IN PICTURES: A WEEKEND IN STOCKHOLM

Stockholm in the summer is absolutely brilliant. Gamla Stan (the Old Town) is beautiful and scenic.

Here are some pictures from summer 2013:

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2 WEEKS IN BRAZIL: A STAY IN A JUNGLE HOTEL

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We were looking forward to this, so we started researching for accommodation in the Amazon months before our trip.

We ended up staying at Juma Lodge, and we were very pleased. The trip to the hotel takes about three hours (by car, boat, car then boat again) and then you’re in the middle of the jungle. We booked a two-day package, which was perfect for what we wanted.

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A WALK IN THE JUNGLE

After settling into our room and having a very nice lunch, we were off for a walk in the jungle. Our guide, Leon, would stop every now and then to explain everything about the local flora and fauna.

We learned about the medicinal property of some plants and spotted lots of little frogs and a massive tarantula!

For the jungle walk, we had to wear trousers and long sleeve shirts. Luckily, in the jungle itself it’s not as hot.

BOAT RIDES

Our hotel was just above the water, so everything was done by boat.

Apart from the jungle walk, all other activities that we did were boat rides at different times of the day and with different objectives. We went birdwatching in the afternoon, saw the sunrise and went looking for caymans at night.

All in all, the best thing about these activities was seeing the jungle and the river change throughout the day.

At sunrise, everything was very quiet and a mist covered the margins of the river. Riven dolphins came and went. At night, the sounds changed and the moonlight showed us the way. Snakes watched us from the top of the trees.

THE HOTEL

Our hotel was very nice. It was right in the middle of nowhere but extremely comfortable.

Every room was a bungalow built on stilts. Because we went at the end of the wet season, our room was pretty much floating on the water.

The place was very peaceful, with only the sound of birds and the occasional boat breaking the silence. We had our own little terrace with a hammock and amazing views of the river and the jungle. Amazonian luxury at its best.

But the most impressive thing about the Juma Lodge was the staff, who work around the clock to make sure everyone is happy. The guides were extremely well informed, speaking many different languages without thinking twice.

There are a few different options of jungle hotels, but booking in advance is essential to guarantee you get your first choice. Packages are not cheap, but are all inclusive and definitely worth it.

I discovered Juma Lodge through the Lonely Planet Traveller magazine and I definitely recommend it. We paid around £270 per person for a two day package, and although it’s expensive, it definitely delivered on quality.

Ariau Towers is the most famous jungle hotel in the Amazon, and should be really good as well.

2 WEEKS IN BRAZIL: A BOAT TRIP IN THE AMAZON

We were super spoiled in Manaus because my cousin lives there. She booked us on this private boat trip, which was an excellent way to start our Amazonian adventure.

We left early in the morning from a local port. Our first stop was a gas station – over the river:

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Then off we went. After a couple of hours we reached one of the most famous sights of the Amazon: the Meeting of Waters.

The Amazon river is formed by two rivers: the Negro is dark and warm, while the Solimoes is colder and muddy. These differences, as well as the sheer volume of these rivers, mean that the two flow alongside for about 7km before mixing completely to form the Amazon.

We got great views of the two rivers (much better than when we passed through the same place again in a smaller boat).

The next stop of the trip was swimming with the river dolphins. It was amazing how friendly they were, coming very close to everyone in the water.

This was a lovely and unique experience, but the set up is a bit weird, with tourist boats approaching frequently.

The rest of the day was spent leisurely in the boat, drinking beer and looking at the view. We finished our trip not long after sunset, feeling sunkissed and relaxed.

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HOW TO DO IT:

Travelling around the Amazon is mostly done by the river, and it’s incredible how these little boats cut through the river as if it was a road. Scary but fun.

There are many local tour organisers, but we were very lucky to have this arranged for us, as we got a whole boat and the local knowledge.

There are countless types of boats big and small, and prices can vary hugely as well.

For short day trips, some of the main attractions are: the Meeting of Waters, swimming with river dolphins and going through igapos (flooded forest).

2 WEEKS IN BRAZIL: MANAUS

We wanted to go to Brazil for the World Cup. Prices were expected to hike up during the tournament, so we decided to go a bit early and visit the Amazon.

MANAUS:

Manaus is the main city in the Amazon basin. It developed rapidly in the late 1800s, and nowadays it exists uneasily as a big city in the middle of the jungle.

There isn’t much to do in Manaus itself, but the city is the gateway to the Amazon.

TEATRO AMAZONAS:

manaus4_for webThe main highlight of the city is this theatre. It is an opulent building financed by the riches of the rubber boom of the 19th century.

The building is open to visit during the day, or for performances on most evenings.

This is the main sight to visit in the city centre.

INPA:

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This research institute is worth a visit because you get a chance to spot some of the local fauna (although if you’re lucky, you might spot a sloth or two around the local beaches).

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Getting there: TAP flies from Lisbon to Manaus directly, which is the cheapest and fastest option (being neither cheap or fast at over £600 and taking about 9h).
  • Weather: Manaus is extremely hot. There isn’t much difference between seasons this close to the Equator, so the fact that we went during Brazilian winter made little difference. There are two main seasons, dry and wet. Prefer the dry season, when it only rains every few days. Many shops and restaurants have air conditioning, which helps.
  • Food: Manaus is a great place to try a wide selection of fruit, which also makes for great ice cream. The local açaí is excellent. We went a few times to Tambaqui de Banda, a restaurant very close to the theatre (the only with air conditioning around that area). Service was friendly and the food was good. In doubt, order mandioca frita or tapioca.
  • Stay: There aren’t many options available, so book in advance and check for recommendations. We stayed at Hotel do Largo, which was a bit basic but well located.
  • Do: The best thing about Manaus is travelling around. There are lots of local tour operators, all offering similar options.