Ophelia Ding

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Bom dia, Brazil!

In between binge watching (aka giggling ridiculously at) The Office and recovering from an untimely bout of laryngitis, I’ve been meaning to blog about my recent travels to beautiful Brazil! 

South America has always been on my bucket list — and getting to see Rio de Janeiro putting its tuxedo on and gettin’ all jazzed up for the 2016 Summer Olympics was dreamy. To top it off, I got to take this trip with one of my oldest and dearest friends, Alice. Alice is one of the most fearlessly ambitious people I know — and does casual things like write for Fast Company and New York Magazine. Oh, and also, casual things like moving to Lima, Peru (!) with Hope International for a one-year missions trip post-graduation (I know. My friends are the coolest). I couldn’t resist visiting Alice during her year working abroad, and when we decided to meet up in Brazil, I knew this was going to be a spring break to remember. And indeed it was. :)

First stop, Rio de Janeiro! 

Oh, Rio. I don’t think I’ve ever fallen so instantly in love with a city. I completely understand why the Olympic committee chose Rio to play host this summer. The best way to describe Rio is as a mix of Seattle (Washington), Kauai (Hawaii) and Lisbon (Portugal). Rio has small islands connected by bridges and highways over bodies of water (like Seattle), intense humidity, jungles and beaches (like Kauai) and friendly Portuguese strangers and glorious egg tarts (like Lisbon). The city is breathtaking — with picture perfect views everywhere we turned. Here were some highlights:

1. Ipanema Beach. Um. It was a dream. The ocean waves crashing onto the shore, the softest, whitest sand, the mountains peaking out of the clouds in the distance, the adorable striped umbrellas for rent — it was picture perfect. I loved watching locals play sand volleyball (but with their feet! so perhaps a mix of sand soccer and volleyball?). I’m going to let the photos speak for themselves since I was speechless the entire time I was here. 

2. Parque Lage. This cute little ex-mansion/estate now open to the public at the foot of Christ the Redeemer was the perfect haven in the jungle. We ate lunch and had some incredible Brazilian coffee here (twas’ delicious! and quite reasonably priced) and gawked at the beauty of the pool and rest of the premises. 

3. Sugar Loaf Mountain Cable Cars (Pao). A definite must-do. We rode the famed Sugar Loaf Mountain cable cars up to Urca Hill to admire the jaw dropping view, and up again to the very top of Sugar Loaf mountain. Karl the fog made a guest appearance at the peak  — which made for some crazy magical moments! The fog, combined with the stunning colors of the sunset, combined with the jaw dropping view — it was one of those moments that Alice and I looked at each other just in AWE. 

4. Mirante Dona Miranda. The mountains! The city! The beaches! The jungles! Christ the Redeemer! Mirante Dona Miranda's got it all. If you're feeling adventurous, helicopters take off all the time from the Helipad here, and it’s the perfect pit stop on the way up the Christ the Redeemer.

5. Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor). A Rio must-do, but unbelievably crowded (so be prepared for insanely long lines + crowds!). My favorite part about visiting Christ the Redeemer? Watching all the tourists take pictures! It’s comparable to going to the leaning tower of Pisa and seeing all of the tourists trying to “hold” the tower up. With Christ the Redeemer, it was hilarious to watch adults lying on the ground with their cameras out, heads up and necks sticking up to try to get that Insta-perfect shot! 

Honorable Mentions: Sushi Leblon (we ate here because Coldplay ate here! heh), pastries at Confeitaria Colombo and our cute home base Discovery Hostel

Next stop, São Paulo!

Alice and I flew inland to São Paulo for the second leg of our Brazil trip. São Paulo is such a unique city — and vastly different than Rio. São Paulo is a sprawling urban jungle, and one of the largest cities in the entire world (twice the size of NYC and three times the size of Paris). While Rio had jungle/Hawaii vibes, being in São Paulo felt unlike any other city I’ve been to before. It's similar to Manhattan, but feels more spread out — with streets that felt like small neighborhoods — like Clerkenwell in London or Greenpoint in Brooklyn. I think that Rio was more friendly for tourists, but in São Paulo, Alice and I felt more immersed in the city. Here were my favorite stops:

1. WE Hostel. The most stunningly designed hostel I’ve ever stayed in (sorry, City Backpackers Hostel in Stockholm, you’re now a close second heh). Alice found this hostel on Pinterest and Refinery 29 dubbed it as one of 10 Hostels That Belong On Your Bucket List (Seriously). The hostel is in a former 1920s mansion, and came complete with impeccably styled decor, a hammock, outdoor garden, and adorable nooks and crannies to curl up in. When we were in town, the hostel had local bands come in to play live music in the evenings. Just the most wonderful welcome into the city! 

2. The Gourmet Tea. Located in the bohemian, hipster area of São Paulo called Vila Madalena, Gourmet Tea was probably one of my favorite drink stops in the city (and we went to a coffee lab, so this was no easy feat). At Gourmet Tea, you were given house blended tea leaves, a preset timer, a contraption with hot water and a tea cup. Alice and I were so confused as to how we made our tea, until a friendly Portuguese couple (who were friends with the owners of the shop) told us to pour in the tea leaves, press “Start” on the timer, place the tea contraption on top of the cup and wait for it to finish. It was so much fun to “make” our own tea and watch the water filter in through this crazy awesome contraption! We need to make these gourmet tea bars happen in NYC or SF. Actually, scratch that. It definitely will. Calling it right now. ;)

3. Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC)'s Rooftop. MAC's rooftop was breathtaking. The spacious roof had a sweeping panoramic view of the entire city and was the best way to see the São Paulo skyline. Alice and I were so surprised to find that we were the only ones on the roof (no complaints though ha!). A hidden gem and one of my favorite viewpoints of the entire trip.

4. Ibirapuera Park. São Paulo’s Central Park! Located in the center of the city, it's the perfect way to spend an afternoon. Alice and I wandered around the park for a couple hours — visiting the two museums in the park, drinking fresh coconut water (was not a big fan though heh) and admired the work of famed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer.

Honorable Mentions: Sampling coffee at Coffee Lab, eating at the original Fogo de Chao, acai bowls at Dona Vitamina, Hotel Unique’s rooftop bar/restaurant, getting a crazy amount of $4 Havaianas downtown and the stunning museum MASP.

And that's a wrap (whew, what a lengthy and overdue post)! Thank you Brazil for welcoming Alice and I in with such open arms. My first time in South America was so incredible — and makes me want to go back again to explore the Argentine and Chilean Patagonia. A girl can dream, right?! ;)

Until next time!

PS. A huge shout out to my friend Sam for single-handedly making this trip happen! Thank you, Sam, for getting my travel visa from the Brazil Consulate in San Francisco. PSA folks, the Brazil travel visa process is no joke — start early if you’re planning on going (unless you’re going this summer during the Olympic months  — then your visa requirement is waived yay!).