Written by Tom Thrun.
I have gazed longingly at Rio de Janeiro brochures ever since I started in the travel business over thirty five years ago. My globetrotting father always said that there is no place on earth quite like Rio. Don’t ask me why it took so long for me to finally get there, some destinations just inexplicably get stuck on your travel ‘bucket list’. But thanks to my lovely wife Joy, Rio was about to be moved from the ‘bucket’ to the ‘been there,done that’ list for our 25th wedding anniversary.
It was a perfect trip from start to finish celebrating such a special milestone. Let me begin with the flight. We enjoyed Delta’s business class service on the ten hour nonstop from Atlanta to Rio de Janeiro.Flying all night in comfort and with only a one hour time difference, we arrived rested, refreshed and ready to hit the ground running. In my opinion, flying upfront on any long haul adds immeasurably to the overall travel experience. There are several economical options to do it these days and I just happen to know a fabulous travel agency that can help you out with that.
The first thing that strikes you when you arrive in Rio is the stunning physical beauty of the place. The azure blue Atlantic lapping the world famous beaches framed by emerald green mountain peaks, it looks just like all of those brochures! The other thing that impressed us from the start was the people. The Cariocas are passionate people and they love their city. This was highlighted by being there during the week that they were awarded the 2016 Summer Olympics. The city was at a fever pitch and more exciting than ever! Our home away from home was the Sheraton Rio, the only hotel in town directly on the ocean. Our oceanfront room looked out over the bay with a gorgeous view of Ipanema. It was a private little sanctuary within walking distance but away from the hustle and bustle of downtown.
During the weekend Copacabana and Ipanema beaches are packed with the beautiful (and not so beautiful) people. A pulsating mass of over tanned humanity that took the sport of people watching to a whole new level. On Sunday, our actual anniversary, we went to the famous Hippie Fair in Ipanema. This open-air market started in 1975 and continues today selling everything from risqué t-shirts to fine art. We purchased an abstract oil painting depicting the notorious favelas to commemorate the special day. That afternoon we attended a soccer game at Maracana Stadium, the largest stadium in the world with a seating capacity of 200,000 people.Needless to say , the atmosphere was electric and the Carioca passion was on full display. Joy’s favorite part was the inability of the young Brazilian men to keep their shirts on during the match. She transformed into a rabid soccer cougar, frightening me and everyone around us.
During the week we also went to the summits of Rio’s most recognizable landmarks, Sugar Loaf and Corcovado. Our visit to Sugar Loaf was on a crystal clear afternoon that provided spectacular views of Copacabana and Guanabara Bay. At sunset the sight of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado was breathtaking. When we visited the statue a couple of days later we were not as fortunate. As we disembarked the historic cogwheel train that took us to the peak , a rain storm moved in obscuring the view. The dense clouds blew in and out and at times you couldn’t even see the ‘Big Guy’. It was spooky and spiritual all at the same time. So when the going gets tough the tough go shopping!
We strolled around a rainy Ipanema and decided to stop in at the H. Stern Jewelry Headquarters. After learning about Brazil’s enormous gemstone industry, Joy insisted upon supporting the local economy… happy anniversary baby! For lunch we went to Bar do Vinicius, the place where Antonio Carlos Jobim composed the iconic ‘Girl From Ipanema’, the song that put bossa nova on the musical map. Salted cod with roasted vegetables and a few caipirinhas…ahhhh. Speaking of food, the cuisine at Sushi Leblon was out of this world. The story was that Tom Cruise and family had dined there recently and after the experience little Suri will now only eat with chopsticks. After having one of the best meals I have ever had I can fully understand why the diminutive diva was so impressed! There is a plethora of things to see and do in this wonderful city, but just ‘hanging out’ together was our favorite pastime. One day we took a leisurely stroll along all of Rio’s famous beaches. Starting at Leme in the north down Copacabana and Ipanema continuing south to Leblon. Stopping at the occasional juice bar just to take in the unique scenery and atmosphere. For afternoon caipirinhas we ducked into the famous Copacabana Palace, Rio’s social epicenter since 1923. Lounging poolside at this legendary grande dame was another unforgettable travel memory.
Although it was difficult to leave the big city excitement of Rio de Janeiro, we had to press on. You can’t visit one of the most bio diverse countries on the planet and not get back to nature. So we took a two hour flight to one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Iguassu Falls. Set in a subtropical rainforest where Brazil meets Iguassu Falls this two mile long force of nature is breathtaking. The Brazilian side offers stunning panoramic views while the Argentine side offers a more up-close and intimate experience. We stayed at the Sheraton Iguassu on the Argentine side, the only hotel actually located in the national park. Our beautiful room had a full view of the falls and the surrounding jungle, it was truly spectacular! We walked the miles of trails that snake around and over the thunderous cascades through the rainforest. For an up close and personal encounter with the falls we took an early morning boat trip aboard a high speed zodiac. Zipping through the whitewater rapids of the Iguassu River we pulled up right underneath the tumbling water. Drenched to the bone like drowned rats and minus a contact lense, it was a once in a lifetime morning shower!
Our South American anniversary was everything that we thought it would be and much more. New adventures always rejuvenate the soul and expand our horizons. But the best thing about our special trip was just being alone together and creating lifelong memories. Here’s to another twenty-five years of wedded travel bliss… CHEERS!!!