The Big Adventure Part 1 – Rio de Janeiro to Esquina

Leaving on a jet plane…

D-Day had arrived – the 5th of November 2023. 

Our original flight was due to take off at 6 am, which seemed exciting as it always is when you are getting up for the airport at some ungodly hour of the morning.  However, a month before our departure our flight got changed to a far more civilised time of 6 pm.  

While not the ‘up and away’ we had originally planned, it was a much better option.  It gave us precious extra hours to finish wildly chucking stuff in boxes carefully packing and allowed us to say some last goodbyes to our family. We also got to have a fond farewell at the airport with one of our besties, Gemma rather than being dropped off by some unsmiling taxi driver.

The other advantage of a later flight was that we could hopefully get some sleep and arrive in Rio, perhaps not rested, but not totally exhausted.

The Rough Plan For South America

We had a pretty firm plan for the first few weeks of the trip. Our goal was to head from Rio towards Patagonia as the southern hemisphere heads into summer.

This meant making our way south but with plenty of stops along the way!

The complication this adds is clothes. Even in the summer, the south of Patagonia is chilly, so it means packing for 35°C in Rio and 5°C in Ushuaia.

Generally, when you go away, you plan for one eventuality or the other.  It seemed very strange to be constantly moving the down jackets and thermals out of the way whilst packing to go to the beach.

Rio De Janeiro

The big lad himself.

But here we are at our first stop – Rio De Janeiro!  In all honesty, it wasn’t really a choice to start here.  A gentler introduction was more what we had in mind, but since Covid, there are not as many services from the UK to South America and we did not have a huge amount of choice.

We had, to put it mildly, a bit of a rough start. 

After over 12 hours in the air (and Eva being a little sick), we landed in Rio just after 7 am. We knew we would arrive a bit frazzled, so we arranged an early check-in and transfer with our hotel. In theory, all we had to do was grab our bags and find our transfer guy – easy!  Not this time….

From experience, we are good at navigating foreign airports (except Charles De Gaul, which defies any sense or logic). We have streamlined things over the years with kids and are pretty quick and efficient at getting through and out the other side.

It did not work out that way this time!

We got our bags and then turned around to see a snaking mile-long queue for customs. After nearly 40 minutes of slowly inching forward, we rounded the corner to see the most unbothered customs officer we have ever experienced, who was simply waving people through.  I don’t think he even looked up from his phone as we passed. What was the point of that? 

Not to worry, to our car!  Another 45 minutes later, with multiple failed phone calls, WhatsApp messages, fending off pushy taxi drivers, a huge language barrier and 2 tired children, we finally pile into an ancient Ford Ka with all our worldly goods for the next 18 months!  Finally, progress! And don’t worry, it shouldn’t take too long to get across the city.  

Wrong again; after an hour of mainly sitting at a standstill with half our luggage on our laps and Ford’s pathetic excuse for air-conditioning, we arrived, and the guest house looked nothing like we remember from the photos. It could more accurately be called a hovel rather than a hotel.  What have we done?!  Was this the biggest mistake of our lives?! 

At this point, Adrian had a little bit of a cry.

Even without our less-than-smooth arrival in Rio, it would still be a very daunting place to arrive.  Beautiful and awe-inspiring, but pretty scary with two relatively young children. We took some time to unpack and settle as best we could, and after a good old-fashioned Spencer regroup (and an essential trip to the beach), we found ourselves in a better place mentally and began to fall in love with the city. 

It is hard not to fall in love with this place.

It is safe to say we underestimated Rio! We had given ourselves five days in Rio to relax and start settling into a new routine, but this was not enough.  It is such an incredible city with so much to see and do that our five days of ‘chill’ time were actually five pretty action-packed, full-on days.  Couple that with the heat and the fact that Rio is such a chaotic city; we all had a bit of a culture shock. 

That said, now that we have had some time to reflect on it, we all look back very fondly on our time there and love that we hit the ground running/entered in total turmoil – It’s sort of the Spencer way!  Rio, we will be back one day and better prepared!

It reminds me of setting Sim City to “Chaos” mode and trying to build something

Sau Paulo

Our next aim was to head to Iguassu Falls. With our Patagonia plan in mind, we were keen to keep moving south, and they took us in the right direction.

We chose to dip our toes into the world of long-distance South American bus journeys by breaking our journey to Iguassu up into a modest six-hour bus trip to Sau Paulo and a two-hour flight onto Foz Du Iguassu. 

Sao Paulo, on paper, looked like it was worthy of a couple of nights, which left us one full day.  We wish we had given ourselves much longer. It had a very different vibe to Rio, a little more mature but still very much with a wild streak. The truth is, it is absolutely enormous and deserves at least 5 days of exploring.  We were further impacted by the exhausting heatwave that we found ourselves in.  At a whopping 40⁰C, it was a trifle warmer than England in November.  Not long after we departed, Brazil reported its hottest day on record at 44⁰C.  It’s not a wonder that we were struggling.  

Sampling some of the delicious (and ridiculously overpriced) local produce!

Our accommodation in Sao Paulo was far more civilised; it even had hot water! We had space to unpack and facilities to cook.  Our first impressions were good.  Even though we didn’t have enough time there, we did make the most of what time we did have and saw some amazing things. 

After what was a slightly heat-induced, exhausting whistle-stop tour of Sao Paulos highlights, we boarded a plane to Iguassu Falls.


Iguazu Falls

One of the 7 natural wonders of the world, it would be rude not to pop in whilst we were in the area! 

Adrian had a fleeting visit to it back in 2008, but it has been on Kirsty’s wish list for a long time, and since discovering its existence, the girls have been keen to take in its grandeur and everything else that it has to offer.  

After rushing through Brazil, we aimed to slow down a bit and really take in Iguazu.  One of the lessons that we very quickly learned is that moving on quickly is hard work and leaves little time to relax and enjoy new places and ways of life. 

The constant movement also makes it impossible to keep up with BKSR, hence the reason why this post is nearly a month overdue!  We have been adding new places to write about to our list daily but have never actually gotten the time to post anything.  

We decided that a six-day split between the two sides of the falls was a generous amount of time to really appreciate this unique part of the world. While we did move from our accommodation in Foz Du Iguazu to Puerto Iguazu, it was a 20-minute taxi ride from door to door, not an 8-hour bus journey.

Our first full day happened to be Adrian’s birthday.  What better way to spend it than with and adrenaline-fuelled, action-packed day at the falls?  We were up and out nice and early, grabbed a road breakfast and jumped the bus right up to the entrance.  

From start to finish, this has to go down as one of the most incredible days of our family lives.  We hit the ground running with a high-speed ride along the river at the base of the falls, where we got to see the scale and noise up close and personal.  We got drenched, but at 28⁰C, we soon dried off. Seeing the thrill on the girls’ faces as we whizzed in and out of the spray made it even better.

Our next fall fix was the relatively short forest walk.  From here, the panoramic views just kept getting better.  It was insane to think of the sheer power, forcing all that water over the edge of the falls every second. We played a game where we fixated on a bit of water and imagined how quickly it got to the bottom.  It’s a bit like playing pooh sticks, but obviously, we will never know if we were accurate.  It does sort of put the volume of water into perspective.  

2.5 miles long and 24.2 million litres of water per second

Our final dalliance of the day was a total splurge! We have a fund for birthday treats and it very much took a kicking! It was a huge indulgence, but it was the most amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience for us all to do together.  Yep, we went up in a helicopter that took us over the falls. 

Get to the choppa!

Just wow! The exhilaration of the helicopter alone was enough, but add on to that the best possible way to see Iguazu Falls just blew our minds.  

We filled our other days relaxing and taking in the other great things that Foz has to offer.  This included a day spent splashing in a water park and meeting an amazing street artist in action.  For Georgia, this was a huge inspiration.  After following a trail around the town showcasing his work she got her head down and put pencil to paper and created some great work.  We will have to watch out when we get home that she doesn’t take to creating her art on the walls! 

Our next stop was to tackle the Argentine side of the falls.  It’s crazy how different the equivalent town just over the Argentinian border could be.  Foz feels like Orlando Light, whereas Puerto Iguazu feels like a genuine working town. 

Our experience of the Argentine Falls was never going to be as memorable and exciting as our day in Brazil, but that didn’t make it any less inspiring. The Argentine side of the falls feels more of an adventure,  there are a number of different trails to explore at your own pace which bring you up close to these incredible cascada.


Despite a number of areas of the walkways being closed due to storm damage, it still made for an amazing couple of days.

Ituzaingo – A Real Hidden Gem

With us slightly recharged but also with an awful lot to catch up on, we started our next great bus journey, heading South with the ultimate goal of arriving at Buenos Aires. How we stumbled across our next destination is fairly unusual.  

Eva’s birthday was fast approaching, and knowing how much she was missing her pony fix and her beloved Jackpot; we decided to stay at an Argentine Estancia as a birthday treat.

An Estancia is a traditional ranch where the cattle are tended by the Gauchos. Although the original Gaucho way of life is perhaps gone forever, their culture and mythology still persist in the popular imagination.

We found an Estancia in Esquina, which was about halfway down to Buenos Aires and started planning the trip there.  With 5 days in hand and a huge distance to cover, we started looking for possible places to break up the journey. This is how we found the charming little town called Ituzaingo.  

It took us ages to remember how to spell it, and we still aren’t sure that we are pronouncing it properly, but this town turned out to be the place that showed us how this travelling family malarkey should be. 

We stayed at a ‘tiny house’ according to its own description.  It was very ‘us’ and had everything we needed presented in a quirky yet modern way.  The best part was that the host lived next door and had two daughters, who were pretty much the same age as Georgia and Eva.  

Kids are kids everywhere, and they don’t let things like language barriers get in the way of having fun.  All four of them hit it off immediately.  Eva and Georgia used their limited Spanish, while Ailin and Ludmilla used their English skills. 

They played for just about 5 days solid, with a little help from Google Translate! For Adrian and I, it was time to catch up, coupled with pleasant evenings sharing our lives with our hosts and learning about theirs.  It is a place we will never forget, and if time and plans allow it, we will be back here.

Ituzaingo is in very close proximity to Ibera Wetlands National Park, and it should be swarming with visitors as the wildlife it has to offer is just incredible. 

As yet, it doesn’t seem to have got itself on the map.  It has everything to offer – a place of stunning natural beauty on its doorstep, natural sand beaches along the banks of the Parana River, parks and museums and all the amenities of a local town with the most welcoming and friendly residents. 

While we were there, we could not resist visiting the national park. Before we had even reached the park gates, we were surrounded by families of capybaras, saw caimans both lurking in the waters and baking on the banks, burrowing owls guarding their nests and egrets, herons and stalks swooping above us. 

On the lookout for dinner…..

There was even more to see in the park! We took a break at one of the campsites and were literally surrounded by Red-crested cardinals, Pampas deer and parakeets.  It struck us how deserted this place was, despite having a lovely set-up for campers, which included free WiFi, solar charging points for your phones and undercover shelters with benches and BBQs.  I was sold on having a cheeky breakaway here until our guide spotted a snake! She was an absolute beauty, but it did make me think twice about waking up face-to-face with one of them.

Our day had been incredible, but then it got better.  We were lucky enough to see two of only twenty red macaws in the park (the park covers over 1.3 million acres). They are part of a rewilding project that released these majestic creatures back into the park after becoming extinct in the area due to human poaching/capturing. 

It has proven to be a successful project since it began in 2015. Let’s hope they keep thriving and their numbers increase.  They are the most beautiful birds, and to see them in their natural habitat was amazing.  Maybe these guys will help put Ituzaingo on the map. 

As we write this, we have just arrived at the Estancia for Eva’s birthday and are living our best gaucho life. Another update very soon!

The Spencer Family

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About the authors

Our lives have been intertwined with a passion for exploration and a shared love for travel. Our adventures began long before we met, as we individually embarked on daring expeditions across the globe. Our paths finally converged, and we soon realized that our adventures were much more meaningful when shared!

After a brief hiatus to start a family, we eagerly embarked on a new chapter of our travel saga. Determined to instil in Georgia and Eva the values of discovery and open-mindedness, our goal is to embark on exciting escapades and explore breathtaking landscapes, bustling cities, and remote corners of the world. From hiking through mist-laden forests to snorkelling in turquoise seas, every adventure is an opportunity to create lasting memories as a family.

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