If you are thinking about visiting Rio de Janeiro, stop thinking about it and do it. Do it if you are looking for a place filled with tasty food, interesting people, wonderful attractions, samba dancing, beautiful beaches and wonderful experiences.
I arrived in Rio de Janeiro one warm afternoon and the first thing that struck me was how hot and humid it is. Then I was struck by how diverse the people are. The fact that Cariocas (the local term for people from Rio de Janeiro) are so diverse meant that it was easy for me to fit in.
Though my Portuguese is limited, I was able to get around on my own, visiting local eating spots and taking public transport to get to various attractions. I found Cariocas to be quite relaxed and rather helpful (once we overcame the language barrier). I also found them to be somewhat health conscious – there were always people running along the beach or using the exercise equipment located along the beaches. However, when it comes to enjoying tasty food, Cariocas do not hold back.
Signature Brazilian foods to try include Feijoada (a stew made of beef and pork and a number of different spices) and Pão de queijo (cheese bread with a crunchy exterior and a delicious warm doughy centre). When it comes to drinks you cannot visit Brazil without enjoying a Caipirinha – an alcoholic drink made with Cachaça, lime and whatever else the bar you are having it at decides to add in order to give it their own twist. An Açaí drink – made from the fruit of the same name is an acquired taste. It is often served on its own and is quite thick and full of flavour.
Here are a few attractions you should make time to include in your itinerary.
Christ the Redeemer
At this magnificent statue you get to enjoy one of the most beautiful aerial views in the city. Being a New7Wonder of the world and an iconic attraction in the country, it can be a long wait to get tickets. It’s best to set aside the morning for visiting this statue and get there as early as possible so you can join the queue. Take walking shoes, a good camera, water and prepare to be amazed.
The statue is located on Corcovado Mountain and it is quite an incline so it’s best to get a taxi to take you up or to take the available train. If you are feeling adventurous, walk down from the mountain and enjoy the fresh air. You will also find some interesting churches along the way. If you would rather not take the long walk down, you can take the train or a taxi.
Ipanema and Copacabana beaches
At Ipanema beach you can swim, play volleyball, meet people, hum “The girl from Ipanema” as you let the waves crash against your ankles as you feel the sand disappearing between your toes and underneath you, and relax and enjoy the sunshine and fresh sea air. There are a number of great restaurants to eat at so finding food is easy. There are also some seaside bars for cocktails. This beach is where you go for a fun time with your friends and to be seen.
Copacabana, like Ipanema, is a popular beach. There are also bars and restaurants not far from here so you can either take a picnic or enjoy a meal at one of these places. Expect to be surrounded by flying footballs or volleyballs, laughter and people playing games as on the beach.
If you do forget a towel or wish to get a new swimming costume there are informal traders selling these items and more on the beaches. If you visit on the weekend, make sure you arrive early to find a prime spot.
If you are an art lover or an artist you will love the neighbourhood of Santa Theresa – its signatures are its winding streets and art to be found almost everywhere. You can take a bumpy tram ride or walk the cobbled streets on a tour of the area or explore it with your travel companions. If you are exploring without a local guide, be sure to have enough money to take public transport if you need it and, as is necessary when travelling, keep your wits about you.
Sugarloaf Mountain offers great views of the city and its popularity means you can expect queues. You will take two cable cars to reach the summit and enjoy beautiful views all the way up and at the summit. A lesser-known attraction in the area is the small nearby beach. It doesn’t stretch like Ipanema or Copacabana, do nor does it have the buzz of those beaches but its charm is in its beauty, its relative silence and its views of Sugarloaf Mountain.
When it comes to finding a party there are many places to enjoy a drink and some dancing. There are also some places where samba bands will set up in an open area and locals arrive and listen to the rhythmic sounds and sing along to the more well-known samba songs while catching up with old friends and meeting new ones.
Rio de Janeiro is certainly a great place to enjoy music, food and the scenery. And you’ll come away with a taste for food you hadn’t heard of before you arrived, but upon leaving, cannot imagine not eating again … not unless you return to Rio or become a Carioca yourself.
Words and photographs by Lethabo-Thabo Royds