• Basque Country

    Travel Planning // Basque Country

    We're booked & planning! Going on a major #bucketlist trip to Basque Country with stops in San Sebastian, La Rioja, St. Jean de Luz and more.

  • Favela Tour, Rio de Janeiro

    Favela Tour in Rio

    Recapping our favela tour in Rio with stops at Rocinha and Vila Canoas.

  • Rainbow over Iguassu Falls

    #LoveWins

    #LoveWins - thoughts for my future kids.

  • Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro

    Rio de Janeiro: Christ the Redeemer

    Heading to Rio? Read about our visit to Christ the Redeemer and why I'm a bit skeptical about it's World Wonder status.

  • Iguacu Falls, Brazil

    Itinerary: 3 Days at Iguassu Falls

    Heading to Iguassu? Find out how to spend 3 days at Iguassu Falls, and why there's more the area than you may think.

Basque Country

Pays Basque + Pais Vasco Itinerary

Do you remember earlier this year when I talked about my bucket list trips/must-sees before parenthood? One of the trips I’ve long wanted to do is a culinary tour through Basque Country, and it’s happening! [Insert a thousand exclamation points here.] As I shared a couple of months back, we surprised my dad with a trip to Ireland for an upcoming milestone birthday, and following that week of exploring the Emerald Isle, Scott and I will be heading to French and Spanish Basque territory for an additional week of sightseeing, wine tasting, dining and exploring. I seriously couldn’t be more excited!

We hotly debated whether or not we could make the extra week work, and were trying to find a way to incorporate an additional region/destination without making our airfare sky-rocket. We browsed the globe, from Dubai + Abu Dhabi to Sri Lanka and Hong Kong, and we came back to our first idea for its cost-effectiveness and ease: Basque Country. To add on the additional destination ended up costing about $250 total per person, including the flight from Dublin to Bilbao. For us, the value is definitely there considering how intriguing this region is to both of us.

Basque Country is incredibly unique in that its home to a culture entirely its own. The region spans across northeastern Spain beginning as far west as Bilbao, and then continues up through France all the way to the Biarritz area. There are coastal towns along with charming towns located more inland, each with its own character and draw. All of are areas, French and Spanish, are bonded by a sense of common identity and even more interestingly, a common language, Euskadi. Euskadi is said to be the oldest European language of all, and is not similar in any way to Spanish or French. While it was banned for some time, it’s enjoying a renaissance now as we (namely, UNESCO) continue to celebrate and foster the rebirth of minority languages. 

We’re still formulating our plan, but here’s a general idea of what we’ve laid out to get a taste of both the Spanish and French parts of Basque Country in the most fun and efficient way possible.

Basque Country Tour Map Read More

Favela Tour, Rio de Janeiro

Heading into our trip to Brazil, a favela tour was on my must-do list before arrival. I had contacted a company simply dubbed Favela Tour in advance and had communicated with their founder, Marcelo Armstrong, whose tours are touted in guidebooks and online. I didn’t totally know what to expect going in, and while the experience started off a bit rocky (a pick-up that happened 45 minutes late), it ended up being a valuable addition to our time in Rio.

With this tour in particular – though I’d wager that many follow a similar format – we visited two distinctly different favelas. The first was Rocinha, which is Brazil’s largest favela and one of the most densely populated areas in the country. 100,000+ residents call Rocinha home, though exact figures are hard to calculate. I honestly went into this having no real idea of what to expect. We often use favelas and slums interchangeably when we speak about them, but our tour guide kept emphasizing that this didn’t reflect reality. What we were seeing weren’t ‘slums’; they were lower-class communities.

Favela Tour, Rio de JaneiroFavela Tour of Rocinha, Rio de JaneiroFavela Tour, Rio de JaneiroFavela Tour, Rio de Janeiro

My in-laws, who had just returned from India, seemed to echo those sentiments. After seeing slums in India, seeing favelas with us in Brazil brought a totally different landscape, physically and socio-economically. Infrastructure existed – there were clearly sanitation mechanisms in place (we didn’t see sewage in the streets as we’ve seen elsewhere), and we even saw satellites to bring television to households. There were some small health clinics (I even spotted an optometrist office), some local schools – including schools for more artistic ventures – plus a limited transport system. While I was initially surprised to see the level of development, it makes sense. With 100,000+ people living in a tight community, aren’t these necessities bound to emerge?  Read More

Rainbow over Iguassu Falls

I couldn’t let today pass without sharing a few words about SCOTUS’ ruling on same-sex marriages yesterday. I started this blog years ago mostly so I could share my life with my family while I was living abroad. It has since evolved, but I also hope in part that it will serve as a lifelong journal of my adventures, experiences, and life happenings for my future children. I hope that one day they’ll be able to read through these posts and understand how their parents grew, the exciting experiences that shaped our perspectives, and how the world has changed in our lifetime.

#lovewins, SCOTUS

This is one of those monumental times. I grew up in a family where I didn’t really understand the idea of discrimination. My parents always instilled in us the common bond of humanity and that no one should be judged by the color of their skin, their religion, their socioeconomic background, their gender, etc. In hindsight, I am lucky to be part of a family that was so open, caring and accepting. It wasn’t until I grew older that I realized that there were people who didn’t share the same open outlook and I always found myself perplexed. Why, exactly, is this bad, and perhaps more importantly, why is this any of my business if it’s not hurting me? This is a stance I take on a lot of things and it’s probably in large part due to my upbringing. Sure, I have my own religious beliefs, but I don’t need to impose them on others or judge anyone for theirs. Yes, I am straight, but that doesn’t mean I harbor any ill will for someone who has a different preference. We’re all different, and fundamentally if we can be good people, living happy and fulfilling lives, what more is there?

Please, no hate here, but I found it difficult to fathom that many from the religious community who touted the values of love, care, inclusion, bettering the world, etc., etc. were sometimes doling out the most oppressive rhetoric. How could groups seemingly founded on espousing love (1 Corinthians 13, anyone?) dole out so much negativity?

Now, in 2015, we’re seeing a world that I didn’t know I would see at such a young age. To think of the progress that we’ve made in the last thirty years is remarkable. As someone jokingly – though accurately – noted on Twitter, in 2000, I never would have thought that I would live in a country where a black man could be elected to the highest office in the country, and in a time where same-sex marriages would be allowed. That was only 15 years ago. It’s amazing to think how far we’ve come as a country in that short span of time.

More remarkably, I think about our future children and the world they’ll live in. The news we see on a daily basis makes me think twice about bringing kids into the world: so much hate, so much violence, seemingly so much evil. Then things like this happen that restore your faith in the future. My children will have to contend with the world’s evils, of this I am sure of. Yet they will also live in a world where the idea of not allowing same-sex marriages is antiquated and where discrimination isn’t generally something that or legal system supports. It’ll seem like a thing of the past, so far gone that they won’t be able to ever truly understand what it meant for our friends and family who have long fought that battle.

Growing up, stories about race relations during my grandparents generation always seemed so foreign. Segregation laws seemed so ancient yet somehow my grandparents – my living, breathing grandparents – could remember those days and how it made them feel as onlookers. Just decades later, I grew up in a world where I didn’t see color; where my best friends were black, white, Asian… I didn’t care and I didn’t see their skin color as any indication of who they were. It may have felt like an eternity when those changes were taking place in society, but historically it was an instant. The same will happen here for us, with our children and grandchildren. Our kids will only ever hear stories about people who weren’t allowed to get married once upon a time; and I honestly can’t imagine how much the world will change by the time our grandchildren arrive.

To my future kids: no matter where you are and no matter what society or laws dictate, remember that we are truly all bound by the simple bond of humanity and there is no second-class citizen. Someone’s religion, skin color, gender, sexual preferences, or socio-economic status shouldn’t be an indicator of their being. Fundamentally, we all essentially want the same thing: to be happy.

#LoveWins

Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro

Visiting Cristo Redentor in Rio

Our first morning in Rio was a sunrise out of a fairytale. We had arrived the evening prior and the sun had set so early that we didn’t get a real chance to admire Rio’s famously stunning skyline. From our room we could see Copacabana beach across the street and hear the sound of people walking down the promenade, but didn’t have the sweeping view that we would get with the sunlight.

I woke up at the Windsor Miramar at around 6:30AM on our first morning, opened our blackout curtains, and saw this:

View from Windsor Miramar Hotel, Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro

Bom dia, indeed, Rio! Truth be told, this ended up being the best sunrise we had all week but it was the most amazing welcome to Brazil’s famously picturesque city. The rest of the day brought haziness and the while the sun tried to break through, it couldn’t quite get there.

Our first order of business in Rio? Christ the Redeemer.

Scott’s parents would be meeting us later that day and they’d both been to Rio de Janeiro previously (in fact, they were the ones that got us turned on to it after their clear admiration for the city’s beauty). They wanted to join us at Sugarloaf but Christ the Redeemer was something they were happy to pass on as they’d seen it before. That being the case, we made that our first stop during the trip to get it in before their arrival. We’d purchased our tickets in advance online (about two weeks in advance) and printed out our documentation with bar code that was our proof of purchase. Bellies full from our hotel’s world-class buffet breakfast, we hopped into a cab and made our way to the tram’s take off point at Rua Cosme Velho (the cab was about R$25). For those looking for a more budget-friendly option, there seemed to be public transport available to reach the tram if the cost of a cab is out of the question. If you’re cabbing to Rua Cosme Velho, have the staff at your hotel tell the taxi driver your final destination if you don’t speak Portuguese. One thing that quickly became noticeable to us was that English wasn’t commonly spoken and Spanish didn’t work as a substitute (we tried, much to our embarrassment). Having hotel staff give your cab a quick directional note before you leave will be hugely helpful!

We purchased tickets for the 9AM tram which was the earliest time available online. When we arrived about thirty minutes prior to takeoff the line was already dozens of people deep. We ended up jumping on a tram at around 8:30AM, marking the earliest entry time. I’m not 100% sure on this but I noticed that there weren’t any 8:30AM tickets available online yet there was clearly a tram ready to depart at 8:30AM. If you want the earliest possible time and have purchased a 9AM ticket in advance, be sure to arrive around 8:15AM so you can get through and really be the first people up there. It makes a difference if you want to check out this World Wonder without a sea of people around you!

I will say that the online booking process was relatively painless and was helpful in the sense that it required us to choose a day and time in advance and add that to our schedule. The morning of, we got to the tram entrance with our documents/receipts in hand and were easily given real tickets and moved through. No questions or hassles.

Read More

Iguacu Falls, Brazil

When we booked our trip to Brazil, we knew that Rio and Iguassu Falls were on our agenda. Our biggest question was how many days to allocate to each. Each area has its own draw and their characteristics are dramatically different. We’d read many blogs and forums where people discussed spending a single day at Iguassu Falls – maybe two – before moving on to other cities or towns in Brazil or Argentina. The falls themselves are the obvious draw, but to really experience the Iguassu area and delve into the region with a blend of adventure and relaxation, 3 days at Iguassu Falls provides the perfect time frame to enjoy what the area has to offer without spreading yourself too thin.

3 Days at Iguassu Falls

Here’s how we allocated our time at Iguassu Falls, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. The order of these activities will be a bit weather dependent. For example, we’d originally wanted to do Argentina on day two, but when the day brought thick cloud coverage and promises for clear skies the next day, we swapped our schedules a bit to make the most of good weather days. If possible, I’d highly recommend you do the same. One of the benefits of having three days vs. one is that you’ll actually have the ability to ride out some bad weather conditions. In our case, two out of three days brought clouds and drizzle, but all we really needed was one sunny day to have a truly standout experience.

Day 1: Arrival, Parque das Aves + Evening to RelaxParque das Aves, Iguassu Falls, Brazil img_0088

We arrived at the Foz do Iguacu airport in Brazil in the early hours of the afternoon. This is a small airport so getting through was a breeze and finding a cab was a simple proposition. Within a few minutes we had exchanged money (great exchange rate at the airport actually!), hopped in a taxi and cabbed our way to the entrance of the national park. We had an entire afternoon and evening ahead of us to explore but also realized that we weren’t 100% energized after the 25 hours of travel time. To keep things simple but fun, we headed to Parque das Aves near the entrance to the park. We arrived around 2:30PM and gave ourselves about an hour and a half to walk around and leisurely explore the space without any set timeframe in mind. That left us plenty of time to get back to the hotel and sip a caipirinha while scoping out the falls from our room before dinner.

Read about Parque das Aves here.

Note: If you’re visiting the falls at a time where they offer the full moon tour, this could be a great night to sneak in that opportunity! As you may imagine from the tour title, the excursion only happens during a full moon so you either have to time your dates accordingly or luck into it. Read More

View of Iguassu Falls from Brazilian side

Should you visit the Argentinian or Brazilian side?

If you’re heading to Iguassu Falls and you’re anything like us, you’re probably trying to figure out if you should do the Brazilian side, the Argentinian side, or both. We knew going in that we wanted to experience Belmond’s Hotel das Cataratas, which naturally meant that we would explore the Brazilian side of the falls. We also were more inclined to visit Rio de Janeiro than Buenos Aires so that factored into our decision-making during the planning process.

Yet many fellow bloggers and people we’d spoken with had mentioned the value of seeing the Argentinian side as well for a different perspective. As American passport holders, we both had to get Brazilian visas ($160 plus a bit of a process required in advance) and accepted that we’d be forking over that fee when the time came to pony up. What we hadn’t realized was that Argentina also requires a reciprocity fee for American passport holders. Unlike Brazil, it doesn’t have to be done at an embassy months in advance. The Argentine reciprocity fee is a $160 fee that visitors can pay online prior to their visit, and the form that is produced is valid as a 10-year multiple entry document. When you arrive at the border, you simply show your passport along with the printout verifying that you’ve paid. I mention this because it’s certainly a factor for people debating whether or not they want to visit both sides. If this is your first time to both Argentina and Brazil, you’ll be shelling out $320 per person in visa and reciprocity fees before you even pay your park entrance fees and taxes if you want to see both sides.

While you can see the falls beautifully from either side, each national park is strikingly different.

Brazil

Iguacu Falls, Brazil

We found the Brazilian side felt much less developed than the Argentinian side. You’ll enter the national park in Brazil transported by the park’s bus system and will have the choice of a few primary stops: a walking trail, the Macuco Safari experience (definitely a cool way to see the falls), and the entrance to the falls’ primary walking trail which sits opposite Hotel das Cataratas. I would argue that the hotel itself is an attraction worth seeing on the Brazilian side as well. The stunning old world interiors are worth a gander if timing permits. {If the bar’s open, try their handcrafted caipirinha with the 6-year-old cachaca – it was my favorite!}

The walking trail for vista points on Brazilian side is a single primary path, consisting of a series of steps that help you descend into the base of the falls. There are viewing platforms throughout but the final viewing station provides stunning panoramic views of the falls (majorly stunning). This is the only real trail that you’ll experience on this side and it’s definitely best to go first thing in the morning so you can enjoy it before the crowds roll in. Since there aren’t as many areas for people to disperse on this side, crowds will be particularly noticeable and limiting.

Entry to the Brazilian side is R$52 per person, about $16.

As a starting point, read about our time on the Brazilian side here.

Argentina

Panoramic view, Iguazu Falls, Argentina

By contrast, Argentina’s national park is much more developed with a number of circuits guests can experience. You’ll have options of visiting the Lower Falls, the Upper Falls, Devil’s Throat (a tram will take you a good portion of the way), and San Martin Island (closed when we were there). You’ll need about four hours to enjoy the walking trails, and each circuit provides a unique perspective of the falls. There’s a ton of signage on this side and there are clear options for handicap accessible routes. There’s a small museum when you enter, and bridges upon bridges made of steel that help transport you from one part of the park to another. On this side there’s also an option for a water safari for an additional fee so if you aren’t experiencing the Brazilian side you’ll still have an opportunity for a water-based journey. There are a few restaurants serving up snacks, plus a number of shops – open air and established – where you can purchase handicrafts, jewelry and souvenirs.

After experiencing all of the available trails on the Brazilian and Argentine side, Scott and I agreed that our favorite viewpoint for the falls was the Lower Falls trail in Argentina.

Entry to the Argentinian side is 260 pesos per person, $26 based on the exchange rate we received.

Read about our time on the Argentinian side here.

The logical next question is: Do I really need both perspectives?

That depends, and ultimately only you can decide whether it’s worth it. I’ll say this much: If you don’t have to pay the reciprocity/visa fees in general (i.e. you’re not a US or Australian passport holder), or if you’ve previously paid one or both of these fees and acquired the necessary documentation during a previous trip then you should definitely see the park from both sides. That’s probably already a given for you, and in this instance your only additional costs are an additional entry fee and transportation which are relatively minimal. We visited Iguassu Falls because we really wanted to experience the destination and see the falls from a variety of angles. There’s a chance that this represented a once-in-a-lifetime visit so we wanted to make sure we didn’t leave with regrets about missing out.

If you hold a passport that requires you to pay reciprocity/visa fees in both Brazil and Argentina you may be facing a different set of questions, including the relative value of splurging on these visas. Scott and I had neither Brazilian or Argentinian documentation before this trip, and weren’t totally expecting the Argentinian reciprocity fee. We debated for a few minutes before finally paying the fee and felt it was justified because we both know that other regions of Argentina are on our must-see lists. In the future we’d like to do a trip to Buenos Aires and Argentinian wine country so this just encourages us to do that within the next ten years to make these fees work a bit harder for us.

Which side should I stay on?

I bring this up next because it ties in to this entire discussion about which visas to acquire and which fees to pay if those are required for you. Ultimately, to figure this out you’ll probably want to ask yourself two questions: 1) What other cities do I want to visit as part of this trip? and 2) Which hotel do I want to stay in during my time at Iguassu?

If you want to do the Brazilian side, stay at Hotel das Cataratas. During our time there it was abundantly clear that a visit to Foz do Iguacu that had us staying anywhere else would have been a much lesser experience. Here’s my honest opinion: if you only want to splurge on one visa (Brazil or Argentina) and are leaning towards Brazil, it’s hardly even a debate as to where you should stay. Beyond the hotel being utterly magical and representative of the best service and hospitality experience I’ve ever had, you’ll also have access to the falls before the park opens. Considering the Brazilian side is one smaller path and an overall less developed set up, having that early morning access truly makes the experience so much more memorable. If you’re not going to benefit from that, I would say stay on the Argentinian side where you can gain a number of vantage points of the falls in their park setup.

Of course your other consideration is where else you may want to visit during your journey, and this element may weigh heavily on your ultimate decision as to which side of the falls you stay on. Everyone we met at Iguassu Falls was visiting as part of a broader trip. That’s not to say Iguassu isn’t worth 3+ days, but it’s likely not a place you’ll stay for a full week. For most people traveling to the area, the common add-on is either Rio de Janeiro for those exploring the Brazilian side, or Buenos Aires for those exploring the Argentinian side. If one of those cities has more of a draw for you than the other, that may help in your decision-making process.

At the end of the day, I’m glad we did both sides. As I mentioned, for us it was worth it because we know that Argentina is a place we’ll want to return at some point in the future. If the reciprocity fee was simply to grant us access to the Argentinian side of Iguazu without any future benefit then we definitely wouldn’t have spent $160 each on those documents.

Conclusion

Iguassu Falls, Brazil

If I were in a position and had to pick a single side to explore with no real preference between Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, it would ultimately come down to this: stay on the Brazilian side at Hotel das Cataratas or do the Argentine side exclusively. Without the full Belmond Iguassu experience, the Argentinian side of the falls have the upper hand for all-around experience.

For those planning to visit, I hope this helps a bit! I know the decision requires a fair bit of research and it’s nice to get other people’s take on it to weigh into that process.

For those that have been to Iguassu, what did you think? Was one side better than the other from your perspective? What factors played into your decision making?

xo from Brazil,

Shannon Kircher


You’ll see Iguazú, Iguaçu and Iguassu used when referring to the falls both on my site and throughout web and print-based guidebooks. Iguassu is commonly used as the English spelling, while Iguazú is the common Spanish (Argentine) usage, and Iguaçu is the common Portugese (Brazilian) usage. You’ll see the towns that the falls call home use these respective spellings (e.g. Puerto Iguazú in Argentina and Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil).

San Francisco Wine Tasting

Editors Note: As a former resident of San Francisco and lover of the ever-stunning Northern California Wine Country, I am excited to showcase a few tour companies that allow visitors to delve into tailored wine tasting and wine education experiences. If you’re heading to my former stomping grounds, I hope one of these tours helps you in crafting a great itinerary that fits your taste and budget.

Guest Post By: IHG Hotels Team

Northern California wines have come a long way since John Patchett planted the first commercial winery in Napa Valley more than 160 years ago. These days, each American state produces wine in some capacity. However, up to 90% of American wine is still produced in sunny California.

Why does NorCal churn out such delicious and unique wines? The lovingly-dubbed Wine Country lies in the center of three mountain ranges, giving the crops diverse climates and elevation options perfectly suited to each one. But the spectacular views don’t hurt the delicious taste of Northern California wine.

Staying in San Francisco puts you in the perfect proximity to several of the state’s best wineries. With world-class companies offering luxury tours, often including transportation and lunch, it’s not easy to pick just one.

Beau Wine Tours

Beau Wine Tours, Napa

800.387.2328

Image Source: Beau Wine Tours Twitter

1As a visitor favorite for years, Beau Wine Tours provides more than just the luxury and class you’d expect from a top-notch winery tour. At Beau Wine Tours, not only will you be shown the “best kept secrets” and “hidden gems” of Wine Country, but they’ll also pick you up from your San Francisco hotel in a luxury automobile. Every single one of Beau’s tour guides is a wine country local, who knows the region like the back of their hand. Seasoned wine collectors and novices alike will enjoy a custom-tailored San Francisco wine tour exactly to their preferences.

Green Dream Tours

Green Dream Tours, Napa

415.692.1644

Image Source: Green Dream Tours LLC’s Facebook

2Since 2008, Green Dream Tours has wowed visitors time and time again. If you’re looking for a more intimate setting and boutique wineries, Green Dream will wow you, too. For those of you in small group, Green Dream Tours works with you to design a customized-perfect day. You’ll travel first class inside their luxury “limo bus,” which picks you and your group up from anywhere in the Bay Area, touring beautiful Napa Valley or Sonoma Valley. You can choose a half-day or full-day tour, and no matter which you choose, you’ll enjoy a friendly, fun, and enlightening wine-filled day at a great rate. Read More

Belmond Hotel das Cataratas

There are some destinations and overall experiences that are enhanced – or even made entirely – by the hotel that you select. In major cities, we usually try to find the best value; not necessarily the cheapest property, but the place that offers the most in terms of location and amenities for the overall price.

There are certain destinations though where the hotel is half the draw if not the attraction in and of itself. This is the case with Belmond properties generally for me. Their locations are incredibly well-chosen and their properties generally do such an enchantingly good job of capturing the spirit of the old world and essence of a place that I write off the extra expense as something experiential, not just purely accommodation costs (I’ve seen one exception to this, but generally find their properties to be consistently great).

Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, Iguassu Falls, BrazilBelmond Hotel das Cataratas, Iguassu Falls, Brazil

For us, Hotel das Cataratas was the draw. We essentially based our entire trip around this property, knowing only that we wanted to do something extra special for Scott’s milestone birthday and that Central or South America could be a good fit for our focus this year. The hotel consistently gets ranked amongst the top resorts in South America and our experiences at other Belmond (formerly Orient-Express) properties in Peru during our honeymoon solidified our love for this brand broadly. Knowing that we wanted to stay here, we added on Rio de Janeiro to stick with the Brazil train, and crafted an entire itinerary that included three nights at Iguassu Falls followed by a longer stint in Rio.

Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, Iguassu Falls, Brazil

Hotel das Cataratas is the only hotel within Brazil’s Iguassu National Park system which means not only do guests have unparalleled views of the falls from the hotel (or from the room in some instances!), they also benefit from early access to the falls before outside visitors are allowed through the gates. I seriously cannot emphasize the value of this enough (read my top 5 experiences at Iguassu Falls for more) – the feeling of being alone in the park is truly magical.

Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, Iguassu Falls, BrazilBelmond Hotel das Cataratas, Iguassu Falls

Unlike the Sanctuary Lodge at Machu Picchu where we stayed for a night during our honeymoon, we found this place to represent insanely good value. Now, I’m not saying it’s cheap – it’s not, but when you consider the added value of having early access to the park and having an incredible complimentary daily breakfast (an amazing spread as is the case with all Belmond properties we’ve experienced) the pricing seems more and more justified. The hotel also boasts a tower that represents the highest point in the park for great views of the falls. Add to that the no-expense-spared approach to all of the linens, towels and amenities (they even give you a free pair of Havaianas!), plus arguably the best customer service I’ve ever experienced and it becomes a bit of a no brainer. Read More

Top 5 Experiences at Iguassu Falls

Seeing Iguassu Falls first-hand is a bucket list experience in and of itself. Honestly, we headed to the falls without much of a plan. We knew we wanted to enjoy a bit of slow travel and take in the famous falls from the Brazilian and Argentinian side, but beyond that we didn’t totally know to expect or what experiences lay ahead. Being in the hotel industry ourselves and understanding the knowledge and power of a resort’s concierge, we planned on deferring to them for guidance, and we weren’t disappointed by the incredibly knowledgeable and well-equipped team at Belmond’s Hotel das Cataratas.

Heading to Iguassu Falls? Here’s a quick rundown of five must-have experiences:

Scope out the falls from the Brazilian and Argentinian sides

Lower Trail, Iguazu Falls, Argentina

1Everyone told us that seeing the falls from both sides provided an extra-special experience and we found that to be true. It didn’t hurt that the sun was shining brightly on the day that we experienced the waterfalls – lots of gorgeous rainbows during our journey. Being based on the Brazilian side, it took us a half day to explore the Argentine side properly on the walking trails and tram.

Read about the Brazilian side here and the Argentine side here to understand their differences.

Take a helicopter ride over Iguassu Falls

Helisul, Helicopter Tour, Iguassu Falls

2I had never experienced a helicopter ride before my tour of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay at Iguassu Falls. A helicopter ride adds a very interesting layer and perspective to the enormous waterfall system. I’ve also always wanted to learn to fly so I generally love being up the air – the helicopter was awesome!

Allot R$350 per person for a 10 minute experience with Helisul. Read about our helicopter experience here. Read More

Macuco Safari, Iguassu Falls

Through Iguassu Falls on a Macuco Safari

No trip to Iguassu Falls is complete without an experience on the water. The Macuco Safari is the most popular add-on experience on the Brazilian side of the falls and allows visitors a two-part journey: a drive through the jungle on an eco-friendly vehicle, plus the main event: a boat ride to the falls and through the falls.

Our tour guide, a bilingual Brazilian with a penchant for testing his American accents (actually really entertaining), led us through the jungle by car and explained the flora and fauna during a two-mile trek to the water. We visited the Peruvian Amazon a couple of years back so we were familiar with some of the plants and animals that surrounded us during the journey (more plants than animals); we were mostly looking forward to getting up close to the falls. After a final short 600 meter hike, we reached the departure point for the Macuco Safari. There was a shop selling ponchos (R$10 each, and a must if you don’t want to be 100% saturated), plus a series of lockers (R$5 each) for people who wanted to lock up a dry set of clothing, valuables, etc.

Macuco SafariMacuco Safari, Iguassu Falls, Brazil

On the day we visited it was actually really cold. At least for us Caribbean residents. Being the great planner and prepared traveler that I am, I was wearing shorts, a tank top and a bathing suit and knew that without a poncho I’d be violently convulsing from the cold of the falls. Honestly, that poncho was the best R$10 investment ever.

We geared up with life jackets, ponchos, and a dry bag that we’d brought to protect our cameras and phones from the water and hopped aboard the boat. Front seat, of course.

Macuco Safari, Iguassu FallsMacuco Safari, Iguassu Falls, Brazil

On a sunny day this would be utterly amazing and magical. I mean, can you imagine zipping underneath a rainbow and having the sun dry you off after a soak? On a cloudy day, it was still impressive and a must-have experience. I mean, can you really go to Iguassu Falls and not get thisclose to experience them? Zipping by them, we could see the enormity of the space. I’ve had friends mention that this doesn’t really compare to Victoria Falls in Africa and I find myself unable to fathom that. If that’s really the case, I’m glad I got to experience this first because I found it awe-inspiring. My only personal points of comparison are waterfalls in Dominica and the falls that I grew up experiencing in Yosemite National Park.

I remember thinking Nevada Falls in Yosemite was out-of-this-world stunning. Those falls are like one of the tiniest of this waterfall system. There’s no comparison, not even in the slightest, so to say I was awe-struck might be an understatement. We took the drive to the falls and had a moment to just take it all in and snap a few misty photos before the captain jetted us underneath the falls for the full experience.

If you’re embarking on this adventure, just a note: you will get saturated. If you’re bringing an actual camera (I did), make sure you have a plastic bag or a dry bag to keep them safe, or cover them securely within your poncho before heading under the falls. One of the staff members on board has a GoPro and will snap photos of you in front of the falls and capture footage of the experience. You can buy individual pictures or the video at the end if you aren’t able to capture pictures of your own!

Macuco Safari, Iguassu Falls, BrazilMacuco Safari, Iguassu Falls, Brazil

If you’re visiting the Brazilian side of the falls, this is a must-have experience. The actual hike to the falls and its viewing platform are fabulous but not overly comprehensive in nature (not as expansive as the Argentine side) so this is a great add-on to allow a really up close experience with the falls themselves. Seeing them from below adds a unique perspective and really allows you to appreciate the magnitude and power of the water.

Practical Information

  • Macuco Safaris leave every hour from 9AM – 5PM; you can buy tickets at the door or purchase online in advance for R$179 per person.
  • Wear lightweight clothing that can dry quickly or bring a change of clothes. Yes, I froze in my shorts and tank top but I dried instantaneously when we disembarked.  There were people in jeans and long-sleeved shirts that got 100% saturated and had to walk around in wet denim.
  • Wear flip-flops vs. tennis shoes. You’ll get soaked and having to walk around in wet socks and shoes would not be fun!
  • Lockers are available for hire for around R$5 before you embark on the water-based portion of this journey. You’ll be able to store your valuables or anything you want to prevent from getting soaked before taking off.
  • Bring a plastic bag or a dry bag to keep your electronics dry.
  • Ponchos (R$10) and souvenirs are available in the shop before embarking on the journey; if you don’t want to get totally soaked, buy a poncho.

Have you done the Macuco Safari? What did you think?

xo from South America,

Shannon Kircher