Category: Travel Reviews

Thinking of Brazil? Try Minas Gerais!

Thinking of Brazil? Try Minas Gerais!

Minas Gerais –

Nestled just west of the coast and the popular destinations of Sao Paulo and Rio de Jeniero you can find the beautiful, National Park filled, state of Minas Gerais. A short flight from Sao Paulo to the capital, Belo Horizonte, puts you near some of the most beautiful National Parks in the state. I recently wrote an article for Travelicious entitled Hiking Ibitipoca National Park: Brazil. Take a look for information on one of the most beautiful parks I have been to in quite some time.

 

Barbecena –

The mid-sized town of Barbecena has some beautiful churches, markets, train stations, and surrounding hillsides for photographers and travelers alike. While there I chose to use one of the local hotels as a base in order to keep my gear safe while taking day trips. If you have an International Drivers License, you can get one from any AAA office worldwide, you can rent a car and drive from there to any destination. There are two types of permits, one for South America and one for Europe/Asia. They are a must if you are driving in another country. If you are in an accident or caught driving without one you will be severely fined and or deported from the country. Day trips from Barbecena can include waterfalls, plantations, horseback riding, climbing, etc. There are two places I highly recommend, Ibitipoca listed above and Tiredentes.

Tiredentes –

Tiredentes is about 3 hours from Barbecena tucked into the mountains and is a jewel of Baroque architecture with multiple churches and hiking destinations. There are a great many shops, local artisans, villas, restaurants, and coffee shops within the town. Food and provisions are inexpensive and the local shopping has some beautiful merchandise made by the local artisans.

For the best cup of Chocolate coffee you have ever had I recommend stopping in to the quaint little cafe Cafeteria Oura Negro, tell them John and Ale send their love!

One of the most amazing things you can do in Tiredentes, among many that is, is ride the steam locomotive still in operation that transports multiple times a day to the neighboring city of São João Del Rei. The locomotive was a site to behold when I first arrived. It was the first time I had ever seen a Steam Locomotive up close.

For a gorgeous villa, try the Pousadium. Extremely comfortable rooms with breakfast in the morning of fruit and cakes. The Pousadium is well in the heart of Tiredentes near the center square and one of the churches yet it is very quiet and quite peaceful. They even have cloth hammocks on the front porch for you to use that are extremely comfortable! See Video below:

Conclusion –

You cannot go wrong hiking through the State of Minas Gerais in Brazil. There is so much beauty to be found there that you could live there for months and still not see it all. If your holiday is in Sao Paulo or Rio I highly recommend buying a cheap flight from either Avianca or Azul to Belo Horizonte and rent a car and just go! If you have any questions, I will be happy to answer them! Stay tuned for my next Brazil post on Florianopolis!

​Southern Iceland in 4 days

​Southern Iceland in 4 days

The Country –

For my very first International trip I chose Iceland. A land I had dreamt of visiting for many years. Iceland is one of the very few countries I would consider moving to permenantly. The people are beautiful and the country itself, is beyond gorgeous. Truly a land of fire and ice with a raw, powerful energy. The countryside is dotted with geothermal vents and hot spring pools as well as warm water rivers that you can swim in during the winter. Mountain ranges inundated with some,of the largest Glaciers in Europe are scattered across the island as well. In addition, the North American and Eurasion fault line runs through the Island and you can swim above it some of the most crystal clear water in the world at Silfra in Icelands only National Park, Thingvellir. Portions of the Icelandic coastline have some of the most beautiful left and right hand surf spots, in the world. Hiking, waterfalls, art, history, beautiful parks, culture, and food; this country has everything, you could want and a whole lot more.

The island is dotted with green countryside and misty mountains due to the abundance of geothermal energy. Nikon D90.

Arriving –

Flying to Iceland can be very cheap and there are two airlines that offer discounted prices capable of making your stay in Iceland as inexpensive as possible. You can fly out of New York or Boston easily on both Wow Air and IcelandAir. Be sure to weigh your luggage prior to heading to the airport as you are only allowed a specific amount on the flight for both carry on and checked baggage. The carry on weight is a maximum of 11kg for Wow Air. I had to reconfigure my bags twice to avoid additional fees because the first checked bag and carry on are free.

There are no prior Visas or e-visas required as you will receive a tourist stamp  upon arrival at Keflavik. Most of the flights arrive on the island very early in the morning and you need to stay in the airport until around 7 am before you can book a shuttle into Reykjavik. There is Wi-Fi in the airport and on most of the major shuttles. As there is absolutely no sleeping allowed in the airport, be sure to catch some sleep on the flight.

Transport –

The shuttle takes approximately an hour to reach the main bus terminal in Reykjavik where you can then transfer to a bus line headed down the Southern coast. The shuttle will also drop you directly at your hotel if you have one in Reykjavik. From there you could rent a car or hire a driver to tour the Southern coast or you could book a tour group that will take you to different  sites along the Southern portion of the Golden Circle. 

The buses in Iceland are not cheap and you do have multiple options for travel while you are on the island. Do not rent a car at the airport, they are very expensive and absolutely require a prior reservation. As stated, you could hire a car from your hotel, utilize the extremely efficient but expensive bus system, hitchhike (Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world to hitchhike and you will not be waiting long for a ride!), rent a motorcycle, or hire a personal guide with a 4×4 vehicle. Driving in Iceland requires you to have an International Drivers Permit which you can obtain before leaving the States from any AAA office for only $25. Also, be absolutely sure that you learn the road signs, know how to read the speed signs in kilometers and which side of the road to drive on. There are multiple apps available to help you discover all of these things. 

The Southern Coast –

Stretching from Reykjavik along the Southern section of the island and making a complete circuit is the Golden Circle. The entire route can be completed in 4 days but you will miss a great deal of beautiful sites. In, order to maximize your time I would recommend traveling from Reykjavik around to either Vik or just north of there and spend some time hiking the many trails along the route.  Along the route are multiple  small towns, each with activities to do and sights to see. I recommend planning ahead of time what you would like to see and experience so that you can avoid back tracking. Some of the highlights from my trip where Selfoss, and Vestmanyjer island but you can easily make it all the way to Vik and see the Jökulsárlón icefields near Vatnajökull National Park.

Remains of an offshore volcano as seen from the ferry crossing from Landeyjahöfn to Vestmannaeyjar Island. Nikon D90.

The travel time between Selfoss and Vik is approximately an hour and half with your own vehicle and you can easily see both in a day. The coastline near Selfoss extending up to Vik has some of the most beautiful black sand beaches and basalt rock formations. In addition there are multiple waterfalls, nature preserves, rivers (the Olfus in Selfoss is very beautiful but extremely powerful as it is fed by glacier runoff), and historic buildings to experience. One of the highlights of my trip was a ferry ride from the mainland out to Vestmannaeyjar island which is a town rebuilt inside the remnants of a dormant volcano. The coastline and islands coming into the island are stunning and there are multiple hikes on the island.

View of Selfoss Iceland at night with a full moon. Long exposure with Nikon D90 as seen from Ingólfsfjall Mountain.

Accommodations-

There are multiple options for accommodations on the island ranging from 5 star hotels to camping. Each town has a range of hostels to choose from and you can find them through apps such as Hostelworld and Agoda. Iceland is one of the best countries in thw world to camp in as over 90% of the country allows free camping. The only places you are not allowed to pitch for free are inside city limits, on privately owned land, and in the National Parks. Any where else you can stop for the night and camp. Just know the rules of open fires and do not litter. Leave the Earth as pristine as you found it and pack out everything.

My suggestion; map out some of the waterfalls and hot springs and spend a night relaxing at one of them along your route. You will not be disappointed. If you choose to stay in any of the hostels, join the International Hostel Association as you will receive a discount on your stay for being a member. You can purchase the membership at any hostel in Iceland or online prior to going.

Cost –

Iceland has an amazing exchange rate for currency but they make up for that rate by charging more for everything you buy. The main currency is the Icelandic Kron and the current conversion rate according to Xe is $1 USD for $110 Krona (check this in Xe) cost is comparable to Hawai’i and traveling through Japan for food. Even the camping spots are slightly expensive. So if you are on a tight or limited budget, your options are packing your own food like I did in your checked baggage for the 4 days or purchasing food on arrival at one of the smaller towns or in Reykjavik. If you choose to eat out you will take a large hit on your budget as the restaurants are quite expensive, even more so if you decide to drink.

Conclusion –

Iceland is the trip of a lifetime and although you can see a small portion of it in 4 days like I did, you will want to visit again, and again, in order to experience everything the Island has to offer. There is so much history and nature here you could easily spend 2 months exploring and not see everything. I travelled during late September at the end of the tourist season. This option provides you with cheaper rates and more choices. And, the Northern Lights are quite active at that time of year with few road closures due to snow in the later months. Enjoy your trip and if you want to go and have any questions I would be happy to answer them. Just find me on Facebook. Enjoy your Journey!

Black sand beaches near Landeyjahöfn ferry landing looking out on Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland.