A stroll around Santa Teresa

Day 3 in Rio, the sun is out and it’s a wonderful 27 degrees. I’m on my own today and as I’m still at that difficult stage where I’m paying for everything with 100 real notes (£20) and carrying hundreds of reals with me in ‘case of emergency’, I decide to stay local and explore Santa Teresa. This area of Rio reminds me a lot of the villages of the Cote d’Azur in France, such as Menton and St Paul De Vence. Perched on the top of a hill, it’s famous for its winding, cobbled streets which are a favourite spot for artists and tourists, and the fabulous views that can be seen around every corner. Read more

5 reasons to travel out of season

It’s not always possible to be flexible with your travel dates, but if you have the chance to choose, you might want to consider travelling out of season.  I first tried it a couple of years ago and as a solo traveller I’ve been hooked ever since. Here’s why:-

  1. Better deals on flights  –  often more seat availability, cheaper prices and a better chance to use frequent flyer miles if that’s an option.
  2. Quieter hotels can mean that you avoid the dreaded single occupancy surcharge or you find yourself upgraded to a deluxe room in quieter hotels.
  3. No queues at popular tourist spots and you get to see the sights and enjoy them in peace and tranquility.
  4. Guides, hotel & restaurant staff, and locals all have more time to spend with you as they are not as busy, so quite often you will receive a totally personal service or get some of those prized insider tips from locals who have more time to chat.
  5. Weather patterns are changing and the seasons becoming more blurred.  The weather is always a bit of a risk with any trip and can be unseasonably good as well as unseasonably bad! With some obvious exceptions, travelling out of season can often offer some of the most pleasant  and comfortable temperatures.

Welcome to Rio de Janeiro

From the peace and tranquility of the Pantanal to the hustle and bustle of Rio – what a shock to the system – and yet somehow I feel quite at home here with the sounds of the city, familiar to me from my life in London.

I’m staying in the district of Santa Teresa. Known as the artistic heart of Rio, the cobbled streets are lined with rambling mansions that were once home to the city’s wealthy elite, and today function as artists’ studios, cafes, restaurants and guest houses. My home for the next few days is the Mama Ruisa Boutique Hotel and it’s fabulous!

“Put simply, Mama Ruisa is a gorgeous slice of late-19th century Brazilian architecture. The white mansion’s solid, ipê wood floors and high ceiling rooms are surrounded by lush tropical gardens with a simple, attractive swimming pool. The main lounge is a lesson in style, too, with pieces by classic Brazilian designers like Sergio Rodrigues updated with bold, modern fabrics”

After a wonderful night’s sleep, I am met at 9 am by my very talkative guide for the day, Sergio. He has the day planned out with military precision; Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, Botafogo, Centro and back to Santa Teresa. He is helped along with his precise timings by the fact that there are hardly any tourists around  – one of the joys of travelling out of season – and we swing through the entry gates to all the attractions, not a queue in sight. It’s a sunny 26 degrees, no humidity, very pleasant, and yet when we reach the top of the Corcovado mountain we find the statue of Christ almost completely shrouded in cloud and not one of the incredible vistas of Rio visible through the mist.

Sergio takes this as a personal insult and for a while he’s lost for words but after a more successful visit to Sugarloaf Mountain he is back to his chirpy self. The views from here are truly magnificent; everything I have imagined and more. Mountains rising from the sea, covered in lush, green vegetation, buildings clinging perilously to the hillsides, and mile after mile of glorious, white beaches fringing the shoreline of the natural bay. It really is breathtaking. From here it’s time for a quick lunch at Confeitaria Colombo,  one of the city’s oldest and most ornate eateries,  where we just have time for one of their famous meat croquettes and a beer, before we’re off again to Cathedral of St. Sebastian of Rio de Janeiro.

It’s a modern church, apparently based on the Mayan architectural style of pyramids, but to be honest, from the outside, I think it looks like an upside down, concrete pasta strainer! Once inside, however,  it comes into its own and boasts the most beautiful stained glass windows and a calm and peaceful atmosphere.

There’s just time to visit Escadaria Selarón (Selarón’s Staircase)  – a famous stairway made up of 250 steps  and adorned in over 2,000 brightly coloured tiles from more than sixty different countries – a highlight of the day for me and a place I’ll visit again on my own when I have more time – before we’re back in Santa Teresa and in front of my hotel.



Weather permitting, tomorrow I’ll spend time exploring my local neighbourhood, but for now it’s feet up and a welcome caipirinha to end my first memorable day in this exciting city.


In nature, with love – Araras Eco Lodge

It takes a long time to get to the Pantanal from London. An overnight flight to Sao Paulo, a lengthy 5 hour layover in the domestic terminal which boasts a Subway and not much else, a further 2 hour flight to Cuiaba and then an onward 2 hour drive up the Transpantaniera Park Road; most of which is nothing more than a dirt road stretching out into the distance. You have to really want to get there but boy is it worth the trouble. My destination was the Araras Eco Lodge  and it would be my home for the next 4 nights.

The drive itself was quite eventful. My driver spoke no English and my Portuguese runs out after por favor and obrigada (note to self, I really need to learn how to order beer and wine at the earliest opportunity) but we muddled along famously and as soon as we hit the dirt road he was pointing out the jaw dropping array of birds foraging for food in the wetlands that lined the side of the road. Hundreds and hundreds of them, every species imaginable, on every post, tree top and telegraph wire. I had seen nothing like it.


This was just the beginning of what was to become a most memorable adventure. As we arrived at the lodge I was greeted by the friendly, smiling staff and from that point onwards nothing was too much trouble. My room was comfortable and spotlessly clean with every all amenities, all provided whilst upholding their strong ecological principles. At dinner that evening I was introduced to Edson, who would be guide throughout my stay. His smile was infectious and his knowledge quite incredible and he made every day interesting and enjoyable.

Life at the lodge settled into a calm, relaxed rhythm. Breakfast around 6 am – the freshly baked cheese bread incentive enough to jump out of bed early  –  and then a day filled with a mixture of foot, canoe, horse or jeep safaris and down time to read, chat to the other guests, laze by the pool or nap. A spectacular lunch and dinner buffet, offering a vast array of local, lovingly prepared dishes, made sure that no one ever went hungry. Oh, and just in case that wasn’t enough, freshly baked cakes were served during afternoon tea at 3!


Arars Eco Lodge is situated in its own vast grounds, which means that you really don’t need to stray far at all to see caiman, toucans, capybara, parrots, blue macaws, woodpeckers, herons, ibis, storks, vultures, lapwings, kingfishers, egrets, plus many, many other species – they are absolutely everywhere – and during the safaris monkeys, armadillos, anteater (giant and small), marsh deer, emus, coati, were common place. The Jaguars, for which the Pantanal is particularly famous, are only really visible during July, August and September, the dry season, when the wetlands dry up completely and the vegetation dies away; something to bear in mind if you are planning a trip there and particularly want to see them.

For me, it’s onwards to Rio and a completely difference experience. I’ll miss the sunset over the river and the birds flying in for the night to sleep; the peace and quiet. Oh and I’ll also actually miss those bloody chaco chachalacas, screeching at 5 am in the morning and making sure that I was never, ever late for the freshly baked cheese bread.