazil, and were immediately reinvigorated. Buzios is a beautiful town with 17 different beaches and a downtown filled with cobblestone pedestrian walkways, including the most popular Rua des Pedras, piers leading out to the water, and tons of restaurants, bars, and boutiques. It is a popular vacation spot for Brazilians and Argentinians, and the people watching is at its best. On the first day, by the time we arrived to our pousada, family-run inn, and put down our bags, we had just enough time to catch a ride downtown for sunset. We learned quickly that getting around in Buzios is easy and cheap. Mini-vans transport people all around town for $2.80 Reals per ride (less than US $1). The only downside is they pile in more people than seats so squatting down by the sliding door or holding on while leaning over a stranger’s lap is common. We walked all along the inviting downtown area with many other beachgoers finishing long days in the sun with dinner and capirinhas, the refreshing local cocktail made of sugar-cane rum, limes and sugar. The nightlife was fun and casual, with people strolling around in colorful clothing barely covering their swimsuits, and watching the sunset from the piers.
Over the course of the next 3 days, we visited different beaches in Buzios. Each one had a different atmosphere, and all were gorgeous. The charming town of Buzios and its beaches definitely set the standard high for beaches I will visit in the future. The first day, we visited the relaxing Praia Brava, where we hiked a short trail for a stunning viewpoint and continued on to a much smaller beautiful beach for a quiet afternoon. The next day, we spent the day at Praia Fernandez, where we took turns snorkeling around beautiful coral filled with colorful fish. It was lively with lots of people, music, and food. All day, vendors walked around selling swimsuits, beach clothes, and best of all, a wide variety of homemade food: empanadas, boiled corn, sandwiches, and my favorite, acai, a frozen purple berry delight with toppings like granola, sprinkles, chocolate, or nuts. On our last day, we visited Praia Geriba, a larger beach with a family-fun atmosphere. Here, we rented a table, chairs, and umbrella, all for $20 Reals (about US$5) for the entire day. We watched surfers brave the waves, tasted beach food all day, and mostly, people watched. Brazilians are diverse and beautiful. The people on the beach were of all shapes and sizes, but almost everyone, male and female, confidently flaunted swimsuits of the tiny variety, getting a tan on as much of their bodies as possible.
After a few days in Buzios, we made the difficult decision to leave to check out another town. We took a one-hour bus ride to Arraial do Cabo, a small fishing town with more beaches. The one-hour bus ride was packed, and we spent the entire ride standing and clinging on to the handrails. The town of Arraial do Cabo was not as instantly captivating as Buzios. The smells of fish combined with the slight sewage smell around the town made it at times, slightly off putting. Also, even though the town is small, the nice beaches are not all easily accessible. Some must be accessed by boat or long hikes with no shade. We decided on a beach known for its beauty and occasional orca whale sightings, Praia Prainhas, and tried to take a water taxi to visit it. It turns out most people weren’t taking water taxis and we would have to wait around for more people who wanted a ride for the taxi to take us. As we waited, we were approached repeatedly by a boat operator selling a “complete tour”, a 4-hour excursion with long stops at two different beaches, including the one we wanted to visit. Fortunately, he was about to leave and trying to get as many people as he could on board, so he offered us the same price as a water taxi would have cost us round trip. This price was half the cost of the complete tour and, we were happy to discover it turned out to be a beautiful and enjoyable trip. We went to Praia do Forno and Praia Prainhas, rode to a cave and alluring beachside cliffs, and saw dozens of giant sea turtles and even a large sting-ray in the water. It couldn’t have been better, and I was starting to see why a stop to this town was worthwhile.
That night, the power went out in most of the entire town as far as we could see, which we learned was a frequent occurrence. We went outside listening to the sounds of the city, entertained as a propoganda car drove through town and somebody set off fireworks. When the power came back on an hour later, cheering rang throughout the houses on the hillside. The next day, we took a short hike to Praia do Forno and spent a final relaxing day at the beach. After over a week away in these refreshing and stunning beaches, we were ready to go back to the busy city of Rio for the final few days we would spend in South America.