What a City! Rio, also known as Cidade Maravilhosa (‘Marvellous City’) is really and truly breathtaking. It has everything from golden, sandy beaches to lush, tropical forests, lakes and spectacular mountains and hills in all sorts of shapes, creating a skyline that is hard to beat. Rio offers something for all types of travellers whether you’re an adventure seeker or just want to hang out on the beach and get some sun.
Here are some things that you have to do when in Rio!
1. Hit the beach!
Rio is full of amazing beaches (of all sizes) – you really are spoilt for choice! Copacabana is one of the two main beaches in Rio and is very busy at most times. The sand however is soft like powder and it is surprisingly clean. Head to Forte de Copacabana for excellent views of the beach and back-drop.
There are also lots of restaurants around the Copacabana area – check out Struzzi, Barraca da Chiquita and Restaurante La Maison. For açai, try Açai Geriba which is a self-service frozen yoghurt type place and so good!Ipanema is the other very popular beach in Rio and my personal favourite. Ipanema in general is a bit more upmarket and again the sand is clean and powder like. It’s just perfect.If you have a bit longer in Rio, I would definitely recommend checking out some of the other, less touristy, beaches too!
2.Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)
Corcovado mountain rises straight upto 710m and is home to the world-famous and awe-inspiring statue of ‘Christ the Redeemer’. At 38 metres, the statue has been voted one of the seven wonders of the modern world and it’s difficult to miss from most corners of the city. Apart from seeing the statue itself, the views of Rio from this point are stunning.
Top tip: if you can’t see the statue from below because of clouds, it is unlikely you’ll get a good view so pick a clear day if possible!3.Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf mountain)
Take the cable car up to the top of sugarloaf mountain just before sunset. I promise you it will be one of the best (if not the best) sunsets you will ever see. 4. Explore the bohemian districts of Lapa and Santa Teresa
Check out the famous ‘Lapa steps’ (Escadaria Selarón) designed by Chilean artist Jorge Selarón who covered the 215 steps with mosaics all of which are different and vividly colourful in their own right. Lapa is also famous for its nightlife and seems to be the place to go for samba!Santa Teresa is another picturesque, uphill neighbourhood, close to Lapa, with winding, cobblestone streets, historic mansions and views of Rio. I would definitely recommend walking around the area and exploring during the day. You could also take the bonde (streetcar) that travels up to Santa Teresa from Centro and is the last of the historic streetcars in the city. Stop for lunch in Cafe do Alto.5. Rio’s Cathedral in Centro is also worth a visit. It is reminiscent of a mayan temple and is a beautiful example of modern architecture. We were told however that Centro isn’t a very safe area on the weekends when it can get very quiet so avoid going then and even during the weekdays, just be careful and don’t carry valuables if you can avoid it!6. Jardim Botânico
Wander around these gardens which have some stunningly high palm trees and lots of interesting plants with a few follies as well. I got bitten by something that left a lump on my face the size of a two pence coin so remember to wear insect repellant everywhere if you visit! Entrance costs 15BR/£3.If you’re short on time, check out ‘Be a local’ which is a tour company that organises city tours (220 BR/£44). We did this and saw most of the main sights in one day. Although I was initially worried that the tour would feel rushed, it actually felt fine and we had enough time to enjoy each location (Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf mountain, Lapa steps and the Cathedral). All entrance fees were included, you felt safe as you were with a guide and you didn’t have to worry about getting from A to B. This company also does Favela Tours if you’re interested though this wasn’t something that appealed to me.
If you’re an adventure seeker like me, you have to do hang-gliding in Rio. It is an amazing experience which is quite similar to paragliding in that it is in tandem with an experienced hang-glider. You run off a cliff and then have about 6/7 minutes of gliding before you land on a beach. It was so much fun! The activity costs around 650 BR/£130.Where to stay
I think Ipanema and Copacabana are good areas to stay – they are close to the beach and, from what I saw, seemed pretty safe. I stayed at Royalty Rio which was a basic hotel but near Copacabana beach and on a busy, commercial street. It wasn’t luxury by any means but wasn’t bad either! My friend stayed at Arena Ipanema which was near Ipanema beach – the rooms looked great!
How to get around
Rio has a metro system which is easy enough to use. It is not extensive by any means but goes to some of the main locations. Uber is also widely used and is recommended, especially at night when I would not recommend trying to take public transport. If ever in doubt, take a taxi! You can also take an Uber to the airport which works out a lot cheaper (approx. 50-60 BR) than taking a normal metered taxi (80 BR and above). If you’re on a budget, check out Shuttlerio.com.br for a shared shuttle pick-up (25 BR).
Even though Rio has been on my bucket list for a long time, I was still a bit apprehensive before coming here. This was mainly because of hearing the usual horror stories of muggings, poverty and violent crime and, although I can’t say that Rio is totally devoid of these issues, I can safely say that I didn’t have any troubles here. You do of course need to be vigilant and avoid carrying expensive and flashy valuables but I think that is the case wherever you travel! To be on the safe side, only carry what you need with you and keep your phone out of sight when not in use (back it up just in case you lose it or it gets stolen!). We were told to avoid carrying back-packs or handbags if possible (just keep some cash and your phone in an inconspicuous pocket). Pick-pocketing is pretty common, especially on the main 2 beaches, so leave your phone, money and valuables in your hotel when chilling on the beach.
Let’s not focus too much on the negatives though – just enjoy the experience and immerse yourself into the culture and you’ll have an amazing time.
Hope you found this travel guide helpful! Leave me a comment below if you have any other good recommendations for Rio! X