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Santa Cruz de la Sierra

Welcome to Bolivia

View High Altitude Landscapes Tour - Bolivia, Chile & Argentina 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Viru Viru Airport

After a very long journey to get here (39 hours door to door including the layover in Buenos Aires), the plane lands in Santa Cruz de la Sierra half an hour after midnight. The wheelchair waiting for me at the gate is the smallest I have ever encountered – I guess Bolivians generally are of small stature – and I can barely fit my bottom into the seat. The chap pushing me, is what you might call petite, and it is uncomfortable for both of us. I suddenly feel a burning sensation on my hip and realise that the wheel is rubbing on my bottom as it turns (I end up with a scar lasting the whole trip).


At immigration, the officer takes David’s form but not mine, and at security all passengers are required to pass through the X-ray, whereas I am wheeled around it without as much as a cursory pat-down.

Outside, Juan (our tour guide), is waiting for us, holding a sign with our names. With typical indigenous Bolivian looks, he is of slight build and when I stand up out of the wheelchair, I notice he barely reaches my shoulders. Two-thirds of the population of Bolivia is made up of indigenous people, more than any other South American country.

We reach the hotel in next to no time, as there is very little traffic at this time of the morning. The front door is locked, but Juan manages to wake the night security guard to let us in.

Hotel Las Americas

The whole hotel looks old and tired, and it has some troubling recent history. On April 16, 2009, at 4.30 am, Bolivian security forces entered the hotel, alleging that they had received reports of five foreign nationals carrying arms with the intent to assassinate President Evo Morales and his vice president.

According to Morales, this alleged commando group was responsible for an attack carried out on the house of a critic of Morales, two days earlier. The manager of the hotel contradicted Morales, as he claimed that the men were in their rooms when that attack occurred.

The police report stated that when agents attempted to enter the rooms, they were met with gunfire, initiating a shoot-out that went on for almost half an hour. These ‘facts’ have been heavily denied, and disputed, with images of the so-called gunmen wearing just underwear or no clothing at all surfacing, as well as information emerging that the operation was carried out without any judge's warrant (which violates the Bolivian penal code) and it was determined that the doors to the rooms had been blown up before the shooting commenced. The CCTV from the hotel was disconnected on the eve of the shooting, and the footage from the time when the foreigners entered the hotel had been ‘accidentally’ deleted.

I wonder which rooms they were in?

I don’t think the hotel bedrooms – or the rest of the building – have been redecorated since the 1970s. A lick of paint would freshen them up no end.


The beds are comfortable, however, and we slip under the sheets at 2am, setting the alarm for 07:00.

Waking a few hours later, I feel surprisingly refreshed. Breakfast is on the top floor, with a limited choice of breads, cakes, cereal, ham, pineapple, and melon.

Briefing meeting

At 9am we have a briefing meeting with Juan, our guide here in Bolivia, to go through the itinerary, what we can expect, and what is expected of us. Juan is very thorough and detailed. I have a question about tomorrow’s sightseeing – we are leaving town to visit a fort, and on the way back we are stopping for a hike to a waterfall. I fear that I am not fit enough for the hike, and David isn’t particularly interested, so I ask if we can visit a butterfly park instead. Juan explains that the park is on the opposite side of town to the fort, so it would be better to do it this afternoon instead. He has already been informed by Mark at Undiscovered Destinations (who we booked this trip through) that I am massively into photography, especially wildlife, and he is more than happy to change the itinerary for me.

Santa Cruz de la Sierra

Santa Cruz has around 2.4 million inhabitants and is currently the largest (and by far the wealthiest) city in Bolivia, known as the economic hub of the country.

At 416 meters above sea level, it is warm and tropical most of the year., with a temperature average of 28 °C during the day. Santa Cruz borders the Amazon Rainforest and the city’s surroundings are lush and green.

The city was founded in 1561 by the Spanish settlers, and named after a town in Extremadura in Spain.

Recova Vieja

We start our walking tour of the city in this colonial area, which is full of handicraft stalls.


Several narrow alleyways lead into a leafy central courtyard, with plenty of welcome shade and a representation of Cotoca, the Virgin of Santa Cruz.



The items for sale here are a combination of tacky souvenirs, traditional handicrafts, delicate jewellery, quirky leather goods, and everything in between.


Many of the leather stalls have cow’s heads on display – not sure if they are for sale or just simply decoration. They appear to be real, taxidermied heads of cows.


David makes a purchase at one of the leather stalls – thankfully not a bust of Daisy the heifer, but a belt to replace his existing worn-out one.

The local precious stone, bolivianite, is a popular choice for jewellery.



Also known as ametrine, it is a naturally occurring variety of quartz, a mixture of amethyst and citrine with zones of purple and yellow or orange.


Plaza 24 de Septiembre

Also known as Plaza de Armas, the square is flanked by the cathedral on one side (as are most main squares in Bolivia’s colonial cities), and surrounded by baroque, neoclassical, and Moorish architecture. While the square itself is 400 years old, the centre of the plaza was renovated in 2005 and represents modern Santa Cruz. It is named after the date the revolution started in 1810.


The square is leafy, with plenty of shade and numerous benches, where you can sit for a while and watch the world go by.


Or have your shoes cleaned.


Ignacio Warnes, a revolutionary hero commemorated by one of the statues in the square. Warnes lived during the Independence War, which started in 1810 and led to Santa Cruz gaining autonomy from Spain. The plaza is named after this momentous victory.


The square is full of people strolling and chatting, beggars, and sales people, students celebrating their graduation, various statues and monuments, and some striking pink trees.


The beautiful Toborochi Tree

And pigeons. Lots of pigeons. Lots of well-fed pigeons.


San Lorenzo Church


Also known as Santa Cruz Cathedral, the original basilica was founded in 1605, but the present structure dates from 1845 and wasn’t consecrated until 1915. The church is unusual in that it is completely made of bricks, with neoclassical designs on the façade.


There is a solemn hush in the air inside the church, and we wander around trying not to disturb those to whom this is a holy place.



Cotoca - the Virgin of Santa Cruz


Typical Jesuit flower decoration


The Virgin of Guadeloupe - always depicted as a painting, never as a statue

The Love Pig

We continue to a small enclosed square behind the cathedral, where a large chain mail structure of a pig has been erected, with the public encouraged to attach a padlock while making a wish.


The Cross of Santa Cruz - brought over from Extremadura in Spain

Street art near the square

Gladys Moreno, a famous local singer

Outdoor Photography Exhibition

In a small square behind the cathedral, there is an outdoor exhibition of contemporary photography to represent modern Bolivia.

A man reduces his rival with a punch as part of the traditional Tinku (meeting) festival, held in Mancha. Juan explains that if one of the participants dies during the fight, his body will be considered sacrificed to Mother Earth.

A man who rejected the mobilisation of the electoral fraud in 2019, receives a kick in the face. La Paz was one of the points of conflict between critics and supporters of the government of Evo Morales.

A coca grower from the Yungas who was demanding the closure of the market in Villa El Carmen, rescues a bag of coca leaves before the stalls go up in flames.

Natitas, human skulls, are exposed in the General Cemetery in La Paz. Every November 8th, believers celebrate the Day of the ñatitas to venerate them and ask for blessings.

A man represents Jesus whipped by a Roman soldier during the recreation of the Via Crucis held in La Paz.

Supposedly the highest football match in the world, these traditional ladies play soccer on the snowy peak of Huayna Potosí, at an altitude of 5,890 metres above sea level.

A man disinfects a line of people in La Paz to prevent the spread of Covid 19.

Manzana Uno Espacio de Arte

This modern (indoor) art gallery mainly showcases paintings, but there are also a couple of very cool pieces of carved tree trunks.


Club Social 24. de Septiembre

We stop for lunch in the oldest restaurant in Santa Cruz, dating from 1810.



We are the first people here and have a choice of tables.


Since its inception, when it was just a coffee house, this used to be the place for the in-crowd to come to mingle, see and be seen, and discuss ideas. The wall at the far end of the restaurant has a rogue’s gallery of all the ex-presidents who have visited this place.


We order their set lunch menu, which starts with a Caesar Salad (with beetroot, really?), followed by a quinoa soup with cabbage, carrots, celery, marrow, and beef. The two dishes both arrive at the same time.


A bowl of fresh bread appears, as well as the ubiquitous hot sauce. This one really does pack quite a punch!


We both really enjoy the main course, a dish called Rapi, which consists of beef cooked with a special sauce, served with yucca, rice and a red pepper (capsicum) salad.


The Vanilla Pudding to finish is very smooth, but a little artificial-tasting.


The whole four-course meal for the three of us, including a jug of delicious freshly made lemonade comes to 75 Bolivanos (just over $10 at today’s exchange rate).


We drive out of town to reach this park, which is said to have the most amazing butterfly house, and which has been substituted into our itinerary at my request. Unfortunately, it is closed.

Yvaga Guazu Ecological Park

Juan quickly confers with Tito, our driver, and heads for another place that he describes as “similar”.


I am not sure how I would describe this place – it seems to be a cross between a simple zoo, a botanical garden, an animal rescue organisation, and a centre for learning.


Despite being the only visitors there, we are issued with armbands, and wait for what seems like an eternity for a guide, a young girl called Geri, to turn up. She doesn’t speak English, but Juan translates for us.


Juan explains how the outer membrane of the coffee fruit is removed to make ‘pure coffee’.



As my back and knee are both hurting and making walking painful for me, I am unable to do this park justice. Apparently, there are some lovely trails leading through the 14 hectares of ground, but I find myself more and more grumpy as the pain becomes worse and worse.

Toborochi (the pink tree we saw earlier in the square) in bonsai form

A fruit called Sinini, said to be useful in the treatment of cancer

The birds and animals in sad-looking cages (apparently all rescued pets) do nothing to help my mood in any way.


There are some wild birds around, but Mowgli the dog makes sure that they don’t hang around for very long.

Black Legged Serima - our first lifer of the trip.

Blue Grey Tanager

Juan keeps encouraging me to continue, despite my protestations that I am in a great deal of pain now, promising me that there will be benches to sit on as we continue on our way. I feel guilty for not showing much enthusiasm, especially as Juan has gone to the trouble of amending the itinerary for me, and finding this place, so agree to make my way to the largest collection of orchids in the country.


When the afore-promised benches fail to materialise, the light makes it almost impossible to take photos, and hardly any of the 600+ orchid plants are flowering, I give up and Juan reluctantly agrees for us to make our way back to the hotel.

We stop on the way at a supermarket to purchase frozen vegetables that I use as ice packs for my knee and back. It works to some extent.


After a shower and rest in the room, Juan picks us up to go to a traditional restaurant for dinner. I don’t feel too great this evening, as I seem to have picked up a cold on the flight over here.

La Casa del Camba


In order to try as many different local dishes as possible, we order what is called a ‘Mini Buffet’ for two people. Juan insists it will be enough to feed three, as the portions are big and he “doesn’t eat much”.


The buffet consists of Charqui (similar to jerky/biltong: salted and dried beef), Duck Majao, Spicy Chicken, and Slow Cooked Beef Tongue.

These dishes are accompanied by Salad of the Day, Rice with Cheese, Fried Yucca, Fried Plantain, Fried Eggs, Chuño (potatoes processed by successive freezing, thawing, and dehydrating), and a Hot Sauce.

Spicy Chicken, and Rice with Cheese

Rice with Jerky and Fried Plantain

Duck Majao

Slow Cooked Beef Tongue

Salad of the Day

Yucca with spicy sauce

Freeze Dried Potato and Fried Eggs

We share a bottle of local red wine to go with it, as recommended by Juan - good choice!

Unusually for me, I seem to have lost my appetite, so I just a try a little of each dish. Funnily enough, it is Juan, who claims “not to each much”, who eats by far the most out of the three of us. Quite miraculous really, as he is so tiny – where does he put it all? He was right, though, it was more than enough to feed three people.


David and I do have dessert, however. Again a combo of three typical local dishes: Leche Crema (cream milk, a little like caramel pudding), Rice Pudding, and Manjar Blanco (similar to Dulce de Leche, a thick creamy caramel) served with Crillo Cheese.


We have a lovely evening with good food and good company at a reasonable cost.


Thank you so much to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this awesome private tour for us.


Posted by Grete Howard 20:42 Archived in Bolivia Tagged paintings gallery market square zoo pigeons cathedral orchids lunch plaza photography bolivia coca handicrafts soup santa_cruz plantain tanager quinoa exhibition wheelchair quartz padlocks belt cuckoo plaza_de_armas wood_carving yungas undiscovered_destinations art_gallery covid_19 serima viru_viri santa_cruz_de_la_sierra hotel_las_americas recova_vieja handicraft_market bolivianite ametrine 24_de_septiembre 24_de_septiembre_square shoe_shine toborochi toborochi_tree flowering_tree pink_flowers pink_tree san_lorenzo_church cotoca cirgin_of_santa_cruz love_pig making_a_wish outdoor_photography_exhibition photography_exhibition natitas villa_el_carmen via_crucis highest_football_match_in_the_w manzana_uno_especio_de_arte club_social rapi cuembe yvaga_guazu_ecological_park yvaga_guazu ecological_park bird_cages sinini bonzai frzon_vegetables ice_packla_casa_delcamba charqui yucca majao chuno Comments (6)

Itatiaia - São Paulo

The beginning of the end

View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I was finally warm enough in bed overnight last night, and wake up this morning feeling quite refreshed.

Brown Capuchin
After breakfast I hang around the feeders, watching the monkeys gather in increasing numbers.


Drinking from the hummingbird feeder



This is what they are all waiting for.


They are trying to work out how to get from the roof to that feeder.



Made it!


I wonder how they are going to climb back onto the roof now?


No problem!


I think Roberto can get the vibe that we are beginning to get a little birded-out, so he suggests we do something different and take a look at some nearby waterfalls, right at the very end of the road. There are three waterfalls here, one that basically goes under the bridge and two that are accessed by a series of steps.


I am obviously not going to be climbing any steps, so stay on the road photographing the very underwhelming smaller cascades at the lower level.





David, on the other hand, decides that he wants some exercise and climbs to the top, where the falls are much more impressive, even with the low water level at the moment.




We go back to the lodge to finish packing - we are leaving Itatiaia today, going back to São Paulo for overnight before travelling home.


The feeders beckon again, with their brightly coloured tanagers and those fast, fast hummingbirds.

Female Blue Dacnis

Male Blue Dacnis

Golden Chevroned Tanager

Green Headed Tanager

Chestnut Bellied Euphonia

Saffron Finch

Female Brazilian Ruby

Planalto Hermit

The sugar water spilled from the hummingbird feeders attracts wasps and ants.



The lodge has a resident artist, Leonardo, who is gradually filling up a white wall on the terrace with murals of local birds and squirrels.


Ricardo chilling on the terrace

Brazilian Squirrel
No local wildlife is forgotten here, and the squirrels have their own little feeding box in reception.


David wants to try and hand feed him, but as he already has a nut, he is not the least bit interested.


He has noticed the nut


And now that he has finished his previous one, he is thinking about it.


Going for it...






And both of them are happy!


As we are sitting around chatting with Leonardo and Ricardo, there is a flutter of excitement: one of the other guides has seen a rare bird. All his guests come running, and I want to get in on the action too, but being very slow to get up because of my bad knee, I end up right at the back of the crowd.

Frilled Coquette
The beautiful hummingbird makes a very brief appearance of just a few seconds, and everyone sighs as they don't even have time to raise their cameras to their eyes.

“Did you see him?” asks Ricardo. “I saw him, and I got him!” I reply.

Everyone is amazed and wants to see the results, as despite shooting with my long lens through the gaps between the crowd, I was the only one quick enough to capture him.

In fact, I manage several shots, but this is the best one.

“You're incredible!” says a very impressed Ricardo, "such fast reactions".

São Paulo
The drive to São Paulo from here seems a lot longer than it did coming the other way, despite the fact that I sleep a lot in the car. We see an accident, which could account for the amount of traffic.

Marriott Hotel
Ricardo drops us off at the hotel – he is off to pick up another couple of tourists tonight.

I ask the lovely young chap on reception – Gustavo – if I can have a room with a walk-in shower rather than a bath, as I struggle to get out of a bath with my bad knee. He finds a suitable room for us, but as it is not ready yet, he offers us a free drink in the bar while we wait.


After a lovely shower and change, we wander down to the reception, to find that dinner tonight is served buffet-style. Ugh. When we discover the large American group (with the irritating, loud, whiny woman) from the last three nights in Itatiaia are here too, we decide to eat in the bar instead. The menu is available via a QR code on the table, and we place our order.

My king prawns with a caper mayo

David orders a huge mixed grill

I have chocolate mousse for dessert

Whereas David chooses a trio of ice cream with chocolate sauce

Would you believe it, the Whiny American Woman comes to the bar and stops to talk to us. And there we were, thinking we'd managed to avoid her!

And so ends our holiday in Brazil.

Goodnight from São Paulo, and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip.


Posted by Grete Howard 11:06 Archived in Brazil Tagged waterfalls brazil birding brasil mural street_art squirrel south_america sao_paulo ants tanager ice_cream cocktail prawns hermit capuchin wasps hummingbirds bird_watching artis ruby shrimps itatiaia undiscovered_destinations euphonia dacnis brown_capuchin monkets brazilian_squirrel coquette chocolate_mousse mixed_grill Comments (0)

Itatiaia - the higher elevation

A different side to the park

View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Today we are heading further up into the mountains, to the highest point in the park. But first, we have to go down to the park entrance and exit the park, and drive back along the main São Paolo to Rio highway again.

Our first stop is by an abandoned building next to a stream, which is known for its kingfishers. We do see the kingfisher, but he is too quick for the camera. Other birds inhabit the area too, so it is not a wasted stop.

Toco Toucan

Green Barred Woodpecker

Greater Kiskadee

Planalto Hermit

Red Breasted Toucan

Masked Water Tyrant

The road soon starts climbing into the hills, with some stunning views!





Before we get as far as the park gates, we take a small detour to Snipe Valley and a road that is little more than a farm track in places. It yields some great bird sightings, though.

Campo Flicker

Burrowing Owl

The sky in the distance looks stormy, I hope we don't get rain



White Barred Piculet

Curl Crested Jay

Streamer Tailed Tyrant

Chalk Browed Mocking Bird

Itatiaia National Park
Once inside the park, the road deteriorates immediately!


We make many stops to check the trees and bushes for any bird activity.

Cliff Flycatcher

Shear Tailed Grey Tyrant

Buff Breasted Tanager

Variable Antshrike

Green Barred Woodpecker

Buff Throated Warbling Finch

Suruca Trogon

The lodge prepared us a picnic lunch today, and what a picnic it is! There is a whole box of enough food to feel a small army, with sandwiches, fruit, snacks, and drinks.


We stop at a small grassy pull-in area, where the views of the top of the mountains peeking above the clouds are stupendous. We really are above the clouds here!



The clouds are fast-moving and seem to bubble up from below the horizon, constantly shifting, constantly creating new abstract shapes.


I am spellbound by this spectacle!


We reach the highest point at 2,450 metres above sea level. This, I believe, is the highest motorable road in Brazil, and by comparison, it is a mere 19 metres lower than the highest mountain in Norway.


Last night Ricardo suggested we wear all the clothes we have, as it gets very cold at the top here, so I put on leggings under my jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt under my long-sleeved shirt, followed by a fleece and a windproof jacket. I am roasting, and have been taking off layer after layer. It has not dropped below 15 °C at any point today!

The road is no better up here: it is merely a series of potholes joined by some rocks and a bit of compacted sand and slabs of concrete.


At the top, there is a plateau surrounded by jagged outcrops. This is a popular area for hiking, and we see several groups of school kids around.

Why, oh why, do people insist on standing in front of any beauty spot for their ******* selfie, ruining the view for all other photographers? Grrrrrr


Rarely has there been a more appropriately named car!

Diademed Tanager

We start our descent and make our way back to the lodge in time to shower, change and use the wifi in the restaurant before dinner. We enjoy a bottle of wine with the meal, and once back in the room, we remove the blankets from the third bed and pile them on top of the two other blankets already on our bed, to stave off the overnight cold temperatures.

Goodnight from Itatiaia and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip.


Posted by Grete Howard 19:49 Archived in Brazil Tagged mountains views clouds highway brazil lunch brasil picnic national_park toucan jay cold south_america winding_road tanager woodpecker flycatcher view_point finch hummingbird selfie above_the_clouds itatiaia undiscovered_destinations picnic_lunch kiskadee flicker tyrant haermit high_altitude piculet stormy_skies wol mockingbird warbling_finch antshrike duster Comments (0)

Itatiaia - birding around the lodge

Such colourful birds!

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I did not have a good sleep last night, the bed is hard and much more narrow than we are used to. So far all the hotels have had king or even super-king sized beds, this is just a standard double. I could not find a position that was comfortable, and I had some pretty awful dreams. One good thing, though, is it was actually quite cool in the night. We are right up in the hills here, so the average daytime temperature is very comfortable, an absolute delight after the Amazon heat!

We meet Ricardo for some early morning birding by the swimming pool, which is one level up from the restaurant and has good views over the surrounding trees and bushes where the birds congregate at first light.


Velvety Black Tyrant

White Eyed Parakeets

Saffron Finch

Piazuru Pigeons

Maroon Bellied Parakeets
I watch the parakeets as they flit from tree to tree, grabbing a bite to eat on the way.


I love the human-like way they hold their food - I have never seen that before




Red Breasted Toucan

Rufous Collared Sparrow

Dusky Legged Guan

Rufous Bellied Thrush

We break briefly for breakfast, before continuing to look for birds. Ricardo is passionate about what he does, and it rubs off on me.

Brown Capuchin monkeys on the balcony while we are having breakfast

Mr & Mrs Chestnut Bellied Euphonia



Saffron Finch

Female Blue Dacnis

Male Blue Dacnis

Plain Parakeet

Golden Chevroned Tanager

Green Headed Tanager

Black Googled Tanager

Golden Winged Cacique

Brazilian Ruby

We drive down to an abandoned hotel, which is obviously one of “the” places to go bird watching, as we see three other birding groups here. Most people trek into the forest, whereas we just stay in and around the car park as my knee is not up to any serious walking, and see absolutely nothing.


When we get back to the lodge, Ricardo dismantles part of the hummingbird feeder, wipes the flower with antiseptic gel, dips it in sugar water, and suggests I hold it in my mouth.

It doesn't take long before the first visitor arrives. Wow! It is totally mind-blowing to feel her little wings on my chin.


Red Rumped Cacique

Ruby Crowned Tanager

Brazilian Tanager

Velvety Black Tyrant

Olive Green Tanager

Saffron Finch

As usual, the lunch consists of a buffet. We are joined by Ricardo, who asks for a link to my website. He spends some time looking through my wildlife photos on there and exclaims: “You're good!”, “You're one of the best I've ever seen!” I float on a little cloud for the rest of the day after that compliment!

After lunch, I go back to the hummingbird feeders and try and get some better pictures.

Brazilian Ruby

Planalto Hermit

Brazilian Ruby

Some interesting effects using a flash with a slow shutter speed

Violet Capped Woodnymph

David gets fed up and goes back to the room to chill on the balcony, while I continue taking photos of the birds around the feeders.

Female Black Goggled Tanager

Saffron Finch

Screaming Cowbird

Double Collared Seedeater

Not only do they feed the birds, but the squirrels are well looked after too

After a while, I go to join David and spot a few birds from our own balcony as well.


Red Breasted Toucan

Scaled Woodcreeper

Magpie Tanager

Saffron Toucanet

White Spotted Woodpecker

David takes the chilling to the extreme!

Great use of an upcycled pandemic mask!

I decide to go to bed for a siesta instead, as I am feeling quite cold.

As we did yesterday, we go up to the restaurant before dinner to use the internet. The same group of American birders are there again tonight, with the guide going through, bird by bird, what they saw today. The same woman is making inane comments and correcting the guide's English, to the point he snaps at her: “You do realise English is my second language don't you”, and with a groan adds: “it's only the second day, this is going to be a very long week!” I feel his pain.

Back in the room, we grab the spare blanket for the bed, as we both felt cold last night.

Goodnight from Itatiaia, and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.


Posted by Grete Howard 21:08 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds wildlife monkey pigeons guide hammock brazil lunch forest balcony birding brasil toucan website squirrel sparrow tanager woodpecker blanket guan hermit capuchin americans siesta finch adventure_travel hummingbirds pandemic bird_watching snoring knee ruby itatiaia undiscovered_destinations thrush snooze face_mask parakeets wild_birds painful_knee tyrant cacique euphonia dacnis bad_knee knee_pain hummingbird_feeder woodnymph cowbird woodcreeper toucanet eye_mask feeling_cold Comments (0)

Cuiabá - São Paulo - Itatiaia

Up into the hills

View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

We have our earliest start yet this morning, with the alarm on for 04:30. After a room picnic of some snacks we bought on the way here yesterday, we are picked up at 05:40 for the transfer to Cuiabá Airport.

When we arrive, we ask the first worker we see inside the door – who turns out to be someone who works for a company that shrink-wraps cases – about special assistance. After previous experiences of very few people speaking English in the airports here in Brazil, David shows him a piece of paper with “I need a wheelchair for my wife” written in Portuguese (courtesy of Google Translate). Expecting him to point us in the right direction, I am very surprised when he jumps into action, runs to the other side of the building to collect a wheelchair, and commandeers a fellow worker to push me to the check-in desk. Such amazing service, but to be honest, everywhere we have been, the service has been exemplary on this trip.

Waiting in the Special Assistance area to be collected for the flight.

The flight is just over two hours, which goes quickly by the time they have served a drink and some little snacks. Before we land in São Paulo, I am asked if I can walk down stairs (as there is no tunnel up to the plane here), and despite confirming that I am perfectly capable of managing stairs, a porter arrives in the provisions lift, to the door on the opposite side of the plane to the usual exit and takes us down to the ground in the industrial lift that doubles as a disabled carriage and food delivery port. Cool!

The luggage is there by the time we arrive at the carousel, and Ricardo, our new driver-guide, is just outside. He speaks excellent English, is very knowledgable, and we hit it off straight away.

For the first couple of hours, we travel along the most important road in Brazil: the connection between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. It is a smooth, fast road, the best we've seen in Brazil so far.

We stop at a service station along the road, where we have to enter through a turnstile and collect a token in the process. We can order anything we like in the food court, and it is charged against this token. At the end of the meal, we then pay for everything at the tills on the way out. An interesting concept, but it seems to work.


We order a burger each, while Ricardo chooses from the buffet, where everything is charged by weight.

Itatiaia National Park
The smooth road ends at the entrance to the park. Our luck is in, the park is free to anyone over 60. The girl at the ticket office doesn't believe us, however, so we have to show our passports. I guess that is a compliment.

Welcoming Committee
The first thing we see when we enter the park is a couple of Brown Capuchin monkeys.


Ricardo claims that the top of the viewing area is a great place for observing different birds, so I struggle up the uneven stony steps. At least there is a handrail on one side to help me.

The view from the top is great, but the birds are hiding from us.



Going down the steps is much worse than going up, and by the time I get to the bottom, my knee is very sore.

The rough track – way worse than the Transpantaneira – climbs ever upwards through the forest, until we reach the hotel.

Hotel do Ypé
Built on the side of a hill, the hotel has a very steep and winding incline to reach the parking area and reception.


We asked Undiscovered Destinations to request a room on the level, and the message certainly got through, as we are staying in what is the closest room to the restaurant and reception.

The rooms are wooden swiss-chalet style, reminiscent of a European ski resort, and feature an open fire rather than AC.

Our room with the main building behind

Reception and the shady patio

Once we have checked in and taken the luggage to the room, Ricardo shows us the most important part of the hotel: the bird-watching balcony.


I settle down with my camera for the rest of the afternoon.


Female Ruby Crowned Tanager

Red Rumped Cacique

Violet Capped Woodnymph

Chestnut Bellied Euphonia

Short Crested Flycatcher

Mr & Mrs Blue Dacnis

The male is bright blue

While the female is green

Golden Chevroned Tanager

Golden Winged Cacique

Brazilian Tanager

Magpie Tanager

Green Headed Tanager

Juvenile Ruby Crowned Tanager

Black Goggled Tanager

Velvety Black Tyrant

Red Breasted Toucan

Dusky Legged Guan

White Throated Hummingbird

Planalto Hermit

Brazilian Ruby

I reluctantly tear myself away when the light gets too low to take photos.

David wanders around the grounds and photographs me from the upper level

We go up to the dining room early in order to use the internet (there is no wifi in the room) so that David can check out all his birthday messages.

This hotel is mostly used by large birding groups, and there is a table for twelve Americans next to ours. Their guide is going through what they have seen today, and there is a very loud and irritating woman who asks questions and makes inane comments on everything the guide says.

We are rather surprised to find one of their party sitting at our table (each table has the room number or name of the group on it. We have a table for four as Ricardo was hoping to join us). It later transpires that she has tested positive for Covid and has been banished from their table. She does eventually move on to the far end of their table, but I have no idea why anyone thought it was acceptable for her to sit with us!

Dinner is yet again buffet style, with very similar dishes to what we have been served previously. We eat and then retire to our room.

Goodnight from Itatiaia and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.


Posted by Grete Howard 22:50 Archived in Brazil Tagged monkey brazil lunch birding brasil national_park south_america buffet sao_paulo tanager flycatcher wheelchair guan hermit capuchin cuiabá ski_resort bird_watching hummingbird viewpoint itatiaia undiscovered_destinations coronavirus covid covid_19 special_assistance tyrant cacique service_station dirt_track hotel_do_ype steep_hill swiss_chalet euphonia dacnis Comments (0)

Cristalino - Birds, Otters and Tapir

Another day, another boat trip

View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

We go out in the boat with Gui again at first light to see what nature has to offer us today.

Great Black Hawk

Amazon Kingfisher

With great excitement, Gui points out a tapir swimming along the bank.


We follow him as he continues along the shoreline until he eventually exits the water and disappears into the jungle.






My animal wish list for this trip is now complete: jaguar, giant river otter, capybara, agouti, armadillo, anteater, and tapir. I am a very happy bunny!

Pale Vented Pigeon

Long Nosed Bats

A very shy otter

Southern Rough Winged Swallow

Black Fronted Nunbird

White Bellied Parrot

Blue and yellow Macaw

Red Throated Piping Guan

Anhinga drying its wings

I never expected to see beautiful sandy beaches here in the Amazon - these have become exposed as a result of the dropping water level. The lodge arranges excursions to the beach for swimming and canoeing – having seen numerous caiman and the teeth of the otters, and knowing that there are piranhas in the river, I think I will give it a miss.


Cocoi Heron

Blue Grey Tanager

Southern Lapwing


Pied Lapwing

Muscovy Ducks

Neotropic Cormorants

Another dragonfly lands briefly on the boat

Yellow Billed Tern

Black Caracara

Blue and Yellow Macaws

Greater Yellow Headed Vulture

White Throated Mango
The captain pulls up at a shrub on a small island, with a labyrinth of criss-crossing branches. I can see no sign of life. Gui uses his laser pointer to draw our eyes to a small green patch, well hidden inside the bush. A beautiful hummingbird on her nest.


“How on earth did you manage to spot that?” I ask Gui. He explains that he went out with a scientist last week, who had a heat-spotting device that helped them locate nests such as this.

Southern Rough Wing Swallow

Swallow Wing Puffbird

Striated Heron

Back to the lodge.


Gui has arranged for me to get a taxi (the luggage truck) back to the room again, while David takes the long route via the shop which is near the restaurant. I ran out of deodorant this morning, so am looking to replace it. The shop does not keep any in stock but Gui arranges for someone in town to nip out and buy one for me, and they will send it with this afternoon's boat carrying new guests.

My diarrhoea has returned with a vengeance (it has never really gone, but has been manageable until now), so instead of going to lunch, I take some Ciprofloxacin and go to bed for the afternoon.

Feeling considerably better, I decide to brave some food this evening. Dinner is served as a buffet tonight, much to my disappointment. At least it means no-one will notice if I don't eat much.





The guava souffle for dessert is incredibly light and very nice indeed

While we are sitting at the table eating our dinner, the waiter comes over and plonks a deodorant in front of me. Great!


I message Gui to let him know it has arrived.


Goodnight from Cristalino and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip.


Posted by Grete Howard 23:06 Archived in Brazil Tagged wildlife beach river safari parrot swimming hawk brazil birding brasil luxury duck boating amazon pigeon mango south_america bats buffet tapir osprey tanager heron vulture anhinga caracara guan kingfisher macaw cormorant dragonfly diarrhea bird_watching hummingbird otter boat_safari undiscovered_destinations swallow tern lapwing diarrhoea wildlife_photography puffbird cristalino nunbird cristalino_lodge ciprofloacin Comments (2)

Iguaçu - Parque das Aves, and the falls from the hotel

A taste of things to come

View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After a good night's sleep, we wander down to the pool area for breakfast in Restaurant Ipé. The pool looks quite inviting, as the pool boy removes the POOL CLOSED sign, turns all the mattresses down, opens up the parasols, and turns on a coule of fountains.



At the restaurant, Melissa (the maître d' from yesterday lunchtime) greets us: “Good morning Mrs Howard, did you sleep well?”

The buffet is massive, with 20 different breads, cold meats, cheeses, cereals, and a counter where chefs to cook items to your liking.


At Melissa's suggestion, we order a tapioca pancake – a first for us. It is quite pleasant, and nowhere near as dry as it looks.


We are joined outside on the terrace by some gorgeous colourful birds.


Green Headed Tanager

Mr and Mrs Saffron Finch

Plush Crested Jay

Greater Kiskadee

Parque das Aves
This bird park came recommended, not just by Trip Advisor writers, but also the hotel staff. Set within the 40 acres of sub-tropical rain forest, the park provides shelter for around a thousand birds (150 species) from all over South America. The privately owned park focuses on reversing the conservation crisis that these birds and the Atlantic Rainforest are experiencing.

Our first impression is not the best: being Sunday, the entrance is heaving with groups and families on a day out. It seems they have lost our reservation, so we face a long wait just to get in.


To be fair, as a result of the sprawling grounds, it does not feel all that crowded once we get inside.


Some of the birds are within reasonably-sized cages, but there are also some enormous walk-through aviaries where the birds fly freely all around you.

Scarlet Ibis

King Vulture

Chestnut-Bellied Seed-Finch

Black Fronted Piping Guan

Buff Necked Ibis

This area used to hold flamingos until a couple of months ago when a jaguar managed to get into the enclosure. I remember reading about it in the news at the time.


As well as birds, the park is home to reptiles, turtles, snakes, and butterflies.

Black Bellied Sliders

Broad Snouted Caiman

At the halfway mark is a nice little café where we sit down to rest my weary knee. David has been carrying a foldable stool for me, although there have been plenty of benches around too. While we are drinking our cool orange juices, David notices that his shoes are coming apart.


The large enclosure housing parrots and macaws, is definitely my favourite part of the park. I desperately try – totally unsuccessfully – to capture these brightly coloured birds in flight as they whizz past me with their wings-tips almost touching my face.


Red and Green Macaw

Chestnut Fronted Macaw

Jandaya Parakeet

Blue and Yellow Macaw

Blue Winged Macaw

An unidentified bird in the park

By the time we reach the exit, David is completely sole-less on one foot, so we stop in the gift shop at the national park entrance. Carini arranges a Personal Shopper for him, and he comes out, not only with a new pair of walking shoes but also with a long-sleeved top for the jungle.


David wearing his new shoes and carrying his heavy (?) shopping bags.

New shoes

Getting ready to keep the insects at bay in the jungle with a long-sleeved top

We head back to the hotel for lunch by the pool. We don't want a proper meal as such, just a little snack, so we order from the pool menu: fried potatoes with a tasty dip and Brazilian pastels (savoury pastry squares) to share.

Notice how my bag has yet again got its own chair?

The potatoes and dip are so good we order another portion.


Out of the corner of my eye, I see something moving on the hill behind the patio: coatis. Lots of them running down towards the pool.


They seem to be attracted by a particular bush, or rather the yellow fruits dropped on the ground underneath the bush.



Its flexible, pointed, pig-like snout, used for sniffing out food under leaf litter and in crevices, has earned it the nickname “hog-nosed raccoon.”


Meanwhile, up by our table, hummingbirds flit in and out of the climbing flower, so fast, and severely backlit, that I really struggle to be able to capture them with my camera. With a fair amount of help from Photoshop and Topaz later, I manage a semi-decent picture of the Panalto Hermit.


We take a bag of ice back to the room with us for my poorly knee.


Unfortunately, it doesn't remain on my knee for very long, after a few minutes, an ice cube landslide occurs, and they all end up on the floor.


Iguaçu Falls
After resting my knee for a while, we wander down to the falls. That's the beauty of staying in the Belmond Hotel, you can visit the falls any time of day or night. When we arrived back from the bird park earlier, there were dozens of people at the viewing platform, now there are only a handful. I find a lonely abandoned chair and sit myself down, put up my tripod, and spend the next couple of hours photographing and watching this magnificent spectacle.


Iguaçu Falls (spelled Iguazu in Spanish) is a series of 275 cataracts on the border between Brazil and Argentina, and together they become the biggest waterfall in the world. 80% of the falls are in Argentina, but the best views are from Brazil.




On both sides of the border, a number of different walkways lead out to vantage points where you can get incredibly close to the cascades (often getting very wet in the process)!




Queueing up for selfies

Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have exclaimed on first seeing these falls: "Poor Niagara! This makes Niagara look like a kitchen faucet."


Photographs cannot do this natural wonder justice, in fact, not even a video can convey that feeling of power and magnitude!

By the time the light fades and I decide I have enough photos of the waterfalls to last me a lifetime – or at least until tomorrow – there is only me left at the falls. I go back to the room for a shower and get changed for dinner.

I start with a Caipirinha, naturally, when in Brazil and all that! We order a bread basket while we wait. The selection of five different types of bread comes with a trio of dips: spiced butter, whipped cream cheese, and a red wine reduction. It is so good!


The waiter then brings some thin flatbread with garlic and Parmesan cheese.


For mains we both choose filet mignon on a bed of Gorgonzola ravioli. The waiter asks if we want side vegetables, but having gorged ourselves on bread, we decide not to. Just as well, as the portion is enormous: one fillet would have been plenty. I struggle to finish it, but it is so superb that I battle on until the end.


David still has room for dessert, whereas I settle for another drink instead.

Apple crumble brûlée with pistachio ice cream

When we return to the room, housekeeping has yet again been in for turndown service, and in addition to a chocolate on the pillow, they have given each of the items I left on the little table each own face cloth to rest on. How sweet.


Goodnight from Iguaçu. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for organising this trip for us.


Posted by Grete Howard 20:57 Archived in Brazil Tagged waterfalls birds wildlife shopping ice breakfast dinner parrots argentina lunch birding brasil iguazu jay south_america caiman tanager ibis coati iguacu iguassu finch bird_watching hummingbird macaws parque_das_aves bird_park undiscovered_destinations parakeets tapioca_pancake kiskadee sliders broken_shoes new_shoes elanor_roosevelt filet_mignon turnback_servce Comments (6)

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