At the Copa, Copacabana

If you’ve read my Top 10 Places to Visit in South America, then you’ve already been introduced to a little bit of my love for this amazing place. Before we visited Rio I had a huge list of things to do, places to eat and things to see and we quickly realized how ambitious I was. Part of the reason was we wanted to relax a bit and enjoy the beaches. Rio was not another typical go go go city. We were in Rio for about 6 days and I could have easily spent months there. We got into a routine where we would get up and run along Copacabana beach, get our daily juice/smoothie and then go to the beach or go exploring. I will share a list of first time things to do in Rio because it can get overwhelming along with a list of things I wanted to do but we ran out of time for and some tips as well. If you can swing it try to line up your trip with New Years when they do an amazing celebration on Copa beach or obviously for Carnival. We loved Rio so easily that we have already talked about heading back when they do Carnival one year.


Mirante Dona Marta for sunset views. I can not tell you enough how beautiful this spot was! I was surprised at how amazing it was and the fact that we only had to share it with just a handful of people. There are lots of look out spots but next to Sugarloaf, you can not miss this one. There are two sides to it and the left side when driving up was my favorite. I honestly think the best way to get there is to take an uber up to the top. They waited for us so while we watched the sunset and then took us back down because there wasn’t much traffic and for safety issues. I highly recommend doing it this way.

Eat at a real Brazilian Churrasco. HEAVENNNNN. Tucanos is one of my favorite places to eat so we were both stoked to eat at a “real” Brazilian one. It was pretty similar to Tucanos but really fancy with more options. Be prepared to spend some money though, it was definitely not cheap, but when in Brazil right? We went to one a couple blocks from where we stayed. It was Churrascaria Palace and it was bomb. If this isn’t close to you, ask your hotel desk about really good options! I was wondering how we have no pictures here but then I remember this day and how we were running late and starving and the camera did not eat first here haha.

Pedra da Gavea. I wouldn’t really recommend this place because it’s SOOO far out & you wait in line forever in the sun.

-Parque Lage. This little park was so beautiful and on a clear day you can see the cristo statue! It was one of my favorite spots in Rio. We took a taxi there and knocked out the this, the gardens and a food spot we wanted to try. There is a little breakfast place that we got really yummy french toast at. You can’t use cameras inside, only your phone and there is a guard who walks around and makes sure people follow this. There usually is a line to take pictures here but it moves pretty fast. Afterwards we walked to the Jardim Botanical to wander a bit. After this you can go to La Bicyclette for some amazing pastries. Lyle got the banana nutella and I got the raisin cinnamon roll and it was so good I precisely ordered a second one because yolo. haha. SO good. 

– Pão de Açúcar. This is a can’t miss and I loved it more than the Cristo statue experience. We went up maybe an hour and a half before sunset so we could see the views during the day, at night and at sunset. They have several food and snack places up at the top with spots to hang out as well. A lot of people did a free drink combo since there is a bar at the top but since we don’t drink that didn’t appeal to us. At the top you have 360 degree views of basically all of Rio. Once it gets close to sunset, people will scout out their spots and then thats it so pick yours early if you are there for photos. We lucked out and found a spot right next to where you get onto the cable car to go back down and it was perfect. We got to watch the sunset with just us two and had amazing shots of the car going up and down since we were right on top of it. It is the best spot in the house.

-Try the Acai. The Acai bowls in Rio are out of this world. I asked what the heck do they put in them to make them so good and I was told its the agave syrup, so there you go. We would lay out on the beaches and people would just walk around selling juices and foods and bring them right up to you so it was so nice. The first time we tried the acai bowls was on the beach when someone walked up with a whole tray of them and they were so good. Those and the smoothies on the beach were our favorites! Our fav acai place was Maria Acai. They had a ridiculous amount of toppings to choose from!

-Escadaria Selaron. The history of these steps in so inspiring. The artist has over 2000 tiles from over 60 countries around the world and you could honestly spend and afternoon just examining every inch of it. If you go in the afternoon you will be swamped with locals and tourists alike taking the steps to get from point A to B. We met a couple here that did come back because they couldn’t see all the tiles with so many people. I recommend getting here by 7 or 7:30 am to get to see all the amazing details. 

-Head to the beaches. There are so many beaches to explore in Rio alone. Ipanema, Copacabana, Joatinga and Barra da Tijuca to name just a few of them. They are all known for different vibes so depending on the reason for your travel you might want a more family friendly beach or a more relaxed beach vibe. I could care less as long as there was sun so I wasn’t too picky.

-See the Cristo Statue. You can’t go to Rio without seeing one of the wonders of the world. We took an uber to the spot where you can buy tickets and then take the cable car up. We got the first time slot which was I think 8 and we realized that there was a cable car heading up before that and we knew we had to get on it. We talked to a bunch of people and managed to get on the earlier train because people ended up not showing up. It was a miracle and it pays to ask my friends or in our case…sound desperate. Apparently tour groups get the earliest slot and then get to be a the top first. When we got off at the top, we ran to the elevators and pressed 2. We were kind of confused and people were leaving the door open so it slowed us down but now you guys know haha. Even if its just you two, close the doors! Then you get out and run up the escalators and enjoy the very short time you have all to yourself! I took pictures of Lyle first and not a single person is in them. It was such an amazing feeling to be up at the top, just us two! Even when people started to trickle up we were able to set up our tripod and get lots of pictures which would never happen if we got up an hour later. Our room mate didn’t care about going early so he went up in the middle of the day and you can not even move. We experienced this as we were leaving a bit. There isn’t much space at the top and it gets really claustrophobic. Also, Rio was so hot everyday we were there you are just roasting in the sun because there is no shade at the very top so keep that in mind too. The morning we were there it was cloudy and the fact that Lyle and I didn’t do a tour we stayed up at the top until it cleared but there were people all around us who were disappointed because their tour group didn’t have time to stay at the top. I figure for the early cable car to the top, you can sign up and just leave your tour group in the event of a weather condition such as this one. Sunset wouldn’t be a good time to see the statue because everything would be silhouetted for pictures and it would be too dark so I think first thing in the morning is the best time to go!

Look how foggy it got at one point! ^

Sorry if this is sacrilegious…  

We also loved Confiteria Lisboa for amazing pastel de natas (one of my all time favs) and other baked goods. Another thing you can’t miss is one of the awesome markets for cool souvenirs either! We did several, the feira de Copacabana and I can’t really remember the name of the other one but it was located near Confiteria Lisboa.

If you haven’t been to Rio, you need to go! We never felt any danger there but we did choose to take taxis everywhere because they were so cheap and easy. We would pull up a place and say it and show a picture if the language barrier was too difficult. Most people speak English but I always recommend learning basics for the country you are traveling in. My favorite taxi guy had an app on his phone that translated what he said into English and he was so funny because he then said he would save a bunch of money on not needing to take any English classes now haha. There are all sorts of apps you can use for translating so it’s not really a concern. When you take the taxi in from the airport, we asked two people heading out for taxi fares and they both seemed high so we asked a third person and it was cheaper than both the others. Take your time to ask around, people still do give you high numbers because you’re a tourist. We experienced this at the beach too. We rented a chair and an umbrella everyday and everyone was offering different prices. I think it was like $15 for a chair and an umbrella for the whole day at the cheapest place and the most expensive $22. When I go next time I would love to the Costao de Itacoatiara hike or lookout (it looks so cool!), go to the Aventureiro beach, stay at the Praia Ipanema Hotel (the pool views kill me) and experience Carnival!! One thing I wanted to do more than anything on this entire trip was hang glide around the statue but apparently it only works out on very few occasions because the weather has to be perfect so hopefully we get to do that someday too. We stayed in a hostel that had an amazing location, just a couple blocks up from Copacabana beach but my fav Nike jacket got stolen out of the bathroom so I wouldn’t recommend it haha.


Oh and Lyle would like me to tell you to get all the Pao de Queijo you can get your hands on (cheese bread). They sell it everywhere and its little cheese balls…or not so little ones haha.

XO, Cait


I decided to write a post like this because when I started planning our big South America trip, I quickly became overwhelmed. I was finding lists that said “The top 27 places to see in South America…” and I felt like it was too much information to give to someone. I really wanted to simplify this list for first timers heading to South America and give places I loved and that I think are worthwhile. I want to see absolutely everything and I know there are a lot of people like me so here is a starting point for you all.

On our 8 week South America trip we started with Chile, and spent a lot of time there because Lyle served his mission in parts of Chile and heading there was the main purpose of our trip. I loved Chile and our itinerary but I wanted to put things in order of what I loved the most and where I think you should start.

  1. Machu Picchu 

This is the easiest decision I have ever made for a #1. No South America list is complete without it. Honestly it is one of our top destinations in the whole world. We did a Peru trip prior to our most recent South America trip and we loved every bit of it. I can also say it is the best world wonder we have been too and probably will ever go to (Petra is the only one I think will give it a run for it’s money. For reference, we’ve been to 4.). We spent two days there and I still would love to go back someday. It is the perfect mix of history and adventure and nature all rolled into one. I would see this sooner rather than later before all the travel restrictions. I blogged about our trip here if you’re headed there.

2. Rio de Janiero, Brazil

One of my top 5 cities in the whole world, and definitely my #1 in South America, is Rio. I will save you from the whole book I could write about this place and narrow it down a bit. It has the city and the beaches and the most amazing food (Lyle and I both agree it had the best food out of anywhere we’ve been) all wrapped into one. In some of the smaller towns I would get bored but in Rio I didn’t have enough time for all the things we wanted to do. We are already talking about trying to get out there for Carnival or New Years when they have a big celebration. My post about this is coming soon and I will link it here for those of you planning a trip to Brazil!

3. Banos, Ecuador

Banos was a little adventurous town that was an absolute dream. The list of things to do was endless and the views were beautiful. Even writing this now makes me miss it so much. We stayed in this town for a while even though some people just pop in and out and we quickly memorized our favorite breakfast place where we would have the same waiter and the same exact order (because it was BOMB) and it felt like our little home. This is where la casa del arboles is and la ruta de cascadas were and both were easily some of the highlights of the trip. Ecuador in general was the cheapest country we visited and so were all the activities which might help you make some decisions as well. We also went to Quito and Guayaquil but if you can only go to one place in Ecuador I highly recommend this place.

4. Easter Island

Easter Island is the only post I have finished from our trip because I was so excited to write about it…so hopefully that shows you how much I loved our time there. The only reason it isn’t number two on this list is because it is definitely out of the way and the only place to fly out of in South America is Santiago Chile. Even though getting there can be a bit of a hassle it was the biggest and best surprise of the trip. I had no idea just how much I would fall in love with it. Before we even left we were talking about bringing our future nuggets there and loving the perfect mix of relaxation and history and yummy food and adventure (do you see a pattern?! haha). It is like Hawaii but a million times smaller and way less crowded which is a huge appeal of mine. We had these amazing places all to ourselves at times. If you are sold and want to plan a trip right now, check out my post here.

5. Iguazu Falls, Brazil & Argentina Side

Argentina Side:Brazil Side:

When we started planning our trip, we each picked a couple places that we really wanted to see and this place was one of mine. It is one of the natural wonders of the world and it is truly amazing! We took a flight from Buenos Aires up to the IGR airport and spent time on the Argentine side first before heading to the Brazil side. Both sides are completely different but really cool in their own way. The Brazil side definitely seems more crowded because it has less boardwalk but it has views that show more of the waterfall. The Argentine side you get closer and it’s less crowded and has tons of different angles. I liked the feel of the Argentine side best honestly and the Coatis were not to be missed! They helped to make the experience.

6. Torres Del Paine

This is when the list started getting harder to put together. My top 5 are solid and I love these next ones but they could honestly go in any order. Torres Del Paine was beautiful and breathtaking and just as great as everything else but there are definitely some things that make it frustrating. I don’t put this as number one because it is really out of the way which means more money and more time allotted for this trip (to fly down and back)  and there isn’t much to do in the small town outside of Torres. Also, I think you can pay to go into the park but I really would recommend this to people who love to hike and are in shape because the hikes aren’t easy. There are some pretty simple walks you can do, but to do some of the long hikes you really need to be in shape. For real though, people were taking the hikes very seriously and they would look at Lyle in his jeans and make comments and I would turn to them and say “we are from Utah!” haha which obviously meant we were experienced hikers of course and jeans or no jeans we were going to crush everyone going up the mountain. (I am a very fast and competitive hiker & I feel bad for Lyle.)

7. Termas Geometricas

The top experience from this trip just might be the time we spent at these hot springs. They are a hidden gem! I haven’t seen this place on many lists and I think its just because it’s in the middle of Chile and not too many people know about them. We road tripped down the coast of Chile through volcanoes and beautiful lakes and little towns and I think the journey to get here is part of the magic. We drove up this mountain for what seemed like forever and it was evening and there was maybe 10 people? But there are so many hot pots that you can have one all to yourself and you feel like you are in the jungle. The whole mood of it is magical and romantic. The stars shine so bright and the pathways light up with little lights and I will never forget our time here. Ever. Oh and driving down we stopped to get out and look at the most amazing stars I have ever seen in my entire life. Okay thats it, I will never get over this place. I have more dreamy pictures of this place I will share when I post about it, if my 10 star review hasn’t sealed the deal for you already.

8. Perito Moreno Glacier

This glacier was SO COOL. I have never seen anything like it in my whole life. If you are down in the Chilean Patagonia you can get over to Argentina where the Perito Moreno glacier is pretty easily. I loved this little town a lot more than the one outside Torres Del Paine. We did this in a tour and it was perfect! I don’t typically vouch for tours but the lunch was amazing, you can KAYAK out to the glacier and the sound you hear when the ice is cracking and breaking is so cool. Also, you have to eat at Isabel’s that has the BEST BREAD IN THE WHOLE WORLD. I told our server that in spanish and she laughed, but it’s true. Go try it.

9. Cuzco, Peru

I don’t necessarily love a lot of the big towns in South America that everyone tells you to visit, but I am glad that I do visit them. Buenos Aires, Quito, Lima and Santiago are all just okay because they seem pretty similar to other cities that I have been. I really liked Cuzco though because of the amazing architecture, all the culture, and all the cool things there was to see and do. I love stopping and playing with all the alpacas and baby llamas and witnessing the women carry the babies on their back was so cool. (Yet another reason to head out to Peru.)

***10. Galapagos Islands

Okay okay, I know I haven’t been here yet but hear me out. We both wanted to go here so badly and every single person we ran into said skip everything else on your itinerary and go here instead. Ringing endorsements were coming at us from everyone. I know 100% that once we go here, it will make it in my top 3. I love animals and nature and I am dying to go here. We really want to do it right though and see all of it in the best way so we are saving for a trip here now. I’ve done lots of research and I know it will be worth the wait and some things you gotta do the best way.

I wanted to also add a couple other places that I think could make it on this list that we haven’t been too. Lake Titicaca, the salt flats and biking the death road in Bolivia, Colombia, taking a boat ride through the Amazon and Angel Falls in Venezuela are some places we want to go and see. I know myself pretty well and I am very excited about these places. Venezuela is very dangerous and I don’t know if that will ever happen. Also, when we were choosing between Ecuador and Bolivia, Bolivia did not get a ringing endorsement from any of the travelers that we met. I still plan on going there to make my own decision but I am so happy we chose Ecuador! When we head back to do the Galapagos Islands, we plan on knocking off the rest of our South America list. Hope this helps and gets you excited to head to South America. It really is so underrated and has so many amazing places.

XO, Cait