Why Brazil? Is it safe? Are you bringing the kids???

These are the questions we were asked by clients, friends, family and acquaintances when we told everyone where we were vacationing (or as I like to say… exploring) this summer.

The question is really… why would you not go?

There are beaches, and cities, and beautiful people to be seen… as well as a rich, complicated history worth studying and knowing.

The tourism industry has taken a hit over the past few years due to political corruption, a recession, and of course the Zika scare…

… but Brazil is ready for its come back, and I’m going to get you to cancel that next trip to Cabo (you’ve been there, done that… and GOD knows we’ve seen it enough on Instagram!).

So travel further south with me, mmmmmkay? I have four beautiful cities to show you… starting with Rio De Janeiro!

Ahhh… winter!

We traveled to Rio in July, which is wintertime in Brazil, and a cool 75 – 82 degrees (can you say perfect?). This is actually their low season, which is such a surprise to me as there are less people, less bugs, and a lower heat index.

We happened to be there during school break, so there were some crowds in the more touristy sections, but nothing like there would be if you were to go during December/January.

Each section of beach in Rio has its own tile pattern, so you know if you are in Copacabana, Ipanema, etc. You will see similar variations as you travel through different cities, such as in Salvador (my second favorite spot on our trip, coming up in post 3!).

After catching a nap and some “mild” exploring on the first day, we hit up the tourist “must sees” on our second with our friends John, Erynn, and their FOUR girls (Cora, Hero, Pip, and Mimi), and a driver and guide.

I met Erynn through Instagram (true story), and we immediately connected like we were long, lost, old friends. We took a “warm up” trip with them to Utah (their home state) last year, and it was such a success that we knew we could do something BIGGER.

John and Erynn own a travel company, Landed, that specializes in South American travel (and more), and if it weren’t for them, we probably wouldn’t have considered Brazil as a travel option… but more on that later!

The photo above is from where the Christ The Redeemer Statue stands, and it is definitely worth seeing. I mean, c’mon! The topography of this country is just breathtaking!

… and here he is… JESUS (as Avery loved to remind everyone for the remainder of the trip!).

We took a lunch break at the beautiful Aprazivel restaurant (Acai guacamole!!!) in the hills of Santa Teresa.

Santa Teresa really spoke to the designer in me, with its dilapidated old homes, just BEGGING to be restored, and views any LA native would die for!

The architecture pulls from all parts of the world, and the hillside is a real draw for artists, bohemians, and the Brazilian version of hipsters.

It’s a special place (I wish I had more photos and more time), and if you have the chance to spend a night or two here, I would go for it!

On our way down the hill we visited the Escadaria Selaron, a tiled staircase created by artist Jorge Selaron.

Jorge was a Chilean painter who traveled the world before settling in Rio. He renovated more than two hundred dilapidated old steps into a colorful work of art using tiles and mosaics.

He eventually quit painting full time and dedicated his life to completing this work!

I love these shots that John took. I don’t know about you… but I’m thinking Brazil looks pretty safe, right?

Our final stop of the day… Sugar Loaf mountain!

Sugar Loaf offers (in my opinion), the best views of Brazil in every direction.

LOOK… a rare family photo!

… and if you want to take it one step further?

… hop on a helicopter…

So you can see this!

I mean… WOW.

Day three started with one of the most amazing farmer’s markets I’ve laid my eyes on.

The fruits, fish, and vegetables were so beautiful and each vendor was so happy to give us tastes and bites!

It wasn’t even their true “season”… but you could have fooled us!

After the market, we hopped into a van with our guide Thiago to visit Vidigal, a favela (Brazilian Portuguese for slum), known for some of the best views in Rio. Favelas have a complicated history, and are worth researching and visiting if you plan on a trip to Rio.

You can see from the photo above, that most Favelas are built into the hillsides around the city, with buildings stacking up higher and higher upon each other.

The roads are narrow, winding and crowded, and you need to hire a guide who is a friend of the community, and knows his/her way around.

This is John and Thiago. Thiago is a local, a surfer, and has friends within this favela. He was knowledgeable, communicative and a real pleasure to hang out with.

He has a genuine affection for his country… and similar to all of our guides, a real hope for a better future and the belief that Brazil has so much to offer to the rest of the world (which is true!).

We were introduced to a community school, founded by a woman who used to live in Vidigal, and has since returned to create a space with a library, field, ballet room and more.

It was beautiful to see what she had done, and for the kids to see children in a very different space than their own… but yet so similar to them in so many ways.

There were some foreign exchange students there who mentioned they rarely see children visiting the favela…

… but I believe it was one of the most important stops on our trip through the city.

Our final day in Rio we decided to go to the Museum Of Tomorrow, the beach, and to enjoy some fine dining and design!

The museum is a really cool, interactive (and frightening) glimpse into the future of our planet. It’s worth the visit if you have the time. The structure is amazing, and the exhibit doesn’t take long to experience (which is sometimes nice with a large group).

After some beach time, the kiddos watched movies at the hotel while the parents visited Hotel Emiliano, and we stuffed our faces with a six course “brunch” that was out of this world!

If you are a design nerd like me, then you must check this place out!

The entire front facade of the building is covered in shutters that each suite can open or shut… which means that the building is constantly evolving and changing!

… and if that six course meal wasn’t enough… we had to have just one MORE six course dinner at Lasai (named one of Latin America’s best restaurants, 2016).

It was probably one of the most unique (and of course delicious)┬ámeals that I’ve ever had.

Another restaurant that should be on your list (I just don’t have a photo)… is Olympe. Also named one of Latin America’s top 50 restaurants… we might have eaten another multi-course meal here too… but that would be embarrassing to mention, right? (Not if you’re on vacation!!!)

Tchau Rio! We had a blast!

Thank you John for sharing camera duties with me and for capturing these lovely faces!

As mentioned earlier, John and Erynn travel for a living… extensively in South America, and this whole journey was planned out through them. Every tour, every guide, every driver, every hotel…

The ease with which we traveled, and the lack of anxiety (even when a flight was cancelled), was worth every penny spent, especially when traveling with kids to a country that we knew very little about.

Again… when explaining why we wanted (and still want to do more) travel to South America… it’s because we know our kids will visit Europe one day (almost every college student studies abroad at this point), but how many of us are visiting elsewhere?

I couldn’t be more grateful to them for this experience. Truly, whole-heartedly grateful!

But we aren’t even close to finished… I have three more cities to take you to. We’re off to Buzios … and Deesign Does Brazil Part 2!

View Next in Series: Deesign Does Brazil Part 2: Buzios