* Sadly, right now Brazil is being ravaged by COVID, with 13.5 million cases and 355,000 deaths, at the time of posting, but it’s not always going to be like this. Brazil has been through tough and seemingly hopeless times before and turned itself around, and this too shall pass. So, for now, this post is aspirational, because when this HAS passed, put Brazil on your bucket list, as it has so much to offer.
As one of the major international drug routes, along with Peru and Colombia, Brazil has had a tumultuous history, with one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Brazil has been plagued with poverty in addition to an insane level of economic disparity, so visiting Rio de Janeiro isn’t for the faint of heart, but any experienced traveler who knows how to converse troubled countries and handle themselves in potentially volatile regions will find that they’ll likely experience no more danger than in any other major metropolis throughout the world.
If you follow basic safety rules, like leaving jewelry at home, dressing in lowkey and casual clothes; keeping your belongings safe and in view at all times; swerving the favelas (which in my opinion, unless you’re going to visit somebody living there you should do anyway–poverty tourism is gross); stick to Ubers and 99 cabs rather than hailing taxis in the road; don’t wander around the street looking at your cellphone–always appear as if you know where you’re going and, most importantly, always look people in the eye and learn at least some simple Portuguese so you can utilize simple greetings like, “Ei!”, “dia bom” and “Como vai?” as basic human connection goes a long way.
Warnings over with, let’s get down to the fun part.
Radiant Rio de Janeiro
Few places in the world match the pulse of hot, heavenly, culturally rich, and radiant Rio de Janeiro. Beautiful people? Check! Steamy Samba? Check! Breathtaking scenery? Check! Electrifying nightlife? Check! Exotic forests? Check! Colorful crazy and hedonistic Carnival? Check! Barely-there bikinis on glorious golden beaches? Double-check!
Rio has it all, and then some.
Nestled between the mountains and a spectacular natural bay, Rio de Janeiro is so stunning that UNESCO cites “the staggeringly beautiful location for one of the world’s biggest cities” as a World Heritage Site, in addition to stating, “Rio de Janeiro is also recognized for the artistic inspiration it has provided to musicians, landscapers, and urbanists.”
There’s something to do for everyone, no matter what your tastes, so, where to start?
Sure it’s a tourist trap, but you can’t visit Rio without a trip to check out probably the most iconic effigy in the world, the 98ft high Christ the Redeemer statue.
Located on top of the 2,300 feet high summit of Mount Corcovado, which looks down over the city and offers some of the most stunning views of the bay and sprawling metropolis, Christo Redentor is symbolic of the multi-cultural city, having been created by the combined efforts of three individuals: French sculptor Paul Landowski and engineer Albert Caquot, and Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa.
If you’re not in the mood for an epic trek, luckily you can jump on one of the trains that run every 30 minutes from 8am through till 7pm. For the best views, be sure to sit on the right side of the train as it winds its way up the mountainside. Breathtaking is an understatement.
Peek into the future
Built during the 2016 Olympics, the Museum of Tomorrow (Museu do Amanha) is a groundbreaking and fascinating science foundation, housed in an architecturally stunning neo-futurist building that’s eco-powered by solar panels and cooled by water from the bay.
The museum is a different kind of science Museum: “A space conceived through the values of sustainability and conviviality that explores the ever-changing times we’re witnessing and the possible paths we may take during the next 50 years.”
It covers everything from geology to human nervous systems to smart cities, and it’s as far from a dusty, dry old museum as it gets, making powerful arguments for sustainability and a possible pathway to the future of our planet and mankind itself.
Deep man, deep. Greta would definitely approve.
Sugar Mountain is another iconic Rio landmark, standing an impressive 1,300 feet above the harbor, and offers the best photographic money shots in the city, with stunning 360-degree views of Rio’s jaw-dropping beaches, lush green forests, hills, and towering skyscrapers.
A two-part cable car journey takes you to the top, stopping first at neighboring Urca Hill, before starting the fist-clenching steep ascent to the Sugar Loaf summit. Or, for the fit and healthy there’s a walking trail that winds around the mountain.
Go during the day and, if you’re brave (or crazy enough–I count as the latter probably) you can paraglide down, landing on one of the golden beaches below.
Alternatively, visit late afternoon to enjoy the stunning sunset views and watch the city lights flicker to life, then return safely to land via the cable car.
Get your beach (and party) on
Rio has literally miles of beaches, with an impressive 56 miles of sand. The beaches are divided into different zones, from fully nude, to family-friendly, to women only, to gay, to party…whatever floats your boat there’s a beach just for you.
The most famous of Rio’s beaches (if not the most famous in the world) is the Copacabana, and it doesn’t disappoint, living up to the hype with stunning views of both Sugarloaf Mountain and the towering Copacabana Fort.
It’s also hands-down one of the best places to people watch, with an astounding array of beautiful humans clad in eye-watering tiny beachwear–there’s a reason Victoria’s Secret scouts a lot of their models from Brazil, many Cariocas are jaw-droppingly stunning, Amazonian in stature with golden skin and perfect features.
But it’s not all just people watching, you can also get your party on, with flowing and fiery Caipirinhas, music and, of course, dancing.
And to burn off even more of that alcoholic sugar cane you can partake in many of the sports on the beach, such as soccer, and volleyball, but be prepared to (very probably) get your not-so-pert butt fully beaten.
Then, as the sun goes down head to Bip Bip, a small, eccentric Copacabana beach bar infamous for its icy beers and live music, with authentic bossa nova and samba bands playing nightly.
The girl from…..
Right next to Copacabana’s 2.5-mile beach is Rio’s second most famous beach area, the swanky and tony, Ipanema.
Edged with a smartly paved seafront promenade, the area is filled with high-end hotels, cafes, upscale restaurants, art galleries, cinemas, avant-garde theaters, and piano bars. (NOTE TO READERS: Don’t request the pianist play “Girl from Ipanema”, unless you want some serious eye-rolls and embarrassing stink eye. I learned that lesson the hard way. What can I say? I was overtaken by the moment and experience).
Meanwhile, in neighboring Leblon, there’s an awesome antique market every Sunday at Praça de Quental, in addition to the Feira de Artesanato de Ipanema at Praca General Osori, featuring crafts, music, art, and local foods.
Rio is packed full of exciting and exquisite dining opportunities (although you’ll struggle if you’re a vegetarian, let alone a vegan…even the rice and beans are cooked in a meat sauce).
But, if you’re a true foodie a trip to Rio would be incomplete without a visit to La Feira Livre da Glória, a vibrant Sunday morning market that’s a magnet for die-hard gastronomes.
Definitely, off the tourist trail, the market is the best place in town to sample fresh local produce such as an astounding array of fresh fish, artisanal cachaça, exotic fruits, and the classic Brazilian breakfast staple of pastels–freshly baked pastries packed full of cheese, heart of palm or meat.
Wander the streets
Located just five minutes from downtown Rio is one of the most picturesque areas to stroll around and lose yourself in the color and vibe of the city.
Santa Teresa is one of the most charming and colorful neighborhoods and it’s packed full of art and culture.
A must-see is Escadaria Selaron, the amazing ongoing staircase art project that uses ceramics, tiles, and mirror pieces from around the world. In addition, ride on the only remaining streetcar in Rio, Bonde de Santa Teresa, and visit the Convent.
Iglesia Convento was built by the Order of Discalced Carmelites, in the Carmelite style in the first third of the 17th century, and is supposedly located on the site where Saint Teresa of Ávila was born.
Santa Teresa is also one of the best areas in Rio for nightlife, with a plethora of restaurants, street food, live music venues, and hopping bars, including the amazing Bar do Gomes which stocks sixty-plus types of cachaça–a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice that’s synonymous with Brazil. A perfect location for some lazy, languid day drinking.
It’s worth noting, to take care in the area at night as pickpockets are rife, so carry a minimum of cash and leave any flashy jewelry in the hotel safe.