(I will post part two under Iguassu forum).
I read many posts here prior to trip and found it very helpful- here is my contribution:
One of the few positives of a long layover in Sao Paulo is I worked on my trip report! We spent 5 nights in Rio and 2 nights in Iguassu.
We made our arrangements thru 4 Star South America online travel agent. Everything went smoothly.
FLIGHTS: TAM-- ok except for VERY cramped seating in coach. I will also try to never fly into/out of Sao Paulo GRU again. We arrived 2hrs+ late, had people waiting in check in line 30min just to be told to get on TAM bus to the domestic airport for Rio flight (seems could have had an agent at beginning of line to tell people this, give a pass and send directly to bus).Spent about 30min waiting for bus, then about hour to domestic airport. When all said and done, we got to Rio at 2pm instead 8 am--- at least it was still daylight and sunny! And miracles of miracles, our guide Bebel (arranged thru the travel agency, she was also with us the next day for a day tour)--- had tracked us down(she had been calling TAM to locate us since 8am) and was waiting for us at the airport to transfer us to our hotel. On return, had long layover at GRU, very gloomy and boring there, and we left out of the gate 4 abc area--- along with about 6 other flights all scheduled around same time--- what a mass of humanity, could not hear announcements well, just poor organization I felt.
Enough of a rant--onto the fun stuff.
RIO HOTEL: Sol Ipanema- loved the location, across from beach, rooms and service were fine. More 3 star than 4 star room quality.
1.Beach: People watching on Ipanema quite interesting--beach goers, sports players, vendors selling all types of merchandise/food/drink. Ocean water was too cold for us to go in. We were only there on weekdays and not too crowded-- can only imagine the crowds on a sunny weekend.
2.On our day tour with guide, went to the Christ statue, the futbol stadium, the Sambadromo(hard to imagine it swollen with people at Carnaval), and Sugarloaf. We were blessed with clear blue skies at the Christ statue-- views were stunning. Road the train down with a local school group, and got to learn some of their songs. For some reason, on the Sugar loaf cable cars, I always felt a little sick--kind of stifling on them.
3.Tropical Islands tour:
Agent booked this with Grayline. Drive in shuttle van about 1- 1 1/2 hours outside Rio to village of Itacuruca and cruise on a schooner type boat. We were lucky it was not full, only about 30 people, so had room to move about.Bar on board and samba players for part of the time. Cruise the bay, stop for swimming, then docks at another island for lunch at a small hotel. Beautiful day and very relaxing to do absolutely nothing.
4. Tijuca Forest Jeep tour:
Agent booked this thru Jeep Tours.They you pick you up in an open jeep, you sit in seats in the back bed (open air, we had 7 on our tour, room for maybe 10)--- not really pleasant driving streets of Rio open air (windy and fumes)-- but once in park was fine. In the forest you really do not feel you are in the city anymore, so quiet and fresh smelling. Saw monkeys, Brazilian racoon ( I don't recall name), brilliant blue butterflies, water fall, and stopped at Chinese view point for more great views of Rio, and had a walk through the forest.
5. Plataforma Show: I liken it to going to a tourist luau in Hawaii-- cheesy and touristy yes--- but also entertaining.
6.Bossa Nova at Vinicius--located in Ipanema- liked the atmosphere, and no smoking. Maria Creuza was wonderful.
SAFETY: I was surprised by how safe we felt (had heard so many bad things prior to leaving). We stayed in Ipanema. We never had any trouble or even felt threatened. Beach promenade was well lit, and many people out walking, even after dark until about 10pm. Only bad experience, was we took a walk to Copacabana to check it out, and while sitting at one of the beachside kiosks having a drink, a young boy came up to my husband was kind of aggressive--- pulling on his arm, insisting my husband buy him chips, and would not go away when told to do so in Portuguese (funny he only pestered my husband, not me), but he seemed to be alone, and did not follow us when we got up and walked away.
Thats my Rio story.
Great to relive the trip