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Birds of Paradise: Brazil’s Iguaçu Falls

The old real estate adage, “location, location, location” couldn’t have been truer for my picture perfect vacation to Brazil’s Belmond Hotel das Cataratas. The only resort with an enviable address inside Iguaçu Falls National Park, the Belmond is the ideal place to absorb the essence of this natural wonder.

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The Belmond from a helicopter – don’t look down!

In this breathtaking oasis, no filters are needed. The bluest sky greets you from above, while your body takes in the freshest air that carries healing ions pouring over from the falls. Standing on the steps of the Belmond lobby, I couldn’t believe how close I was to this marvelous display of nature! Did I even need to check-in to my room, or could I just stay here and stare at this wondrous sight?

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Private dining nook at Belmond Iguaçu – wow!

Eager to relax from my urban adventures in São Paulo, I made my way up to my suite, which I was thrilled to discover had a view of Iguaçu Falls! Enveloped in the most soothing shade of salmon, I sank back into my bed and enjoyed a rejuvenating nap.

Waking from a restful slumber, I was delighted to find my welcome gift from the Belmond staff – a pair of Havaianas in their signature vintage blue. It was like a cue to relax – and I loved the idea of ditching my heels, makeup, and hair curlers for a few days! I slipped on my new sandals and walked over to the pool, loving that everyone at the resort had on the same Havaianas! Wrapping my body in the soothing water set at the perfect temperature, I floated around to the soundtrack of beautiful birds serenading me from afar.

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Belmond, take me away!

I’m not normally a morning person, but there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to enjoy a private visit up close with the falls. This is one of the best things about the Belmond; you have access to the falls before and after the park has opened to the public, allowing you to avoid the throngs of crowds that flood the scene.

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Serenity at dawn in front of Iguaçu Falls

I woke up well before sunrise because I wanted to get a few shots of the landscape uncluttered and bathed in that perfect light. But what I experienced was much more transformative than a solo photo excursion. Alone and undisturbed for a couple of hours, I cried, laughed, and allowed my soul to heal in the powerful embrace of the falls. This natural hug squeezed every ounce of gratitude that I had inside me as I shouted “thank you” to the sky. Thank you for this opportunity, thank you for everyone who made the trip possible, and thank you for a moment of peace.

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My healing didn’t end at the falls. In fact, this was just the beginning. My hosts from the Iguaçu Convention and Visitors Bureau arranged for me to participate in a tribal ceremony with the Tupi-Guarani Indians, a local indigenous tribe that welcomes visitors to take part in their intimate rituals. Walking through the dark rainforest with my guide, I was met by the warmth of a fire and the soft pulse of a drum, flashing back to when I had last seen a bonfire at my father’s funeral weekend just a few months before.

A powerful healing energy came over me as we all circled around the fire for what seemed like hours. Eventually sitting down to enjoy a traditional meal, the leader and shaman spoke about some of their guiding principles, with words that felt like they were crafted just for me. Grateful that I was able to understand his Portuguese without the assistance of my guide, I focused on every word, not wanting to forget a moment of this incredible experience. Back at my hotel, I journaled about all that had happened in an effort to process this unique encounter. Since no photography was allowed, I depended on the vibrant images in my mind to help me make sense of this once in a lifetime experience.

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One of the guards at Iguaçu’s Bird Park

If you must leave this tropical oasis that is the Belmond, then plan a trip to the Parque das Aves, a bird park that sits right outside the Iguaçu National Park. Parque das Aves is a pioneer of animal conservation, partnering with other organizations that support biodiversity conservation both in Brazil and throughout the world. This family-friendly attraction, which is also the largest bird park in Latin America, offers a behind the scenes tour where you can feed the birds and get up close with nature. I was getting excited as I heard the birds calling from inside!

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Luckily my guide Alex, who was the key to understanding every aspect of Iguaçu, joined me at Parque das Aves. You absolutely cannot go to Iguaçu without him! He is a walking encyclopedia of every biological, botanical, and spiritual aspect of the falls. At every turn, Alex provided insight to each species, the flora and fauna around me, and a sincere awareness of these endangered and vulnerable animals and birds.

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Are you my mommy?

The highlight of that morning was feeding the baby rescues. I giggled as they splashed milk all over me and nipped at my hands, eager to connect with their new visitor. After my private backstage tour was over, I begged to go through the park again – I didn’t want to leave!

On this next round, I spent quite a bit of time at the butterfly aviary witnessing one just coming out of its cocoon. Such a magical moment! With over 800 species of butterflies in this Atlantic Forest, I was mesmerized at the rainbow of colors and patterns. As I watched the Caligo brasiliensis butterflies munch on bananas, Alex shared with me how these butterflies use their owl-like appearance to avoid predators.

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I think he thought I was his twin with my bright yellow shirt!

Walking through the rest of the park, Alex highlighted the conservation efforts at Parque das Aves, specifically the toucans. “They’re not technically endangered, but do get injured a lot because of hunting accidents. The natural breeding that happens here ensures a safety population of this magnificent bird.” He also told me that their eyes can change direction, noting them as a “portal of positive energy”.

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PicadinhoBack at the Belmond, I enjoyed a late lunch of the most artfully prepared picadinho de filé, a dish that my tummy had fond memories of from São Paulo. I pored over videos of my new bird buddies from the morning – truly an unforgettable experience! Walking through the grounds at the resort, I noticed a tree that had a pink lichen – a botanical sign of high air quality based on Alex’s lesson of lichen, fungus, algae, and some of the 2,000 plant species that are here in Iguaçu. I excitedly took in another breath of this healing space. As I collapsed into a hammock, I drifted off to sleep with the lull of sweet birds chirping what sounded like, “Sarah, don’t leave…”

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