I’m not sure there’s a city on the planet that has as much tourist appeal as Rio de Janeiro. The city more commonly known simply as Rio is nestled gently within a soft cove on the Atlantic coast. Tall statuesque pillars of bright green earth jut dramatically from the sparkling blue waters of the sea and provide a jaw-dropping background for this famous city. The white sand beaches look spectacularly out on a vista truly like nowhere else in the world and can leave even the most cool-headed individuals gasping for words to describe its natural beauty. Whether you are visiting during carnival or not, this city seems to have its own rhythm. Samba dancers melt away the dance floors in the heat of the humid evening air while others just sit back and sip on a cool caiprinha. There is no shortage of adventure here in Rio de Janeiro, and the atmosphere of this vibrant city is guaranteed to reach out to your adventurous nature while at the same time forcing a wide stretched smile from your excited face. A day spent in Rio is unforgettable, and will likely have you yearning for this city long after you’ve left.
Time Needed: 4-7 Days
Budget: The basics on a shoe string = 40$/day, Mid = 50-60$/day, Highend doing everything = 75-90$/day
- Rio de Janiero has a population of around 7 million. However, if you include the metropolitan area it is around 13 million people
- Christ the Redeemer, on Corcovado Mountain, stands at 30 meters tall (98 feet)
- Rio was the capital of Brazil until 1960 when the honour of capital was transferred inland to the city of Brasilia.
- The Real Gabinete Português de Leitura is home to the world’s smallest bible
Prior to the arrival of Portuguese sailors in 1502, the area that is now covered by city the of Rio de Janiero was inhabited by the Maxahali, Botocudo, Puri, and Tupi people. It then took sixty-three years more following that first landing by Gasper de Lemos, before Rio de Janiero was founded as a city in 1565. Starting at the foundation of the city, and continuing basically until the end of the majority of South America’s independence wars in the early 1800s, the city of Rio was under constant threat of roaming privateers pillaging in the name of France, England or Spain.
Unlike the rest of Latin America, Brazil had a relatively peaceful transfer to independence. During the Napoleonic wars, King John of Portugal decided to take refuge in his colony of Brazil while the wars were waged in Europe. Once the European conflicts came to an end, King John left his son, Prince Pedro in charge of the colony of Brazil. In 1822, Prince Pedro declared the independence of Brazil, however under the title of his own monarchy. Brazil remained an independent monarchy until 1889 when it finally became an independent republic; Rio de Janeiro remained the republic’s capital until 1960 when that honour was given to Brasilia.
Through the 20th century Rio de Janeiro quickly became a hot spot for tourism due to its liberal vibe and white sand beaches such as Copacabana. Rio de Janeiro has since grown to become the vibrant city it is today. However, the city has quickly become one of drastic contrasts where wealthy business men and women fly in helicopters back and forth to work, while others live in the steep slums known as favelas. Rio de Janeiro boast the second highest GINI rating (difference in income between rich and poor) of any city in the Americas, second only to Sao Paolo.
Getting to Rio de Janeiro
- Bus: In Brazil, all roads lead to Rio. That means that you can pretty much get from any city in the country to Rio de Janeiro via a somewhat direct trip. That being said, the cost of buses in Brazil is really high for what you get, and compared to other South American countries. You’re probably better off flying the longer distances with an airline like TAM.
- Air: For longer distances, or if you’re able to plan well in advance, you’re best off flying in Brazil. The cost of a flight is quite often lower than the bus fare would be. TAM is the airline with the most destinations in Brazil, and they tend to have the best prices as well.
Things to do in Rio de Janeiro
- The Old Center: The old center of Rio is packed with things to see, and is often overlooked by travellers more interested in spending time on the beach. Some of the must see things downtown include The National Museum, The Real Gabinete Português de Leitura (a library holding the entirety of the former Portuguese King’s books), the Escadaria Selarón (the famous stairs), and the Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro.
- Beaches: There are a number of beaches in Rio de Janeiro, and all of them ring sort of the same appeal. Of course the most famous is Copacabana Beach which buzzes with activity all day long. The crowd over at Ipanema Beach is a little bit younger and this is the spot to watch the sun go down as the sun sets behind all the other beaches.
- Christ the Redeemer: Maybe the most conversational wonder of the world. And although the statue might not qualify on most people’s must see, it is a must-see in Brazil. The views from up here are some of the most amazing in the entire world.
- Sugar Loaf: There is a cable car which runs up the famous Sugar Loaf mountain which offers amazing views. My recommendation is to do this in the early evening as the sun is about to set. For the thrill seekers it is also possible to rock climbthis amazing mountains.
- Favela Tour: A falvela tour is one of the most popular trips in Rio de Janeiro. These tours take visitors into the poorer districts of Rio. However, please remember that this is not a zoo tour, be respectful. Most of the tours offered give you a different perspective of live in the favelas. The tours show the good going on, the culture, the dance, the schools, the art. Overall it is a very good experience.
- The Botanical Gardens: Brazil gets its name from a tree that is now almost extinct, you can find that tree and a number of other beautiful flora elements in the city’s botanical garden.
- Hangliding: If there is a highlight of Rio its seeing it from a couple hundred feet of the ground floating on a hanglider. If you’re not too strung for cash this is a must do. (Cost is about 110$)
Where to Eat in Rio de Janeiro
There are so many good places to eat in Rio that discovering becomes half the fun. My recommendations are a simple guide to the vast array of different food options in town. In Copacabana, try El Carreto which is a great buffet for dinner that has everything from seafood to steaks (about 18US$). In Ipanema, head to Mio Restaurant which is a little more pricey but has some of the best food in all of Rio de Janeiro (about 15-25US$ for a main course). There are also a lot of great restaurants strung out along Catete Road. If you are just looking for a quick sandwich, burger, or juice check out one of the juice joints found on nearly every corner of the city. They are cheap and very good.
Where to Stay in Rio de Janeiro
The variety of places to stay in Rio de Janeiro is nearly endless. On my two stays in Rio de Janeiro I stayed at the Che Lagarto hostel in Copacabana. You won’t find a more friendly staff and the rooms are very nice. I also visited the Che Lagarto in Ipanema which is also very nice. You do have to pay a little bit more for a good dorm bed in Brazil than in other countries, but it’s worth it. (Dorm beds are usually around 15US$)
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