Rio de Janeiro. The mere mention of the place brings forth vivid images of carnivals, bikini and bather-clad beauties, bombastic beaches and technicolour cocktails. It’s a destination in and of itself, where one could spend weeks or months before leaving and still not really get the full story.
The appeal of Rio is simple, and it’s probably got everything to do with the amount of awesome things there are to see and do there. Consider this list as a starting point, not a definitive guide. A definitive guide would consist of several hundred pages and several thousands words, neither of which the internet has time for these days.
Tijuca National Park
It’s probably not ‘the done thing’ to begin a list of Rio’s best attractions with a national park, but we figured you’d appreciate the novelty. A hike up the city’s highest peak, Pico de Tijuca, will be rewarded with some of the best views of the city and Guanabara Bay. There’s also a 100-foot waterfall up there that goes by the name of Cascathinha, in case you were wondering. Oh, Christ the Redeemer is hiding in Tijuca too. But we’ll get to that later.
Better known than the aforementioned Tijuca NP, Sugarloaf is another spot at which one can gain impossibly beautiful views of the city below. It looms about 1,300 feet above the harbour but don’t sweat – you can preserve your tootsies by taking a cable car all the way up. Soaking up a surreal panorama has never been easier.
If lazing around, sunbathing and people watching are all things you consider ‘your things’, head to Copacabana when the sun’s out. Pull up a deck chair, grab a coconut from a local vendor and see how many Brazilian cliches you can spot parading up and down the sand. When it all gets a bit much, cool off in the effortlessly brilliant ocean and congratulate yourself on having the time of your life. One word of warning: make sure you keep your belongings with you and your valuables in your hotel, as petty theft can be an issue.
The Lapa neighourhood
Once Rio’s red-light district, Lapa is now packed full of colourful bars to whet your whistle and fantastic eateries to whet your appetite. On the weekends it’s not uncommon to find locals overflowing from the local watering holes and dancing in the street – Martha Reeves would be proud. A healthy chunk of the colourful architecture here is from the 1800s, so you’ll be sure to be visually stimulated too, particularly if you head to the famed Escadaria Selarón, the neighbourhoods famous multicoloured staircase.
The favela tours
We don’t recommend heading into the favelas on your own under any circumstances, but you can join favela tours (such as those hosted by our friends Urban Adventures) that take you into Rio’s poorer communities and out safely. Rather than be part of a white-knuckle ride through an urban slum, you’ll witness the vibrance, diversity, art and history of these incredible communities firsthand.
Rio’s most affluent suburb, there’s no better way to understand the disparity between the rich and the poor in Rio by visiting both the favelas and Lagoa in a single day. With the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon as its centrepiece, this – the third most expensive suburb in all of South America – offers a unique insight into the lives of Rio’s rich and famous. There’s a path circling the entire lagoon that’s fringed with cafes, restaurants and more trendy shops than you’ll know what to do with so you’ll be sure to kill some time, and kill it well, in Lagoa.
You can’t mention Copacabana without mentioning Ipanema, so we didn’t. The beach has made (and will likely continue to make) many ‘best beaches in the world’ lists, and for good reason. It’s got sand. It’s got sea. It’s got sun. And it’s in Rio de-freaking-Janeiro. There are also tonnes of shops, bars, galleries theatres and restaurants nearby. Some beaches have all the luck.
Christ the Redeemer
We had to save the most obvious ’til last, otherwise we’re not sure we would’ve held your attention. Roughly 2,330 feet above Rio, on Corcovado Mountain, stands Cristo Redento ( that’s Christ the Redeemer, you and me) – made entirely out of concrete and soapstone. Construction began in 1922 and wasn’t finished until 1931, which makes Christ the Redeemer the only statue of Jesus Christ on Corcovado Mountain that took nine years to build. You can take a cable car up to this legendary icon of Brazilian Christianity, then an elevator to the top of the statue itself. So once again, you can get all the views without breaking a sweat. You lucky thing.
Check out Rio for yourself on an Intrepid small group adventure.
Feature image c/o Christian Haugen, Flickr