One of my bucket list was Rio de Janeiro. I have been always fascinated by the landscape, the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, by the Sugarloaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer, the culture and the people.
In saying that, Brazil is fascinating and want to discover it all, but realising how big the country is, you need time, lots of time for that.
We had just 11 days, Christmas to New Year Holiday, and what’s better than spending the New Year in Copacabana?
Planned it all, with the best flights to Rio, spend a week in Rio and few days on Costa Verde (tropical paradise on the Atlantic Coast between Rio and Sao) and Sao Paulo return. Considering that there are just 3 – 4 hours to get to Sao Paulo from Costa Verde, we decided is doable. Plenty of buses to choose from, so we were all sorted. We had 12 hours to get to Sao Paulo airport from Paraty, approximately 280km, so we thought is plenty of time with all possible delays.
We did not consider spending time in Sao Paulo, because reading about the city, we realised you need much more than just few days.
Little did we knew that out of the 14 million people living in Sao Paulo, a big percentage will spend the holiday at the same place as us and they will want to return home in the same time as us.
Needless to say that we have been stuck in a 12 hours traffic jam with approximately 3 to 4 million other people and we could not get to our flight.
A little bit of a drama, the internet connection was super bad, we hardly managed to contact one of our friends back in New Zealand and he was trying to change the flight, but we did not realise that New Zealand was one day ahead of Brazil, so he could not book flights in the past. Just hilarious when you think of it, not fun at all when you are stuck in the middle of nowhere, with kilometres of traffic jam and no alternative.
In the end, our friend managed to reschedule the flight and booked us something 2 days later. We ended up spending 2 unplanned days in Sao Paulo.
We arrived at midnight in Sao Paulo, with no information about the accommodation or areas. Luckily, we were not the only ones in the same situation and some Argentinians that were travelling with us, took us with them to a hotel they’ve been before and we found accommodation.
In the hotel room, after a shower, everything was much much better than the 12 hours in a tiny bus on over 35 degrees sun in the middle of the road to nowhere.
Overall, was an amazing trip. We did manage to see much more than we were planning and we had a glimpse of Sao Paulo and now I definitely want to go back and explore more.
Be open-minded and flexible when travelling to South America and embrace the unexpected.
Allow more time that you think you need and be fluid about it.
Consider the language barrier and try to learn as much as Portuguese and Spanish as possible before you go. Listen to audiobooks in your way to work, learn the basics.
Always have travel insurance for trips in this corner of the world and keep all your receipts especially when things start to go wrong.
I’ve got a Gold visa card where travel insurance is included. Because I love travelling, I thought is super handy, but never used for 10 years. Until one day, when you realise is one of the best investments ever.
After the traffic jam who caused losing the flight, we used our visa to pay for all the extra expenses, like an extra fee for changing flights, hotel for 2 days in Sao Paulo, taxi to and from Airport, and all the other meals that we got a receipt from. We could not justify the $2 we paid to get something from street vendors, but anything that can give you an invoice, use that service and keep all invoices.
We contacted the bus company and they did email confirmation of the events who caused the forced holiday extension.
When we got home, we contacted our bank and with all those invoices and print outs in a month we got completely reimbursed. It wasn’t that easy at work, I had to use leave without pay for the extra unplanned 3 days of holiday, but hey, you can’t win it all.
I hope this will just get you prepared for your Brasilian trip. Despite all that trepidation, it is an amazing country to visit. If you need more tips about how to travel safe in South America, read along: https://romglishvagabond.com/2019/03/13/safe-travel-in-south-america/