In this day and age, our first impression of a place often comes while descending from the clouds. You come out of the cotton-like haze and look down at a new city like an astronaut slowly sinking into an unexplored world.
As my LATAM 737 lowered into Vitoria, Brazil, I gazed out the window and saw the thick emerald trees of the rainforest.
Growing up in southern California during a drought that rivaled some of the Biblical plagues, this immediately caught my attention.
But as rapidly as the trees appeared, they quickly turned into an impressive skyline along sandy beaches. Islands and peninsulas lined the coast.
Below me was a quaint South American metropolis that promised both adventure and relaxation.
“Bem vindo ao Vitoria!” the flight attendant said over the intercom and my Brazilian adventure began.
Like many millennials, I had a dream of traveling the world, but the cost of travel had always prevented me.
I had recently started my first real job as a copywriter and had a little cash saved up to take my first big trip. I chose Brazil for its tropical scenery, picturesque sights and the captivating culture.
Travel to Vitoria in Brazil
Along the second leg of my trip, I visited a small island off the coast of the state of Espirito Santo.
While Vitoria might not be a popular postcard destination, some of the most memorable moments of my trip happened here.
Travel in Espirito Santo
Taking the advice of a friend, I chose to stay in a neighborhood called Praia do Canto. Vitoria is the capital of the state of Espirito Santo and one of the most beautiful cities in Brazil.
My first experience with Brazilian roads was not lacking in excitement. The American understanding of traffic laws does not exist here.
Cars driving in between lanes and burden-laden motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic are normal sights.
And once the sun sets, red lights are completely disregarded.
But while this may seem chaotic at first, you come to realize that there is a kind of systematic order to the roadway “pandemonium.”
After arriving at my hotel and making it across the road in what seemed like an epic game of human frogger, I set out to explore my surroundings.
Praia do Canto is a safe neighborhood in a perfect location.
It is walking distance from a myriad of restaurants and offers a great taste of the Vitorian nightlife.
On your first night, I would highly recommend visiting a few of the street pubs. It is here that you will feel the vivacious energy of this Brazilian city.
Sampling the caipirinhas, the Brazilian national cocktail, is an absolute must. This drink is made from Cachaça, (a Brazilian rum) lime juice and sugar.
The taste is both pungent and refreshing. After trying your first caipirinha, you may even muster the courage to learn the samba (it is a lot harder than it looks!).
A night out in Vitoria is both exciting and relaxing. The restaurants and bars are alive with music and laughter, but the warm air keeps the mood mellow as if you are in a Humphry Bogart film.
Dining in Vitoria, Brazil
Before traveling anywhere in Brazil, prepare yourself to eat (as if that is a challenge for any of us). Vitoria is known for its seafood dishes.
Dining in Brazil is a pleasure. Moqueca is a signature Brazilian stew made from various kinds of fish, coconut milk, tomatoes and an assortment of other ingredients.
My favorite Vitorian dish is called bobo de camarão. It is a delicious chowder made from shrimp and coconut milk.
You can find it in many of the beachfront restaurants and it is often served in a hallowed-out coconut shell.
However, the cuisine in Vitoria offers more than just seafood. Some of the best pastas, burgers and hotdogs I’ve ever tasted were here.
Yes, that’s right, this American said hotdogs. If you get the opportunity, find a food cart and prepare to enter junk food nirvana.
What makes the Brazilian hotdogs unique has nothing to do with the dog itself.
The magic is in the pile of delicious toppings that turn an ordinary sausage and bun into a heartburn-inducing feast.
Garnishes include cheese, pico de gallo, bacon, corn, potatoes, eggs, ground beef and dozens more.
What to See and Do in Vitoria
A few days into my trip, I found myself trekking up an urban hilltop known as Morro do Moreno.
At the finish of this short hike I was left dumbfounded. The Holy Grail for any travel enthusiast is that vista that literally takes your breath from your lungs.
I sat down and took in one of the most beautiful views I had ever laid eyes on.
As the sun began to sink below the distant mountains, the shimmering beams of light danced on the gaping river mouth.
To my right was the vast Atlantic Ocean and to my left a beautiful city hallowed in golden rays.
As I was taking in the view, I was distracted by what I thought was a small group of squirrels jumping along a nearby wall.
These were actually Sagui monkeys who likely thought the crowd of tourists meant an easy meal. Some other exotic creatures I saw during my stay included vibrant birds, insects and a sea turtle.
Beaches in Vitoria, Brazil
If you like the beach, I would recommend visiting the neighborhood called Ilha do Boi.
This is a wealthier neighborhood that has several secluded beaches that offer some of the best views of the ocean.
There are even a few islands that you can swim out to if you are really trying to work off those hot dogs.
Oh, and you can’t go to a beach in Brazil without trying the fresh coconut water served au naturale right from the shell.
Not every moment of my trip was beautiful. Brazil is a breath-taking country, but it is also ugly at times. There is extreme poverty as can be seen in the favelas (ghettos).
There is also crime as was on display during the recent police strikes in Espirito Santo. But much like life, the ugliness gives way to beauty.
This was apparent to me after meeting a homeless man outside a street bar.
He didn’t want my money; all he wanted to do was play his guitar and sing a song for my girlfriend and I. His rendition of “Pretty Woman” is still a highlight of the trip.
If you ever ask someone who has been to Brazil what it is like, they will probably tell you about the people and their energy. And I am no exception.
Despite the disparity of socioeconomic classes, what unites Brazilians is their passion for life.
From the nightclubs to the streets of the favelas, I have never met a more welcoming and engaging people.
Even without speaking a lick of Portuguese, I left Vitoria with a sense of connection to this effervescent culture. And that is ultimately the goal of travelling.
After reflecting on this trip my advice to you is this. Find your “Vitoria” and explore the heck out of it.
If people only traveled to the iconic tourist destinations seen in the movies, many of the world’s gems would go unexplored.
This is not to say Paris, Rome and Tokyo aren’t worth every penny you’ll pay to visit them. But I have learned that the greatest joy of traveling is discovering something unexpected.
A surprising run-in with a band of urban-dwelling monkeys.
The best hot dog I’ve ever had.
A picturesque view that rivals any in the world.
This is what I discovered in Vitoria. Now it’s your turn. Go explore somewhere new, even if you can’t point it out on a map. You’ll be surprised what you find.
If you go to Vitoria or elsewhere in Brazil:
Portuguese is a very difficult language even for those who have a good understanding of Spanish.
Having a dictionary or translation app on your smartphone will help you communicate. Luckily many Brazilians speak English as well.
Money: The Brazilian currency is the Real. Because the value of the Real has been rather inconsistent in recent years, I would recommend tracking the exchange rate and exchanging your money prior to your trip. I used Travelex Currency Services.
Hotels: Ibis is a good hotel chain in Brazil. Very affordable and you are guaranteed a clean room and good service. There are also plenty of high end hotels in Vitoria as well.