Back in the 1930s, Rio de Janeiro was famously the playground of the world’s rich and famous. Stars of the silver screen, European royalty, and international playboys all flocked to the famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, and grand hotels such as the Copacabana Palace grew up to serve this new jet-set.
These days, holidays in Rio are firmly back on the agenda for anyone who’s at all interested in travel, and whether it’s a visit to the famous Rio Carnival, or something rather less extravagant, there’s so much to see and do in Rio that it’s hard to choose how to spend your time!
Probably the most famous thing to do in Rio is to visit the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer which towers over the city on the top of Mt. Corcovado. It’s really the iconic image of Rio, in the same way that the Opera House is for Sydney, the Eiffel Tower for Paris, or Big Ben for London. The views over Rio from the top of the mountain are superb, and frankly people won’t believe you’ve even been on holiday to Rio unless you have some photos of yourself underneath the statue!
What many people don’t realise, however, is that on the way up to the statue, you actually go through the stunning Tijuca National Park, and this journey is in many ways the best part of the whole trip. The Tijuca Forest Park is the largest national park within a city anywhere in the world, and it’s one of Rio’s best-kept secrets. Thickly forested with primary Atlantic rainforest, rich in wildlife, and punctuated with swift mountain streams and huge waterfalls, it might not fit your image of Rio, but it’s guaranteed to stay with you forever.
Many people confuse Corcovado with one of the other enduring images of Rio: the neighbouring Mt. Sugarloaf. This dome-shaped mountain is also a major attraction, and it’s worth doing both trips as part of your holidays in Rio, if only for the exciting cable-car ride up to the top of the ‘loaf’. Although there’s no statue at the top, the views across Rio are arguably even better than from Corcovado, with the beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon in one direction; and the historic centre and Guanabara Bay in the other.
Once you have your bearings, you’ll probably want to explore Rio on the ground a bit more, and luckily it’s an easy city to navigate. Most of the areas that you’re likely to want to visit on your holidays in Rio are in a fairly thin ‘strip’ following the coastline, and (almost) everywhere is easily accessible by the excellent Metro network. The better hotels are largely in Ipanema and Copacabana, and both of these areas have great beaches, shops, bars and restaurants. Ipanema is a little more upscale and ‘cool’, and has the great ‘Hippy Market’ on Sunday mornings, where you can buy anything from jewellery to musical instruments.
The Metro will also take you into the city’s historic centre. You probably won’t need a full day to take in the highlights here, but the cathedral, the Teatro Municipal, and the lovely National Museum are all definitely worth visiting, and they are all very walk-able as well. If your holidays in Rio are quite limited by time and you’d rather have something more organised, then you can easily combine a tour of the centre with a tour of Mt. Sugarloaf, which will save you some time and some money.
One area not covered by the Metro, but which it’s worth spending some time in is the lovely Santa Teresa district. This bohemian area has traditionally been home to artists and musicians, but it’s been a favourite on the backpacker scene for a while now, and a handful of boutique hotels have also opened here in recent years. It’s set back from the ocean, so you don’t have the beach on your doorstep, but what you do get are lovely winding cobbled streets, real traditional neighbourhood cafes and restaurants, and some real peace and tranquility – something that can be in short supply in Rio!
This is a Guest post from Dan Clarke.
Dan Clarke works for Real Brazil – the UK specialists in organising tailor-made holidays in Rio and throughout Brazil.