- Trip Notes Brazil Part 1: 10 Years Of Travel And Deal Blogging And A Return To Where It All Began (Published 11/23/14)
- Trip Notes Brazil Part 2: Flying “Private” To Sao Paulo With Miles (Published 2/7/16)
- Trip Notes Brazil Part 3: Iguaçu Falls (Published 4/17/16)
- -rip Notes Brazil Part 4: Rio de Janeiro (Published 5/1/16)
-This trip occurred in October 2014, better late than never, right? I posted that Brazil was waiving their $160 Visa fee for Americans that arrive between June 1-September 18, so that was the impetus to continue writing these trip notes. Argentina is now also waiving their $160 reciprocity fee for US citizens, making this an amazing time to visit both countries thanks to $320 in reciprocity savings and hassles! Read the CDC travel notice about Zika here before booking travel to Latin America.
I explored Rio in 2005 at the end of a year of teaching in Brazil, and was stunned by the beauty of the city.
Landing in Rio, circa my 2005 trip:
And it was in Rio as a 20 year old that I took an exhilarating leap of faith on a hang-glider…
…and ran off of this ramp, full speed ahead:
It felt totally surreal, but it was a truly unforgettable experience.
9 years later on a Tuesday evening I flew with my wife and 2 kids on an uneventful GOL flight nonstop from Foz do Iguaçu to Rio de Janeiro’s Galeão airport. The flight from Sao Paulo to Iguaçu and Iguaçu to Rio was pricing out at $720, so I happily paid 25K Delta miles for the flights. The kids both flew free due to a promotion that GOL was running on their Portuguese language site only. It often has specials not found on their English language site.
View from Rio’s Pão de Açúcar/Sugarloaf Mountain:
It was 9pm by the time we got our bags and the kids were exhausted. We called Deleite (pronounced Jih-lay-chee and meaning “treat” or “of milk”) which is one of Rio’s few kosher eateries, and ordered some pasta to go. We had our taxi driver swing by there before taking us to our hotel, the JW Marriott in Copacabana.
There is a SPG category 5 Sheraton in Rio which is 0.9 miles from Chabad of Leblon and I was quite tempted to stay there. However Rio has absolutely horrendous traffic and the kosher restaurants are located in Copacabana. The ability to be able to walk to lunch and dinner rather than sit in traffic was too big of a deal to ignore. There’s also a category 4 Grand Hyatt and a Sheraton in Barra de Tijuca, but that’s really far away from Copacabana.
The Marriott rooms are a bit dated, but service was above average and they gave the kids beach toys.
JW Marriott Copacabana:
Ocean View Suite Living Room:
Ocean View Suite Bathroom:
Ocean View Suite Bedroom:
View of Copacabana Beach from the room:
The pasta from Deleite was very good even though it was cold by the time we got around to eating dinner:
And their recommended beer was excellent as well:
But the cheesecake was not very good:
Brazil has some amazing fruits, so on Wednesday morning we walked to the fruit market in Praça Edmundo Bittencourt to find some exotic fruits:
The market surrounds a nice park that the kids had a great time playing in:
And best of all the park is gated so that the kids couldn’t run away from us:
Unfortunately, Deleite is only open for dinner, so for lunch we went to Shelanu Bistro. It’s located in the upstairs of the Israel Club and it’s a little tricky to find.
They do have a dinner menu, but they are very reluctant to allow you to order from it for lunch. They strongly encourage you to make a plate of buffet food, which is then weighed at a set price per kilo. The buffet food changes daily and the food is decent, but the menu food is much better.
Their sorbets are excellent:
After a hearty lunch we took a cab to Corcovado Mountain. The driver really wanted to take us all the way to the top and wait for us there for some ridiculous amount of money that kept falling as I said “não, obrigado.” It wasn’t about the money, half the fun is going up the Corcovado train and seeing the beautiful city unfold.
View from the train:
View of Rio and Sugarloaf Mountain from Corcovado Mountain:
After spending some time on Corcovado we took the train back down to the bottom and took a cab to Deleite.
The Chef’s Pasta with Parmesan and Salmon was excellent (R$27/US$7.60, 9/10):
The pesto pasta is made with cream and fresh basil and was phenomenal (R$26/US$7.30, 10/10):
Skip the Lasagna (R$27/US$7.60, 4/10):
The Pizza is very unique and you’ll either love it or hate it. It has a very thin crust, almost like a cracker or matzah. But we loved the flavor of it. (R$27/US$7.60, 8.5/10):
The ice cream was delicious as well:
After dinner we burned off some calories by walking to the Copacabana night market.
Where we were entertained by this guy after putting a couple Reais into his box:
And picked up souvenirs (we always get a beer opener from the places we travel to) and some artwork for our house:
On Thursday morning we swam in the rooftop pool and then I went with Rafi to Shelanu for lunch while Talia napped in the room.
View of Copacabana Beach from the hotel rooftop:
Sandcastle on Copacabana Beach, circa 2005:
This time we convinced Shelanu to let us order off the menu and skip the buffet:
Instead, Rafi ordered grilled Salmon (R$45/USD$12.50)
While I had a delicious garlic encrusted steak (R$66/USD$18.50, 8/10)
After lunch we took a cab to Sugarloaf Mountain. It’s no easy feat with a stroller, though they were working on making the process more stroller/wheelchair friendly at the time.
There are 2 cable cars to get to the top of Sugarloaf:
View from Sugarloaf Mountain:
View of Rio’s Santos-Dumont Airport, named after the man that Brazilians believe invented the airplane.
Stunning views of Rio from Sugarloaf:
Back in 2005 I spent a good amount of time exploring Sugarloaf Mountain, but this time we had a flight to catch, so after taking a few selfies it was back to the hotel to checkout and head to the airport.
By now it was getting into rush hour and the ride that took 12 minutes in the morning took 45 minutes to get back to the hotel. I started getting slightly nervous about our flight.
We were booked out of nearby Santos-Dumont Airport, which is normally a 15 minute drive from the Marriott. But with traffic as heavy as it was we grabbed our things and left the hotel at 5:15pm for our 7:28pm flight.
Mind you, in Cleveland I’ve been known to book tickets for flights within an hour of when they depart. And we had yet to miss a flight.
It seemed like plenty of time to me. Even if the 6 mile drive took an hour, we would still get there in plenty of time to catch our flight.
But it wasn’t. We didn’t get to the airport until 7pm due to Rio’s gridlocked traffic. I could’ve walked there faster than we drove if not for the kids and luggage.
Luggage checkin cutoff for GOL is 30 minutes prior, and no amount of pleading and begging worked to get them to allow us to take our bags 28 minutes before the flight.
The next flight wasn’t until 8:50pm and we had to buy full fare tickets for all 4 of us to get onto it. There is no flat tire rule in Brazil and we even had to pay full fare for the kids, despite the fact that they had free tickets in the first place.
Our new flight wasn’t scheduled to arrive into Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos airport until 10:05pm. GOL flew into Guarulhos Terminal 1, over a mile away from TAM which had just moved into Terminal 3.
GOL has no interline agreement with TAM, so we still had to physically bring our bags and kids from Terminal 1 to 3. And TAM doesn’t fly nonstop from Santos-Dumont to Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos airport.
Our connecting flight on TAM from Sao Paulo to Miami departed at 11:30pm and required luggage checkin no later than 10:30pm. Until this point every plane we had disembarked in Brazil required deplaning by staircase, waiting for our stroller, and getting bused to the terminal. So we’d have 25 minutes to wait for that, collect our bags, and run over a mile to Terminal 3 and make it there to checkin by 10:30pm.
This was Thursday evening and if we missed the flight we would have to spend an unplanned Shabbos in Sao Paulo. TAM’s final first class flight was that Friday night, so we’d also be flying back in their old angled business class seats instead of having our own private first class living room if we missed our connecting flight
It was not a pretty situation.
I went over to the TAM counters and tried everything I could to see if anyone was willing to check us in, add bag tags to our reservation, or help us at all, but they said nothing could be done as we weren’t flying TAM out of that airport. They also refused to call anyone in Sao Paulo to see if they could somehow assist us. It was a far cry from the service they provided to us in Miami on the outbound flight.
I tried calling TAM, to no avail. They all repeated that I had to be at Terminal 3 checkin with my bags by 10:30pm or we would not be allowed to checkin.
We strategized on the plane to come up with the best plan of attack. Upon landing I’d attach Rafi’s carseat to the GogoBabys Travelmate and run like I’ve never run before to Terminal 3. I’d have all our passports and hopefully they’d let us all checkin and print us checked bag tags. Mimi would wait for the gate-checked stroller and take Talia to baggage claim and then bring the bags and the stroller to Terminal 3.
It was a stressful flight to say the least. But things started to gwork in our favor. We landed on time at a regular jetbridge, no bus! I zoomed off the plane at lightning speed with Rafi to Terminal 3 and we even made it to the TAM counter with a couple minutes to spare. The dedicated first class agent was thrilled to see us and gladly checked us all in and printed checked bag tags. Then I ran back to find Mimi and help her with the baggage cart and get our bags checked in.
Had the flight been a few minutes late or had we needed to deplane by staircase and bus I’m sure we would have spent the weekend in Sao Paulo.
But it all worked out and we even had time to relax in the beautiful new lounge for a few minutes:
And then it was time to settle back into our private living room for the redeye back to Miami:
As usual the kosher meals were inedible.
But TAM had no problem warming up my BYOK, an excellent Hawaiian Burger that we brought double-wrapped from Shelanu (R$35/US$10, 8.5/10):
As arriving premium class passengers in the Miami Admirals Club we got drink coupons that we used for these:
Hopefully when the kids are older we’ll make it to Manaus and Fernando de Noronha, but in the meantime it was a fantastic trip to Brazil. It’s a real shame that TAM got rid of their first class cabin as it was by far the most enjoyable use of our miles as a family to date.
You can read lots of great info on travel to Brazil in this DDF Wiki and thread. If you’ve been to Brazil I’d highly encourage you to share your trip report in that forum thread as well!