Conquering the Seventh Continent‚ South America


As you get older, the number of opportunities you get to do something spectacular for the first time falls like flies in a microwave. For me, visiting South America was way up on my list of things to do before I’m 40… But for my sister-in-law, it was an even bigger milestone – it would mark setting foot on her seventh and final continent. By “final” I mean the last in the list… she does make it back to Europe!

This trip was to be a birthday present to her, and as I had a few miles tucked away for just such an event, it seemed only right to mark her last continent with her first FIRST on British Airways.

With 2 weeks holiday booked off work, we decided to spend most of our time in Rio De Janeiro, with a short 3 day visit to Iguacu to see the amazing Falls, and a day in Sao Paulo before our flight back home.

London Heathrow – Rio De Janeiro on British Airways FIRST

When I booked the trip, it was to be our first flight from Heathrow’s new Terminal 5. However, due to the monumental balls-up that was BAA and BA’s move to the new terminal, we ended up flying from Terminal 4.

Hannah (my sister-in-law), Emma (my wife) and I arrived by taxi a good 3 hours before our flight. We’d already checked in online, but for Hannah’s first time in FIRST, I wanted her to be able to enjoy all of the perks without having to rush.

Fortunately, Terminal 4 was so calm we just flowed through. We collected our boarding passes from the FIRST desks and made our way through the security fast track. 5 minutes later we were through and on our way to the Concorde Room. Having put our hand luggage in the cloak room, we then paid a visit to the Elemis Spa to book our massages.

I feel now is probably the time to admit something. I don’t tell many people this… it’s on a strictly need to know basis. But for the purposes of this article, I don’t feel there’s any way to avoid it, so I’ll just come out with it. I get my hair cut at Toni and Guy. Why? Well, their cuts are quite good, so no problems there. But no, the reason for the visit starts way before my stylist has begun her metro-sexual healing… I go there for the scalp massage they give when applying the conditioner. I lie there, head back in the sink, warm water running through my hair, and my fingers tingling with the anticipation of what is to come. The girl behind me applies the peppermint conditioner, and begins slowly to massage my scalp, running her thumbs in circles while her fingers caress every inch of my head. For the next 90 seconds, she and I are the only ones in the room, and though she has no idea, she has me completely under her peppermint spell.

Meanwhile, back at Heathrow, this was the first time I had used the spa since it had been taken over from Molten Brown. I opted for a shoulder and head massage, which was, well… OK. I sat in the massage chair which pummels and kneads your whole body from the top of your back right down to your feet. But my head felt under whelmed. The whole treatment lasted around 20 minutes, after which I rang my therapist at Toni and Guy for an emergency appointment upon my return, and then it was time for a spot of pre-flight dining.

The Concorde Room in Terminal 4 offers a 3 course meal for all passengers in the lounge on long haul evening flights, and is often better than the food that can be served in the air. This was washed down with many glasses of Jaquart champagne.

In addition to a few Duty Free purchases, we also registered Hannah for IRIS to allow a speedy route through immigration on our return to London. We then began the long trek to Gate 25 (on Victor Peer) where our flight was boarding.

As we boarded the aeroplane, we were shown to our seats; 4A, 4E and 4F. These are in my opinion the best seats for 3 people wishing to sit together at the pointy end of the plane. Macadamia nuts followed, accompanied by a perfectly chilled glass of 1999 Bollinger La Grand Annee champagne. The first of many :)

I enjoy travelling in FIRST most when I get to share the experience with others, especially when it’s all a new experience to them. However, having had the occasional disappointing flight, I always have that niggling worry that maybe this will be a repeat.

My worries couldn’t have been further misplaced. The crew were perhaps the best I’d ever had the pleasure to fly with, and they seemed as excited to be there as we were. Our glasses were always kept topped up, they were very friendly, and were happy to chat for as long as we wanted about the best things to see and do in Brazil. Inside tips from regulars are worth so much more than what can be found in dated travel books.

As all of BA’s 747s have now been upgraded to New Club World, they all have the new Audio/Video On Demand (AVOD) in every cabin. That said, I only watched the last half of a film that I’d started watching a few weeks before. I was more interested in enjoying the flight with Emma and Hannah than ignoring them for 14 hours!

After an excellent meal, complimented by many more glasses of Bolly and a rather nice Paulliac, we were about ready to get some sleep. Our beds were made up by the crew while we changed into our pyjamas, and we settled down to sleep following one last night-cap.

We awoke to a Full English Breakfast an hour before we touched down in Sao Paulo, where a few passengers disembarked before our flight continued to Rio. On the ground the crew also sneaked me a Bacon Baguette while Emma changed out of her pyjamas – a little indulgence I am rather keen on :)

It was however time for the current crew to leave us, as they would be going on to Buenos Aires in a few days. It was now around 4am in Brazil, and a new crew would join us for the final hop to Rio. At 4am, I think it’s fair to say I’m not the chattiest of people, so I could well imagine our new crew being rather subdued on this final 1 hour hop.

Again we are greeted by another remarkable crew. We were quite awake by now and excited to be nearing our destination. Our crew couldn’t help but share in our excitement. Even the CSD chatted to us for a good 10 minutes before we took off.

But best of all was a member of the crew named Tim. With nearly all of the other passengers in the cabin having disembarked at Sao Paulo, Tim stayed and chatted to us for the entire flight to Rio, diving back into the galley only to open more bottles of champagne. He was so animated in his suggestions of where to eat and drink, and his excitement was so infectious, that by the time we set foot in Rio, we were grinning from ear to ear.

What a spectacular flight.

The InterContinental, Rio de Janeiro

After collecting our luggage, we went through to the arrivals hall where we met our driver. I often book a hotel car the first time I visit a country; while it’s more expensive than taking a taxi, it does mean I know I can trust the driver, the fare is pre-arranged by the hotel, and it gives me a chance to get my bearings.

As we drove through Rio de Janeiro, the driver pointed out a few of the sights, such as Christ The Redeemer and Sugar Loaf Mountain.

Our driver dropped us off in the hotel lobby, and I looked around for where to check in. As a Royal Ambassador I am allowed to check in and out at the Club Lounge, which was on the 15th floor, so I proceeded to the lifts.

I had booked a standard room with 1 king and 1 extra bed to sleep the 3 of us. Fortunately we had been upgraded to Club Suite, as 8 nights with 3 people in standard room would have been quite a squeeze.

The suite was very comfortable, and the bath/shower was made from solid marble slabs and was huge. The suite was the size of two standard rooms joined together, with the living room being the same size as the bedroom and bathroom put together.

The additional bed that had been provided for Hannah was a little on the small side… but given she had survived in the Antarctic for a few months, this didn’t pose too much of an issue.

Having access to the Club Lounge was a definite bonus. There was a light breakfast provided every morning, and happy hour (all drinks free) was from 6-8pm. The staff in the lounge were extremely helpful, arranging tours, booking restaurants and answering all our questions about the city. Our barman in the lounge, Marco, was an absolute star. He didn’t speak English, but his friendly and enthusiastic nature meant he was loved by all. By our second visit to the lounge he already knew what drinks and canap√©s we liked and we didn’t even have to ask. Pre-emptive service is a treat rarely found.

Our hotel had a complimentary bus that went into town and back every 2 hours. While this was great if we planned our schedule around it, it was a bit of a pain not be able just to walk straight out of the hotel and into town. Taxis were very cheap however, and a cab to Ipanema was a fiver at most. But plan your trips to avoid rush hour… the traffic can be so bad at times that a 10 minute journey could easily become an hour.

Out in Rio

The Beaches

Copacabana & Ipanema

One of the first images conjured by the mention of Rio is the pure white sands of the Copacabana Beach. That said, we’d heard on the grape vine that the Copacabana was becoming a bit of an “old tart” and that Ipanema’s where all the cool kids were these days… I therefore felt it my duty to my readers to spend plenty of time chillaxing on both :)

Copacabana is busy – and not just from tanners such as the one above. For the first half hour we were approached by more than 50 sellers offering everything from ice creams to his ‘n’ hers thongs. And often they didn’t take your first “no” seriously. We eventually worked out that the best way to avoid them was to pretend to be asleep. So having lathered up with my factor fifteen, I donned my sunnies, laid back, and thought of lunch.

Vendors aside though, Copacabana really is a beautiful beach. The sands are pure white, and all along the top of the beach lay a selection of excellent bars.

Even after day turned to night, the streets were still alive with market stalls selling a fine selection of tat as souvenirs for those back home.

Ipanema is also a fabulous beach, but it lacks the bars and evening market that really make Copacabana more than just sea and sand.

Sao Conrado

The InterContinental’s feet rest in the sands of the Sao Conrado beach. At around a mile long it’s much smaller than either Ipanema or Copacabana, and far less crowded, but we still spent a bit of time there. There are no vendors walking up and down the beach, so it’s more relaxing. Also, there was a guy from the InterContinental on the beach who provided deck chairs and bar runs to guests. If you don’t fancy the hassle of getting a taxi or bus into town, then this is an excellent place to top up the tan.

Bars and Restaurants

Bar Luiz

Half way down the Copacabana stretch, just in front of the Copacabana Palace Hotel stands a fabulous beachfront bar called Bar Luiz. After a morning on the beach you can pop in here for a beef sandwich and a few chopps (draft beers), either sitting at Bar Luiz’s tables or taking your food and drink back down to the beach.

A Garotta De Ipanema

The well known song “The Girl From Ipanema” was mythically written about a girl who walked past this bar every day on the way to the beach. In reality the song was written for a musical and later attributed to this girl, but who cares? The bar is situated a few streets back from the beach and is great for food or evening drinks.

Zazá Bistrô Tropical

This restaurant, also in Ipanema, offers fantastic al fresco dining in the evenings. If it gets a little nippy then you can always head upstairs and dine… on the floor! It’s an interesting place with excellent Brazilian food – definitely go here!


On our last night in Rio, we went to Zuka with two other hotel guests – a Texan named Kyle that we’d met a number of times in the hotel Club Lounge, and an AA Captain who we’d met that night. We’d asked the driver to take us to Zaz√° (above), but he’d misheard and instead took us to Zuka. Rather than get back in the car we thought we’d give Zuka a go instead, and we’re glad we did. They had an excellent menu with some really interesting dishes… nothing was “normal”, but everything made you want to order it. It turned out to be a fabulous evening, made even better by the early departure of the AA Captain who had turned out to be rude, racist and best forgotten.

Espirito Santa

The best way to reach this authentic restaurant is by taking the tram… You won’t have to ask “which” tram, though, as it’s the only remaining tram in the whole of South America! You’d therefore expect it to be quite pricey, and indeed tickets cost up to 20 pence. This gets you a seat (if there’s room – the queues were quite impressive)… and once the seats are full, anyone can jump onto the sides and hold on for free. It’s definitely an experience!

The restaurant is half way up the hill in Santa Teresa, and looks down across the favelas (shanty towns). It’s a different world compared to the opulence that lines the beach fronts, but it’s no less beautiful.

The food is authentic Brazilian cuisine, and while the menus are roughly in English, don’t expect any further translations from the waiters. Emma asked the waiter “I’ve got a couple of questions – what fish is in the fish stew?”, to which the waiter replied “one or two persons”. I was looking forward to hearing the rest of the survey!

After the meal we spent some time walking further up the hill, but as it became dark we became increasingly aware that the daytime great restaurants and picturesque views were rapidly becoming the setting for bandit statistics. We were surrounded by six different groups of favelas, towns of desperate people with nothing more than what they find or are able to acquire. It was dark by 5:30, and by 6 we realised that this wasn’t the sort of place that cabs frequented.

We started to walk back down the hill, bags close to use, everything hidden away, aware of anyone walking or driving past. Just then, a battered old cab approached us with no headlights and one side light. We took our chances and hailed him down. The first few minutes that we were in the cab were genuinely quite scary. We said where we wanted to go (our hotel), but he didn’t know where we meant. Regardless of this, he drove on and didn’t seem to understand to pull over so that we could show him on the map.

We did eventually get across where we wanted to go, and as we came to sights we recognised we were slowly re-assured… but it certainly didn’t make for a comfortable feeling!

I would definitely go up to Santa Teresa again, but I would also make sure I was out of there well before 5. A great restaurant, and quite an experience!

Music Bars

Lapa has a fantastic selection of music bars, though all but one of their names’ escapes me. No problem however, as there are loads around – you pay to get in (and listen to the live music) and once you’re in and sat down, you can order drinks and food.

Whilst in one of the bars a lovely selection of ladies (not lady boys I hasten to add) came up and gave me a badge and a kiss. I can only assume the badge which said “Vote Biro!” roughly translates to “Vote Boris!” – it’s good to see that Boris was getting the worldwide support he deserved in the London Mayoral Elections.

Rio Scenarium

The one music bar I do remember! Rio Scenarium is very popular and in a spectacular renovated warehouse. It’s a funky bar built on many levels, decked out with antiques and is well worth seeing. It’s always lively here, but it also housed some of the least enthusiastic staff you’re likely to encounter.

Nova Copella

We were recommended Nova Copella by a local, and feeling adventurous we also went for their recommendation of goat! And we’re glad we did – it was excellent. The restaurant’s in Lapa near the Arches, and full of locals. Well worth stopping at for lunch.

Note the guy behind us that couldn’t resist being in the photo…

Juice Bars

Rio has hundreds of juice bars on the street fronts. You wander up, place your order, your juice drink is made in front of you straight from the fruit. Very refreshing and good for you too!

Out and about

Hang Gliding

Hang Gliding is one of those things that I’ve always wanted to try, but never actually made the effort to do. But sitting with my Mojito and watching people run off the edge of the mountain with little more than a kite in hand, circling over the rain forests, the city and then landing on the beach, I had to try it.

When you book through the hotel, the prices are quite steep (over £100/person). However one day when we were being driven around the sights by a hotel car, the driver gave us the details of a guy named Ricardo who we could book with directly for £60/person. We gave him a call and arranged to go up the next day.

Ricardo was very friendly and spoke excellent English. To us this was really important as none of us had ever jumped off a mountain before! He picked us up from our hotel, drove us to the top of the mountain where hang gliders and Para gliders could launch from, and talked us through how it all worked.

Once Emma had confirmed my life insurance was all in order, she then bravely nominated me to jump first! After a few practice runs on the ground, Ricardo and I were hooked up to the hang glider. We walked onto the platform which was about 10 metres long and dropped away to nothing… and 3…2…1… GO GO GO GO GO… and then silence.

It was quite simply breathtaking. I looked down upon the vast expanse of green below me. Ahead I could see the city, to my left was Christ The Redeemer, and to my right was the sea. We circled for around 10 minutes, seemingly losing no height at all. We then sailed over towards the beach and over the sea where we could see large fish below us. As we turned back to the beach and neared the ground, everything sped up. Ricardo lined us up along the length of the beach, and as we hovered a few feet above the ground, we started running in the air until the nose finally pitched up and we were running in the sand.

If I never go hang gliding again, I’m glad I went in Rio. It was spectacular, and I can’t recommend it enough. Ricardo was brilliant. He was patient when people were nervous, and imposed no pressure at all. If you go to Rio, go Hang Gliding with him – he’s got a web site at

Cristo Redentor (Christ The Redeemer)

Long story short… it’s a statue of Christ on top of a big hill. What more can I say?

Actually, quite a lot. It’s not just impressive, it’s magnificent. The statue stands more than 100 feet tall at the top of the Corcovado Mountain, his arms wide open, embracing the immense city below. The expression on his face alone was mesmerizing. At the base of the statue is a chapel open to the public.

We took a taxi to the foot of Corcovado, and then a cog train took us all the way to the summit. The train ride is around 20 minutes and takes you through the beautiful tropical jungle of Parque Nacional da Tijuca – the largest urban forest in the world.

We actually visited the Cristo Redentor twice – once at the very start of our trip, and again towards the end. When we went up the second time the weather was much clearer, making the views all the more impressive, but it was also great to be able to see the aerial view of the city and identify all the places we had been.

In the evening, the statue is well lit and can be seen from miles around. Our hotel room had an excellent view of the statue in the distance.

The Botanic Gardens

I’m not particularly green-fingered; I can tell a hyacinth from a bucket and I enjoy chillaxing in the calming garden surroundings with a beer, but I look forward to the thought of doing any sort of gardening as much as tackling that stack of washing up piled high in the sink that I’m currently avoiding.

That said, I was with two girls… and girls like flowers. So off we went one day to the Jardim Botanico. Never before have I seen so many shades of green. I’ve no idea why that should be impressive… but it was. The gardens were absolutely beautiful, and like nothing I’d seen before. Every other Botanic Garden is filled with vibrant colours, all arranged to wow the onlookers. But this was quite the opposite, but to magnificent effect.


When you’re in one of the greatest football countries of the world, it would be wrong not to watch a match at the impressive Estadio Maracana. There are normally matches twice a week, so we decided to watch one of the main local teams, Fluminese, take on outsiders Nautico.

We’d spent the morning sunbathing on Copacabana, and then met the minibus at a nearby hotel to take us to the game.

The stadium wasn’t as full as we’d hoped, but it was still a fantastic venue for a game. The crowd that did come to see the game had more than enough drums and fog horns to make up for those that didn’t. The atmosphere at a packed out stadium must be staggering.

There’s a separate seating area for tourists, so if the two sets of fans do turn nasty, they take it out on each other and not us! There are a number of vendors that walk amongst the visitors, but they’re not pushy. Also worth noting – the Hot Dogs are cold frankfurters. I still haven’t gotten over the disappointment…

Interestingly, when our tour guide collected us, and for the duration of the game, he was fairly friendly and chatty. The moment the game was over and we were getting back onto the minibus, that was it. His job was done. He didn’t speak to anyone, and when we got off the minibus at our hotel and thanked him, he just stared blankly at us. Co-incidentally the tip I was holding in my hand to give to him somehow made it straight back into my pocket and paid for the first round of drinks that night.

Gatecrash A Wedding

You may be surprised to hear this isn’t something that was recommended in our guide book, but Schofs’ Travels is proud to offer this unique Rio tip!

While we were in town one evening we came across a beautiful church called Igreha de Nossa Senhora da Candelaria. We went in through one of the side entrances, and then through to the main part of the church. There were many people sitting in the pews and it looked like a service was about to start, so we decided to sit down. As we did, we looked around and noticed that everyone was really quite well dressed… and some of the women had impressive hats… and then the music started. Yup – we were just in time for the wedding (which was ironic, because when we’re actually invited to weddings we usually arrive about 5 minutes after the bride!).

What a spectacular church to have a wedding in. It was incredibly ornate, and could easily have been a cathedral given its size.

Rather than just the bride coming down the aisle, the whole family come down, two at a time, so it’s about 10 minutes before the bride makes an entrance with her father. As she walked past us, she looked and smiled directly at me (not even prompted by me saying “Heat Magazine love!”) As she smiled, we tried to work out whether she was pleased that people had turned up to her big day, or whether she was thinking “who the hell are these guys?!”

Either way, we enjoyed the wedding – thanks!

Sugar Loaf

On our last evening in Rio, we went up to Sugar Loaf Mountain for the sunset. A cable car takes you from ground level up to the first mountain (Morro da Urca), and then a second cable car takes you up onto the top of Sugar Loaf (Pao de Acucar).

From the summit you can look out to Corcovado, Ipanema, Copacabana, and much of the city. The views as the sun sets over the Cristo Redentor are spectacular, and I’d definitely recommend visiting in the late afternoon to catch it.

Rio De Janeiro – Iguacu (Brazil) on TAM Economy

After 8 nights in Rio, it was sadly time to leave the beautiful city that we had become so attached to. We took a local taxi to the airport (for 75 Reals; about half the cost of a hotel car) which was just as comfortable.

Check in was very relaxed, and the staff didn’t mind that we had a few extra pieces of hand luggage, or how much they weighed. Once through security, we did a quick spot of shopping and then boarded our flight to Foz do Iguacu.

The domestic flight on TAM only had an economy cabin, and a one way flight was around ¬£80 per person. The food on board was… unexpectedly good. It was a hot cheese and ham sandwich, which may not sound like much, but it tasted better than any of the food I’ve had on BA in economy.

The flight lasted around 2 hours, and when we came through to arrivals the complimentary shuttle bus was waiting to take us to our hotel.

The Best Western Galli Falls, Iguacu

The 30 minute drive to the hotel was somewhat depressing. Everywhere you looked were the shells of hotels which had started being developed, only to be abandoned due to the economy downturn more than 10 years ago.

We arrived at our unquestionably pink hotel and checked in. The staff spoke English, although they couldn’t have been less enthusiastic if they tried. We were shown up to our room which was very basic, but for 3 nights it would suffice.

If I’m honest, I’d expected more from a Best Western. I know it’s not exactly the greatest chain out there, but it didn’t really resemble a hotel at all, more a youth hostel. There was absolutely no d√©cor in the room at all. No pictures, flowers, anything that might provide the remotest suggestion of life.

The hotel did have a pool, bar and games room which helped distract from the depressing reality of the rest of the place.

In the reception area was a desk where a small company arranged tours to both sides of the falls, to Paraguay for shopping, helicopter flights and other tourist activities. We paid a visit each evening to plan and book what we were going to do the following day.

Out in Foz do Iguacu

One word; Don’t.

Really, don’t. Don’t go out into Foz. You’ll have a much nicer holiday if you just stay in your hotel and watch the telly that you can’t quite get any stations on.

We went out into Foz in search of food on our first night. Armed with a guide book we first of all took a taxi to the Shopping Mall. 10 Reals for a 1 minute journey. Compared to Rio this was an incredible rip-off.

Having sussed that the Mall had absolutely nothing to offer, we got out our guide book to look up a few restaurants. We picked the first on the list, and it didn’t look too far away, but since it was dark we decided to get a taxi. There was a rank outside of the Mall, and we showed the book to the selection of taxi drivers sat smoking by the rank. None of them had heard of any of the restaurants in the book. Still we persevered and asked to be taken to the one nearby.

We drove past where the restaurant should have been, but couldn’t find it. The taxi driver wouldn’t slow down and we were getting further and further away so we told him to stop and we’d get out. After parting with a further 22 Reals, we decided to walk back up the road and eventually found the restaurant… boarded up and deserted.

On the way there we’d seen an Italian place, so decided to walk back to it. We had no choice really as it was about the only place we’d seen that actually looked like a restaurant in this incredibly run down town.

20 minutes later we’d made it to the Bella Ebola. No, that wasn’t its real name, but it was the Bella something, and it was awful. We were sat down immediately and plates of mystery meats were brought straight to the table. We then had a wooden sign that was Red on one side, Green on the other. Green meant “bring Pasta to the table”, and Red meant “no more Pasta, I’ve been trying to swallow the last bit for 10 minutes now but my throat keeps rejecting it”. The only meat we could identify was chicken, but it had clearly died for no reason at all, because it was like rubber. It was the worst food I’ve ever had in my life. Ever. Every 5 or 10 minutes the waiter would collect a mystery meat dish walk into the kitchen through one door, out through another and deposit the plate on another table.

All of this I could just about deal with, bar one thing. I looked around and saw people eating the food and enjoying their evenings. It just didn’t make sense. I could understand if the food was really basic, even if the food was tasteless and bland, but to be so badly cooked so many times that it wasn’t edible, and to have people eating it and not thinking anything of it… that was worrying.

I decided to take a quick trip to the gents and get out of there. Now, normally the toilets are in a separate room to the restaurant. Not here… the urinal was on the far side of the restaurant, separated from the happy eaters by a wicker fence. As I stood at the urinal about to… you know, “go”, I looked round and saw some people at their table quite happily eating away with full view of the toilets. I then thought to use the loo that was a little further in with its own door… but it seemed somebody had already left their own review of the restaurant food.

As we left we tried to explain to the manager just how bad the food was, informing him that if an Italian person ever ate here, he’d probably die from the shock, food or both. As we left the “restaurant” we spied a hotel next door called the Continental Hotel. All we could do was go in and find the hotel bar to try and drown out the memories of the preceding hour. I don’t think I’ll be returning to the Bella Ebola.

The following night we ate at the restaurant in the Continental Hotel. While at the time we ate the food and were happy, we were very aware that we were just happy in comparison to the Bella Ebola; It wasn’t great, but it got us through the night.

On our final night we decided to eat at our own hotel, the Best Western. Surprisingly this was actually better than we’d imagined. It was a buffet only option, which meant the food would be sitting around for a while, but we got in early and it wasn’t too bad; some of it even tasted, dare I say it, pleasant. A few bottles of Argentinean wine washed it all down and we went down to the hotel bar to play pool and drink ourselves to sleep.

The Iguacu Falls – The Brazilian side

Through the agent at our hotel we had booked a car to take us to the falls on the Brazilian side. From the entrance you purchase tickets and join a bus that takes you into the national park.

Once you’ve paid your entrance fee, the busses and walkways to the falls are all free. The only additional costs are the nature trails and the power boat rides. We jumped off the bus at the first walkway to the falls and followed the winding trail. You walk through a small forest section and come out by the river where you get the first few glimpses of the falls. These are really just teasers though, as after a further 5 minutes you are rewarded with an incredible view of the entire falls.

There are walk ways that take you right out in front of the falls where the view gets even better, if not substantially wetter. We then spotted a tower on which a film crew were taking footage of the falls… it really was a great place for that perfect photo…

As my sister is a professional photographer and was taking photographs for a image library, we managed to arrange access to the top of the tower to get some snaps!

We’d pre-booked the power boat ride, which also included a “jungle tour” en route to the river. The tour involved sitting on a trailer pulled by a jeep with a talk by a man with less enthusiasm than a teenager on community service. The power boat ride took us right up to the main falls, and then repeatedly dunked us under one of the smaller falls – great if you always enjoyed having your head flushed down the loo at school!

Also on the Brazilian side is a Bird Park with a fabulous selection of local birds, including Toucans. You get to walk through the cages rather than just looking in, although it’s worth keeping your eyes open as some of the birds were quite interested in visitors’ legs.

The Iguazu Falls – The Argentinean side

Having been wowed by the Brazilian falls, we spent the next day at the Argentinean side. Again organised through the hotel, we were driven over the border to the national park in Argentina. The local town is Puerto Iguazu, and what a difference 30 minutes makes! Puerto Iguazu may have been no Rio, but it wasn’t run down either.

Within the Iguazu National Park a small train takes you to the start of the different walkways which lead to many more viewing points. The main difference from the Brazilian side is that here you’re looking down and over the falls, rather than at them.

There are a number of shops, bars and restaurants within the park, so plenty to keep you busy while you wait for your ride back.

Helicopter Over The Falls

Seeing the falls up close is one thing, but to really appreciate the sheer scale of them you need to take a step back, or in this case, up. At $70 US per person it’s a bargain. They circle a number of times, with the whole ride lasting around 10 minutes. The helicopter seats up to 4 passengers, with the best seat for views being in the front next to the pilot.

We arranged the helicopter flights with the hotel agent, and had taken them up on their offer to pay in US Dollars on the credit card because the exchange rate was so much better. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite so straight forward. When I went to pay, the lady at the desk said their was no way to pay on card in US Dollars, only Brazilian Reals, making the flights significantly more expensive. I asked the agent why she offered if it wasn’t possible, to which she replied “I didn’t say you could pay in US dollars using your credit card, I said you could pay in US Dollars on your credit card”. This really didn’t clarify the situation, but it was clear to us and her boss who was sat next to her that she’d made a mistake. It took a while to work out she meant we could either pay in US Dollars cash, or in Reals on the credit card.

Now, normally in this situation, the agent or the boss would apologise for the mistake, we’d pay what had been agreed, and we’d be on our way. This situation did not play out normally. We were told that we should have known she didn’t mean what she said, and when that didn’t work the boss started laying guilt trips about it coming out of their salaries. Considering how much commission they’d already earned from us by booking all of our tours through them, I’d had enough. Not having US cash, and with no way to get any, I paid what I had originally agreed (at the current exchange rate to Reals) and left for the airport.

Iguacu (Brazil) – Sao Paulo on TAM Economy

We decided the best way to wind down after the dollars fiasco was to have a beer, so we hit the bar as soon as we got to the airport. When we went to check in our bags for the flight, the agent was much stricter about the hand luggage allowances, so having juggled a few things we went through security to the gate.

The flight to Sao Paulo was only around an hour, but once again the food impressed. Yes, it was the same sandwich offering as on the way out from Rio, but it still tasted good.

Other than that, it was an average economy flight. We arrived on time and with no fuss. No champagne either, but somehow I made it through.

I’d arranged a hotel car to collect us for 150 Reals, and the driver was waiting for us as we came through from arrivals.

The InterContinental, Sao Paulo

When we arrived at the hotel, I was asked to sign the slip for the transfer, but for some reason was being charged double what I’d agreed. This wasn’t turning out to be a good day money wise. I asked at the car desk and the manager said he’d upgraded the car so we’d be more comfortable. That was all very nice… but I didn’t ask for it! His response was “Fine, but don’t expect a nice big car when you go back to the airport”. Quite what made him think I’d book my return with him I don’t know.

Fortunately that’s where the bad service ended. When I went up to the reception desk to check in, I was directed to the Guest Relations desk, and the manager was called to check us in.

As we were only staying one night, I booked a separate room for Hannah. Both were booked on points and were the basic level rooms. I was told that one room had been upgraded to a Deluxe Room, and the other to a Junior Suite, which was great news on a reward booking. I said I’d like my sister to have the suite (as it was her birthday). A few taps later and I was told that another suite had become available, so we could both have one! Result!

The suites were very comfortable, although the lounge was much smaller than in the Rio suite. It did however have a whirlpool bath and bigger bedroom. There was a TV in both the bedroom and lounge, but neither were tuned in properly. The beds were huge and extremely comfortable, and there was fresh fruit and water waiting in our rooms. As a Royal Ambassador the mini bar was complimentary, although I did have to ask for items to be removed on check out.

I’d also been given Club access, but to say there was a Club Lounge would be a bit of an overstatement. Realistically there were a few tables near the lift on the 17th Floor where you could have coffee and toast for breakfast.

The hotel had a pool with a bar a few floors up, which meant that you weren’t disturbed by traffic going past. We spent most of the following day by the pool recovering from the night before…

Out in Sao Paulo

Figueira (Fig Tree) Restaurant

Following Tim’s suggestion on our flight over from London, we went for dinner to the Fig Tree, so named because it had, wait for it… a fig tree (didn’t see that one coming did you?)

Despite knowing that, we weren’t expecting quite such an impressive sight. This wasn’t some poxy tree you have to give your restaurant a quirky name – this tree was huge! The restaurant was built around the tree in the style of a greenhouse.

It was going to be quite a pricey place, but we didn’t care. After the lame excuse for food we’d put up with over the last 3 days, I wasn’t going to let a few quid get in the way of me and my dinner!

The food was excellent. The service was excellent. Just to clarify… it was all excellent.

As it was our last evening in Brazil, we made a bit of a night of it and washed it all down with a bottle or so of champagne. And then a lovely desert wine. And then a fabulous birthday cake. With more champagne.

This was the fabulous restaurant, and it was easy to see why the cabin crew ate here whenever they stayed over.

The Sky Bar at the Unique Hotel

On the roof of the luxury hotel Unique is a very funky bar, a large portion of which is open to the air, bounded on all sides by glass screens to prevent the inevitable drunken stumble. As well as a selection of tables, there are also beds to lounge on, which are firm enough to have drinks resting on, but comfy enough to loll on and look up and the stars.

If I return to Sao Paulo, this is definitely top of my list of bars. What could have been quite tacky, instead really impresses.

We stayed here for some time, before eventually falling in a cab back to the hotel… we may have been just a little bit tipsy.

Sao Paulo – London Heathrow on British Airways FIRST

Emma really wasn’t well the next day, and it wasn’t just a hangover. Our flight wasn’t until 4pm, but at 2pm Emma was still in bed with the Grim Reaper keeping a watchful eye.

By 2:30 we were in a taxi back to the airport. The driver had said the fare would be around 80 or 90 Reals, and luckily I had 100 Reals left in cash. I did however start to get a little worried when the meter went to 111 Reals! Embarrassed, I tried to explain in my worst Spanglish that I was really sorry and only had 100 Reals, but could go in to an ATM at the airport… but the taxi driver was fantastic and said it was no problem at all, and wished us a good flight home. From our experience of the Brazilians over the last 2 weeks, this kindness was not unusual.

We checked in our bags at the FIRST desk, and went through security. Unfortunately they weren’t happy about Hannah’s tripod going through as hand luggage, despite it being no problem on the last 3 flights, so I nipped back to check that it into the hold.

We were running a little late so didn’t get a chance to use the lounge, but I was happy just to board and get to work on the pre-flight champagne! As the CSD showed us to our seats, I explained to him that Emma was very unwell. He sat and talked to her a little as she settled into her seat, and then went to talk to the crew. Immediately the purser came out to help Emma get comfortable, bringing her water and a wet towel. She explained that as soon as we took off she’d come back and make up her bed, and then throughout the rest of the flight she appeared to make Emma her top priority.

The flight home was, once again, outstanding. The crew were great fun, and were quite happy to chat throughout the flight. Most importantly, they also sneaked me bacon sandwiches while Emma was asleep.

While in Brazil I’d received an email from Business Traveller magazine saying that a letter I’d written to them would be published in the June 2008 issue. This was very exciting for me, so as soon as the crew had finished clearing away dinner, I asked if there was a copy on board. 2 minutes later they had found a copy in the Club World cabin and brought it through.

Like a child looking through his birthday cards for cheques and ¬£10 notes, I flicked through to the letters page, and there it was… I’d only won letter of the month! As you can imagine, I was straight out in the galley showing the crew, who had champagne at the ready to celebrate!

Just before landing, I nipped to the toilet to change out of my pyjamas. On my return the Purser stopped me and handed me a Duty Free bag! She said that it was such a shame that Emma hadn’t been able to enjoy the First Class experience, and so she wanted to give her a bottle of champagne for when she was feeling better! What a lovely gesture.

As we disembarked, we said our goodbyes to the crew, and made our way through to immigration. Unfortunately the IRIS machine wasn’t working, so we had to join the normal queue. Being first off the flight meant we were near the front of the queue though, so 5 minutes later we were grabbing our bags from the luggage belts, and then out to the BA Arrivals Lounge for a second breakfast while we waited for our ride home.

The Aftermath

I’m writing this a month after we returned, and I have to say this was one of my best holidays ever, surpassing Bora Bora, Tokyo, Australia, New Zealand and just about every other holiday I can think of. Rio now ranks right up there in my top 3 favourite cities, along with New York and Madrid.

The Brazilians were all very friendly, and unlike a lot of countries that look at you with disdain when you struggle to speak the language, they were so keen to communicate that they made a real effort, and that’s a very welcoming feeling.

If I were to go back to Iguacu, I’d stay either stay on the Argentinean side, or in the Cataratas Hotel which is in the grounds of the National Park on the Brazilian side. The Falls were an incredible sight, and I’d recommend them to everyone.

And, most importantly, this holiday was all about Hannah… I think she enjoyed it :)