A Trip Through Rio, Ilha Grande, Paraty in Brazil with Laura June Kirsch
This past winter I spent 2.5 weeks exploring Rio De Janeiro, Ilha Grande and Paraty in Brazil. Here are my top recs on where to beach, eat and sightsee!
RIO DE JANEIRO
Rio is a large sprawling multifaceted city. The beach scene kind of resembles Miami, while the inland neighborhoods are hilly and reminiscent of LA. The main beaches in Rio are Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon. Copacabana is definitely tourist central - think of it as the Times Square of Rio. The neighborhoods of Ipanema and Leblon are more chill and hip. I would recommend staying in the latter as they are all very close and it’s easy to get around.
Hanging at the beach in Rio is a trip - various vendors will come around and offer you all kinds of goods. You can buy a bikini, a beer and a coconut without even leaving your chair.
The most memorable meals I had while in Rio were at Lasai, Mee, Aprazível, Sushi Leblon and of course a classic churrascaria. Brazil has the second largest Japanese population in the world outside of Japan which explains why there are two sushi spots in my top favorite list - it’s authentic and excellent in Rio.
For sightseeing I did all the highlights: Christ Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, Jardim Botanico (botanical gardens) and Escadaria Selarón. Personally, I feel like going to Christ Redeemer is a necessity, but the experience is unpleasant to say the least. Be prepared to wait in lines and have the site swarming with tourists. While Sugarloaf Mountain is a huge recommendation, I personally didn’t find it all that worthwhile. The views are very nice, but much like Christ Redeemer, this is a total tourist trap experience. PRO TIP: Before doing either of these activities call ahead to the box office and check if a cruise ship is in port that day. If so, do not go that day. The lines will literally be hours longer to see these sites. I highly recommend visiting Escadaria Selarón which is on the mainland in the neighborhoods of Lapa and Santa Teresa. The restaurant Aprazível is very nearby so this is a good dinner and sightseeing combo.
Ilha Grande is a large underdeveloped island off the coast of Rio. It’s an incredibly beautiful island with debatably some of the best beaches in the world. Ilha Grande is definitely a more rugged backpackers destination. If you aren’t down with lots of physical activities and meager accommodations, than this isn’t the place for you.
While the food, town and lodging on Ilha Grande leaves a lot to be desired, the beaches and hikes are wonderful. My main recommendations for this location would be to visit Lopes Mendes beach and Dois Rios beach. Lopes Mendes can be reached by boat taxi and is definitely the more scenic of the two. Dois Rios is only accessible by a five mile hike (ten miles round trip). However, it is near an old prison with lots of beautiful old buildings and other interesting sites. The river also meets the sea on this beach which creates an awesome super warm, half salt swimming hole. Totally worth the trek!
Paraty is a very cool colonial port town with access to many beautiful beaches by either boat or bus. There are plenty of small, independent hotels (pousadas) to pick from, but I would recommend staying somewhere close to the city center. Since it’s a less developed area of Brazil, you should know that accommodations here won’t always be the same quality as Rio or US, even if they have four stars and the prices seem high.
While in Paraty I highly recommend chartering a private boat and scoping out some of the private beaches on the little islands nearby. It’s very inexpensive and a super fun way to spend the day. If you go down to the main dock, boat owners will be waiting around and offer competitive prices for the day. You can also arrange this through your pousada or a travel agency in town.
If you like Italian food, be sure to eat at Pippo and meet Pippo himself. He’s an awesome character and a bit of a local celebrity down in Paraty. Pippo moved to Paraty from Italy many years ago and has been opening incredible authentic restaurants in town ever since. Try ‘em all!
Another highlight of Paraty is the Shambhala day spa. This place is incredible and super affordable, a fraction of the cost of what it would cost for a spa of this quality in US. It’s a little bit off the beaten path so make sure you leave time to find it and book in advance as reservations fill up quickly.
Lastly, definitely visit Cachoeira do Toboga which is essentially a natural waterslide down a huge smooth rock.
Laura June Kirsch is a photographer based in New York City. Follow her on Instagram at @laurajunekirsch.