Creating a honeymoon registry was an easy decision for Arun and I. Our whole relationship had been based on travel.
We started dating when Arun lived in Pittsburgh and I lived in Augusta, Georgia both as students. As a result, we were very creative about how we saw each other. We were constantly searching for discounted plane tickets, but would also impulsively agree to each drive five-plus hours to meet halfway between Pittsburgh and Augusta (which happened to be Blacksburg, VA).
When we finally ended up in the same city after three years of dating (Philadelphia), our traveling changed from trips to see each other to trips to visit friends and family. Thankfully we both love traveling because every extra penny we have ever had has gone to traveling.
Although we’ve traveled extensively, Arun and I had never been on a trip alone for more than three days – all of our vacations had involved traveling with people or to see people. Knowing this trip would be the biggest adventure of our relationship thus far, we turned to Traveler’s Joy for $10,000 worth of help.
We both felt passionate that despite our love for cooking, there was no plate or rolling pin or mixer that could compare to a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Next we had to figure out where to go. Because of our vacation schedules, it was not possible for us to go on our honeymoon immediately after our wedding in May. After hearing about a magical island off the coast of northern Brazil and realizing that Carnaval was going on during the month we had decided to go on our honeymoon (February), we decided on a trip to Brazil.
We planned a trip to match the essence of our relationship – part adventure, part relaxation and part party. Our plan was to spend the first part of the week on a small island off the coast of northern Brazil, Fernando de Noronha, and the second part in Rio de Janeiro during Brazil’s Carnaval.
Fernando de Noronha is a haven in the middle of the ocean. It took us two days and four plane flights to get there, but each and every one was worth it.
The island is about six miles in length, which means most things are accessible by walking or hiking. If you did want or need a ride, you would hop in a go-car type buggy, which would zip around over the rugged dirt roads of the island. Fernando was the perfect balance of adventure and relaxation for my husband and I.
Our first day we hiked to a beach along the northern coast. In order to get down to the beach, you have to climb down ladders through the rocky cliffs in order to get to the beaches below. Once on the beach, we found a small area of shade under some trees and spent the afternoon marveling in the beauty of this place we had ended up at. The water was the perfect clear aquamarine color along the shore and the deepest dark blue as you looked out towards what felt like the end of the world.
Flanked by green cliffs and volcanic formations, this beach was the most beautiful I had ever seen. And if that was not amazing enough, my husband and I were the only ones on it for multiple hours of the afternoon. The experience truly felt surreal.
On our second and fourth days, we went scuba diving. Arun had gotten certified for the trip at a local quarry in Pennsylvania. Needless to say he had no idea what to expect given his certification dives were done on a 50 degree day in the rain in a lake with minimal visibility. His first dive was a little rough. Being nervous, he had a hard time descending and ran out of air quickly.
During his second dive, he started to get the hang out it, and it became an incredible experience he said he would never forget. On our four dives, we saw endless schools of fish, sharks, stingrays, lobsters, manta rays and barracuda. Taking out our regulators and giving each other a kiss at 40 feet under the ocean surrounded by an underwater world was a very unique and memorable moment for both of us.
After scuba diving one afternoon, we made our way to a beach with a few umbrellas in order to relax in some sun-protected shade (something I greatly appreciate working in dermatology!). As the sun was starting to cast larger shadows as it descended in the sky, we decided we would try to hike back to our hotel along the coast line.
After about 20 minutes, we hit a cliff that we were clearly not going to be able to bypass. Not sure where to go from here, I started down a small path that led into the forest. I could tell Arun wasn’t sure whether or not this was a good idea, but from my perspective, how bad could it be? The island was only about 10 square miles!
At some point we had gone too far to turn back, but as the path became less clear, and I started to question my decision. Thankfully, we started hearing music in the distance, so felt reassured that at least there had to be something nearby. As we followed the path as best we could, the music continued to grow louder and louder until the path opened up suddenly onto the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean and the sunset. Arun and I could not believe our luck. Not only was the view amazing, but the live Brazilian music and cold beers were the perfect end to our day.
On our third day, we decided to hike down to an area of natural pools created by large waves breaking up along the rocks. For better or worse, we ignored the sign that said the hike required a guide. Lucky or unlucky for us, we happened to run into a guided tour as we reached the pools.
Although initially annoyed at our "we don't speak Portuguese" excuse (the sign was written in Portuguese and English), the guide quickly adopted us onto his tour and helped us scale the cliffs along the coastline for the second half of the hike. The views were breath taking. Running out of water about ¾ of the way into the hike and falling a couple times on rocks, we realized the point of the sign we ignored. Good thing we had a guide!
On our last morning in this remote paradise, we headed to the western tip of the island. The cliffs overlooked a large bay where hundreds of spinner dolphins were intermittently visible along the surface of the water. Seeing so many of these majestic animals felt like a wonderful end to our week of adventure. Although our tropical journey was ending, the party was just about to begin for us.
In Rio de Janeiro, we stayed in Copacabana, which is essentially the Miami South Beach of Rio. We woke up early to visit the Cristo statue at the top of the Corcovado mountain. There was something comforting about the large deity overlooking this large and colorful city. Arun’s only disappointment about the experience was missing Julio Jones, a famous football player from our hometown of Atlanta, who visited the Cristo one day later during his trip to Carnaval!
We spent the rest of the day walking along Copacabana and joining in on every street parade we could find. The energy was palpable as people walked and danced their way along the streets in various costumes. For anyone who has been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, it had a similar feel, but with infinite more passion and on a larger scale.
That night, we headed to a ball at the Copacabana Palace hotel called the Magic Ball (Bailo de Copa). I just happened upon the ball while reading about Carnaval, and it was one of the most amazing events I expect I will ever go to in my life. As a black tie event, I decided to re-purpose my wedding skirt (originally part of my wedding lehenga) with a simple black shirt, which felt like the perfect complement to the end of our honeymoon.
The decorations, the food and the guests at the ball were above and beyond anything I could have imagined. The ball was clearly a party for Rio’s elite. We realized this as we walked down a red carpet into the event with onlookers shouting to famous Brazilians to take pictures with them. As we entered the ball, we were immediately in awe.
The theme of the night was the “geisha” and every aspect of the ball from the thousands of origami to drapes of cherry blossoms along the walls to the delicate Japenese lanterns hanging from the ceiling fit with the theme. Arun and I did everything we could not to stare, but people watching was by far our favorite part of the night.
The party was a place for people to see and be seen. It honestly felt like another world. All the women were wearing absolutely stunning gowns with matching headpieces that went with the Japanese theme of the night. Their men were all in perfectly tailored tuxes. I have never seen such beautiful people in my life. For that and many other reasons, it was truly an unforgettable night.
Although exhausted from staying up until 4am at the ball, we could not let our last day go to waste. In order to try to get over our hangovers, we decided to go to Fogo de Chao for caipirinhas and Brazilian steak. While we were initially hesitant to go to a chain that exists in the US, we kept hearing that Fogo was the best churrascaria in the city. People cited its international fame as evidence of this.
Thankfully, we were not disappointed. Not only did we leave having eaten an exorbitant amount of incredible meat, but many of the dishes were different than those served at the US version of the restaurant. Despite being tired from our whirlwind week, there was no way we would have allowed our last night in Brazil to go to waste. After Fogo, we took a food coma nap then geared up for our final hurrah – the Samba parade, one of the most famous parades in the world. And not surprisingly, this parade did not disappoint.
Unlike most parades that start in the morning and end in the early afternoon, this characteristically Brazilian parade started at 10pm and went until 6am. Each parade (there were multiple over the course of one week) is composed of six samba schools competing to go onto the next round of the parade. Each school is allowed to compete for up to 80 minutes. Their performances are divided into wings, each wing with a different costume and dance.
With around 100 people per wing, each school’s parade is composed of over a thousand people! This parade exceeded any expectations I could have had. Being in the crowd was electrifying as the crowd seemed to move with the music and energy of the parade. Moreover, the costumes, colors and floats of the parade were over the top in every way.
Unfortunately, we had to leave the parade after the third school at 3:30am in order to make our 7:30am flight! When we finally boarded our flight, we both fell asleep immediately after two sleepless nights with dreams of tropical beaches, magical balls and vibrant parades, as well as gratitude to Traveler’s Joy for helping to make this otherwise impossible trip happen.