Rio De Janeiro is Brazil’s second populous city after Sao Paulo. Known with plentiful beaches such as Copacabana and Ipanema, bossa-nova rhythms, football players, dramatic mountains and of course samba dancers of Rio Carnival, the city is pretty vibrant and it is impossible not to fall in love with it.
Founded in 1565 by the Portuguese, Rio has the largest Portuguese population after Lisbon and the Portuguese cultural influence is still seen in many parts of the city. As Rio was once the capital of Brazil, many global companies have their headquarters here. Brazilians in Rio don’t speak English well but you won’t have difficulty if you speak a bit of Spanish.
Maybe not as much as Australia but Rio De Janeiro is pretty expensive, and it is one of the most visited cities in the Southern Hemisphere. Being the 5th biggest country in the world, Brazil is bigger than Europe and hosts the biggest amount of Catholics in the world (even more than Italy and Spain).
So here are my views about Rio De Janeiro and how you can make the best out of your Rio De Janeiro vacation:
When to visit:
There is really no bad time to visit the city but summer runs from December through the first half of March while the winter months are July, August and September.
Prices are lower in winter even though it only gets a bit chilly at nights (15 C). Don’t expect snow or really cold weather. On the other hand, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Carnival seasons attract the most tourists while the temperatures go up to 40 C.
Where to stay:
We stayed in Rio for 6 nights. All we wanted was to be close to the beach so our options were Copacabana, Ipanema or Leblon.
Before our trip, we were warned that Rio De Janeiro is not a safe place and we should be careful especially at nights. As Copacabana is more middle class and packed, we selected Ipanema which is a bit quieter and upper class. Leblon, on the other hand, is also upscale and safe, however, Ipanema provides more options in terms of restaurants and shops. Also, it is easy to walk to Copacabana and to Leblon from Ipanema Beach as it is in the middle of the two.
We loved our stay at the Best Western Plus Sol Ipanema Hotel. We were upgraded to a high floor sea view room and the beach just across the road was Posto Number 9 which was probably the best beach among all the others. The wide sandy beach was full of people chatting, sunbathing, having cocktails and showing off their bodies. The boardwalk was also fun. You can sit at one of the kiosks, have your coconut drink and watch people passing by with their skateboards, surfboards and bikes.
As we arrived at the hotel pretty late, we were welcomed with Caipiroscas near the pool at the terrace of the building. It was a perfect place to be for the upcoming 7 days, before our trip to Salvador De Bahia.
The 5 main beaches of Rio from east to west are Leme, Copacabana (Posto 2 to 6), Arpoador (Posto 7), Ipanema (Posto 8,9 and 10) and Leblon (Posto 11 and 12). The largest and crowdest one is Copacabana, however, Ipanema Beach is more trendy. Postos 8 and 9 are LGBT friendly, and you can see rainbow flags marking the area. As these two are full of open minded people, it felt like the most friendly and fun beach to me. There are caipirinhas in huge cups are being sold, and beach vendors are all around selling colorful beach towels and souvenirs.
If you are looking for a more exclusive and laid back beach, go for Leblon. But if you want to be in the heart of everything, go for Copacabana.
You can easily spend your days around Ipanema and Copacabana. If you wake up early, you will see men with sea beds and umbrellas making the beach ready for the day. You can go for a walk on the beach and see people working out or walking their dogs on the beach. It starts to get crowded around 9-10am and the quietness gets replaced by the crowds, hot men and women getting sun tan and beach vendors. A Jamaican vendor asked if we would like to buy magic cakes, and when we asked if it is legal – he replied that he creates his own rules. Then another vendor came and asked if we would like a huge cup of caipirinha or caipirosca. One huge cup of Caipirinha is like 4 Euros so we said why not!
What to see:
I wouldn’t recommend spending a lot of time in the city center but there are places you shouldn’t miss to see when you are in Rio De Janeiro. The cone-shaped Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian was pretty impressive. The famous Escadaria Selarón and Botanical Garden are not so far from the cathedral and are just walking distance. The streets are full of beautiful street art so don’t miss to take a few pictures of them.
At nights, you can go to Lapa area which is famous with its nightlife. Go for small laid back bars or check out Rio Scenario. Rio Scenario is a perfect place for a fun night out. There was a queue at the door, however, it was worth the wait. The menu is delivered at the entrance and payment is done at the exit. You can dance, eat, drink and have an amazing night in this building’s different floors.
Other than above, I strongly recommend taking tours to see one of the seven wonders of the world – Christ De Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, Tijuca Forest and famous colorful favelas. If you get a chance, you can also watch a football game at Maracanã Stadium.
I was impressed by the number of tunnels I saw in the city. This is because the city was built in the mountains and there are around 28 tunnels in Rio De Janeiro.
When it comes to Brazilian food, the 1st thing that comes up in minds is Churrascaria restaurants. These are basically places where meat is cooked in churrasco style (barbecue in Portugese). All you need to do is to take your salads and side dishes from the open buffet, and the meat will be served to your plate until you are full! Maybe not for the vegetarians but I love the idea of unlimited meat, all in different tastes.
When it comes to drinks, Caipirinhas and Caipiroscas are everywhere. Caipirinha is made by mixing the famous Brazilian Cachaca, lime and sugar. Cachaca is a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice and they also mix it with rum. The most famous local beers are Skol, Brahma and Anctartica.
What to buy from Rio De Janeiro:
While you are in Rio De Janeiro, you should treat yourself with a locally-made souvenir. A typical Brazilian bikini, the colorful Brazilian sarong called Canga, Cachaca to make Caipirinhas when you go back home, a pair of Hawaianas, coffee or jewelry if you’d like to spend a bit more.
After spending a week in Rio De Janeiro, we were all tanned and happy, and ready to move to our second stop in Brazil – Salvador De Bahia.