Rio is an incredible city, frequenting many a bucket list, and it definitely does not disappoint. It’s the second largest city in Brazil and used to be the capital before it moved to Brasilia in 1960. The contrast of the city, the favelas, the beach and the urban rainforest is really unusual and makes for plenty to see and do. Put it this way, you certainly will never be bored! If you’re like me and your not a HUGE fan of museums, art galleries and churches here are my tips on what’s good to do.
1. Visit a Favela – this was my favourite part of my time in Rio as it was a total eye opener. I’m not going to lie, I was nervous. My image of a favela was that it was a scary place never to be entered, filled with crime and poverty and ruled by dangerous drug cartels; however the reality was a lot more pleasant. There are schools, local businesses and the people we encountered were very friendly. We went to Rocinha favela, the largest in Brazil. Our tour guide was Obi, who has grown up in the favela so gives you a real insiders view of life there; the good and the bad. His company is called Favela Brothers and I highly recommend them. One of the highlights was taking a motorbike taxi to the top as the views from up there were some of the best in Rio. This was initially terrifying as I was on the back of a bike with a random Brazilian holding on to him for my life, with millions of bikes zooming up this narrow road, no idea where Scott was as his driver had shot off ahead, and in the back of my mind thinking I was going to be kindnapped and held for ransom. Or worse! But luckily that was just a slight over reaction. Just don’t ask the police a question. Scott found this out the hard way when he asked them for directions and was made to empty all his pockets while they pointed their guns at him!
2. Free Walking Tours – There are loads of different free walking tours available in Rio and it’s a great way to see the city, find your way around and learn a bit of history and culture from people who live here. It’s also a good way to pass a few hours of your day if you dont want to spend a lot of money. You are expected to tip at the end based on your experience but dont feel pressured in to giving a fortune. We tipped R$20 (around £5) and other backpackers did about the same. NOTE: These are not so much fun in the torrential rain, as we found out, so check the weather before you go!
3. Drink Caipirnhia – The local drink of Brazil is delicious! Refreshing, tasty and god damn strong! Its basically cachaça, which is a rum like spirit made from sugar cane, mixed with lime and sugar. You will find them everywhere; restaurants, street vendors, on the beach – but beware of beach bars charging you extra for a large – even if you didn’t ask for one and there isn’t even one in the menu! AND charging you for the seat they offer you to sit on-even if you didn’t want a seat and you sit on it for 30 seconds. Yes, we got conned into this. One of the many downfalls of not understanding a word of Portuguese.
4. Eat street food – Being a massive foodie one of the things I noticed about Rio was the smells! Everywhere we walked we were engulfed with food smells that made us salivate. My advice is DO NOT waste your money on shit food! I’m not going to lie, there were ocassions where we had a KFC or a Subway for dinner when we were tired and wanted a ‘cheap dinner’ but they really aren’t cheap – or good! We paid R$13.50 (about £3.50) for a 6 inch subway (who even orders a 6 inch anyway!?), where as from a street vendor we could have had an absolute mountain of food for that price. OK sometimes you might have no idea what you’re getting but that’s all part of the experience, right? Just be warned, your no carb diet will go straight out the window – everything is bread/pastry/deep fried! My favorite is Coxina, which is a ball of shredded chicken in breadcrumbs deep fried – I am Scottish after all!
5. Christo Redentor – This is the most famous landmark of Rio – probably Brazil, and is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Some people might just think its another figurative box to tick but I really loved it! The whole experience, including taking the fenicular railway up Corcovado. It’s like a really slow roller coaster – It’s soooo steep and a lot higher than I thought. The statue is amazing, however when we arrived the clouds were so dense we could only see his ankles. But after an hour of waiting we were about to get the train back down, the clouds cleared all of a sudden and we saw him in all his glory. And the view from up there, the one you have seen a million times in guidebooks and on postcards, is just spectacular to see with your own eyes! So if its cloudy when you get there WAIT! The clouds are highly likely to clear eventually, honest.
TRAVEL TIP! We found the best way to get there was to take the bus to Cosme Velho, you can catch the 580 from Leblon, Ipanema, Copacabana, Botafogo, just ask the driver and he should tell you where to get off at the train station. Its R$74 (about £18) per person for the train and entry. There are tours you can take or guys with vans that take you up there but it will cost you about $20-$40 extra per person.
6. Copacabana/Ipanema beach – Yes, its the cliché, but everyone wants to say they have been on Copacabana don’t they? Its exactly what I expected; volleyball and football games galore, gorgeous tanned brazillians and people selling coconuts (and drugs)! Ipanema was a bit quieter (but we did visit in winter) and more chilled, which we liked, and after a lot of walking around the city its so nice to relax on a beautiful white sandy beach, take in the views and just appreciate how bloody good it is to be there! You can also watch the sunrise from Copacabana which is stunning. Technically we missed the actual sunrise as we got mixed up and went to the wrong beach meaning we had to run to get there just after the sun popped over the horizon, but the beach looked beautiful drenched in yellow light.
7. Sunset on Paõ De Azucar (Sugarlaof Mountain)- This is one of the other famous lookout points over the city and its best viewed as the sun goes down. There are 2 mountains next to each other, Morro da Urca and Sugarloaf. You can take the cable car up both (R$20 each way) or you can hike up Urca, it takes about 30 minutes, which is what we did. Technically we missed the sunset as we got lost (are you sensing a pattern here?) and had to race up Urca huffing and puffing, just about managing to reach the summit of Sugarloaf as the sun disappeared behind the clouds! But the city looked beautiful in the diminishing light.
8. Lapa – This is the party centre of Rio and on a Friday and Saturday evening its at its liveliest! People from all different backgrouds, rich poor, travellers and locals come together in a huge street party to drink caipirnhas from the many pop up bars, and listen to samba until the early hours! We went home ‘early’ and still didnt get to bed until 4:30am! But its so much fun; people are friendly, the music is great the and drinks are cheap. Just beware of the hangover! I spent the whole next day in bed/throwing up, and I wasnt even THAT drunk (honest!)
9. Selarón Steps – Seen the Pharell and Snoop dog video? Yeah that’s that one! The Escadaria Selarón is an amazing work of art created by a Chilean artist, there are 215 steps covered in over 2000 tiles from all over the world. Its really beautiful and of course a great photo op, you just have to be patient and wait your turn and for people to move out the damn way so you can get the perfect shot!
10. Street Art – I know I said I’m not into art galleries but that doesnt mean I dont appreciate art. I love street art and Rio is full of it. My favourite was the big faces on The Boulevard down by the dock area which were painted by São Paulo artist Kobra for the Olympics. They are amaing, and really emphasise what Rio is like, vibrant, colourful and multi cultural.
TRAVEL TIP – You would think paintings this big would be easy to find but they aren’t!So if you go to The Museum of Tomorrow (not the Museum of Natural History as we did), take a left and walk about 10 minutes along the tram line you will eventually see them on the left.
We spent a week in Rio, which is plenty of time to see and do all the main attractions, but I don’t think any amount of time will ever be enough in this fabulous city! I’d definitely love to go back in the Summer for a holiday, having done all the tourist bits, and just be able to enjoy the true spirit of it while the parties are in full swing! Rio – we’ll be back!