2016 Olympics… Christ the Redeemer… Sugarloaf Mountain… the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema… Rio de Janeiro is the illustrious Brazilian city that probably needs little by way of an introduction!
But here are a few facts just to set the scene…
- Rio is Brazil’s second largest city (after Sao Paulo)
- The capital city of Brazil is Brazilia and not Rio… (although it was Rio until 1960)
- Rio is named after a river that doesn’t exist! (Rio de Janeiro means ‘River of January’ i.e. the month it was discovered by the Portuguese in 1502 who mistakenly thought the Guanabara Bay was a river mouth)
- Rio hosted the worlds biggest football match (1950 world cup final)
- Rio hosted the world’s largest concert (Rod Stewart in 1994)
The first thing we noticed when we arrived was the dramatic scenery. As we walked a couple of blocks towards Copacabana Beach we took in the stunning backdrop of the large dark emerald dome-shaped mountains which surround the city.
The weather was warm, humid and the dark and stormy clouds just added to the drama… Copacabana beach was more dramatic than we had ever imagined and almost perfect with fine golden sand shelving gently into the ocean.
Copacabana Beach has a reputation as a haven for the beautiful people elegantly sipping cocktails or strutting along the beach in their skimpy shorts or gliding around in their minuscule bikinis. For the short time we were there we thought it was just like any normal beach with a range of the beautiful and the less-beautiful…
We walked a little way along the beach but its natural beauty and proximity immediately on the doorstep of a city of over 6 million people certainly attracts the crowds… and in addition millions of tourists each year…
After ducking out of the way of footballs, frisbees, fishing rods and yep, more selfie sticks we made our way up to the promenade area and spotted the towering Rio Othon Palace hotel right in centre of the beach front and complete with a sky bar. Fab! Finding a sky bar is always an excellent way of getting a great city view for free… or at least for the cost of a drink…
After two months of fairly intense South American activity, many miles travelled and several cities visited we are eager to spend the last few days of our 2016 mega-trip on a tropical island. This will be our first and only tropical island of South America. So we decided to book just two nights in Rio giving us one full day to explore the highlights of the city.
We thought about using taxi’s to get around but, starting to wind down and getting a bit lazy we booked a tour through the hotel.
These are the results of our ‘Rio in a day’ tour and most of the information in this post was given to us by the tour guide…
Christ the Redeemer
This is the art deco statue of Jesus Christ and is located at the top of the Corcovado mountain. The statue is 30 meters high and was created by a French sculptor called Paul Landowski. This is one of the Seven Wonders of the New World!
The top of the Corcovado mountain is 700 meters above sea level and is often ‘in the clouds’ as it was when we visited! The mist was moving quickly and while not brilliant we did catch glimpses of the city of Rio below in between the gaps in the mist!
The guide explained that the original trees of the Tijuca Forest as situated on the Corcovado were stripped by the early Portuguese settlers and crops such including coffee were planted instead. The crops were not successful and many varieties of tree from around the world were replanted by slaves. The Forest is now a lush green area containing a mix of all kinds of different trees…
The sun was appearing as we drove down the Corcovado mountain and we were driven to one of the best viewing points of Rio (above).
Favelas were the original slum areas of Rio and first appeared over 100 years ago. Throughout the years they have been occupied by the poor and by slaves. In more recent times they have been occupied by those who are not ‘poor’ but just seeking a cheaper residence. Some people live in a favela during the week which may be close to their place of work, but have a grand country residence for the weekends. The residents of favelas pay no tax and live in happy and friendly communities.
The Maracana Stadium was built in 1950 ready for the Brazil-Uruguay World Cup Final (hosting the largest crowd as mentioned above). Unfortunately Brazil lost 2-1 in the final minutes of the game. This had a devastating effect on the Brazilian people and even led to suicides. Brazilians and indeed South Americans are still passionate about football. We are often asked by taxi drivers “Which football team? Manchester United? Liverpool?…”
We were not able to enter the stadium but stood outside for a few minutes. Above is a statue of Bellini, the first Brazilian captain to lift the World Cup when they did win in 1958. In fact, Brazil has been the most successful country in World Cup history having won it five times in total.
The Sambadrome is where the judging for the annual Rio Carnival takes place. There are rows of seats for spectators and special balcony boxes for the judges. The Rio Carnival is considered the World’s biggest carnival and takes place before Lent each year. The Sambadrome has a collection of colourful carnival outfits.
The building of the modern Rio Cathedral was completed in 1979. The cathedral is huge and can accommodate up to 20,000 people. We had a look inside and were taken aback by the sheer scale and the uniqueness of such a modern cathedral. There was a great nativity scene inside too.
Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches
After a fantastic lunch we were driven the length of both Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. We drove past the Copacabana Palace, the first hotel on a Rio beach. The guide explained that Copacabana hosts a huge New Year’s Eve party and has also hosted a number of free concerts with the likes of the Rolling Stones and Lenny Kravitz playing to over 1 million people.
Ipanema is an expensive area. Apparently local girls work hard on their bodies to show them off on beach (so maybe the beautiful people are at Ipanema instead of Copacabana…)
OK… so Sugarloaf was also in the mist when we reached the top… Although the day was generally bright there were a few clouds around and these seemed to hang over the higher mountains… It was disappointing that we didn’t get the classic Rio view but never mind… we have been fairly, no extremely lucky with the weather we’ve had throughout the year.
Sugarloaf is the famous iconic peak which rises above the harbour and sometimes gives fantastic views of the city. The top of the Sugarloaf is reached by two connecting cable cars. Fortunately the lower of the two cable cars (at the top of the smaller peak) wasn’t as misty so we were able to get great views from there.
We had an excellent day and we felt it was well worth paying the reasonable ‘all-in’ cost of £70 each to explore the main highlights of Rio by means of a tour. We were in a mini bus as part of a small group of 12 or 13 people.
Lunch was included and was taken at Carretao, a Brazilian restaurant just off Copacabana beach. Wow! What fantastic food we had in this place and easily one of the best meals we’ve had all year. The buffet consisted of excellent sushi, fresh salads of all kinds, fruit, black beans, deep fried bananas, all kinds sauces and salsas. Being a Brazilian restaurant, servers came round the tables with skewers of all kinds of meat and also with fries and garlic bread… what a feast!
We would highly recommend a city tour such as this… it enabled us to get a brilliant overview of the city; the guide gave us a great deal of interesting information which we wouldn’t have otherwise known and we were also taken to places such as the impressive cathedral which we wouldn’t otherwise have got to by ourselves in one day.
And as a city Rio seems to have it all… a wonderful package of weather, beaches, views, parties, restaurants and such a relaxed attitude towards life… definitely one of our favourite cities this year!