Margo and Brent love an exciting adventure and I eagerly look forward to their trips as they never fail to provide a fabulous review.
Amongst their recent excursions have been the Panama Canal, Egypt and an innovative couple of weeks visiting Brazil that I loved piecing together for them with the brilliant specialists, Latin Routes.
When I decided to launch my personal website, I wanted to feature the extensive travel opportunities offered by South America and I hoped Margo would be happy for me to feature their experience. I am delighted to say she was...
I was born in Zambia, a truly special place with which I have strong family ties and following a wonderful trip back there a couple of years back and with retirement approaching, I felt inspired to put together a wish list of the world’s destinations that we most wanted to visit and asked Gillian to help us make things happen.
One of these was the Amazon and as usual Gillian meticulously took care of our arrangements and built our itinerary around what we wanted to do.
Two weeks was always going to be ambitious as we know the Amazon is such a vast area to explore and it is a long journey to get there, plus we also wanted to visit Rio which gave us little choice in flight plans and meant that our non-stop return from Isla Grande to London took more than 24 hours. Not for the faint hearted!
Latin Routes and Gillian had ensured that we were met at every point and escorted to our next destination. All transfers were efficient with generally helpful drivers keen to inform us about their country. We always felt safe and at no time were concerned about the next leg of our wonderful trip.
We had a great flight to Rio with KLM via Amsterdam, with great service onboard the aircraft; and on arrival, our transfer to the Windsor Excelsior Hotel in Copacabana was welcome, as we were feeling a little travel weary.
The hotel was right in the centre of everything, located pretty much on the beach itself. We spent two days and a night there, managing to see Christ the Redeemer using local transport without any problems. Rio felt very safe with a visible police presence and we saw no evidence of crime or violence.
We wandered around the markets, back streets, shops and beach where we met a succession of charming, helpful and interesting local people. The beach front food was wonderful, with huge helpings of fresh and very reasonably priced fare and we thoroughly enjoyed the Brazilian beer too.
Our domestic flight up to Manaus was an eye-opener, appearing to be very casual with nobody speaking English and fortunately making ourselves understood with our smattering of Spanish.
Upon arrival we were met immediately and transferred for our overnight night stay in the Hotel Tropical, the most unusual hotel we have ever stayed in. It is vast, with hundreds of rooms, three swimming pools, a zoo, several shops and a restaurant but without a great deal of evidence of guests, no alcohol available with meals and no sign of an evening bar.
The pool was open, but the rest of the hotel appeared to be closed, along with the shops and little sign of staff. However, when we did manage to get a meal, it was excellent - appearing to have been cooked just for us and the other three people in the huge dining room.
The surrealness resumed when our phone rang at 3:00am, only for nobody to be on the other end, something that apparently happened to other guests too and when we checked out, we were asked if we had used anything from the mini bar which had been empty upon our arrival - all most peculiar.
Our morning transfer took us to the Amazon Ecopark Jungle Lodge, located in a beautiful area in the heart of the jungle, for an all-inclusive three-night stay where we were whisked down river by a wooden motorboat to our lodge.
The site is extremely well designed. It is very peaceful, with wifi only available in the main lounge, as the management understandably want guests to appreciate where they are. The rooms are lovely - clean, eco-friendly, air conditioned and all spaced out within the jungle itself - a wonderful experience.
There are three refreshing swimming pools with a bizarre, virtually black-coloured, yet clear natural water as a result of the tannin from the jungle leaves and the soil and the location on the tributary of the Rio Negra.
An international menu was fresh, varied and plentiful with lots of river fish in various dishes.
Staff and locals were all very friendly and helpful with the excellent guides providing lots of information about the Amazon in fluent English and making our excursions fun and entertaining. These included a visit to a monkey sanctuary, a night canoe trip to see caiman swimming in the reeds, piranha fishing, a visit to a local village and a jungle hike.
Our next transfer was to the Iberostar Heritage Grand Amazon ship, which we boarded in a hot, steamy and busy Manaus, deciding to stay and watch the comings and goings in comfort until we departed later in the day. Many basic river boats were being loaded up with everything from livestock to motorbikes and food with some passengers also crammed on, where they sleep on the open decks in hammocks on the three-week journey upriver to destinations which have no road access.
The Grand Amazon was a complete contrast. In its day it had clearly been a grand vessel but was now suffering from a little wear and tear though it was extremely comfortable and everything was in working order.
There were only 32 passengers of international mix on board of which we were the only Brits. Service was excellent with fabulous food offered and unlimited alcohol available all day long. It was lovely to see a different part of the river on our excursions and the meeting of the waters was spectacular, as were the many pink dolphins, the distant night storms and the spectacular sunsets.
The evening entertainment was mainly authentic, although it was amusing sailing down the Amazon one afternoon listening to the crew’s band singing “we’re all going on a summer holiday”.
We flew back to Rio and returned to the Windsor Excelsior Hotel for an overnight stay before transferring to the small, beautiful, tropical island of Isla Grande.
We hadn’t realised quite how far the island was from Rio, however we thoroughly enjoyed the lengthy minibus trip to the ferry terminal as it provided an opportunity to see the real Brazil. The ferry is a large Rib boat that carries domestic supplies to the island along with transporting residents who use it to shop on the mainland and is therefore a fairly crowded crossing which was a bit lively with the responsibility of loading of your own luggage onto the bobbing boat.
There is no motorised transport on the island, so we were met by a guide who accompanied us on the walk to the Tagomago Eco-Lodge whilst our luggage travelled by cart.
This pousada is a lovely, family-run bed and breakfast, just 60 meters from the beach; quiet and clean with a beautiful view. The family are from the island itself and all spoke very good English.
Breakfast was delicious with lots of tasty fresh fruit. We had an enjoyable complementary boat trip out to the Blue Lagoon, however it saddened us to see how poorly kept it was with many boats and a great deal of rubbish and plastic in the lagoon.
The island is very small and quaint with great restaurants on the beach, and typical tourist shopping with everything you need available including cashpoint machines. There is a hippy feel and an informality which we rather liked, although we did feel a little old with most visitors that we met seemingly about 30.
Cruise ships do often call and as a result shops can become a bit crowded and the wifi cannot cope, but it is only for a few hours and doesn’t spoil the pleasant feel.
There is a fair amount of walking to do too if you want to explore. At times it can be a little testing over the sandy beaches, uneven roads and quite steep paths up to beautiful waterfalls, but it is well worth it.
The transfer process back to Rio was smooth with us heading straight to the airport for our return to Amsterdam and another pleasant flight with KLM.
We certainly crammed a huge amount into our short time in Brazil but despite the long journeys we loved it and would definitely return - there is so much more to see and do.
Gillian did a terrific job and we highly recommend her, and Holidaysplease, to anybody who wants to create memorable holiday experiences.